November 12, 2005

Clearly Has Not Read Benjy's Chapter in S+F

The novel-reader does not suffer as the player of a game does: she needs only to keep turning the pages, and can be trusted to do this by herself. The novelist may worry that the reader is getting bored and discouraged, but not that she will suddenly find pages 63 to the end have been glued together just as the plot is getting interesting.

from The Craft of Adventure [note: link leads to a slow-loading text file]

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March 11, 2005

The Traversal Function

This began as a comment on MattK's post of restlessness about textons and scriptons. Since my comment sort of ... expanded ... I thought a post/trackback was in order, lest I crash the comment box. The relevant contextual posts are:
MattK - Restless about Textons and Scriptons
Matt Bowen - CodedAndRecoded
MattK - Wakey Wakey

My thoughts follow Francois' comment.

Skimming through the Hayles piece - the stipple engraving example struck me [see paragraph 9]

Stipple engraving, although it is normally perceived by the reader as a continuous image, operates through the binary digital distinction of ink dot/no ink dot; here the scripton is the image and the ink dots are the textons.[4]

Does this really work as an example for texton to scripton? Aren't we talking about two levels of scriptons here - micro and macro (collection of dots v. big picture)? 13 ways of looking at a blackbird...? There's no configuration here, which seems to be necessary to the texton-->scripton dynamic?

The remainder of that paragraph (#9) certainly provides a lengthier explanation of texton and scripton than we see in Aarseth's Cybertext, with various nods to the idea that whether something is texton or scripton depends on the reader (the browser, a person, a compiler, etc). Oddly, no mention whatsoever of the traversal function, which seems to be necessary third leg on this particular stool.

Her earlier "Point One: Electronic Hypertexts Are Dynamic Images" (paragraph 5) seems to be an attempt to recoup the "flickering signifier" and bring it into, perhaps, a larger discourse that appears more recently informed by the textual studies kind of work done by MattK, in line with McGann, Drucker, etc. She writes:

In the computer the signifier exists not as a durably inscribed flat mark but as a screenic image produced by layers of code precisely correlated through correspondence rules. Even when electronic hypertexts simulate the appearance of durably inscribed marks, they are transitory images that need to be constantly refreshed to give the illusion of stable endurance through time.

So, we do have the very real assertion of the screen here; the refresh rate reminding us that on the screened surface, image does abound (Francois' nod towards a possible occularcentrism noted). But as I think I recall from Matt's essay (so recently - and wrongly - reviewed as some sort of Humanities Computing fallacy), we also need to talk *around* the screen - and focus on the actual, functional computational boundaries and differences in text and image that still operate with or without a screen. Matt's more recent work (hex editors and so forth) also emphasizes these various layers that are, in fact, marks - magnetic or otherwise - with real consequence.

So, I'm going to talk around the screen, and wonder aloud, without having read any of this recently (that's my caveat), if Aarseth's true purpose wasn't so much in determining the multiple layers that comprise the computing experience (a materiality approach), but really perhaps an attempt to answer a terribly difficult conundrum when confronting any sort of interactive narrative - the relationship between author and reader. In other words, maybe we're asking his model to answer a question it wasn't intended to answer.

Given that we all know ludology's secret passion for narratology (this is the dirty secret of our study - and for any intending to complain, I'm poking fun at myself), let's suppose that the real uncertainty is that when examining the traditional models of readership relationships, such as Chatman, the easy split between author and reader is rather more complicated when the discourse of the story is not predetermined by the author. That is to say, in a hypertext/IF/game: though the story (the plot over time) may be established, and though the author - by providing the linking and configuration mechanisms (the game engine, as it were) - enforces a certain level of discourse (how the story is told), there remains the difficult middle-ground of choice and configuration in the eventual reception of the overall narrative (the scripton). How, in other words, does one account for the fact that a functional text output can vary reading to reading, beyond the normal expectations of interpretation, reader response, and so on (or, as Aarseth states: "Scriptons are not necessarily identical to what readers actually read, which is yet another entity").

