1) What’s the idea?
To be clear: the demoscene is just fine without being officially approved by UNESCO or any other institution, as it has developed for 30 years and will continue to do so in the same manner as before. That being said, there are to be gained a couple of things in supporting the initiative.
So actually there are two ideas.
The first one is to put the Demoscene on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural and social practice, which includes many core elements of the digital world. Its hacking attitude is meanwhile accepted as one of the core methods for innovation in digital contexts, to name only one aspect why the demoscene has been leading the way into digital and hybrid culture. In parallel the Demoscene meets perfectly the UNESCO criteria, what has been confirmed impressively by the national recognition in Finland and the nomination in Germany.
The concrete advantages for the scene connected with a recognition can be found below at answer 11).
The second idea is to challenge the Unesco list first time with an original digital culture. Thus the Demoscene could also become a door opener for other digital cultures, because the decentral and procedural nature of every digital culture comply with the definition of intangible heritage very well.
2) What’s the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity?
It’s the biggest of three lists of intangible cultural heritage, which were decided by the Unesco 2003 in the Convention of Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In Article 1 of the General provisions it says:
“The purposes of this Convention are:
A) to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage;
B) to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned;
C) to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof;
D) to provide for international cooperation and assistance.”https://ich.unesco.org/en/convention
Today the list has around 600 entries submitted from the members (178 countries signed the convention until 2018)
3) What is the definition of Intangible Heritage?
According to the UNESCO Convention paragraph 1
“intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. For the purposes of this Convention, consideration will be given solely to such intangible cultural heritage as is compatible with existing international human rights instruments, as well as with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.
2. The “intangible cultural heritage”, as defined in paragraph 1 above, is manifested inter alia in the following domains:
(a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
(b) performing arts;
(c) social practices, rituals and festive events;
(d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
(e) traditional craftsmanship.”https://ich.unesco.org/en/procedure-of-inscription-00809#inscription-on-the-representative-list
4) What makes the Demoscene fit into the Unesco definition of intangible heritage?
As a social and crafting practice the Demoscene is settled in all domains defined by the UNESCO.
While its essential founding on social personal gatherings is putting the Demoscene in the neighbourhood of traditional intangible practises, its core practice of coding is clearly located in the digital world. With this hybrid reality on the technological forefront of platforms and technologies the Demosceners became early movers representing our recent and future lifes, where digital and analog spheres are becoming more and more intertwined.
The second important cornerstone of the Demoscene is creativity. Its self limitation in regards of technical resources is a typical driver for creativity particularly in digital contexts. Actually technical limitations are and will stay a core problem for every digital production. By deciding to agree on certain limitations the Demosceners put the challenge to find solutions for certain tasks, nobody has found before, in the center of their culture. As the media scientist Daniel Botz puts it into words:
“Basically, the classic media artist asks himself “What kind of technology would I need to realize my concept”, while the demoscener asks “What can I achieve with the hardware in my hands” […] Their aesthetic values are not based on infinite digital flexibility, but on the physical restrictions of computer platforms. That’s why demoscene is not about an idealistic projection of future technology, but about the creative appropriation of present hardware.”https://chipflip.wordpress.com/2009/11/01/demoscene-theory-with-doctor-botz/
Given the fact, that we are not only living in a pure analog world but more and more in virtual environments, too, the Demoscene is representing this development perfectly with its own history. Having started in the 1980’s, when home computers became a driving force in the popularisation of digital technology, it changed its attitude in interplay with broader social and technological developments. Having started as a youth culture with a strong focus on competition the Demoscene evolved into a grown up culture with elaborate structures, ranging from established festivals to community based safeguarding measures like vast documentation and collecting platforms. Whereas in earlier times the transfer of knowledge and skills was rather informal, the concept of openness was more and more implemented over time. This development the demoscene took since foreshadows and echos the movement lines of digital change of our society as a whole.
Also the Demoscene was based from its beginnings on a clear non-profit philosophy, making all demos freely available, and all demos are created in collaborative work, which both are core cultural production models in analog and digital contexts as well. The strict use of accessible, standard customary hardware and the bottom up approach, which involves mainly self-taught experts, are enhancing this aspect even more.
Last but not least does the international nature of the Demoscene – and it´s self-identification as transnational culture – do represent the digital change very well, whereas its limitation to mainly Europe adds an interesting cultural spin. Also the fact that the groups from East and West, North and South of Europe very often developed their own styles, tastes and sub-communities within the broader movement of the demoscene represents a rich cultural diversity and practice in the digital age.
