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Who Killed America's Demo Scene?

Sunday May 19, 2019. 03:34 PM , from Slashdot/Apple
Jason Koebler shares Vice's analysis of demoparties -- 'gatherings where programmers showcase artistic audiovisual works, known as demos, after a day- or days-long coding marathon that is part bacchanal and part competition' -- starting with a visit to New York's Synchrony.
I had arrived just in time to catch the end of a set by the electronic musician Melody Loveless, who was at a folding table near the front of the room writing code that generated the music. These sorts of live coding performances have been a staple of demoparties -- gatherings organized by and for the creative computing underground -- for decades... Demos are often made by teams of programmers and are almost always rendered in real time (as opposed to, say, an animated movie, which is a pre-rendered recording). Demoparty competitions, or compos, are generally divided into categories where demo submissions must adhere to certain restrictions. For example, some compos only allow demos that were made on a Commodore 64 computer or demos that were created using under 4,000 bytes of data. In every case, however, the point of the competition is to push computing hardware to its limits in the service of digital art...

Given the abundance of digital art institutions in New York -- Eyebeam, Rhizome, LiveCode.NYC, and the School for Poetic Computation -- the lack of demoparties is conspicuous and in stark contrast to the European demoscene, which boasts dozens of annual demoparties, some of which attract thousands of participants. With this discrepancy in mind, I tagged along with the Synchrony crew this year in pursuit of an answer to a deceptively simple question -- who killed the American demoscene...?

The article traces the demo scene back to the 'cracktros' which introduced pirated Commodore 64 video games (and their associated 'copyparties') on floppy disks in the 1980s. Eventually this even led to police raids, but 'The crackdown on software piracy was not evenly spread throughout Europe, however. Countries like the Netherlands, Greece, Finland, Sweden, and Norway didn't have strict software piracy laws, if they had any at all, which allowed the warez scene to flourish there.' And by the early 1990s games 'became a taboo when the community started defining its borders and aggressively distancing itself from other communities occupying the same computer hobbyist domain,' wrote Markku Reunanen, a lecturer at Aalto University, in 2014.

Vice adds that 'Although the demoscene has many elements in common with the warez scene from which it emerged, it differentiated itself by emphasizing technically challenging aesthetics. Whereas software cracking was largely pragmatic and gaming was about entertainment, the demoscene was about creating computer art that was difficult to produce at the level of the code, but also visually and aurally pleasing to consume. It was, in short, a competitive form of digital art.... Today, the fundamental aspects of the demoscene are the same. Demoparties are still organized around a competition and remain an almost exclusively European phenomenon. Demosceners still police the boundaries of their discipline vis-a-vis gaming and some sceners continue to work exclusively with retro machines like the C64 and Amiga.'

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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