"THE HACKER DEMO SCENE AND IT'S CULTURAL ARTIFACTS"
School of Design
Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Western Australia
The paper reports on a study undertaken into vernacular forms of multimedia
production referred to as "demos" or "intros" and variants
of these terms among adherents of a computer oriented subculture identifying
itself as "the scene". The cultural and technological factors
which are thought to have influenced the evolution of the genre since the
early 1980's are discussed as are observations which distinguish a specific,
almost exclusively male gender, internationally dispersed anarchistic youth
subculture which holds this form of cultural production as a principal
An analysis of a number of examples of the genre provides tentative information
on the dynamics of the subculture which survives on the basis of liberty
and co-operation in the absence of coercive or cohesive structural influence,
and presents an overview of the "demo" genre form in terms of function and
The study was undertaken from 1992 to 1994 and resulted in an account
of a cyberculture which evolved before the current widespread availabilityof
access to the world wide web via graphical browsers such as Mosaic, Netscape
or Internet Explorer. It was and is a subculture whose transactions are
created and delivered through the computer screen, though in it's formative
years the transmission and exchange of the data was by means of floppy disk
passed on by hand or through the international postal service. Files were
also maintained and distributed on private scene bulletin board systems.
These were operated by keen amateurs while the internet was still the exclusive
domain of government instrumentalities and research institutions. It is
also a subculture about which very little has been written or reported outside
of its own internal communications in the form of diskzines, and demo
scrolltexts and the author acknowledges the useful information in the
book by Phil Shatz Walkthoughs and Flybys and the more recent article
Digital Graffiti which appeared in the UK edition of WIRED magazine,
issue 1.03 in June 1995, by Dave Green, and republished in the US edition,
issue 3.07 in July 1995, retitled Demo Or Die! (the unacknowledged
slogan of demo group SANITY). The resources accessed at the time of the
Scandinavia ftp.luth.se 188.8.131.52 pub/aminet/
Switzerland litamiga.epfl.ch 184.108.40.206 pub/aminet/
Germany ftp.uni-kl.de 220.127.116.11 pub/aminet/
Germany ftp.uni-erlangen.de 18.104.22.168 pub/aminet/
Germany ftp.cs.tu-berlin.de 22.214.171.124 pub/aminet/
Germany ftp.uni-paderborn.de 126.96.36.199 pub/aminet/
USA ftp.etsu.edu 188.8.131.52 pub/aminet/
USA wuarchive.wustl.edu 184.108.40.206 pub/aminet/
UK src.doc.ic.ac.uk 220.127.116.11 pub/aminet/
Australia splat.aarnet.edu.au 18.104.22.168 pub/aminet/
Funet: Located in Finland, Funet (nic.funet.fi) contains a large collection
of Amiga demos. The majority of demos are in the directory /pub/amiga/demos.
(Weiss A, An Amiga User's View of the Internet, Internet World,
Mecklermedia Corporation, USA, May 1994, p 44-54)
(Speton J G, aminet/text/hyper/adl1129.lha, Aminet Amiga CD ROM,
Walnut Creek, USA, Feb. 1994)
As a result of the meteoric popularisation of internet, dramatic
in lodgement and access to online information which have occurred in the short
time since the completion of this authors preliminary study and in addition
to the publication of several CD ROM compilations of demos now available,
today information on the subject under discussion is readily available by
simply entering the word demo into the requestor of a favourite search
engine. Useful suggested starting points are:
http://www.iprom.com/amigaweb/amiscene.html - (The Amiga Demo Scene)
http://www.cdrom.com/pub/demos/hornet/html/index.html - (PC Demos
ftp://ftp.funet.fi/pub/amiga/demos/ - (large archive of Amiga demos for
In this paper the demo and intro genre of computer based
audio visual production, is shown to be the primary sign equipment of groups
within a subculture usually referred to from within, as the scene,
the demo scene or the Amiga scene. The scene is an aspect
of a wider information technology related cultural environment which has
it's origins with the beginnings of the automation of national and
telecommunications, and is characterised by an impetus among its adherents
towards the discovery and exploitation of features available within the
technological environment which are not publicly documented. The hacker
ethos within Today's information culture has been journalistically incorporated
within a once fashionable, now passe cyberpunk image, which while
sharing some philosophical
positions and possibly providing attributes in terms of personal accessories
which might be adopted by individuals, is not however representative of
the demo scene. It is shown that in terms of traditional sociological
criteria, the demo scene can be regarded as a distinct subculture
in it's own right, and that the body of audio visual production is substantial
and constant enough in purpose to warrant recognition as a distinct category
of cultural artefact. The complexity of this cultural production however,
and the incremental development of sophistication raises questions of
beyond it's immediate functionality.
REASONS FOR THE INVESTIGATION
The investigation into this vernacular form of multimedia was undertaken
in order to gain knowledge about the extent of this form of cultural
some understanding as to the motivation involved, and to explore the
of applying elements of the audio visual syntax observed in the production
of audio visual communication directed at a youth audience.
The investigation was undertaken following the casual observation and
collection of these materials since 1986 following the acquisition of an
Amiga computer system. When this study commenced in 1992, some 70 examples
of the genre had been collected on 3.5 inch micro floppy disks, their normal
means of distribution. Although the extent of this form of production was
not known at the time, a number of the examples contained sufficient material
of a technical and audio visual sophistication not possible to easily replicate
using the conventional audio visual and multimedia software of the day,
coupled with apparently international origins and the use of obscure pseudonyms
or tags by the authors, to indicate that further investigation of
the phenomenon might be worth while. During the following period until March
1993, a total of 765 examples of the genre were collected and database
according to the criteria listed below. Analysis of the collected data revealed
391 different groups as being responsible for this production. Speton's
data revealed a further 320 groups (Speton J G,
Aminet Amiga CD ROM, Walnut Creek, USA, Feb. 1994). Though not definitive,
711 groups internationally, involved in cultural production of a particular
audio visual genre is thought to be significant..
Other factors prompting the investigation were the apparent absence of
this sometimes irreverent though frequently spectacular genre of production
associated with the two market dominant personal computer types of the day,
the Apple Macintosh and the IBM PC or its clones, and paucity of any discussion
of the genre in either culturally or computer oriented literature with the
exception of passing acknowledgment of specific examples and their special
effects but exclusively within the Amiga computer oriented leisure press.
Of the materials at hand at the commencement of the study which could
be attributed to the demo or intro genre, a number of characteristics were
evident which distinguished this type of production from the several thousand
commercial and non commercial software titles available. These can be
a. The programs are not commercially produced for sale.
b. The authors and contributors if identified almost always use
c. The items generally allude to a syndicated allegiance with a group
d. The programs' overt function is message passing and skill exposition.
e. Kinetic qualities were unachievable using commercial multimedia
f. Real time computer generated music is part of the presentation.
g. Visual effects push the supposed limits of the machine's capability.
h. Chronologically developing repertoire of visual kinetic effects.
i. If included, frequently uninhibited, egotistical, vernacular text.
k. Visual presentation generally non narrative, often linked to or by
l. Evidently almost entirely male gender produced.
m. The software code is inaccessible without highly specialised
n. The software frequently employs a non standard disk operating system.
o. Graphic design content is often skilfully executed.
p. Graphic style frequently derived from science fiction or fantasy
q. Visual effects often copied from other demos with increased
r. International origins attributable, predominantly to northern Europe.
s. Evidence of cross national co-operation in production.
t. Evidence of predominantly adolescent male youth participation.
u. Distribution by mail, modem, PD software libraries and personal
v. . Minor acknowledgment, only in Amiga computer specific leisure press.
A literature search conducted at the time with the aim of determining
both the extent and motivation behind the production of the materials under
investigation revealed no direct or significant critical commentary on the
artifacts here referred to as Demos or Intros published prior to 1993. There
were however numerous references to the materials in a variety of Amiga
computer specific, mainly leisure oriented magazines. These references usually
within columns discussing PD or public domain software are limited to
of new examples with brief descriptions and subjective assessments by the
editorial staff. This approach to the subject has been common in a number
of British magazines for some years. A regular item for example in the British
publication Amiga Format since 1990, has been Demos Corner,
currently PD Demo Zone. Typical of the style of critique offered
INTROS DISK #23 17 Bit Disk 550
Six superb mini demos from the likes of D-Mob, Level 4, Red and Black,
Powerlords, Jester Brothers and Unique. Just when you thought you were safe
from any further Batman hype, the Jester Brothers spring on you the remix
of the Batdance Remix. Meaner, moodier and more manic than before.
You'll love it to bits.