Thus the Demoscene is one of the first digital communities, which gives an example how to overcome the permanent change of technology while staying alive as cultural practice and community.
5) Where can I find more information on the Demoscene?
Here you find an only small sample of literature and documentation of the Demoscene, which can be used as starting point.
- DEMOing: An Emerging Artform or JustAnother Digital Craft? by Shirley Shor and Aviv Eyal (2004) in Intelligent Agent 4.1 Winter 2004
- Wettbewerbskultur und Community – die Demoscene by Tobias Kopka (2016) (german)
- Computer Demos – The Story So Far by Petri Kuittinen (2001)
- For interviews with Demosceners and other interesting insights visit 6octaves blog of Setsuko Hyodo (2018)
Check out also our passage on the demoscene on this site for more links and examples.
6) How to apply
The UNESCO only inscript cultures on the list, which are proposed by its member states, who have signed the Convention of Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Because the Demoscene is clearly not limited to a national area or culture, it seems obvious, that more than one country is submitting the proposal. These applications are called transnational. Before an application can be regarded transnational every single state has to inscript the concerned culture on its national list. As a nice side effect the extra efforts for coordinating a transnational application are compensated with the priority they get in the final nomination process.
7) What is the schedule?
Applications on national levels can be submitted according to the schedules of each national UNESCO agency (permanently until every 2 years). The successfull applications from Finland and Germany were submitted in 4Q 2019 and granted 2Q 2020 (in Finland) and 1Q 2021 (in Germany). Because the Demoscene is competing there with other applications, it is not sure, if an application for the national level succeed at the first time. Usually the concerned community can submit a rejected application several times again.
At international level an other ruleset becomes relevant. The UNESCO only inscript cultures on the international list, which are nominated by the countries, who have signed the Convention of Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Because the Demoscene is clearly not limited to a national area or culture, it seems obvious, that more than one country is submitting the proposal. These applications are called transnational. Before an application can be regarded transnational every participating state has to inscript the concerned culture on its national list. As a nice side effect the extra efforts for coordinating a transnational application are compensated with the priority they get in the final nomination process.
A transnational application needs years, because like said, every country, who joins a transnational application, has to put the Demoscene on their national list in front. Also the process of convincing the countries to decide to nominate the Demoscene needs some time, because every country is allowed to nominate only one of the cultures on their national list each year. If we succeed to help coordinating a transnational application, the UNESCO needs nearly two years for the decision.
8) What is the broader context of the campaign?
From an internal or scene perspective the campaign is meant to tell the stories, help preserve the heritage and support the scene attract new and old talent to live long and prosper as an absolutely unique culture in the digital realm.
From an additional perspective the initiative is wondering about the core of the digital cultural change our societies are facing. It might help to adopt existing structures to the demands of the active participants of digital cultures and raise the awareness of the need to support safeguarding and preservation of digital culture.
With approaching one of the official structures the demoscene applications create an opportunity to discuss all aspects of our digital heritage and potentially help concretely to set-up an appropriate policies, which are serving as an example of good practice, taking the realities of digitale culture into account (decentral, anonymous, self-organised etc.) to help ensure the term of cultural diversity and reasonable development is understood in a wide and including sense.
9) Who are the initiators and the players (so far)?
Art of Coding was initiated by Tobias Kopka (Conference Director Ludicious and founding member of Digitale Kultur e.V.) and Andreas Lange (COO of EFGAMP e.V.). The campaign is internationally coordinated in a collaboration of EFGAMP e.V., and Digitale Kultur e.V., first pro-bono supporters included Neogames Finland, the Hub of the Finnish Game industry and the Finnish Museum of Games in Tampere. Please check the partners section for the most recent documentation. We welcome anybody willing to help and support on national and international level.
10) What are the needed resources and what is the plan to fund them?
The campaign and the core entities behind it are strictly non-profit. It is based on the belief, that the Demoscene in particular and born-digital* culture in general must be accepted as valuable culture worth of protection. To cover necessary expenses for travel, conferences and sometime down the road staff efforts fundraising campaigns might become an option.
11) Why should people in the scene support this endeavour? Which benefits result in being Intangible Unesco World Heritage?
There is two answers on this, a longer more institutional one by unesco, and a more demoscene focussed one.
