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Ray Thomas

C.O.R.P.S.E. (Corporate Organism Replication and Patterning in a Simulated Ecosystem)

The Foundation is supporting the development of C.O.R.P.S.E. (Corporate Organism Replication and Patterning in a Simulated Ecosystem), an on-line computer game for one or more players. The interface will be created by Ray Thomas, one of the core members of the collective, in collaboration with a team of programmers and members of ®™ark (RTMArk). The game will eventually be made available on the ®™ark server for anyone to download and play on their own PC or in multi-user configurations over the Web.

In keeping with the collective's critical and subversive activity since 1993, which has earned it international recognition, ®™ark is once again targeting the hegemony of large American corporations. This time around, it is creating a computer game that models corporate behaviour in almost the same way scientists model the behaviour of biological organisms in complex ecosystems. Stamped with the collective's usual humour and irony, C.O.R.P.S.E. will serve as an ethical counterpoint to the tyranny of the economy over the social and political spheres.

In its manifesto-like project description, ®™ark draws analogies between the living organism that freely proliferates and large corporations whose raison d'être is to exponentially increase the capital of its shareholders. (1) A "corporation," in theory, is a group of individuals who act with a common economic interest under a social and legal contract; in reality, these corporations exist as independent entities, subject to their own laws, which often run counter to the common good. Their vital needs are simpler than living organisms, but are nonetheless subject to environmental factors (currency fluctuations, stock market conditions) which govern their growth. Inasmuch as geneticists are now able to modify the evolution of complex ecosystems by transforming the genetic algorithms of the constituent biological organisms, ®™ark theorizes that it is possible to apply the same discoveries and techniques of artificial life and biotechnology to corporations.

Within the playful world of C.O.R.P.S.E., participants will apply laws that regulate the evolution of fictional biological entities that are metaphorically associated with the operations of a company. As in other artificial life games that allow players to change the attributes of the characters and their environment and then watch how the system evolves, C.O.R.P.S.E. will serve as a home laboratory for creating an alternative economic model. Players will be able to observe the effects of their regulatory choices on the evolution of their virtual ecosystems, and thus visualize the effects of similar actions in real-world socio-economics.

By exploiting the media attention generated by its previous projects, together with the resources of the Internet, ®™ark hopes to distribute the game in a variety of contexts, reaching audiences normally outside the purview of contemporary art.

The recent Enron debacle has radically changed public opinion vis-à-vis corporate freedom and accountability. In this context, when discussion is now possible, ®™ark believes that this visualization tool will help measure the consequences of allowing large corporations to operate with minimal regulations.

Vincent Bonin © 2002 FDL

(1) Quoted from Ray Thomas's proposal.