Postmodern art tribes

By DiamonDie/foobug^Numedia Cyclops^Hugi

I can't help it, but "postmodern identity" sounds silly. "We are!" is a final work about "postmodern identity in the gender role communities" by Riikka Kurki. It was written for the Lahti Institute of Design and particularly the multimedia department of it in autumn 2002. It is in Finnish excluding some citations that were written originally in English, so the quotes I provide here are translated by me and I'm not responsible if they fail to convey the original message.

The name of "We are!" comes from a text written on the Byterapers homepage and now you can probably guess why I'm writing this. "We are!" is not demoscene research, though. It compares demoscene to "decoscene", both being little known communities that have to do with art and related socializing. The most important confluence is the gender distribution in both of these. You probably haven't even heard of decos unless you have a little sister. The word deco comes from "decorative friendship book", handmade little booklets that include contact and sometimes other information and are decorated with drawings, stickers, magazine clippings, glitter and things like that. Decos and other stuff of that scene (FB's, Slams, Lyrics, Labelbags) are sent via mail all over the world, it's called swapping. For some reason, "We are!" neglects to mention that "swapping" is also a demoscene concept.

Not much is told about demoscene, but it's not the point either. Riikka Kurki explains how the demoscene was born as cracktro scene, but demos are in no way illegal. She describes demos, 64KB intros and 4KB intros and the concept of demogroups and parties (for some reason boozing is not even mentioned). She depicts how the point is not only to win, but to amaze the other contestants. Greetings in demos are also explained and she mentions that "it's considered bad etiquette to greet a group you don't know". Both demoscene and decoscene are considered to be "postmodern tribes", I guess that's not far from the truth.

Kurki cites sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, according to him "We live in a postmodern, nomadic world. Normal, universal truths no longer hold true, everyone has to find a truth for his own life. Nothing is forever any longer". Quite a statement. Postmodern is explained to be dealt with as a state of mind, "where nothing is perceived for long and carefully, but focus is everywhere at the same time." and postmodern identities are momentary, "until further notice identities", move-through stuff not bound to time or place. I don't know what to think about that.

Postmodern tribes are defined as loose communities, kept together by a particular lifestyle. She writes that sometimes there are born smaller, "more fanatically self-expressive conception communities", an example being a demogroup. "Fanatically self-expressive" does sound like exaggerating to me. According to Kurki, these demo groups are small and consist of only a handful of people. I guess she never heard of tAAt.

The language used in paper is at times a bit cryptic, even funny. She defines most of the more complex vocabulary she uses in her text, but a lot of demo and deco jargon is left unexplained, which is somewhat confusing. However, it's obvious that Riikka Kurki knows what she's talking about when it comes to demoscene, the mistakes and omissions are minor. It is revealed that she has participated in some Moppi prods herself and in addition she interviews a Finnish scener called Sara whose nickname I don't know. The deco people she has interviewed are both males. It would have been fair to interview two sceners as well, but Kurki mentions she was low on time. Other demoscene sources she cites include several articles (by Petri Kuittinen, George Borzyskowski and even Wired), Ojuice, Pouet and Also the writings of our beloved Optimus/Dirty Minds have been used as material. It's quite funny to spot such a nickname in the same list as Simone de Beauvoir.

The demoscene is intentionally caricatured, in comparison to the "girly" decoscene. Kurki depicts decos vs. demos as sense and sensibility. I think it's a little odd, I'd say demos are art to most people, not math and logic. She describes demoscene with such nouns as coolness, speed, strength, adventure, control/domination, achievement/performance, action/function/process, production (I gave multiple translations to some nouns). It sounds like a true macho sport, but we have to remember that this is just a comparison, not a general characterization of demoscene.

She also finds several things in common: community, display of handicraft, the limits of the chosen format (very hard to say which scene is more limited), etiquette, meetings, the sharing of tips and knowhow and uncommercial nature. I guess creativity is considered so obvious that it's not explicitly mentioned. A major difference besides the genders is that decoing is not computer oriented. They have their online communities, message boards and mailing lists and people may trade addresses online, but online decos would probably be an absurd idea and no one would design their decos on the computer. In my understanding, demoscene is a much tighter and more eccentric community, with a wicked sense of humor. And wars, I don't think deco scene has wars.

As Riikka Kurki says it, demoscene competes and humiliates people. Sounds quite harsh, but it's true. But "We are!" makes it seem even more cruel than it is. She claims that beginners aren't encouraged at all. That depends very much on the local scene or the scene you are most attached to. But even on Pouet people try to say something nice about first prods, even if they are awful. She also notes that mediocre productions are mostly ignored in both scenes, it's the top and bottom quality that catches attention. In the deco community you're not allowed to say something sucks, but you can try to express it in a friendly way. We all know that's very different in the demoscene.

As this is a research paper about genderizing, she talks a lot about the female aspect of the demoscene. One claim is that girls need to do double the work to gain appreciation. In a way, that is true, but in a way, it's vice versa. Especially if you're a coder girl, you don't need to have amazing skills to be appreciated, since coder girls are considered an extinct species. But they do exist and they are also very popular among guys. That's one aspect Kurki doesn't mention either. I don't know if many relationships are born in the decoscene, but I think it's not totally unheard of, even though the gender distribution is probably even more feminine than scene is male dominated.

In the demoscene, if you're not totally ugly and if you can do at least something, you'll be sure to gain admirers, perhaps intentionally, but even more likely unwanted. If you look stunning, you'll have a harder time to make people believe you are really skilled. Not everybody is, there are hang-arounds in the scene who couldn't care less about computers, but some are. And if you're less attractive, you'll surely hear about it a lot, which for girls is usually a much bigger thing than guys. Sara mentions that women are easily sucked into one of two roles: a mascot or a whining hag. Her comment hits home. But Riikka Kurki and Sara both agree that there are things that men can bring to decoscene and women to demoscene, because of different skills. Design is not mentioned, but continuum, dramaturgy and project management are.

"We are!" consists of 111 pages. A lot of it is pictures: the actual research paper is laid out similar to a deco, Kurki has made collages and scanned them. There are also pictures of decos and equipment needed in making them, screen captures of demos (mostly Moppi's), pictures of demoparties and deco meetings and some mindmaps in the end. The last part deals with some avatar-related web chats and the community part with them, but I think the correlation just isn't strong enough and it felt irrelevant. Nevertheless, there's a lot of content about demoscene, analyzing it all could easily take up another 111 pages. Oh, and she received grade A, I think it was deserved.

"We are!", a final work by Riikka Kurki, available as a PDF (hires 13.2MB and lowres 3.6MB) at:

DiamonDie/foobug^Numedia Cyclops^Hugi