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  •    Why Interactivity Doesn’t Matter  
     
    Monday, March 13 2006 @ 04:52 AM UTC
    Contributed by: David

    I’ll explain my argument in a second. First, try out these links.

    Try out the The Big Red Button

    Then play a little 1D Tetris

    And if you have the time (and a PC), enjoy a little Progress Quest

    Now, tell me why interactivity matters.

    My point is pretty clear here. Each of these games/interactive exercises involves little or no meaningful interaction. You just click at a button or key. If anything makes you keep clicking, it’s this vague sense that a story is unfolding.

    So is this some form of proto interactive narrative? Probably not, plenty of theorists have worked to show that interactive literature requires more than a trivial amount of interaction on the part of the reader. Otherwise, all books are interactive because you turn the pages to “make them go.”

    Or, maybe we can say that these little tidbits are not interactive.

    But that’s unsatisfying. They feel interactive. Tetris 1D doesn’t even require interaction and still seems like a game. The Big Red Button isn’t much more interact than the light in that comes on when you open the fridge door. But we keep on clicking.

    The only satisfactory explanation I have come to so far is that interaction does not matter nearly as much as people like to say. Or, at least, simple interaction is as powerful as more sophisticated interaction. The very fact of interacting holds all the magic of interaction. Making games, for example, “more interactive” is like adding sugar to syrup. Whatever makes World of Warcraft seem like more than of game than Progress Quest must have to do with other things other than interactivity.






     
             


    Why Interactivity Doesn’t Matter | 5 comments | Create New Account
    The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
    Why Interactivity Doesn’t Matter
    Authored by: bnielson on Tuesday, March 14 2006 @ 01:33 AM UTC
    Your point is valid, but your conclusion is not correct. Allow me to use an analogy to explain myself. Let's say I make the statement "Special Effects in movies don't matter." Let's say I back it up by giving examples of horrible movies that had great special effects. I then draw the conclusion that special effects don't make a great movie and thus don't matter.

    But hold on a moment! Personally, I think that the first two Star Wars movies were some of the greatest movies ever made. But imagine for a moment how great they would have been without good special effects. The fact is that without good (well, actually great) special effects, Star Wars wouldn't have had the visual punch necessary to suspend our disbelief to the degree that they did. The special effects were a huge part of why they were such great movies. (The first two in any case - episodes 4 and 5)

    Now that isn't to say that special effects alone made Star Wars. Clearly that isn't the case. George Lucas is a genius when it comes to imaginative settings and use of "the hero's journey" to create a modern day myth. Without these elements too, Star Wars wouldn't have been good movies at all. They certainly would have endured the test of time.

    So let's go back to your point that "interactivity doesn't matter." If you were to modify that statement to be "interactivity alone is not enough" you would have hit the nail on the head. Interactivity is just a tool. It's one element amongst many that can be used to draw a "player" into a story and make it their own. Still, all the interactivity in the world is not enough by itself.

    The reason people emphasis interactivity for computer games is frankly because it's the only element that computer games can do better than other artistic mediums. It's the one area computer games have the advantage. In terms of "graphics" movies still have us beat hands down. In terms of ability to "characterize" or "space to tell the story" books have us beat. I could go on. But when it comes to interactivity, computer games can have a lot more then books or movies. (As you pointed out, it's not really true that those mediums have *no* interactivity. They are just very limited.)

    So let's take away the important point here. Interactivity alone does not a great story or game make. There are many other elements that must be used. But if you want to compete with other existing mediums, you have to play to your strengths. For computer games, that's "interactivity."
    [ Reply to This ]
    Why Interactivity Doesn’t Matter
    Authored by: CapCom on Thursday, March 16 2006 @ 06:27 PM UTC
    These games are very thought-provoking and I originally was going to post an incredibly long message talking about it, but thought better of it for brevity's sake. I'm still working on those ideas, but they might go in a paper instead.

    I'd add to the list EyezMaze's GROW games, which are essentially puzzles with a narrative to them. The GROW RPG in particular builds off narrative typescenes found in classic RPGs like Zelda and Dragon Warrior. The game is kind of like setting up a row of dominoes or Rube Goldberg device in the proper fashion and then setting them off.

    http://www.eyezmaze.com/grow/RPG/index.html

    (I know the solution for this one if you're having trouble)

    I have also been doing research design with speedrun videos so I would like to mention those as well. If we look at a speed run video or gameplay footage, these are rarely compelling at anything more than a rudimentary level. It's like watching somebody do a crossword puzzle or solve a Rubix Cube - the 'narrative' is only interesting if you're familiar with how they work and like them. So the trick then is how do you make solving the Rubix Cube a story as opposed to a 'narrative' and then how do you make that story compelling?

    In all honesty, I have to aggree with recent Escapist Article "The Play's The Thing" in that it's not really an either/or for ludology/narratology but that you need an element of both for a better game (that's not to say you can have a minimalist game that uses one or the other, just that it requires some level of both). Most critical commentary seems to be stuck in this sort of dichotomy where it's either one or the other, say nature or nurture.

    These games are excellent for commentary as they strip the games down to their essential elements - if you want to talk narrative, you've got Progress Quest, and if you want to talk interaction, there's Big Red Button. These are the kinds of software we need for a real discussion.