If we read the relationship of author to reader as established partly through the author's shaping of the story through discourse, then how does one account for a readerly return to the discourse in the instance of configurable/interactive narrative. What the rather vague "traversal function" provides is a term that describes the interaction between the reader and the discourse-engine provided by the hypertext writer/creator that eventually leads to the final output text - the scripton. The traversal function may not be so much a material consideration, but a relationship consideration - the engine of possible configurations that aid the reader in the creation of a scripton.

I don't think it's meant to account for the multiple layers of textual construction process (read: materiality), as Hayles seems to suggest in her interpretation of it (though maybe it should), and as MattK was hoping it would, but rather provide a gloss on a rather thorny issue - a question of who has more control, author or reader. This is not a new problem in the theory of hypertext, which is covered quite well by Marie-Laure Ryan when she points out that early proponents of hypertext might have better focused on "controlled freedom" rather than "unbridled license."

When we're talking about a print edition of, to take a random example, The Great Gatsby, we can talk about textual variants, we can talk about textual history, but ultimately, we talk about an edition of a text. You and I can both point to the same page and read a quotation together, by virtue of the fact that the role of narrative participants is (at least to a reasonable degree) established and maintained via a completed text.


Chatman's model, in the image above, shows a singular flow: F. Scott Fitzgerald -> Nick -> ...story of Jay G... --> Implied Reader (Us, idealized). I don't remember an explicit narratee in the story. The "story" begins with Jay Gatsby's early life, continues through this rise to success, his quest for Daisy, his death, and finishes with Nick's observations. The "discourse" arranges the story so that Nick frames the tale; we don't discover Gatsby's "secret" until the end, nor do we understand Daisy's selfishness until the end either. The establishment of this order shapes our sympathy for the characters, our understanding of character motives, and so forth. By providing a complete narrative text, with no room for configuration (as we would understand it in a computation sense), the flow of narrative follows Chatman's model, from Implied Author to Implied Reader.

Since, by virtue of the nature of IF/hypertext, the discourse is not set completely (though it is set in part), that means that the reader - in controlled and limited ways - participates in the establishment of the discourse, either through asking questions (such as in Aarseth's example of Deadline), or by clicking (think Joyce's Afternoon: a story), or by piecing together various footnotes (think, House of Leaves). To varying degrees (always dependent on the mechanisms in place), the reader has some limited flexibility in choosing the discourse, based on how the broader delivery engine is built. Once you introduce a measure of configuration in a text, like we see in Aarseth's cybertextual examples, some sort of function has to be described to account for textual variants developed in the process of reading/playing a work.

All this to say, then, that the texton --> traversal function --> scripton question may well be one of narrative participation (author/reader), rather than one of textual materiality. Not that, of course, those are mutually exclusive entities, but I suspect that Aarseth might think that they are. I realize I'm playing my own sort of intentionality game here, but this line from Aarseth leads me to believe that the material considerations are to the side (although not forgotten):

(1) a text cannot operate independently of some material medium, and this influences its behavior,

I don't think that his model is set up to account for materiality, but rather that this line establishes a nod that materiality is, indeed, a factor. I'll need to revisit the pages in question so I consider the full context on this one...

This may be an aside, or maybe not, but I'm trying to work in another consideration for the role of the author. As Montfort has argued (Twisty Little Passages) in regards to IF, the function of the riddle establishes a dynamic that provides an agreement between riddler and riddlee. While there's certainly some sort of agreement in place in any literary exchange, the riddle does address another particularly thorny issue in literary studies: intentional fallacy. In IF and many sorts of games, solving the puzzle/game is a rather obvious intention on the part of the creator.

James Phelan gave a talk at UMD a little while ago on the Implied Author that in some respects sought to address the question of intentional fallacy. Note to self: dig up notes.

Posted by Jason at 7:17 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

February 13, 2004

5 Elements / Academic Blogging

The 5 Elements of Digital Storytelling by Nora Paul and Christina Fiebich from the U. of Minnesota [via Lisbeth].