(Amiga Format, March 1990, p. 93)
Subsequently such sections in magazines have frequently been accompanied
by Top Ten charts provided by public domain software distribution
companies supplying the review software, although the titles listed usually
include many items of a more general nature such as slide shows, music disks
and utilities not falling within the remit of the characteristics enumerated
above. This is a typical listing provided by Telescan Computer
1. Fit Chix II AGA
3. Point of Sale AGA
4. Heliopolis AGA
5. World of Manga AGA
7. Boris Vallejo
10. Technological Death
[AGA denotes advanced graphics architecture, a colour display mode.]
(Bradley S, PD Demo Zone, Amiga Format, January 1994)
It must be said that little information is to be gained from such reviews
and while acclamation is in evidence for the effects achieved, insight into
the motivation behind the productions is extremely scarce, if not none
As essentially marketing vehicles for commercial software and hardware vendors,
a general observation concerning the leisure press available for overview
without detailed scrutiny, indicates this source not to be particularly
fruitful as a focus of insight into the material under investigation.
WALKTHROUGHS AND FLYBYS
In his book (Shatz P, Wakthroughs And Flybys CD, Waite Group Press,
1993), Shatz usefully touches on the nature of demos and provides some insight
into the reason for their production. The "flashy bits" he writes,
are written in custom assembly language and that the creators have "broken
every rule and used every trick necessary to squeeze the maximum performance
out of your PC". This confirms the view arrived at in this study since
the history of the genre appears to be strongly characterised by an irreverence
for the official performance specification of the hardware used. Three further
characteristics drawn from Shatz's small sample are significant and in line
with the observations of the present study. The age distribution of the
producers, the teamwork involved and the issue of attitude. The ages of
members of the Future Crew are reported as ranging from 16 to 21.
They "intend to keep creating demos and distributing them for free
because they have so much fun doing so". Shatz states that the groups,
referring to the message networks of Europe, "exude a spirit of
that is quite difficult for the average secretive Silicon Valley software
developer to understand" and that for "these kids" it's all
"just a hobby". Finally Shatz usefully describes the division
of labour, due to the complexity of the process required to complete a
project which can take up to a year to produce, the division of labour being
amongst graphics specialists , music specialists and programmers.
IDENTIFICATION AND SOURCING OF THE STUDY MATERIAL
An understanding and definition of the descriptors "demo",
variant "megademo" and "intro" as well as well as the
comprehensive descriptors for the source, the "demo scene" or
just the "scene", relevant to this study based upon common usage
in the relevant leisure press, common self reference within the texts
in the study materials themselves, and confirmation within electronic
DISKZINES or disk magazines distributed within what revealed itself
to be the international community of demo producers, and occurring in
PD libraries, ftp sites and on Bulettin Board systems. Some 400 disks were
collected for the study yielding 743 examples of the genre and more than
20 titles of underground diskzines including: FREEDOM CRACK, EUROCHART,
INFANT DISK MAG, FRAUD, GRAPEVINE, RAM JAM, ZINE, ICE, HACK MAG, MCDISK,
STOLEN DATA, TRADER, TOP SECRET, SLIME, FREE 'N' EASY, CRACKERS JOURNAL,
CHIT CHAT, MAGGY, PLAYBYTE and BLIPVERTS. Other materials were music
disks, animation disks and a variety of miscellaneous utility software and
picture disks generally emanating from the demo community, used for reference
but not strictly part of this study. The diskzines are the exception since
in addition to texts embedded in the demos and intros themselves, they
the prime source for a view of the fabric of a subculture.
STUDY SAMPLE ANALYSIS
The collected genre examples were videorecorded and a database was
in order to extract information useful to the study objective pertaining
to the extent of this form of cultural production as well as facilitating
access to specific examples within the collection for further study. A number
of database searches revealsed the following:
391 differently named groups were identified as having produced the
743 examples of the genre between 1987 and 1993.
Of the genre sample collected, 1 item was produced in 1987, 14 items
in 1988, 85 items in 1989, 246 items in 1990, 271 items in 1991, 125 items
in 1992 and 1 item in 1993.
Of the 391 groups identified in the sample, 265 produced only 1 demo
each, 64 groups produced 2 each, 26 produced 3 each, 13 produced 4, 6 produced
5, 4 produced 6 each, 5 produced 7 each, 1 group produced 9, 3 groups produced
10 each, 3 groups produced 11 each and one group Anarchy of the UK,
had produced 20 demos or intros in addition to 10 issues of Stolen Data
disk magazine by the time of the survey.
Out of the 743 collected, 339 genre examples were identified where a
country of origin was readily evident either by direct statement of contact
address or given international telephone number. Of these 64 were produced
in the now United Germany, 47 in Finland, 45 in Australia, 38 in Sweden,
38 in Norway, 30 in Denmark, 26 in the UK, 21 in France, 10 in Switzerland,
8 in the USA, 8 in The Netherlands, 8 in Austria, 6 in Holland, 5 in New
Zealand, 5 in Italy, 5 in Belgium, 4 in Poland, 4 multinational, 3 in Turkey,
3 in Hungary, 1 in Iceland, 1 in Luxembourg and 1 in the former Yugoslavia.
(NB. Many of the examples of the genre, indicated within scrolling texts
and greeting lists that groups had members and chapters active in more than
one country and review of the material suggests that international cooperation
on projects is substantially more prevalent than the 4 identified examples
DYNAMICS OF THE SUBCULTURE
The database analysis suggests that demo groups are in the main ephemeral
entities, two thirds of the sample producing only one example of the demo
or intro genre. Taking into account Speton's data, the indication is that
probably closer to three quarters of identified groups have created no more
than one production. Further conclusions which may be drawn from the data
and scene disk publications are that groups, which are often very small,
consisting of as few as two individuals consist essentially of fairly transient
alliances; that members are not necessarily limited in their allegiance
exclusively to one group, it not being uncommon for individuals from one
group contributing to the productions of another or simply changing groups
(this is confirmed in scene disk publication articles such as the news section
of Grapevine #12, and that individual active membership
of the scene is in the majoroty of cases relatively short term, one or two
Of the 391 groups identified from the 743 genre examples collected in
this study only 24 have productions whose dates of origin have been identified
as spanning more than 2 years. Of the 24, 3 groups, Alcatraz, Fairlight
and Kefrens have been identified as having productions spanning the 5 years
from 1988 to 1992. The productions of 9 groups, Crionics, Defjam, Razor
1911, Rebels, Red Sector, Scoopex, Silents, Spreadpoint and Zenith span
4 years; and from 12 groups Anarchy, Complex, Decay, Dual Crew, Majic 12,
Mystix, Paralax, Sanity, Share And Enjoy, Slipstream, Zaphod (an individual)
and Zero Defects span 3years.
Media reporting, anecdote and hearsay suggest, that among others, elements
within the demo scene have been associated with software piracy, as referred
to above, that is the duplication and/or distribution of commercially produced
software in contravention of copyright legislation and other aspects of
the criminal code in various countries. This has been borne out in examination
of the text legends in the category of productions known as intros. Intros
to what? A question with a frequently obvious answer confirmed in an article
Hoist the Jolly Roger by Kelly Beswick (Amiga Games, October 1991,
p46-48) with the explanation:
"When you first load a copy of a game that's been pirated by a
team of crackers, you usually see a list of names running across the bottom
of the screen. These are the pseudonyms the hackers like to give themselves.
It's all part of the bravado, with messages being sent to fellow pirates
and sly digs being made at the people who provide the technical
Anecdotal and journalistic evidence suggests that computer software piracy
as a social phenomenon generally pervades the growing international community
of computer users, though numerically probably to a lesser extent than
media and music piracy in the context of domestic off air video and audio
copying and re-recording. It seems nevertheless that official and commercial
interests need a focus for blame. Hackers as a generic entity emerge as
prime candidates, an ill defined subgroup of society more sharply and
called cyberpunks following William Gibsons imaginative nomenclature
in his book Neuromancer (Victor Gollancz publ. 1984) and Marianne
Trench's 1990 documentary film Cyberpunk .
Certainly in the Amiga world this association is clear and seemingly
blatantly confirmed. Many supposed teenage exponents of copy protection
code breaking, crackers, purposely attract attention to themselves
or at least their adopted and ominous pseudonym entities through the inclusion
of cynical announcements in their distributed illicit entertainment products.
Cooperative endeavour in obtaining, cracking and redistributing illicit
software appears to be one of the focus activities of demo groups.
