Category Archives: What is a Medium?

Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine

How necessary failures will help VR designers invent new storyforms

Source: Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine

Versions: The Creative Landscape of Virtual Reality – YouTube

The video stream of our panel from the  Versions conference on VR curated by Kill Screen and New INC at the New Museum in NYC March 2016.

I think there are disappointments ahead in the short term because expectations have been raised too high before genre conventions – -a “language of VR” — has been invented, but I remain optimistic about the long-term power of immersive, navigable, 3D art and entertainment.

This event as a whole offers a snapshot of a particular moment in which a diversely situated  community of practice has been called into being while platforms are still in flux. There is excitement from all the commercial interest and the emergence of some early high-production-values examples. But directions are unclear.

Some of my take-aways from this very well curated set of presentations:

  1. There is a tension between film and games as the model for VR.
  2. Since the interactor’s experience of agency is always the most important design value for digital environments, games are a more productive starting point.
  3. Hand controllers are key to success because they give us a presence in the virtual role, functioning as “threshold objects” when they mimic two-handed operations we can see.
  4. Virtual vehicles are a promising approach to constraining and empowering interaction.
  5. Documentary film approaches may work, shaping interaction as a visit (as I describe in Chapter 4 Immersion in  Hamlet on the Holodeck). To be successful, designers need to invent:
    1. interaction conventions for  navigating the space,
    2. cues to entice us to navigate,
    3. dramatic composition of the experience to rewards us for being in one place rather than another,
    4.  a fourth wall equivalent to make clear what we can and cannot do.

My TED Talk 1998

The folks at TED have kindly dug up for me my 1998 talk which I still stand behind and which predicts the future well, but is also still timely. It is longer than the current crop, and more spontaneous. It falls into 4 segments  and it references other talks, some of which are on the TED website but most of which are not.

 

Here is a summary:

1.PREAMBLE: WE NEED EVERY MEDIUM TO EXPRESS OUR HUMANITY (first 5 minutes) I take issue with Julie Taymor who spoke disparagingly of screen-based experiences, and offered the rituals of Bali dancers ( invoked again in her 20** TED Talk) as the superior paradigm for art that addresses the human condition.  I also take issue with John Warnock, founder of Adobe and a rare book collector who described his meticulously prepared facsimile book series as purposely avoiding interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. I would still consider both positions examples of a fetishism for legacy forms of representation. (first 5 minutes).

2. ELIZA IS OUR CREATION MYTH (5:00 – 17:00) I compare the amazement at the birth of film (the legend of the Ciotat Train showing) to the  amazement at the birth of procedural storytelling (the legend of Eliza at MIT), as I do in Chapter 3 ofHamlet on the Holodeck, and as I have done with my students pretty much every semester for the past 20 years.

3. PROTOTYPE OF A  MULTISEQUENTIAL STORY WORLD STILL AHEAD OF ITS TIME 17:00- 2500)  show an MIT project I created with Freedom Baird, sponsored by IBM and based on Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquest. The TV dramas are also now on YouTube.  They were meant to be seen on three successive nights in any order, and each one is complete in itself but an exit in one play is an entrance in another play. This makes a nice comparison with Mitch Horowitz’s recent work on the Netflix version of Arrested Development, as I discussed in another post.   (timecode: )

4. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? (last 30 seconds) I sum up as I do in Hamlet on the Holodeck, by comparing the development of conventions of interaction with the invention of the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s time.

Other references: John Warnock is the founder of Adobe and a rare book collector. At 1998 TED he presented a facsimile book series that purposely avoids interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. This is a good example of what I would now call legacy media fetishism.

Brenda Laurel, feminist game designer and pioneer of interactive storytelling, whose talk on her wonderful but short-lived series Purple Moon, is on the TED site.

Marvin Minsky, one of the seminal theorists of the field of Artificial Intelligence, who has a notorious blind spot for humanistic discourse. In the corridor between sessions Ben Shneiderman and argued with him. Minsky took the position that fictional stories were a waste of time because they were not true. Ben and I were appropriately outraged.

 

The Ambiguity of Game Studies

Here are the slides  from my recent DiGRA’13 keynote, The Ambiguity of Game Studies: Observations on the Collective Process of Inventing a New Discipline,  reminding folks of the intersection of Huizinga’s concept of the magic circle and Victor Turner’s  concept of liminality.

Games as Joint Attentional Scenes

With DiGRA ’13 coming up in 2 weeks, I went searching for an accessible version ringroundrosey from diglib fsu eduof my keynote at DiGRA ’05, for which the short piece “The Last Word on Ludology/Narratology,” which I posted a few weeks ago in text and slides,  was just the preface.  The text of the keynote itself, “Games as Joint Attentional Scenes”  can be found on the Google Books site, since it was published as a chapter in Words in Play edited by Suzanne De Castell and Jennifer Jenson.  Continue reading

Molyneux’s Curiosity Game: why did anyone play?

Now that game auteur Peter Molyneux‘s massively mobile cube clicking game, Robot playing CuriosityCuriosity -What’s Inside the Cube?, is over we are left to puzzle over its odd success.  The gameplay was so mindlessly repetitive that it could be performed by a simple robotAnd yet millions of people downloaded it to their iPhones and iPads and clicked away at billions of pixelated squares, and 30,000  of them were still at it almost six months after the release date when the game came to an end last Sunday.  What would make a human do it?  I think there were 4 main motivators. Continue reading

Is cat poop the same kind of medium as videogames?

There has been a lot of twitter chatter this week about an endearing rant by Darius Kazemi with the arresting title of Fuck Videogames aimed at encouraging frustrated game designers to embrace other forms of creative expression.
fkvideogames

Clearly this is a timely message, and probably a mark of the success that this active community of practice has  had in encouraging creative expression in videogames.

I don’t quarrel with Kazemi’s main point — and in fact I’ve often said that there is no hierarchy of media. No individual book, for example, is more valuable than any individual game (or film or TV show) just because it is expressed in lengthy text passages instead of interactive bits or moving images.   But Kazemi isn’t talking about books or films. He is talking gelato and cat poop — which I do indeed have a problem with.

Continue reading