Also, Lisbeth's Academic Papers on Blogs

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January 21, 2004

23¢ stories

23¢ stories, an interesting flash piece where you select postcards and can either read others' brief stories or write your own. I like the play on the material nature of the postcard, which is a medium of brief expression, of compression. Wish you were here.

[via Invisible Shoebox (permalinks bloggered - see January 21, 2004), who got it from PLSJ.]

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November 21, 2003

August 15, 2003

PS2 EyeToy

With the PlayStation 2 Eyetoy, you actually become the character on the screen.

I'm curious to see how this plays out [pun intended, cue laugh track]. I remember when I was in elementary school, my folks took my brother and I to Disney World and Epcot Center(recently opened, I believe). My memory is dim on this - it was nearly 20 years ago - but I remember a purple dragon mascot for Epcot and a game of sorts where you would step into an area and do things that the speaker told you to do: "Run!" "Duck!" "Jump!" On a screen, your image would stand with the dragon and his friends, so it looked like you were running or jumping next to them.

I will be curious to see how well the motion tracking works...

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August 8, 2003

Walk Through Screen

Formally called wave (Walk-Thru Virtual Environment), the Walk-Thru Fog Screen is a thin veil of fog and a non-turbulent airflow that protects it from disruption. The result is a relatively crisp screen surface ready for your projection needs.

Imagine having to walk through an advertisement before entering a store... that should capture your attention. [via /. ]

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July 29, 2003

July 17, 2003

Working Definition of Interactivity, cont.

[earlier related post]

When speaking of interactivity, however, I want to avoid the mistake of using it as a globalizing term. There are, in my estimation, at least three aspects of interaction at work in the engagement of any particular work, to a greater or lesser degree, which I will begin sketching out here. My working terms (likely to be adjusted) are: material interaction, human-material interaction, and human peer interaction.

The first type - material interaction - functions akin to the description from Paul Dorish referenced earlier: the "interplay between different components." I intend "material" (which may not be the best term in this case - thus, the "working term") to signify those component parts that are programmatic, or material, or computational. An algorithm, or ink scratched into a page, or the manipulation of printing techniques to layout a novel like House of Leaves would all fall into this category (although clearly different unto themselves, requiring interpretative measures). It would account for the traditions of textual studies, as well as (in part) the form and content debate.

The second type - human-material interaction - works as described; it comprises the relationship of humans to the "machine as built" (whether that machine be a computer program or a book) as well as individual reactions to specific components of the whole material object. This is the realm of reader response theories to HCI departments, narratology to film studies, accounting for the analysis of textual objects (how we interpret texts; how we read) to media objects (how we play; how we game). This accounts for the influence of 'multimedia' - how the inclusion of various senses affect of relationship to the object - so, the study of haptics and ergonomics (touch and spatial relationships), as well as hermeneutics (interpretation of visual signs).

But already we also see that those two versions of interactivity - the material and the material-human - relies on the understanding that they are two components also interacting with one another. One can not engage a work of art outside of the material interaction that enables its constitution. A plain electronic text of Moby Dick is certainly different from a first edition, but both versions carry with them a certain cache both in their composition (ink on paper; electrons on a screen) and in the cultural value of the work itself (the electronic edition clearly is less valuable for a collector than a first edition, simply in the basis of the novel's material construction - quite simply, it's harder to copy a first edition and, if it were copied, it would be a "forgery").

How would Nelson Goodman's theory of symbols (Languages of Art) account for this typology? I've always felt that his distinction between allographic (systems of writing, for example, such as the alphabet) and autographic (a painting, which can not be duplicated without loss) was a distinction that failed for me (a spectacular, and very useful failure, however). Correct spelling, as I recall (I'm sure I must have missed a nuance), was the distinguishing feature of making sure a proper copy of an allographic textual work was made. The autographic work had no such criteria - the fact that it could not be copied without loss is what makes it an autographic work (clearly, Goodman published before Napster). (Admittedly, this is pulling out Goodman from about two years ago, so feel free to correct me if I'm mis-remembering or misinterpreting). The difficulty I see is separating the autographic and the allographic when I see both functioning in, say, a textual object.

to be continued ...