Breaking copy protection schemes while in itself a challenge is inevitably
also a form of industrial sabotage and it is clear that there are determined
elements within the international hacker and demo subculture whose anti
corporate disposition gains an aberrant satisfaction from the causation
of overt destruction of commercial protection. The issue of this form of
impersonal violence against organisations through their commercial property
is perhaps usefully enlightened by Laurie Taylor and Paul Walton's essay
Idustrial Sabotage: Motives and meanings (Ed. Cohen S, Images of
Deviance, Pelican 1971, p.219-245). Walton and Taylor examine both sabotage
as fun and as individualistic destruction. They describe industrial situations
"where there appears to be almost a hysterical atmosphere in which
every opportunity for `cocking' up the works will be taken". They conclude
"collective messing up of the commodity is another occasion for a gleeful
release of tension".
THE HACKER SUBCULTURE
In terms of this study an appropriate general definition of hacker is
to be found in The New Hacker's Dictionary (Raymond E, MIT Press, 1992 3rd
"hacker [originally one who makes furniture with an axe] n.1. A
person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how
to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn
only the minimum necessary.... 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge
of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [depreciated]
A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking
around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. See cracker...."
"cracker n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985
by hackers in defence against journalistic misuse of hacker...."
An interesting application of the relevant term appears in the title
of Michael Scott's article Hacking the Material World (Wired,
1993, p. 60-61), referring to "true hacker's spirit" he states
"Tunnellers are hacking the subterranean passages and hidden crawl
spaces of colleges and universities across America....". Scott describes
a style of architectural adventuring engaged in by groups of students at
campuses across the USA, in which the objective is to penetrate and discover
hidden accesses, service corridors and shafts of large buildings, presumably
for the thrill and adventure of it, and answering the challenge of discovering
In the foreword to Eric Raymond's dictionary is an account by Guy Steele
Jr. of a hacker community pre-dating the present where the preoccupation
was the invention and development of a technology and the establishing of
early computer networking systems rather than the sinister activities ascribed
generally to hackers and cyberpunks today.
CYBERPUNK AND THE DEMO SCENE
Within the demo scene the audio visual cultural artifact produced has
become a currency. It is a means of transaction not only for the expression
of a set of aesthetic ideals but also for the claiming of status and respect
within a transnational community. These productions seem to be a means for
declaring mastery over an aspect of an increasingly technologically mediated
world. This ability to manipulate technology as evident in the demos and
intros produced and the rapidity with which software copy protection schemes
are cracked sits comfortably alongside a cyberpunk creed which declares
oneness with technology. This assertion of continued presence by Kaauld
appeared in issue 16 of the demo group LSD's, Grapevine underground diskzine
circulated in December 1993:
C Y B E R P U N K ? D E A D ? N O F U C K I N ' W A Y D U D E !
So, was cyberpunk a mid/late '80's idea that never made it off the street?
Or is it still around, festering like the cancerous growth it was always
meant to be? Well, I'm a cyberpunk and I don't care. If it runs on any form
of electricity I want it! I'll fix it! I'll fuck it! I'll live it! So, are
you a cyberpunk? Here's some of the essential things for a 'punk to have:
SONY MINIDISC - Complete with latest hardcore industrial disc.
LASER POINTER - For hassling people in dark alleys.
PORTABLE HANDSCAN - (like the scanman 32 for Mac) for literary
for own manifesto. Don't want paper anyway.
SONY MULTIMEDIA CD-ROM PLAYER - Preferably with a pirate copy of Vitual
light inside. If not then Tetsuo or Bladerunner will do.
CELLULAR PHONE - (with scrambler) for low budget coding/decoding.
APPLE POWERBOOK 180 - It's gotta be done. Get a modem for it as well.
STUN GUN - Self defence (plenty offensive).
SONY PYXIS - Find out were the hell you are with this longitude/latitude
finder via sats. MICRO CAMERA - Hardcopy data.
MONOCULAR 10x25mm - shoulder surfing.
Latest copies of Wired and Mondo 2000. If ya don't know these then ya
ain't a 'punk. So are ya a 'punk? Well, if you are getting there, here's
the latest jargon for ya to learn and cruise with.
WEBJAM - A multitasking rave or tribal gathering where self selected
performance artists do their thing simultaneously.
PICKING - Archiving a working model of a computer to read data stored
in that computers format.
NET SPIDER - Someone who spends a lot of time going from one terminal
to another. A real net personality.
LIFE SUPPORT - Used to describe the condition of a business or product
that is struggling.
LICK YA LIPS - basically, get ready - here we go.
FULL ON HONKY HANDSHAKE - (Not to be used racially) Used to describe
a standard handshake protocol that allows peripherals to connect with out
FRIDAY NIGHT MAKER - Slang for that guy who leaves at two in the morning
and pukes over the pavement.
BITRAKING - The computer equivalent of muckraking - of journalism as
it is sometimes known.
So? How about it? Cyberpunk dead? Nope sorry no way not ever. Cyberpunk
was NOT a mid '80's idea. It's been around for years. It just got popular
in the mid '80's.
I'm 22 now and I've been a 'punk since 83 and I like it. If anyone wants
to communicate with me on this subject or any other then type ya letter
and send it in ASCII to me on either Amiga/PC or MAC disk at this address:
Kaauld The House On The Hill
15 St. Pauls Road
(LSD [Leeds Spreading Division], Grapevine, December 1993)
A further contribution in the same issue is worth examining in this context
of a style of existence. Where Kauuld list attributes and accessories, the
anonymous author, Cygnus, here elaborates a philosophical position, perhaps
idealised but certainly expressing an elitist stance at odds with and distinct
from the mainstream of society. A strategy for survival?
"C Y B E R P U N K E X P L A I N E D
A Cygnus production
O R G A N I Z A T I O N A L
1. Communication is the foundation of Empire.
2. Don't just sit there - Do it!
3. KIS/KIE - Keep It Simple/Keep It Elegant
4. Experiment, Experiment, Experiment.
5. Quality never goes begging.
6. Decentralize and make it worthwhile.
7. Nobody ever went broke by making a profit.
8. Listen and satisfy.
9. Crossbreeding produces mutation.
10. Be different. If you can't be different, be strange.
11. Style is a weapon.
12. The individual is smarter than the mob.
13. Reality is what you make it.
14. The Idea is an immortal virus.
15. Superior technology is superior choice.
16. Action's on the Edge.
Enjoy it - all else follows.
I N D I V I D U A L I S M
Cyberpunk is the triumph of the individual through the power of technology.
Modern and post-modern technology has given the individual the power to
express and realize the creative diversity of his own ideas, a power
P E R S O N A L T E C H N O L O G Y
Cyberpunk is closely linked with personal technology, which can be defined
as technology which is "close to the skin." Examples are the personal
computer, the Walkman, the colour-changing contact lens, and so on. This
is the kind of technology which gives power to the individual.
T H E E D G E
Cyberpunk is existence on the Edge. The Edge refers to the frontiers,
be they social, technological, or mental. It is an attitude which embraces
the new, is willing to try the untried, is willing to experiment. It is
a fascination with the fringes, and the boundary conditions, and in general,
with the Edge of current reality.
S T Y L E
Cyberpunk is Style. Style is used to make a point, to entertain, and
to make an individual stand out in a crowd. In Cyberpunk, Style applies
to everything from fashion, to software, to hardware, to behaviour, to
under the Sun. Whatever it is, it should look good, feel slick, and be done
with elegance. In Cyberpunk, Style is the ultimate weapon, and it is used
to wage war on the mundane.
I N N O V A T I O N
Cyberpunk is innovation at all levels. It is the attitude that there
is always a better way of doing something and that there is glory in
D I A G O N A L T H I N K I N G
Cyberpunk is diagonal thinking, which can be defined as creative rule
breaking, nonconformal cerebration and, in general, using virgin neural
pathways on a regular basis. It is very closely linked with innovation,
since innovation is frequently theresult of diagonal thinking.
U N D E R G R O U N D H U M O U R
There is a strong element of underground humour in Cyberpunk, and this
is a part of Style. The essential absurdity of modern life is well realized
in the concept of Cyberpunk and is expressed all over the place. It's an
irreverent attitude towards the world that characterizes Cyberpunk.
C O M M U N I C A T I O N
Cyberpunk is, above all, communication. The transfer and manipulation
of information (which is what communication is, in this context) is, more
than anything else, what Cyberpunk is all about. Cyberpunk rides the seas
of information along the links, whether they are video, or telephone, or
computer networks, or printed media, and it is the interaction of myriads
of individuals along those links which makes cyberpunk possible. Cyberpunk
is about the mastery of information flow and about the skill in shaping,
processing, and manipulating data."
