Last but one…. Power Play and the Prison Project

October 29, 2007

I encountered this video last year when I was youtubing for leisure. I felt that it is an interesting extension to the issue of power play and interactivity. For those who haven’t bothered watching it here is a short description. This video is from a British reality TV show by this chap called Derren Brown. He is an accomplished physiological illusionist and hypnosis. n this clip, Brown claims to have created a video game he calls “Waking Dead” which “is able to put roughly 1/3 of the people who play it into a catatonic trance”. In this episode he places the video game in a pub, to lure a supposedly unsuspecting patron into playing the game. He then “kidnaps” the catatonic “victim” and places him in a real-life recreation of the video game, having him fire an air gun at actors, pretending to be zombies and outfitted with explosive squibs. I don’t know whether it is real or made up for good television but nonetheless it raises potential questions about the role of puppet masters and players in a controlled game environment.

Although not exactly a power play in the strictest of sense, Brown’s experiment asks the basic question of whether a realistic environment endorses interactivity or that the two are not strongly related. Here is a case of the ‘puppet master’ exercising complete control over the player. The player is given a gun but is not specifically told to do anything.The goal is the user’s creation. Although the choice of running away is open to the player, he chooses to fight (the obvious choice); but since the zombies never dies and he is locked, the hyper realism of a a horror game in the real world almost makes him collapse. It is only then that the ‘puppet-master’ emerges and chooses to interfere. Here the immersion effect heightened to realism and yet the situation is controlled and confined to the boundary of the carefully designed room. Also the player is under some sort of trance like state and hence cannot be thought to be capable of intelligent judgement. The environment may be real, but the control structure makes it more like a interactive fiction than a successful game play. It is much akin to video games than to the genre of power play. It also shows that realism of the environment is not always the sole factor determining the interactive nature of the game.

In contrary, power play provides user with certain rules and instructions to follows and objectives to fulfill using the real world as a stage. The nature of the environment, in this case is physically unrestricted, although the game may impose certain restrictions by way of instructions. The physical independence provides the user with an illusion of complete interaction without realizing the fact that all form of interaction doesn’t form a concrete part of the game and hence does not necessarily forces the ‘puppet-master’ to respond and hence under the definition of the game world does not constitute an interaction. Baring all these, what attracts me to power play is the real time interaction and real time response of the ‘puppet-master’ and the relevance it has for our project 2 – the prison break.

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Game and Narrative – The Jenkin compromise

October 23, 2007

In most of my blogs I have been repeatedly talking about interactive v/s immersive and how they vary inversely with one another. This weeks reading on Game Design as Narrative Architecture clearly demystifies whatever doubts I had about the coexistence of narrative and interactive on a game like media.

I totally agree with Jenkin’s proposition that the nature of the media requires you to redefine narrative to a certain extent. A game is a medium where the narration – if present – has to truly incorporate non linearity, and modularity for a well formed single narrative is hard to construct in a truly interactive environment. A game with a central narrative will however, never be a truly interactive system but to a certain extent, only a mere illusion of interactivity. The kind of restrictions such as health, goals, scores etc tends to constrict the player towards a certain intentioned narrative. However, as we saw today in the Oblivion, in a very interactive system created out of a seemingly complex world, the player really doesn’t have to follow the objectives and could roam around and see different things for themselves. Without the constricting factors the author’s story may get lost. But on a smaller scale, the more interactive and life like the system is, the easier it is for the players to conjure up less complex mini narratives in their minds. How detailed and engrossing these mini – embedded or spatial – narratives are depends a lot on the game design.

However to say that a game is a narrative medium is like saying that hide and seek tells a story. A game doesn’t really have to tell a story at all and still be engrossing enough to keep playing. Combat games such as Tekken or Mortal Kombat etc doesn’t require a historical or cultural background. It is just that these backgrounds and constructed narratives adds to the believability of the game – the player is able to connect better and produce opinions and emotional responses. Narrative thus becomes more like a value add to the gameplay and not a component of it. It is the same thing. Board games like Snakes and Ladders do not have the possibility of narrative construction. But other board games such as Monopoly or The Game of Life has a richer texture and more real life situations to it which makes it more immersive. The the comparable bit is that the game play element of both the games are inherently the same – both are played with dice where u gain turns and lose turns depending on where in the board u land up. However, the environment of the latter games, as I mentioned, is a value add and enhances the character of the game a great deal.

Most game designers are computer architects and graphic designers and I do not think that are remotely concerned about this tussle between the game play and narrative structure. When they add narrative to a game, they just do in order to make them more believable and marketable.