To start with the demoscene focussed one:
First its a challenge and we heard demosceners like those.
In spite no direct payments or financial support is connected with a listing, it secondly may help party organizers raise funds or sponsorships more easily if they can say „hey, we are considered cultural heritage, it´s not only a crazy computer thing“, at least I am confident it makes conversations with cultural institutions way more easier.
Thirdly argument is it will help us with preserving and discussing our cultural heritage not only within the scene but also via professional heritage institutions and experts in archiving and preserving digital culture for the years to come. As it will also help them more easily to justify spending money on research, archiving and preservation of something like the Demoscene cultural history.
And there is more reasons: enlisting the Demoscene as first digital culture would also mean we are opening the space for other digital cultural practices.
Lastly but most importantly it can help tremendously raising the awareness and attract new and more sceners with fresh perspectives and influx as it might give a spike in mainstream media. And, as we can say already from experience, it is also a nice experience for many sceners and ex-sceners to hear about, as they love the idea that their personal history gets looked at from a new perspective, as a living breathing culture with relevance in its own history and style.
Because that’s what it is all about: the Demoscene is a living breathing thing, and that is our aim and also the aim of UNESCO, to support culture, as special it may be, to maintain its identity and history, to stay living and breathing as a vibrant, chaotic and lovely culture for years to come.
To answer from an institutional perspective: What happens if the initiative is successful, well the results are : Each country, which joined the Convention of Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, has been obligated to the following support for the listed cultures:
“Article 13 – Other measures for safeguarding
To ensure the safeguarding, development and promotion of the intangible cultural heritage present in its territory, each State Party shall endeavour to:
(a) adopt a general policy aimed at promoting the function of the intangible cultural heritage in society, and at integrating the safeguarding of such heritage into planning programmes;
(b) designate or establish one or more competent bodies for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage present in its territory;
(c) foster scientific, technical and artistic studies, as well as research methodologies, with a view to effective safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular the intangible cultural heritage in danger;
(d) adopt appropriate legal, technical, administrative and financial measures aimed at:
(i) fostering the creation or strengthening of institutions for training in the management of the intangible cultural heritage and the transmission of such heritage through forums and spaces intended for the performance or expression thereof;
(ii) ensuring access to the intangible cultural heritage while respecting customary practices governing access to specific aspects of such heritage;
(iii) establishing documentation institutions for the intangible cultural heritage and facilitating access to them.
Article 14 – Education, awareness-raising and capacity-building
Each State Party shall endeavour, by all appropriate means, to:
(a) ensure recognition of, respect for, and enhancement of the intangible cultural heritage in society, in particular through:
(i) educational, awareness-raising and information programmes, aimed at the general public, in particular young people;
(ii) specific educational and training programmes within the communities and groups concerned;
(iii) capacity-building activities for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular management and scientific research; and
(iv) non-formal means of transmitting knowledge;
(b) keep the public informed of the dangers threatening such heritage, and of the activities carried out in pursuance of this Convention;
(c) promote education for the protection of natural spaces and places of memory whose existence is necessary for expressing the intangible cultural heritage.”https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000132540
These obligations are only a framework, which implementation is up to each country, which signed the convention. This means that there is room for discussions. As an example we know, that Germany, which signed the convention 2013, hasen’t finally set up programs to perform its duties. Against the background that the Demoscene is the first digital culture accepted as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage this situation is rather a chance then an obstacle.
In spite an international recognition will not grant new additional benefits to the scene compared to the national inscriptions it will surely multiply the effects of all mentioned benefits connected to the national recognition.
So there is an abundance of reasons why it´s a good thing to support the initiative. Support us and get in touch!
12) How can I/ my organisation or community join? How can I help?
First of all: join our Discord Server, to discuss with other activists, to connect and coordinate.
Please check also the list of country contact points. If your country isn’t listed yet or if you think, that your contribution is more regarded on a general level outside supporting a submission to Unesco please check our best contacts here.
Further Material and Information
Here you find the safeguarding plan of the Dutch application, which is the core part of the application (which was granted in July 2023)
Here you find the text of the German application (submitted by Digitale Kultur e.V. to UNESCO Germany in Oct 2019)
Here you find the Wiki-Article created by applicants as required context about the demoscene for the Finnish UNESCO submission.
Here you can download an article of Andreas Lange on the wider cultural and political background of the initiative.