(LSD [Leeds Spreading Division], Grapevine, December 1993)
Cyberpunk is primarily an intellectual attitude about personal survival,
empowerment and control within, and in defence against an all embracing
governmental and corporate technological infrastructure which seeks to dominate
society for commercial and political ends. Cyberpunk is not about a perceived
threat in demeanour in the same sense in which Hebdige discusses youth in
his book Hiding In The Light. The light cyberpunk hides in is not
in the visual domain on display to the public. It is impersonal, electronic,
digital, international. The kind of outward visible manifestations in person,
drawn attention to by Hebdige in the opening chapter of his book, the punk
or skinhead style might be an attribute or accessory adopted by an individual,
but it is not the central issue in cyberpunk. An element of attitude as
identified by Hebdige as "The power, that is to pose - to pose a
(Hebdige D, Hiding in the Light, Comedia, 1988, p. 18), finds expression
on the worlds telecommunication networks and computer installations. The
riot and destruction, if it happens, is not galvanised through the dynamics
of the mob. It occurs by stealth, meted out by odd and not necessarily
individuals as a virus without a specific target.
Hebdige's analysis of young lives is particularly useful here and the
parallels between his observations of youth style and aspects of the demo
scene are significant. There is however a clear difference in the context
within which the external evidence of the subculture occurs. There is a
paradigm shift in the medium of the externalised expression of the culture.
Hebdige refers to visual evidence in the world accessible to conventional
perception. The demo scene operates in cyberspace. It's externalised evidence
is available only through a computer display. Hebdige's references to dress
style among youth identifying with one group or another has it's parallel
within the demo scene in the style of corporate audio visual facade the
demo groups present in their names visual symbols and logotype devices.
These present a notion of legitimacy as is the practice in conventional
business but unlike business the graphic style changes with every new demo
release only the group name remains constant, Budbrain, Kefrens, Razor
1911, Italian Bad Boys, Scoopex or Possessed. This visual corporate
facade is like the dress style of the costers which Hebdige describes or
the wearing of worthless objects as jewellery. The demo group's constant
change of visual symbol versions could be construed to be a comment in
to the permanent nature of such devices in the conventional world.
THE RELEVANCE OF CYBERPUNK TO THE SCENE
Interestingly while cyberpunk has emerged as a journalistically convenient
term into which adherents of the demo scene might be seen most easily to
fit, it is significant that self reference either in underground publications
of the demo scene or within their productions almost never includes the
term. The two manifesto style items cited above, therefore should be viewed
as individual contributions to a scene discourse, rather than being necessarily
representative of or defining the scene in any specific way. Aspects of
cyberpunk, particularly as expressed in the Kaauld item, represent a strong
leaning or tendency towards commodity fetishism as consumer and user which
concurs with Hebdige's discussion of life in the consumption economy (Hiding
In The Light, p.192), the merger of subjects and objects, which is in
effect a reliance for self definition through technological possessions,
rather than the definition of self through the creation of evidence of an
ability to produce, as is the case in the demo scene. While both exist within
the technologically mediated postmodern sensorium, it is clear that
the sign equipment (Goffman E, The Presentation of Self in Everyday
Life (1959), Pelican 1969, p.39) employed by cyberpunk to define social
identity is appropriated in the form of technological hardware, whereas
in the demo scene it is self created in the form of audio visual cultural
THE DEMO AS CULTURAL ARTIFACT
Demos are not made without a cost. The amount of time, patience, knowledge
and skill development required are far from trivial. To make a competent
production in this genre, graphic, musical and programming ability must
be integrated and the work can occupy from a few hours for an intro by a
veteran group, to several weeks or months for a major demo release, as is
often recollected in included texts. An interview reported in RAW Diskmag
#2 published by PURE METAL CODERS in early 1992 between PGCS of ALCATRAZ
and Lord Helmet reports that ALCATRAZ's then new demo ODYSSEY, had taken
the group over 10 months to produce.
Invariably the production credits indicate teamwork as members contribute
different abilities towards a common end, often expressing pride in each
others work. The projects sometimes involve international cooperation as
scattered individuals or chapters collaborate on larger productions. To
the subculturally uninitiated, these productions are inconsequential, coloured
shapes flying around on screen to a musical score somewhat limited in it's
dynamic range and style. A comment that the text is meaningless and that
there are better things on the television may well be appropriate, but for
the aspiring demo maker, established group member or an amateur computer
enthusiast, a demo or intro even without text presents within the sequences
of patterns and dancing shapes, encoded information of at least equivalent
significance to the aesthetic gratification this variety of eye candy might
To the enlightened a secondary reading of the presentation will reveal
information about competence, skill and ingenuity in manipulating the hidden
capabilities of the hardware. This presupposes sophisticated programming
competence or at least the ability to access and modify the work of others,
preferably in assembler code. The animated images are of mathematically
described objects, geometric shapes and numerical control of the system
graphics processor often requiring hundreds of lines of such code. Logotypes
frequently executed with enviable craftsmanship, generally have a monumental
appearance of rock, metal or gothic horror dripping blood typography as
found on cinema posters or video cassette covers. Pictorial imagery where
used frequently conforms to a visual realism based on forms of popular science
fiction and fantasy illustration seen in the better comics, the work of
Boris Valejo, Roger Dean and similar. Musically, while early examples rely
on simple computer audio synthesis and a style similar to that heard in
games arcades, the sound which accompanies today's demos and intros is usually
considerably more sophisticated, employing digitised audio samples, sequenced
into the rhythms and treatments of popular music such as hip hop, acid,
funk, rap, techno and other variants, but with frequently elaborate melody
lines and variations, probably due to the technical limitations of including
In addition to the customary musical accompaniment, demos and intros
also have been found to incorporate a number of standard components or parts:
a group logo, symbol or both (illustrations as examples of artistic prowess;
text messages or announcements delivered onto the screen by various routines
such as scrolling, zooming, pixel sprinkling, etc.; graphic and animation
routines; lists of greetings to other scene members; and the credits. These
elements might appear in any order or be integrated together in any
and while intros generally only contain one or two routines, a demo or mega
demo may present 20 routines or more. Scene diskzine publications such as
Eurochart, differentiate in their voting between single part demos which
load the complete program into RAM prior to playback, and multi-load demos
which continue to load segments during the demo presentation which can last
for more than half an hour of continually changing program content. Status
within the subculture accrues to individuals or groups on the basis of overall
design or demo structure, innovation in the implementation of graphics routines
or improvement upon existing ones as indicated above, and then as a result
of evidence of expertise in specific skill areas such as illustration or
DEMOS AND STATUS
Demonstration of superiority by these means within an international peer
group appears then to be a primary function of demos in the context of the
conclusions stated at the end of chapter 2. Competition and one-upmanship
appear to be more important motivators than announcement of presence in
the scene once groups have moved beyond a basic level of competence. New
groups make a point, perhaps apologetically, within their screen texts in
drawing attention to the fact of their first productions, while it is evident
that those already established, particularly when presenting new routines
for the first time, tend to be more assertive. The group Scoopex in their
1989 demo MENTAL HANGOVER (Plate 72) in which they introduced a stencil
vector routine among others, opened the presentation with the text "THIS
ISN'T A FUCKING MEGADEMO. IT'S A SCOOPEX DEMO" and closed with
REMEMBER - SCOOPEX - GENERATIONS AHEAD", (Plate 73). Much of this type
of claim is puffery it seems in response to similar claims by other groups
(Plate 4, 1987 TechTech demo). Lord Helmet in his Summary of the Year
1991 (RAW DISKMAG #2), while acknowledging "The best demo of 1990
1989] was Mental Hangover", also points out:
"Look at the best demos of 1991. 3000% better. Just amazing how
fast the progress has gone. I think Scoopex slogan "Light years
should be changed to two months ahead. Because today Mental Hangover is
nothing. But Mental Hangover will be remembered as the first
ever made! The credits in plane vector is copied thousands time by other"
(Plate 14, Anarchy Digital Innovation).
The social grouping identified for the purpose of this study then, is
that which can be identified by means of sign equipment known by
the terms: demo, intro or their immediate variants. Further, it can
be asserted therefore that these productions are a useful criterion for
defining a distinct subculture. The 765 examples of the genre obtained as
the study sample, revealed 398 named groups existing at various times between
1987 and 1993, proclaiming authorship of distinct examples of relevant genre,
ranging from the group Anarchy having 22 productions attributed to
it, down to the majority of groups, 266, each having only 1 production
As observed through scene publications and self references in their
the demo scene consists of three tiers. The individual, the group or team
and the scene. There is also strong evidence of the importance of status
of groups within the scene ranging from elite to lame. A
of scene stratification appeared in the diskzine Freedom Crack (issue
9, 1992) by scene member, Style of Vega:
Levels of the scene
I decided to write in article just to show you like the scene is in my
head, in fact in the brain of everybody. Just to show the different levels
of the scene. I classified the scene in two different things: the demo scene,
and the criminal scene. So here's the different category WITHOUT any group
The demo scene:
Here we have the top elite of the scene. Cool groups with nice demos
and nice design, nice music, nice graphics, and fucking cool code. These
groups are at the tops of the charts, and they produce a lot of quality
stuff. They have also some BBS [Bulletin Board Systems], sometimes.