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July 10, 2003

Towards a Working Definition of Interactivity

A general theme of my dissertation focuses on literary concepts of interactivity. Literary is probably too specific a term, as my interests range from pop-up books, to novels, to electronic texts, to computer games. And while my central training is textually based, I am also distinctly concerned with the image - and thus image-text interrelationships. For a while, despite a general enthusiasm for 'multimedia,' some literary criticism (or, criticism from traditionally literature-based institutions - especially that centered on 'hypertext') approached media less like 'multi' and more like 'text.' This resulted is less than adequate attention being paid to the image-as-image.

This is, I think, one reason for the continuing narratologist-ludologist debate, whereby the latter rightly want to insure that each media object is approached on its own terms. And, likewise, why considering issue of materiality strikes me as an important methodological approach (again, drawing on a long history, which I have discussed before). One of the few drawbacks in Espen Aarseth's otherwise wonderful book Cybertext is a less than adequate accounting of the image in a set of predominately textual examples of adventure games and electronic texts. This is, incidentally, why I think he makes the comment that Myst, to him, is dull. Predominately empty of text, Myst relies on images and video while it simultaneously reaffirms the materiality of the page itself. What Aarseth sees as textually (and interactively?) dull, I see as media rich (especially considering its historical contemporaries). [aside: I will give the exact reference later, as I seem to be unable to find the book in the large pile on my desk]

In Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, Paul Dourish introduces his book with a history of interaction in programming. He tracks a shift from "a step-by-step model of procedural execution ... [to] a new conceptualization of computational phenomena that places the emphasis not on procedures but on interaction" (4, italics his). He further writes:

Interactional approaches conceptualize computation as the interplay between different components, rather than the fixed and prespecified paths that a single, monolithic computational engine might follow. These models of computation have more in common with ecosystems than with the vast mechanisms we used to imagine.

While I have often made the comment that the concept of "interactive" has taken such a broad meaning in our culture that it has ceased to mean much at all (often, people say they want an 'interactive' something, which is to say, "something that is not boring, and that sells my product"). I'm fascinated in our desire for the interactive, in historical and contemporary attempts to broaden the sweep and the depth of the page and screen. There are, of course, several methodological approaches that have historically taken a broader view of, say, books than just text on a page - the field of textual studies is ripe with such work. As I push towards my "working definition" of interactivity, I will continue to draw on such examples and methodologies, where assembled media components - text, the physical properties of page or screen, images, programming languages, software packages, and so on - not only function as recognizable entities, but also as interconnected (and thus inseparable) aspects of a working media ecology.

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June 20, 2003

embodied interaction

found a review of a book - Paul Dourish. Where the Action is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT/Triliteral, 2001. - at PURSE LIP SQUARE JAW by
Anne Galloway
(an interesting blog in itself that I found while rummaging through some folks' blogrolls)

Seems to be in line with ideas I want to work through regarding the body's role in (so-called) "interactivity".

So many books to read... and Harry Potter just might get in the way of it all.

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June 16, 2003

Unravel the Threads

Ok, a few threads dangling in the breeze, but announcements first:

Most recent Digital Arts & Culture conference papers online here For those of us without travel budgets, blogs and pdf papers are a life-saver (and no, not the candy). Several days worth of metro-reading in printable format.

Hope everyone had a great weekend. As I mentioned, L and I met my folks in Charlottesville. On Saturday, Dad and I went up into the mountains, put up our tent, and did some hiking - something we used to do for a week or two every year as I grew up. This usually happened when Mom took a week off to bang out a chapter of her dissertation, so we would make for the mountains so I wouldn't (as had happened at least once) kick the plug (accidently, of course) of the computer, causing her to lose half a day's work. Anyway, aside from the rain (inches away from flooding our tent), we had a great time. We saw a bear (no pics though) - only the second one I've seen in the Shenandoah in the 20+ years I've camped there. More on the weekend later, once I get the digital pics downloaded (sometime later in the week, probably).

