Within the context of an extended inquiry into dominant systems of representation, algorithmically generated worlds, and the subjection of life’s complex processes to instruments of measurement and calculation, we present Harun Farocki’s last complete work, Parallel I-IV. The four-part cycle deals with the image genre of computer animation. Excerpts from popular games such as Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, and Assassin’s Creed are accompanied by an essayistic voiceover exploring such topics as the rendering of nature, the possibilities of bodily movement, first-person point of view, and the peculiar physics of the gamespace. Parallel I–IV also includes footage of animators at work, making the labor involved in producing these algorithmic simulacra visible. In his speculative response to the historical fascination of cinema, Farocki inserts video games into a longer history of visuality, exploring their kinship with pre-Hellenistic conceptions of the world and referencing classic texts of film theory to construct a comparative framework that disputes teleological narratives of progress.
Parallel I opens up a history of styles in computer graphics. The first games of the 1980s consisted of only horizontal and vertical lines. This abstraction was seen as a failing, and today representations are oriented towards photo-realism.
Parallel II and III seek out the boundaries of the game worlds and the nature of the objects. It emerges that many game worlds take the form of discs floating in the universe – reminiscent of pre-Hellenistic conceptions of the world. The worlds have an apron and a backdrop, like theatre stages, and the things in these games have no real existence. Each of their properties must be separately constructed and assigned to them.
Parallel IV explores the games' heroes, the protagonists whom the respective players follow through 1940s L.A., a post-apocalyptic, a Western, or other genre worlds. The heroes have no parents or teachers; they must find the rules to follow of their own accord. They hardly have more than one facial expression and only very few character traits, which they express in several different if almost interchangeable short sentences. They are homunculi, anthropomorphous beings created by humans. Whoever plays with them has a share in the creator's pride.
Over 70 years, Harun Farocki created over 100 films and installations showing how image-making technology can be used to shape public perception. His work often tackles controversial topics, from the use of napalm by the U.S. in the Vietnam War in Inextinguishable Fire (1969) to video games and conflict simulation during the second Iraq War in Serious Games I-IV (2010).