The groups who're in this section are also in the charts, sometimes for
diskmag, sometimes for cool demo, and they have very good reputation. They
own some BBS, and some swappers and this is why they are famous. They produce
also some cool demos, quality intros with nice design.
These groups are known, but they're not in any charts, coz they produce
a lot of intros, but not any cool demo/dentros. They prefer quantity than
quality, and this is why they're known. Some of them makes some quality
intros, but not more.
These groups are known only because they write articles for diskmag,
and only bcoz they swap with a lot of people. They're only `swapping group',
but they didn't produce anything. Some of them own some BBS, and they are
known in the modem scene.
They make 1 or 2 intro per year, just for fun, and they don't care about
the others groups of the scene. They just produce for themselves.
They're not known, but they think that they're pure elite bla bla. They
don't know anything of the scene, what means diskmag, they're just cli [command
line interface - standard operating system] demo makers, they also produce
demos and intros with demo makers [automated demo making utility software
- not individually coded].
They don't know what means the word `Amiga scene', and they have just
an Amiga for games.
The criminal scene
They came from the real pure top elite, these groups have the best crackers,
the fastest original suppliers and the fastest boards. They have also some
elite mail trader and some elite modem trader.
They have some fast boards [BBS], some modem traders, and they make some
trainers [modified game software to give infinite lives etc.]. They are
the fastest trainers makers and have also a lot of credits in a lot of cool
They have not any BBS. just some modem traders, and they make some trainers.
But they are not the fastest.
They make some trainer, sometimes a crack, but they havn't any modem
trader or any BBS, they just do it and spread the trainer or the crack by
They don't know what means BBS, modem traders, these groups think that
they can cracks games without problem, but they're just lame game players
who dream to crack and to make trainers.
Hope you like this little article about the different level of the scene.
You can perhaps find your own level. Remember that this article is NOT for
1 group or person. It shows you the whole scene. Anyway, if you didn't like
this article, then do something better for the next Freedom Crack!
Style's analysis recognises and differentiates two areas of endeavour
within the scene, each with their own scale of credibility and levels of
achievement for novices to aspire to.
STRUCTURE OF GROUPS WITHIN THE SUBCULTURE
The groups such as those identified, conform to Goffman's conceptual
model of group (Goffman E, Encounters (1961), Penguin University
Books 1972, p. 9), in that their "properties include regulation for
entering and leaving; capacity for collective action; division of labor,
including leadership roles; socialisation function, whether primary or adult;
a means of satisfying personal ends; and latent and manifest social function
in the environing society." Of individuals within groups, Goffman states
"....they perceive themselves as members who belong, identifying with
the organisation and receiving moral support for doing so; they sustain
a sense of hostility to outgroups. A symbolisation of the reality of the
group and one's relation to it is also involved."
Most of these features are clearly evident in the demo scene although
the associations which exist are not formalised in any conventionally official
sense. There is no governing body nor are there any written rules. There
are no geographical boundaries, even at group level membership is frequently
transnational and intercontinental. The factors which bind and define the
scene are interest in the productive potential of a common technology and
a mutual respect for skill in manipulating the technology beyond what is
supposed to be possible; an irreverent stepping beyond the edge in the
of audio visual artefacts which are the symbolisation of the reality
(Goffman 1961) of the group. Collective action and the division of labour
are prominently documented in the majority of productions with credits going
to such functionaries as coders (programmers), graphicians
or artists, musicians, swappers, spreaders (distributors), mail
traders, modem traders (software swappers using computer
and crackers (commercial software protection code breakers). Leaders
are seldom mentioned though it is to be expected that since individuals
are variably motivated then decision making can be achieved in any of a
number of ways, and the function of organiser does occur. A typical group
membership is listed in RAW DISKMAG #2 (1991):
I.P. is a new group made up of mostly modemdudes and crackers. they have
got members from Skid Row, Crystal, etc. [BBSs in capitals]
Joey Beltram Organizer, Modem
Badamon Originals Supplier
Mike 'WASTE GATE'
Mithrandhir Coder Graphician
Hybrid 'ULTIMATE DREAM'
Executioner 'TREASURE ISLAND'
Akira Originals Supplier
Zygor Modem/Mail Trader
Manx Modem/Mail Trader
Starr Coder, Cracker
Xag Coder, Trainer
HI. T. Moonweed 'FLYING TEAPOT'
Shocker Original Supplier
Flyspy Coder, Cracker
JBG Original Supplier
Alex Original Supplier
Loulou Original Supplier
Shut Berlin WHQ, 'W.T.C.'
Nephilim 'HEAVENS HELL'
Adictor Modem, Trainer
Disk Jockey Cracker
Blackcat Cracker, Trainer
Bob Duncan 'HILTON PALACE'
Rave 'LETHAL ZONE'
Jaffa Mega Swapper
The Master 'SLIME CITY'
Mercy Modem Trader
Rolling Stone 'DEVILS TRIANGLE'
H.O.S. of Sorrow 'CREEPING DEATH'
Winter Mute 'MARTIRIUM'
Gazoo 'WILD WAREZ'
Leviathon Modem Trader
While the majority of members functions within INFINITE PERFECTION appear
to be concerned with supplying, cracking and illegally redistributing
software rather than demo production the international profile is not unusual,
neither it is seen, is membership limited to a single group. The number
of BBS systems operators and modem traders listed also explains the rapid
international distribution of warez and demos once available. Group size
does vary considerably and is dependant upon factors such as length of
and priority of activity. Groups primarily concerned with software acquisition
and redistribution clearly benefit from large size and wide distribution
whereas an emphasis on demo creation may be more efficient with a small
number and close proximity. A typical smaller group for example is
C Y B E R N E T I X - WHO THE FUCK ARE WE?
By HOBBiT of CYBERNETiX
I have been asked this question several times recently. So here, free
with this issue of Grapevine, is your very own print-out-and-keep guide
to who's who in CNX. We are a fairly new group, therefore we haven't yet
got as many members as we would like. At the time of writing (17/8/92) CNX
consists of the following people;
STORM - Spends many of his waking hours staring at Xcopy. You guessed
it, Storm is a mail swapper, because that's what he does best.
BOOTLEGGER - Bootlegger codes games and stuff. And that's it really.
ROMBUST - CNX's resident boffin, Rombust likes nothing better than fiddling
around with Devpac [assembler programming software] for hours on end. He's
coded no end of games, which have gained high praise from paper mag reviewers.
He's also a cracker, which is a shame, because we've got fuck all originals
for him at the moment!
MEGADETH - The Glasgow street artist draws kewl logos 'n' stuff.
HOBBiT - The "leader" of the group. Also runs the CNX WHQ (contact
address and official swapping address). Spends most of his waking hours
Xcopying, since he swaps with an horrendous amount of contacts. But he still
finds time to fulfil hisother group role - that of total weirdo and sick
pervert. This makes him the ideal Grapevine writer!
DAN - Dan not only codes, but draws as well. What a guy!
MAD PHANTOM - Mad Phantom composes mad music in his saner moments (i.e.
not very often!)
ST. MICHAEL - In between chillin' out around Fleet, Hants (well, someone's
got to live there!), St.M often finds time to casually chuck a few jiffies
in the postbox. So that's why his postman's not got any kids.... (Bit obscure
that one, think about it!) For joining our friendly, productive group (NOT
a bunch of losers with no coders! ehehe) then write to me, Hobbit, at:
(no name), 195 Old Road, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S40 3QH, England
If you're a coder/gfx/artist then please send samples of your work. If
you're a trader, make sure that ya are swappin' 0-4 day old stuff only!
end. (Grapevine #12 1992)
The way these associations develop or emerge is illustrated in a further
article from Grapevine #12, which is usefull to include here due to the
insight it provides to what may be a typical sequence of events:
A N E X - L A M E R S S T O R Y - By CARDIAXX of WDL
I was one of those who started with computers by playing games at the
old 'n' rusty [Commodore] 64. I was just starting to learn basic and had
done some lame productions and of ours some crappy demos at the Pro Demo
Creator [software for making demos without programming] (I'll bet that it
ain't one who can't remember the old PDC). Then a friend of mine bought
the ultimate machine: The Amiga 500 1.2. I must admit: I got pretty angry.
There he was with his powerful tool of an machine. Graphics which were
unthinkable. The computer freaks-dream. An Ultimate tool of the Gods. Well,
I still managed with my 64, but it wasn't the same. Then another friend
of mine got this power-tool in his possession. I was getting green of envy.