Ok, some quick notes on our discussion of form and content - shortly I'll grab screenshots or text examples to complement my discussion earlier, but I want to respond to George's post, where he said:

Might we restrict our view to the "document" -- whether that's a blog entry or the interface for a chat client -- as it appears on our screen? The skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet are the means by which the document was formatted, but now that it's there on screen, do these things matter so much to our analysis of the document itself?

George is right in a key respect - there is a significant difference between speaking of a document as a completed incarnation (I'm sure the textual studies folk can help me out with a term that's not coming into my head at 7am) and speaking of it in terms of production process. To a user's eye, the completed page may look nothing more than single document - a single-page newspaper whose fold is a "digital fold" rather than a physical one. And this is often how we look at many types of traditional printed documents. Most non-specialists don't concern themselves with the differences between editions, the collaboration of author, printer, and perhaps artist.

I do think, although I haven't thought this through yet, that the structures can not be boiled down to "formatting" - in other words (maybe a question is the easiest way to phrase this), how do the "skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet" function differently in their "formatting"?

In the comments section of that same post, I asked: "what happens when I syndicate your site and apply my own style?"

George responded: "The same thing that happened when a seventeenth-century reader copied a Donne sonnet into their commonplace book. Ok, maybe not the same thing, but I don't think it separates the two strands of form and content."

But I'm not sure it is the same thing. If I syndicate a blog, I get an XML-marked version of the blog (at least one, if not two layers of structure - the initial post structure, enforced by the database, which is subsequently marked up in XML) but I can also place it seamlessly within a new blog or website encoded with my own new HTML and CSS. So, maybe like copying Donne into a prayer book (poem is ordered already by its poetic structure, after all), but does it simply boil down to a function of scale? It seems to me that at least some of the strands unravel, or don't at least others thread themselves in?

Posted by Jason at 5:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2003

I create this content in my form

I have been thinking quite a bit about Matt's recent post where he said:

Indeed, with the rise of CSS, skins, etc. there is now a more pronounced division than ever between "form" and "content"


but the interface as "contact surface," an add-on to a "pre-existing bundle of functionality" is precisely the relationship between data and styles that's been reinstated by CSS, is it not?


Note too that the separation of data and styles goes against the grain of the old humanistic saw about the mutually informing and inextricable nature of the relationship between form and content

This seemed fairly straightforward to me at first (this is how I interpreted it, not necessarily how Matt said it) - here we have two documents: first, the HTML document, content. Second, the CSS, form or (sounds like smooth jazz) - style. Visual rhythm. Sure. That makes sense.

And then my head said: Wait a second. That's not right. The data is not in the HTML - it's text in a (in my case) MySQL database.

Alas. A wrench.

Ok, three parts to the gestalt triangle: HTML templates (to include, perhaps, an image header), CSS styles (link and page colors, physical arrangement on page, fonts), and database (text/content). And of course I'm ignoring Perl scripts that make MT work, the server it runs on, the extra Perl:modules that give you perks. These things I'll continue to ignore for now, because a triad is as much as my brain can handle before my second cup of coffee.

Since I'm not the only person intrigued by Matt's comments, I refreshed myself with the discussion through his trackbacks, finding myself struck again by Kari's astute discussion of "accidentals and substantives" and the terms' influence on textual editing. I was surprised by this deft twist, which I expected to go one way, when it actually went another:

"In the context of Matt's entry on the strict separation of style and content in current web-design practice, I am struck by just how "organic" the metaphor is: each of the strands, linguistic and bibliographic, intertwines about a common textual axis. The free variation of style in electronic environments--the ease with which one skin can be swapped out for another--throws a monkey wrench into contemporary editorial theory.

I loved this notion of an organic metaphor, but I thought of it in entirely a different manner. In looking at the CSS, the HTML templates, and even the database, I see a variety of levels of "form" and "content" intertwining in a (seemingly) organic fashion. I'll describe quickly what I'm thinking and then I'll follow up later with some snips of the code to (hopefully) support my point.

The database itself contains a structure of tables and data cells. Each "type" of data rests firmly in its assigned cell, although within those cells there is of course "play" between the types of data that sneak through. The main entries, for example, can have almost any type of alpha-numeric content and I could buck the trend, for example, by editing into the main text of my argument comments made by others after the fact. Slippage perhaps.

