Graphic Engine is an academically-oriented weblog for the discussion of media culture, history, and theory. It’s also a place where I can geek out about the stuff I love to study, including special visual effects, videogames, science fiction, fandom, animation, computers, and film and television in general.
The name Graphic Engine stems from my belief that “graphics” has/have become an increasingly pervasive and flexible category bringing together many different kinds of media technology and practice. Historically associated with computer displays and the pictorial representation of data — see, for example, this instrumental definition — graphics also encompass much older traditions of illustration, visualization, and representation. For me, graphics can refer to the construction and presentation of still or moving images; narrative, interactive, and informational 2D and 3D spaces; texts, characters, and icons; photographic, cinematographic, and digital imaging systems; military and scientific simulations, maps and charts, blueprints and storyboards, comics and cartoons — any signifying human construct, really, that makes its address to the senses (chiefly optical, but also aural). Finally, it’s no accident that graphic as an adjective can also mean vivid and explicit, as in graphic violence. Popular graphics, particularly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, often take sensorially immediate, lushly detailed, and viscerally affecting forms — advertising, action movies, pornography — that raise alarm bells for moral guardians. Although I’m generally opposed to the legislation of media content, the very taboo around “low” imagery invites us to investigate it with boldness and clarity.
The second part of the name, Engine, refers to the cyclical and iterative behavior of industries and audiences, pumping out and consuming the pictorial in a complex ecosystem of images and ideas. Media engirdle the globe like a second atmosphere, nourishing and intoxicating in equal measure. Engines of design, manufacture, and distribution generate and circulate graphics, while interacting dynamically with yet other engines: law, language, economics, the politics of liberation and repression. Ultimately, I employ Graphic Engine as an expansive analogy of the prosaic software graphic engines used in first-person shooters and other 3D videogames: true “machines of the visible” that bring together technology, commerce, and culture to create ongoing immersive worlds of experience and identity. The graphic engines of our time demand careful study, critical analysis, and imaginative interpretation.