But as the strong dude I am, I still managed with my 64. Then the 3rd of
my friends bought an Amiga. I then decided, I want a taste of heaven. I
looked in the local paper and what did I see....
Amiga 500 1.2 with sampler,
genlock and 100 disks.
5000 NOK call *** ****
I was in the seventh heaven. An AMIGA, so cheap. With so much so I called
the number, like in a dream. "Yes, **** here", it answered. "Are
you the fellow who's selling an AMIGA." , I said. "Yes, but I
am sorry to say that its already sold. Sorry."
My world was in pieces. I could cry. Well, I thought a little. I said
to myself.... "How, where and by which way.... I WANT AN AMIGA NOW!"
The next day I grabbed 7000 NOK from my bank account, ran to the local computer
shop, threw the dosh on the counter and said "An Amiga 500 1.3,
I got a joystick (arcade) and a 512 kb extra memory. I carried it home.
And then plundered my friends for games.
I sat 3 days and 3 nights playing. Then I fell asleep next to my AMIGA.
I soon realised that you could to other things with the Amiga than play
old, crappy games. So I started playing new, stunning games. I was in heaven.
I got myself some contacts. and every day I got new [pirated]games: Shadow
of the Beast, Pirates, Crazy Cars II, Test Drive 2 and F18 Interceptor was
just some of the games I got.
Me and a fellow decided to start a group. We called us the extremely
original name: A-TEAM (I'm sure there is 50 groups with that name). We found
out the secret of making a startup-sequence together [initialisation software
which runs from a program disk] . And we made a tool[utility program] disc
on 2 disks. We used 2 months.
We was now a good (we thought) group. Some couple of guys from Yakutza
came over and looked at our tool disk. "Wow!" they said and asked
if we wanted to join them. We didn't, because we were pro's. After a long
period of time, we found out that it was on time to change name. We got
the name: Conspiracy. And as I had got my hands on Rsi Demomaker [software
for making demos without programming frowned upon as a lame method by bona
fide demo coders], we made a "stunning" megademo. And we arranged
our first copy party. We were the huge amount of 11 people on that party.
We were all a bunch of x-copy [fast disk duplication software bypassing
some copy protection schemes] turtles. We made more lame tool disks and
a couple of "megademos". Then I got tired of Conspiracy and joined
a self made group called TRIXEL with Dr. D which then was a member of the
false PIRATES. He showed me the secrets of ProTracker 1.1b [audio sequencing
software for creating music]. I was now a musician....
My first module [a music sequence file format] was horrible. I did manage
the rhythm and bass from the beginning. It was the melody I had trouble
with. Well, Trixel joined "Pirates" (I thought this was the real
PIRATES) and we gave out some total HORRIBLE Music disks. (Well, not that
horrible. I made two AWESOME mixes. (I was starting to get the hang of it).
I quit PIRATES and joined ROBO-TEAM. I was now a novice musician. I managed
(to a certain point) the melodies. And made two musax disks. I made some
cool musax like Dream Child and so on.... I got tired of RBT and joined
EXTENSION and made a musax disk. But a guy there made me pissed of. So I
again made a group with Dr. D called POWERMINDS.
We arranged a party with 24 people at the most. It was a success. We
made Jukebox 1 and 2 at that party. These musax disks was average. We didn't
have a coder, so we made everything in CLI. I got fed up with Dr. D after
making Jukebox III. He was from BERGEN. I got an offer from RBT (again)
about joining them. I accepted one 1 condition. If the changed their name.
We agreed on WEDLOCK. But a few days later I heard from a pal that The Hitcher
said that I wasn't a member anyway, because the other members didn't agree
to change the name. (bet he didn't ask them).
Me and Fairbrain then made our own group and called it WEDLOCK. We made
a couple of musax disk (Beatbox 1,2,3) We do now have a coder so Beatbox
4 will be an improvement compared to my other productions. We have arranged
a party which was a success (40 people). We got sponsor deals and got a
lot of money (400Kr each at 4 people) but we could have got more if The
Hicther/RBT hadn't screwed up. He didn't charge ticket price from 15 people
Well, Some may say that I am still a beginner. Yes, I agree to that if
they compare me to for example: Fleshbrain, Jesper Kyd etc. But I at least
try to learn something instead of complaining and talking. (Hear, Hear Vortex).
Now two of my friends got A2000 with hard disk and one got CDTV. I want
an A2000. Our group still needs a coder so write to....
CARDIAXX, BOX 105, 5460 HUSNES, NORWAY.
(Grapevine #12 1992)
AGE AND GENDER
The study of the collected materials indicates the demo scene as evidently
consisting almost entirely of adolescent male youth. While direct observation
of the genre materials themselves does not provide much corroborative textual
evidence of this since the participants and producers almost in every case
use pseudonyms, some speculative conclusions are nevertheless possible.
The members of the most prolific group encountered in the study, Anarchy
at some time in 1992 were for example Rush, Icronite, Milkshake, Sunjohn,
Slash, Madfreak, Maestro and Trix in Denmark; Performer, Ronan, Audiomonster,
NHP, BKK, DCA, Zoom, Rasputin, Rookie, Surferand Conquest in France; Dan,
Nuke, Krest, Critical Mass, Mystic, Kris, Del, Mole, Mr Big and Judge Drock
in England; Facet in Holland, Pinny in Germany and Trillion in the USA (Judge
Drokk, Anarchy: Members and Management, RAW DISKMAG #2, PMC, 1992).
Since these are pseudonyms or handles in the vernacular, there can only
be general assumption as to their gender when seen in credit lists or greetings
scrolltexts. Further reading in this instance shows Judge Drokk in describing
his role as organiser of Anarchy, alluding to the group members gender in
the sentence "I believe you must never put pressure onto one of your
members, you have to respect your members as individuals, each with lots
of things in his life except [in addition to] his group".
Interviews, reports, advertisements and in some instance photographs
in the various scene diskzines serve to further confirm the assumption of
the male gender orientation of the subculture. Numerous examples of
contact details have been found to include both pseudonym and real name.
For instance in issue 1 of HEXAGONE / PARASITE, a French scene diskzine
published on September 25, 1992 by the French Group INTENSE, provides contact
details of the individual group members with their real names as well as
alias handles. No female group member names were encountered in the
publication. Similarly, it has been found that articles in such publications
infer the male gender almost exclusively when referring to individuals in
the scene. Some typical extracts here taken from RAW DISKMAG #2
by PURE METAL CODERS in early 1992 illustrates:
Hawkeye left Static Bytes and joined [Kefrens] along with his
`Dreamland'. He also changed his handle to Stormbringer.
Gadget of Cytax joined due to internal problems in Cytax Sweden. He
his handle, after many tries he decided to stick with Logic.
Bold Eagle has shut down his board `The Abyzz' due to personal
The happiest musician in 1991 must be TIP. In 1990 he was dust,
in 1991 he's gold.
Also here we have a guy who has taken the whole table. I am talking
about Uno of Scoopex.
Yes you read right! Even boring Amiga Freaks can get HIV... The person
I am talking about is Rizzo/ The Silents. He is a sysop on
Uncharacteristically the same issue of RAW carries an interview article
by Lord Helmet of Pure Metal Coders, CHAT WITH SEXY AMIGA GIRL, 16
year old Wiquie of Linkoping, Sweden, a female member of the group Cytax.
Unlike the interview articles generally dwelling upon supposedly male scene
members' interests such as scene business, demo making, group administration,
competition organisation and demo evaluation, the interview with Wiquie
consists of essentially sexist chit chat on the subject of her preferences
in the opposite gender. Only one question addresses a remotely technical
"Lord Helmet: Why do you think that so few girls are attracted to
the computer? Wiqui: Girls are smart, boys are stupid!"
Perhaps significantly, Wiquie of CYTAX was not reported as having a handle
or pseudonym as is customary for male group members. In that context, the
article by way of introduction infers that Wiqui might be more a decorative
appendage to the group rather than active functionary, and simply states:
"The group is CYTAX. Her handle is being cute."
The issue of gender orientation with regard to the development of interest
in computer technology is usefully discussed by Dr. Leslie Haddon in her
essay Interactive Games (Hayward P [edited by], Culture, Technology
& Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century, John Libbey, London 1992,
p. 123-147). Haddon concludes that while girls enjoyment of computer games,
including those of a fast action arcade nature, was no less enthusiastic
that of boys, discourse on the topic of computers, the exchange of games
and game playing tips outside of the game playing environment was found
not to be regarded with the same degree of priority or importance by girls.
Haddon indicates that for boys, conversation about technical issues such
as computer games and computers can serves an important socialising function.