    -Devin Monnens

    ---
    "Until next time..."
    Captain Commando
    [ Reply to This ]
  • Why Interactivity Matters - Authored by: David on Friday, March 17 2006 @ 08:38 PM UTC
  • Why Interactivity Does Matter
    Authored by: Chris Harwood on Tuesday, March 21 2006 @ 01:41 AM UTC
    I really ought to write more, but have no time. So, summary:

    1) We interact with all media, especially narrative media. While I would agree video game interaction is substantially different from, say, page-turning, I would not agree that it is fundamentally different.

    1.1) Arguing that you have more choice in games is not helpful either. You have choice in page-turning, too, but we all tend to follow page order as it is the author's preferred method of structuring the text. (In fact, there was a "Choose Your Own Adventure" for which the "good" ending could not be reached by following the book's instructions. You had to either read the text in the typical page-by-page manner or otherwise randomly open to the "good" ending.) Other codexes are interacted with in a non-page-turning manner, such as dictionaries. Paintings are also examined in a linear fashion, sometimes controlled by the painter's technique and arrangement, sometimes not, but there is no constraint in how an individual viewer approaches their interaction with the piece. (The justification for this needs expansion, I am aware. It takes too long, and is a work in progress, so label this "IMHO.")

    1.2) Besides, we tend to follow authorial instruction in games too. No time to expand on that here--I'm already struggling to get that compressed into a single paper, much less a post.

    2) The significance in interaction is not purely that we interact--otherwise there would be no difference in substance from books and games. Rather, the method of interaction is integrated into the experience, better or worse depending on the developer. Some examples that don't require much distance from games to explain would be graffiti in Jet Grind Radio (the joystick interaction emulates painting in smooth spray can strokes) or how turn-based mechanics seem only effective in mathematically based strategy games (emulating the step process of mathematical proofs, and the emphasis on careful consideration of maneuvers). Page-turning is also aesthetically unified with most texts, as both follow a linear form (viewing linear progress as the passage of time in uniform increments, such as seconds, rather than flexible, indeterminite, multi-directional passage--which is why "Choose Your Own Adventure" works in the first place, with branching and the indeterminacy of any given story's conclusion represented by some indeterminacy of page order).

    2.1) One good example of this, in passing, would be our recognition of poor controls or camera in a game. This can break a game, largely because the controls and the game world as visually presented do not mesh. In mech combat, I anticipate an amount of jerkiness or sluggishness to the controlls--it is immersive. A ninja, on the other hand, is not well represented by such a control scheme. This is also why a lot of so-called "interactive texts" fail: they try to shove linear narrative onto a nonlinear and nonintuitive structure which does not serve the work as a whole.

    2.2) I suppose I should add the MGS2 example from my paper-in-revision: Raiden as a placeholder for the player that eventaully emancipates himself from the player. This is, in part, why he has so little character of his own beyond his history--because he is bent to our ends whether he wants it or not. And his history, incidentally, is actually the player's history as a video game player, presuming the player is typical. Like him, we began with Doom or Wolfenstein or some Asteroids and Alien Invaders (or I'm dating myself): all involve being dropped into a conflict with little-to-no context and taking up arms for a given side without fully considering the context. Good and evil in these situations are what we are told, or what is signposted to us, rather than what we have empirically validated, and the same is true for our opponents.

    But, I'm getting ahead when I don't plan on giving adequate justification or explination just yet. So, grain of salt and all, for now.
    [ Reply to This ]
    Why Interactivity Doesn’t Matter
    Authored by: eben on Monday, May 29 2006 @ 02:55 AM UTC
    I agree with Chris that meting out degrees of choice as a measure of interactivity is redundant; the question of agency is a complex and philosophical one that exceeds the boundaries of video game theory and practice.

    But to take the stance of asking, "where is the pleasure?" seems to help in understanding the magnetism and dynamic of interactivity in a game, and as well may suggest that non- linearity is not a 'ludological' requisite for a good game or gameplay. Take for instance Fumito Ueda's recent Shadow of the Colossus, whose plot-structure is straight as an arrow in almost every sense, yet also (arguably) provides a rich, immersive and interactive experience through the use of narrative, character, space and atmosphere. We enjoy being strung along for an adventure, even if somewhere beyond the fog of our suspended disbelief we know that we are only jumping through a limited set of hoops.

    The idea that gamers have an insatiable desire for ever- increasing choices leaves me skeptical; as Chris alludes to in mentioning the role of game 'authorship' in the decisions players make, players are always in the end subordinate to a predetermined matrix of possibilities set out by the game's original design - a matrix which is easily directed into a flow of progress through the use of signs, narrative convention, architecture and overt hints. The tired debate spurred by the ludologist camp haunts us still...

    To me it seems we play to be there and do that as someone (else?) in some virtual place that always takes the form of escape, and perhaps also represents some subconscious yearning; a desire for agency in a world where we increasingly have none.

    Those little anti-games are cynical, but they represent a much needed popular stab at the heart of ludological theory: that games transcend narrative texts and all previous forms of representation. C'mon! What kind of bullshit is that? Really?

    -DD
    [ Reply to This ]
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