Facade – possible resolution to the narrative v/s interactive dialogue

October 14, 2007

Its an early blog for a change

Not a really hardcore gamer so I am not in the best position to answer some of the questions. I was playing Facade just to get a feel of things and be able to answer some of the more fundamental questions. Facade is very different from all the graphical game i have played so far. I am not a particular fan of the Sims so I really don’t know what game based on social engineering can be like. Most game generally have a relatively simple feedback loop between an interactive action/reaction and a numeric counter. There is an unsaid constrain on the nature of narrative practically presentable in this form of interaction. However to model the real world and the rich nature of story telling, numeric score-lines and the limited point and click interactivity seems unapt.

Facade is a refreshing departure from this. The kind of feedback loop here is more of a real life one. Although the underlining feedback is some sort of a numeric counter/assembly. But the end result to a player is the kind of reaction/comment that the protagonists (Grace and Trip) seems to deliver in response to the players comments. It is not just the comments, the taps and the kisses that determine the kind of response but i also feel that indirect elements such as the player’s physical proximity to the characters etc forms a factor in the response. Unlike conventional games where there is a direct connection between a player’s interaction and score state, the score state here transforms into a social score of plausible reactions and resolution or aggravation of the protagonists’ relationship woes. The use of natural language for conversation etc adds to the the environment’s usp. At the end of a successful game, I felt as though I was a reluctant participant in plausible real life domestic drama.

I will not explicitly say that games are not successful interactive narrative, since game have become the most widely executed application of interactivity. However, the kind of un-homogenous mixture that narrative and interactive exhibits in most games needs refinement, and Facade – although at times the conversation seems trite and repetitive – presents a possible resolution where the game elements is transformed into a more believable feedback which not only contributes to the narrative but also enhances it to make it more ‘immersive’ and believable.


On Text Adventure

October 10, 2007

I apologize for the late post but I had some personal tragedy to recover from. It was tragic and of unfathomable influence on my mental health.

Text adventure, as I see it, directly questions the nature of use of media and medium for implementation of a particular narrative/game. I always felt that a particular novel was better suited as a novel and not as a movie and particular movie should not be translated into a novel. Written narrative have their their charm; it leaves a lot to the readers imagination and hence the effort in this case is classically non-trivial. However when we transcend a written text to an interactive text adventure game, although we preserve the richness of language and its accompanying perks (engaging the players mind etc), we seem to destroy or even in the best scenario, atleast disturb the immersive’ness’ of the narrative. The kind of audience also makes a difference when interpreting the impact of text adventure. Today’s generation, who have grown up on their staple diet of 3d game and virtual space would lack the sense of literature adventure pursuit that may be someone in the 80’s generation when presented with the text based adventure game. Also the issue of lack of organised commands etc to get around really ticked me off. In short for a person who isn’t used to such a game, he has to play the game at least a few time to get a hang of it before he can start enjoying it. Here is another case of extremely nontrivial effort and the consequence of interactivity compromising immersivity.

In slight contrast when we resurrect the sometimes irritatingly boring text adventure from the being designated as a semi literary work to the realm of graphical role playing adventure game, you are in a totally immersive state where the environment is laid out of for you and there is not much room for imagination. The interactivity, however may/may not be compromised upon. While some people may be of the opinion that interactivity is reduced to a point and click approach, it up to the system designer to insure interactivity by implementing more innovative means of communication with the system. The graphical interface provides avenues for innovation in interactivity which is restricted in the classical text adventure approach.

While the text adventure purist may not be entirely convinced with this, I am of the option that adventure games and narrative became extremely popular only after the advent of computer graphics. Personally I was unaware of the text based adventure game prior to the module. Consequently, the commercial viability of the graphical interface over the textual interface indicates that that people prefer a more real life like interaction over a textual interaction. This is in contrast to non-game like narratives where the more life like narration viz movies and animations have an equal footing, if not more, with classical textual literature. This is just a preliminary observation and hence does not form a conclusive analysis.


media and medium

October 2, 2007

What can you do in hypertext media thats you cannot do in the print media….. thought I would comment on it even though there has been considerable debate on it during the class. One thing I notitced after all the debate in the class is the relationship between the text and the instrument of implementation (the media and the medium).

Immersiveness and interactivity are interconnected. While we can have a linear text and be still immersive, I believe that a non-linear interactive medium demands ‘immersivity’. While the same text can be related in a multiple way through multiple medium, for a particular text to be immersive enough, there has to be a cohesion between the text and medium and method of discourse. In particular relation to hypertext, I believe that a hypertext novel defiles this cohesion and hence is not immersive enough and engaging enough. Print media seems to be more suited for non-interactive text, although I do not deny the fact that print media can be made ‘technically interactive’. Written text is almost more apt for non-interactive linear story telling although again we can make it ‘technically interactive’ when translated into hypertext. However once made interactive, such media looses that immersive’ness’ that would have been otherwise present.

Along the same line, I believe that visual and aural text, particularly pictures and movies are more apt for interactive story telling as it retains the immersive’ness’ that it possessed prior to being ‘hacked and chopped’ in order to make it non- linear and interactive. It was very much evident in our project demonstration today.