Haddon also observes that the opportunity for socialising available in
games arcades, socially acceptable and popular as gathering places for male
youth interested in computer games and their technologies has been generally
denied girls due to a somewhat unsavoury perception of such places by parents.
The kind of sustained ongoing preoccupation with technology which might
consequently develop in a substantial proportion of the male gender is not
according to Haddon therefore shared by their female counterparts who otherwise
engage with the same computer game texts as the males with equal enthusiasm.
Recent research conducted by Dr. Valerie Clarke and Joy Teague, both
of Deakin University in Australia, would appear to confirm Haddons conclusions
concerning social influences. On the basis of research data collected over
three years, Clarke and Teague report, though in the context of gender balance
in computer education rather than leisure computing, that "low numbers
of girls and women in computer science classes appears to be related to
societal factors rather than to gender" (Clarke VA, Teague GJ,
Girls to Study Computer Science - Should We Even Try?, Australian
Computing, Vol. 9 No.1, May 1994, p 17-22, 32).
Dr. Sadie Plant in her article Beyond The Screens: Film, Cyberpunk
and Feminism (Variant, issue 14, Glasgow 1994, p. 12-18), asserts a
far deeper culturally ingrained position characterising the attitudes to
technology of men and women. Her article describes the marginalisation of
womens' speech by the "dominant [male] system of communication"
which has been technology oriented. Further, Plant states that "The
connection between women and technology has been sedimented in patriarchal
myth: machines were female because they were mere things on which men
Against this background Plant sees a future in which non linear, Hypertext
like, computer mediated communication, parallelling the "immediacy
of women's communion with each other", as posing a challenging alternative
and "disrupting every conception of the straightforward [male]
Cyberfeminity, a virtual reality, she concludes, is a process through which
preferable alternatives might be asserted to the control oriented and
history of man's achievements.
While Haddon, Clark and Teague present a view describing the female gender
as being at least equally effective to the male when operating within a
computing environment, though without the preoccupation characterising male
involvement with the technology as a factor of peer group socialisation,
Plant presents a scenario of the linguistically framed and culturally
disadvantage of women as an opportunity to impact upon the status quo due
to a common communication paradigm, that of networking, now occurring within
electronic communication infrastructures. Both the reason of socially
opportunity as stated by Haddon and that of linguistic determination as
asserted by Plant lends credence to the assumption that the demo scene is
predominantly a male subculture. Both may be viewed as corollary to recent
findings in the USA indicating that 80% of homes with boys between the ages
of 8 to 16 have a games computer (Battelle J, Johnstone B, The Next Level:
Sega's Plans for World Domination, Wired, USA vol.1.6, Dec. 1993. p.
A further feature of the scene are the gatherings of members. These could
be simply copy parties for the purpose of fellowship software copying with
as few as 3 or 4 attendees in some one's home, however some are large events
usually planned some months in advance and involve the hire of a venue and
provision for a range of technical and logistic conference type requirements.
These are usually hosted by well established groups with a significant
in the scene and can attract upwards of 500 attendees. In terms of their
agenda these larger events are very similar in their social function to
the cultural festivals which feature in mainstream society such as the
in Wales, film festivals etc. These gatherings or parties provide an
for members from various groups and locations to meet, exchange ideas and
warez and compete. Categories for competition are usually best demo, best
intro, best music, best graphics and sometimes there might be a coding competition
to produce an intro or short demo during the time of the party usually two
days. Voting is by the attendees and prizes are awarded either in the form
of cash from the sale of tickets for the event, or sometimes hardware, software
and/or cash from sponsorship. Following the competition, compilations of
the winners and runners up are produced and distributed. These events are
frequently the opportunity for groups to launch new demos at the same time
providing an infrastructure, informal and spontaneous as it is, for
and updating qualitative benchmarks for the scene's cultural productions.
These productions thus become the principal form of sign equipment
for groups with which to denote status and standing within the subculture.
TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF MOTIVATION
As earlier discussed, the production of demos frequently represents an
enormous investment in time and commitment for the individuals concerned.
The issue of motivation therefore arises. The reward from winning competitions
offering computer hardware or peripherals or a cash amount of between $200
- $500 while to a high school student, a typical group member, might seem
substantial, once split up among individuals in a group as in the case of
cash, financially is unlikely to cover international or even local travelling
expenses to attend such an event. Also it is thought to be a fair assumption
that only a minority of the total number of demos produced are done so with
the intention of demo competition entry. The reasons being that competition
standard is generally known to be high, being set by elite groups with a
track record. This factor of standard and difficulty in it's attainment
is not insignificant when taken in the context of the scene as a whole.
As already indicated, analysis of the research sample data shows that of
the 398 scene groups identified only 132 or roughly one third have made
more than one production of any kind. A further consideration against
entry being a prime motivator is that as a rule, in order to enter members
of the production group must be present. A travel expense probably too high
What is overtly evident is that there are several examples where the
content invites response from entities other than members of the underground
scene. Within the music tracks for instance, in place of instrument names
of the sound files used there is to be found information how a software
house or other interested parties might contact the composer in order to
commission music. Graphicians or electronic illustrators and designers
sign their work and certainly the coders or programmers are aware that software
companies may talent spot. Indeed some groups have in due course developed
commercial software, for example the group Silents who have written
the top selling games Pinball Dreams followed by Pinball
both released for the IBM PC as well as the Amiga. Demos in these instances
become the vehicle for skill exposition and perform the same function that
a showreel might for a film production company. Some examples offer demo
production as a financial proposition to potential clients including other
scene groups who may not possess within their ranks the skills to produce
their own demo. Occasionally a sub-theme within a demo might be derision
or a challenge with regard to another group. In the main however, the messages
carried in scrolling text form, against a background of visual effects deal
with self acclamation with regard to the producers and the expression of
friendship and acknowledgment towards the scene of which the producers see
themselves as a part of. This acknowledgment of others is a feature in the
majority of demos and is referred to as the greetings list. Here,
several dozen names of other groups or pseudonyms of individuals might scroll
by during the course of a demo.
The demo as a means of posturing for status within a social structure
in terms of stratification within the subculture is also worthy of noting
as a factor in the motivation of individual and group effort. An established
perception with regard to degrees of achievement in terms of accomplishments
which are valued and admired within the subculture community as a whole
create distinctions of status. These distinctions or pursuit of the values
they represent are reasons for example why members may migrate between groups
or why groups dissolve, disperse and re-emerge under different names.
THE DEMO MAKERS PERSPECTIVE
Recorded interviews with demo makers are rare in conventional paper
and only two have been located in the course of the study. Shatz in his
Walkthroughs and Flybys CD publication does no more than report
though not direct quotations in his discussion of the Finnish PC demo group
Future Crew and their founder Sami Tammilehto. Shatz reports:
"In the next year, they plan to start writing games for a US based
company to break into the multimedia industry. Regardless, they intend to
keep creating demos and distributing them for free because they have so
much fun doing so. What they enjoy most of all is the competition and sharing
of Ideas with other groups in the demo community".
A verbatim interview published in The Australian Commodore & Amiga
Review (James O, The C64 Column, April 1992, p 56) between Owen
James and Slash (Damien Britt) of the Digital Underground elaborates
OJ: Why spend so much time coding a demo that will probably be forgotten
in a couple of weeks?
DB: We try and make the demos so that they are remembered and not just
forgotten. Um, it could be ego related as well, because a lot of the disk
magazines produce charts from people voting, and getting Number One is probably
what most people aim for. Mainly it is just for fun and experience I
OJ: What are your average ages?
DB: It would probably be about 16 or 17, but can range from anywhere
from 13 to 60. Most of us are still going to school and are still enjoying
our youth. OJ: Do you find it interferes with your social lives?
DB: Not really. You code in your spare time, when you want as there aren't
exactly deadlines, though sometimes there is! We just go and enjoy our normal
lives and code in spare time. It actually enhances your social life in a
way, because when you swap it is just like having lots of pen pals, and
there are usually parties and things where you can meet these other people
on the `scene', as we call it. Also if you are travelling, you know a lot
of people and you can go and meet them etc.
OJ: How did you get onto the demo scene?
DB: Firstup, I was asked by somebody at school, and we formed a small
local "lamer" group. However we slowly improved and got more
Have you seen addresses in demos? Well, you write to them and ask to swap
and slowly build up from there.
OJ: Any last thoughts or deep and meaningful philosophies on life or
DB:.... If people think they are interested, then they should give it
a go as it is challenging, fun and fulfilling. It gives you experience in
programming and a lot of the scene guys go on to become game coders and
doing other things for software houses.