If you export MT files, the format provides a pretty good indication, however, of the basic structure established by the database, so we already have form and content in place. But is this text file, structurally sound perhaps, "my blog"? Personally, I don't think so. Nelson Goodman might say, "sure" (or he might say, "Don't put words in my mouth").

As I turn to the HTML document, I notice that it is actually as second (at least) layer to the design of the blog as a whole. The div tags are very specific and help separate the website into specific units (headers, bodies, title types, and so on). They are the bones on which the muscles of the CSS must graft. And yet by adding extras to the default, I can add "content" to the website that is not part of the database. In my case, I have extra links, a little picture of angry robot, and (soon, I hope) some added features.

And the CSS - well, whether or not that is content, or accidental, or substantive, I suppose is an argument of materiality. I personally believe that such markings - fonts, colors, etc. - by choice or not, play a role in our reception and interpretation of a work.

Wish I could write more about it, but alas - time to put on that tie. I'll add edits later.

Posted by Jason at 5:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 28, 2003

Col. Mustard, in the blog, with a keyboard

One of my favorite games of all time is Clue, the "classic whodunit game!" Some people who know me may have heard me angrily mutter under my breath "Col. Mustard with the lead pipe on 495" after a driver cut me off, or "Prof. Plum with the rope in the seminar room" during a frustrating class lecture. I loved this game enough that it became part of my anger management process.

Not only did I have the board game and rent the film more times than it was healthy (you needed to watch at least 3 times for the 3 different endings!), but I also had the Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985), which allowed you to adopt one of the characters as your own while you watched several mysteries play themselves out on the television. Each game (there were several on the tape) allowed you to not only guess "whodunit" but also what characters your (real-life) opponents represented. The acting was terrible, of course, but this was popular "interactive fiction" of 1985, alongside the Choose Your Own Adventure books (the first of which was published in 1979).

So New York Times reports that a Dungeons and Dragons -style DVD - Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure is forthcoming. No, this is not the flash-in-the-pan movie, but a "roleplaying" experience, where you guide your character through a series of choices in order to come to one of four conclusions. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure on DVD. The creator says:

"This is a hybrid," said Dan Krech, president of DKP Effects. "We want to bridge the gap between a video game, a movie and the Internet."

I'm surprised by what seems a backwards approach to developing "interactive fiction" - DVD technology for gameplay does not measure up to the possibilities afforded by a gaming system or a computer. While DVD players might serve well enough for a game like Dragon's Lair and other Laser Disk-style games (in other words, 1980's "one-button" games), the richness of RPGs like Neverwinter Nights will certainly overshadow such a hybrid. After all, who likes to play a game with a remote control?

Right now I'm working on an abstract for a paper I would like to present at Digital Games Research (DIGRA) 2003 Conference (full call available here; abstracts due May 1). My working title is "All Thumbs? Ergonomics, Materiality, and Gameplay" - I want to talk about a specific component of gameplay: ergonomics. I've brought this up briefly before and have been thinking about this since Geoffery Rockwell gave a guest lecture at MITH about gaming. He proposed a rhetorical approach to game interactions (he was mostly speaking of text-based adventure games); when asked during the Q&A about ergonomics, he said that he thought he would leave that for the computer scientists (not a direct quote, but close). The implication was that the body was for science and representations of the body were for the humanities. Ever since, I've been working through this idea of ergonomics and gameplay - how do input devices affect our sense of play, or sense of immersion? How important is the material component of a controller or even a book to our playing or reading practices? [side note: I noticed that one of the articles listed in the Video Game Theory Reader is titled "Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles:Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences," by Torben Grodal. I'm anxious to see what it says.]

