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Thursday, July 01, 2004
S.T.A.L.K.E.R (subtitle, 'Shadow of Chernobyl') is a forthcoming game set in 2012, 26 years after the Soviet nuclear catastrophe. Does it have anything to do with Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker? (more posters). Most definitely. Tarkovsky's film is the prescient story of a scientist and journalist entering a mysterious 'Zone', led by the Stalker himself, a man versed in the bizarre weather patterns, strange behaviours and barren locations of the zone.

The film was developed from a novel, Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and published in 1972 (related: an imaginary soundtrack for the book at Sine Fiction, part of a huge collection of audio by a_dontigny and more). The game's developers, based in the Ukraine, have obviously added some twists: 'The game utilizes a popular rumor that the Chernobyl accident was a result of an antenna that directed psychotropic waves at the U.S., and that was accidentally turned on by the power station's staff. According to some experts, there was such an antenna, we have a photo of such a structure,' they said.

Of course, computer games need to create and sustain a sense of progress through a story to hold the attention, and Tarkovsky's long, narrative-free films aren't the most obvious inspiration for twitchy trigger fingers. For them, games developers still insist on slinging in bucketfuls of mutants - H.G.Wells' Island of Doctor Moreau remains the most inspirational text. But then gamers haven't matured - most gamers don't want to mature. For the gaming community, maturity equates to a controversial or contemporary subject matter, like the way in which ever more recent wars become the subject of video game participation (and self-perpetuated revisionism). Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, the Gulf Conflict, and more, there are few no-go areas as far as the accurate modelling of machinery, men, locations and tactics from the world's burgeoning collection of former (and current) battlegrounds.

But more contemplative approaches are gaining currency, as virtual environments become so visually sophisticated that there really is the occasion to sit, stare and observe, rather than strafe and snipe, constantly watching your back. Video game settings have traditionally specialised in the macabre, the spectacular, or the exotic, rather than the unavoidable banality that is commonplace in contemporary photographic practice. But as games get bigger and bigger, encompassing whole cities and landscapes, capturing every aspect of the built environment, from warehouses to skyscrapers, is inevitable. S.T.A.L.K.E.R certainly looks brooding and eerie, even, dare we say it, dull (more comparisons). The more complex a game, the more likely it is that you can pause, look around and not be brained for your desire for a spot of quiet contemplation.

To round the circle off, The Emergence of "Landscape Urbanism" (pdf), a paper by Grahame Shane, looks at the book Stalking Detroit, itself inspired in part by the Russian science-fiction novel. Stalking Detroit is a visit to the post-industrial city (a tour that's also popular on the web), including the urban photography of Jordi Bernado. Someday soon, we'll be using our computers to navigate around these visions of the contemporary landscape. Just as our minds will no longer expect a radioactive monkey monster to leap out from behind every boulder, so the investigation and appreciation of urban spaces will be liberated from the confines of the monograph.

Elsewhere. Revisiting Elena's (in)famous trip around Chernobyl on a bike (related, did it actually happen?). East End then and now at Sublime Photography, who are also responsible for Underexposed - photos from the indie scene. A great source of fashion inspiration for the young guitar-slinger about town.

Trivia factoid from the obituary of Doris Thompson, doyenne of Blackpool's Pleasure Beach (still able to ride the PlayStation rollercoaster at the age of 100) - apparently the town has more holiday beds than the whole of Portugal.

The photography of Candida Hofer, places of work and study / Joel Biroco's site includes automatic artwork and Klee-like paintings (thanks Rob, or no, 2 self).

It's time for Coudal's annual Summer Reading extravaganza - we're in there somewhere...