An interview with Mr Hyde, demo coder of the Swedish group Anromeda in
RAW diskmag (Issue 2, 1991, item 45) provides a little further insight:
Q: Is it hard to find new ideas to code?
A: It's not hard to find ideas, but it's hard to find good ideas. Most
often ideas pop up at school when we are having a boring lesson.
Q: What is your motivation to use so much time to code demos?
A: Sugarcubes (Not the pop group, real ones!), and the great force called
Philipetto of Vega poses a more philosophical stance on the issue and
offers some salutary advice to aspirants and colleagues alike:
Now, all democoders have to face that it happened at least one time that
someone asked them: "but why do you spend so much time on such a useless
thing?"You can't deny it: demos are useless. They can be as nice as
you want but they are made just to be shown.
Before going on, I want to determine a thing: I'm not against demos at
all, because I have composed about 40 tunes for demos and I have coded about
20 demos. I have already shown the bad part of democoding: at the end of
the work you have a thing which after being watched one time will be forgotten
(I know that the great demos are always remembered, but it's a bit strange
that a guy spends his whole day watching the same demo 100 times)
The good thing of democoding is that the coder makes experiences and
starts to know the machine. This is a very positive fact and it's very useful
for the future.Now, demos should be the favourite hobby of a democoder.
And this is OK, too. But the democoding must not overlap the other facts
of life of a guy, because otherwise the guy after some years will find himself
with 3-4 wasted years, and I mean wasted in doing nothing for his life,
because you can be as famous as you want in the scene, but REAL life is
..... Life flows around the money. This is a fact. Have you ever asked
yourself why actually all the best coders and musicians (and graphicians)
work for software houses?
..... So, if you are really good, don't work only for the scene. Software
houses are always looking for talented people. Get the chance to earn some
(Filipetto of Vega, Why Coding Demos?, Freedom Crack 9, 1992)
MASLOW'S HUMANIST PHILOSOPHY
In many respects a scene member's devotion of hundreds of hours in the
production of a demo for little reward other than "fun and
as Damien Britt alias Slash who is quoted above stated; can be asserted,
is no different than for example, a model engineering hobbyist spending
a year or two painstakingly manufacturing a 1/20th full working scale model
of a steam locomotive. A further parallel might be drawn between what might
be interpreted as the obsessive dedication to the task undertaken by demo
makers and the "fanatical enthusiasm" exhibited by otaku,
Japanese "teens or tweens mostly boys" for collecting artefacts
or knowledge connected with some commodity or media type as a "maniac
field of interest" (Grassmuck V, Otaku - Japanese kids colonise
the realm of information and media, Mediamatic, Vol 5, No 4, 1990),
(Greenfeld K T, The Incredibly Strange Mutant Creatures Who Rule The
Universe of Alienated Japanese Zombie Computer Nerds (Otaku to You),
Wired, Vol 1, No 1, 1992, p 66-68) . Only the context changes. It is the
urge and conviction to persist which, it is concluded, is the more significant
similarity between the products of the demo scene and those of the artists
and film makers referred to in chapter 1, and not the formal features of
the artefacts themselves for which no evidence has been found for intentional
commonality in the visual references of the more recent to the former.
Fun and a sense of fulfilment are human responses to the satisfaction
of a felt need or urge. A. H. Maslow's writings on the subject of
and creativity provide within the parameters of this study the most
answer to the issue of the motivation involved. In his book (Maslow A H,
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971), Penguin, 1978) Maslow
debates the question of intrinsic values in human nature. He postulates
that creativeness is an intrinsic characteristic of humanity. His main thesis
concerns the holistic nature of the person and the ill effects on well being
or metapathologies which occur as a result of the denial of opportunity
for the actualisation of such intrinsic traits. In discussing this postulate,
Maslow differentiates between the motivation involved in the satisfaction
of basic human needs, into which category he includes "belongingness,
affection, respect and self esteem" (A theory of metamotivation:
The Biological Rooting of the Value Life, The Farther Reaches of Human
Nature, chapter 23), and the dynamics which then motivate the self-actualising
persons further, in terms of dedication, self sacrifice, devotion to a cause,
aspiration, anger etc. Maslow calls this higher level drive ,
He points out that mere gratification of the basic needs can in it's self
be compatible with "existential neurosis" that is meaninglessness,
valuelessness and the like. Self actualising individuals on the other hand,
he points out are dedicated people devoted to some task or vocation
themselves". They have a passion and profound feeling for their work.
In this situation "internal requiredness coincides with external
Employment, voluntary service in some capacity or requested tasks are perceived
by self actualising individuals as self indulgence, a pleasure, rather than
duty or imposed necessity. The task is felt to provide a release for one
or other intrinsic human trait such as creativity and therefore facilitates
fulfilment. As a result, opportunity for self actualisation translates into
manifestations of fine craftsmanship for example, selfless devotion in helping
others or the pursuit and delight in excellence of achievement. Such
Maslow has also found by research, "quite easily and decisively "know
right from wrong" for themselves", and the assertion is made that
the denial of self actualisation can manifest as value confusion and an
"active hatred of the good (or trying to become good) person, or
excellence, beauty, talent, etc."; [hence possibly the delight in sabotage
and chaos as discussed earlier in connection with the writings of Taylor
and Walton (Images of Deviance), and the observations of Hebdige concerning
The intrinsic human values which metamotivate self actualising
individuals, Maslow asserts are "instinctoid in nature, i.e., they
are needed (a) to avoid illness and (b) to achieve fullest humanness of
growth. The "illnesses" resulting from deprivation of intrinsic
values (metaneeds) we may call metapathologies". These
which result from the denial of opportunity for self actualisation include:
Alienation, Loss of Zest in Life, Meaninglessness, Boredom, Philosophical
crisis, Apathy, resignation and fatalism, Desacralization of life, Joylessness,
Cynicism, and "Aimless" destructiveness, resentment and vandalism.
The kinds of "Pathogenic Deprivation" which leads to the above
"Metapathologies" are for example:
Dishonesty - [denying] Truth - [leading to] Disbelief, mistrust, cynicism,
scepticism and suspicion; Ugliness - [denying] Beauty - [leading to] Vulgarity,
Specific unhappiness, restlessness, loss of taste, tension, fatigue,
and Bleakness; Deadness, Mechanizing of life - [denying] Aliveness Process
- [leading to] Deadness, Robotising, Feeling oneself to be totally determined,
Loss of emotion, Boredom, and Experiential emptiness; Injustice - [denying]
Justice - [leading to] Insecurity, Anger, cynicism, lawlessness, jungle
world view and total selfishness.
(extract: Maslow, Table 3, B-Values and specific Metapathologies)
Maslow concludes, "The metaneeds [truth, goodness, perfection, justice,
etc.] seem to me to be instinctoid, that is, to have an appreciable hereditary,
species-wide determination. But they are potentialities rather than actualities.
Culture is definitely and absolutely needed for their actualisation; but
also culture can fail to actualise them....".
It is a conclusion of the present study that a human pre-disposition
to self actualisation in the terms which Maslow postulates, substantially
provides a plausible hypothesis regarding the underlying motivation for
the frequently long and sustained co-operative effort required for demo
production. It seems that the technological capability of the computer and
the camaraderie of peers, provides the opportunity for self actualisation
to occur. It is an opportunity to strive to excel and achieve in the face
of what might appear to be an unsatisfactory and hypocritical cultural and
social external environment. It is noted however that this predisposition
for self actualisation is equal for any domain of endeavour that might be
determined through the enculturation of the individual.
Analysis of the collected study materials has revealed a scale of production
unanticipated at the investigations commencement. The 743 individual examples
of the genre identified, and catalogued together with evidence in the form
of 34 hours of video recorded excerpts it is asserted, constitutes a
substantial basis for the recognition of a cultural phenomenon. Further,
the identified and collected internal scene publications give weight to
the identification of a distinct and significant trans-national male gender
based, youth subculture. It is a subculture which effectively exists on
anarchistic principles, inasmuch as it survives on the basis of liberty
and co-operation in the absence of coercive or cohesive structural influence.
The productions, demos and intros, created within this environment function
both as the sign equipment of the subculture and as a means of self expression
and self actualisation for the individuals involved. These productions have
also been found to present certain characteristics which in combination
distinguish the genre sufficiently from other existing kinetic audio visual
media genre types to warrant the genre's recognition as a specific and distinct
type of cultural artefact. These are the routines and the essentially
format of their presentation. Series of technical exercises as demonstrations
of prowess and mastery of their medium of expression, though with their
musical presentation context also involving creativity in their choreography
therefore resulting in a type of vernacular audio visual art form. The author
concludes that these findings supported by the diversity of the materials
identified, and the now available information resources through the Internet
communication resource, are sufficient to constitute a significant cyber
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