All of this points to the idea that various media have specific methods through which users/watchers/players/readers "interact" (that word again); these methods are based in part on the material conditions of the work. I agree with Matt - the "M-word" just doesn't cut it anymore. Material conditions are an implicit part of our critical vocabulary (ok, I think they should be anyway) - now we need specifics. The current battle, at least in video game studies, is a disciplinary one (which is, of course, inherently political). Christopher Douglas recently summarized many of the discussions currently at play in the field (at least from a humanities point of view), so I don't feel the need to draw up a complete history. I would like to emphasize what I believe are three key ideas implicit in the development of game study as a genre:

1. To paraphrase Stanley Fish, being interdisiplinary is hard. Games are indisciplinary, which means they not only draw from many disciplines, they generally require many disciplinary approaches to understand them. The current battle over whether or not narrative, film, rhetoric or other approaches are *the* approach is somewhat moot. The answer is, of course, that they are useful in their own way, but must be stated with the understanding that they are but part of the (undefined) whole. Why does this need to be said?

2. Because many of the battles waged over the "new-ness" of the field and the proper disciplinary approach have as much to do with creating or maintaining political boundaries as anything else. Claiming a "new" genre as part of one's own discipline emphasizes the importance of that discipline. Likewise, by claiming that games are outside of current disciplinary realms, one carves out a space for games not only intellectually, but politically. The "new" requires new departments, new journals, and new financial support. But one must also be careful in separating the "old" from the "new" - in claiming the new-ness, there is implicit danger in ignoring the historicity of the subject. Games, in other words, were not born from a vacuum, nor are the theories used to describe and investigate them. Which leads to:

3. Methodology and theory are not the same thing. An important follow-up: theory written in stone is no longer a theory. So what's the point? I think we should be less concerned about seperating ourselves from former theories (narratology, film, or whatever) in the study of games and more concerned about how games revolutionize our thinking about older media. We also need to pay strict attention to and even emphasize the importance of our methodology (Aarseth, for example, clearly draws from narratology, just as Manovich draws from film), rather than trying to distance ourselves from the weight of previous theory. The importance of games comes not only from their "new-ness" but mainly from their ability to help us reshape conceptions of so-called "older" media, reformulate previous (and always incomplete) theories, and increase interdisciplinary rigor - all necessary components as creations, memes, characters, themes and stories permeate the weave of media.

Case in point, Games to Film Frenzy, an article I found following a link from Klaptrup's Cataclysms, lists about 20 games that are in various stages of development as film projects. I've been tempted to name the first decade of the 21st century "Revenge of the Geeks" as I look around to see the popularity of comic book characters and games in film work, while shows like Buffy and Angel (in my mind at least) continue to put out some of the best writing on television. In other words, the mutant, the freak, the supernatural, the superhero - in short, the realms of the "geek" (a proud title, in my mind) - prevail. Reading over the list, however, I'm not sure many of the films will do much better than Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat.

In the midst of all this media convergence talk, I'm most excited about the forthcoming Matrix titles. Both the film The Matrix Reloaded and the game Enter the Matrix are released on May 15th. As the game's website states: "This game isn?t just set in the Matrix universe ? it?s an integral part of the entire Matrix experience, weaving in and out of the highly anticipated 2nd installment in the film trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded." A recent issue of PC Gamer reported that the game cost some $30 million in production. The collaboration between game makers and film makers resulted in a series in which a character might exit the frame in the film only to enter a frame in the game.

I suspect that it is in the storyboard stage that we will begin to see true convergence, where the material condition (the mechanics, or the engine) helps shape the overall story progression. More than just the difference between cut scenes (the section of the game that is usually more like film), I see this as active choice - how do we tell a story *best* using as many media as possible? Not just remediation - game to film (or, in the case of Clue, board game to film and VHS game) - but rather a co-mediation. A term such as convergence can be misleading, however, and so this bears repeating: the materiality (the "M" word) - meaning the interface, the physical manifestations of print, screen, and performance, and even the ergonomics - will serve as crucial aids in understanding the current and developing media ecology and our relationship to it.


The Dragon Lair's Project has more information on laser disk games.

Posted by Jason at 4:43 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 22, 2003

Link and Run

quick entry: a great source for MovableType Help.

More coming later concerning a great conversation about New Media, interaction, and materiality over at George's.

Posted by Jason at 12:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack