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New ways of looking at interactivity

New ways of looking at interactivity
« on: October 28, 2012, 05:51:35 am »

I was talking to a friend about the (not)game I recently released, and the topic of interaction came up. It's basically the same type of concept as Dear Esther, all you do is walk around and explore while unfolding a story (but with the narration replaced replaced with events happening in the environment). I said something about how it indeed has no real interaction to speak of, but my friend said that he thinks just being in environments can be considered interaction.

This got me thinking. We tend to define interaction by all that black-box feedback crap: press a button, get a reaction (usually some sort of reward). Input, reaction. You do something, the game does something to let you know that you did something. Of course pressing keys and moving the mouse to move and look fits this definition from a minimalist view, but perhaps there are other ways of looking at interaction. Ways that are less scientific, and more emotional or spiritual.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: October 28, 2012, 05:54:51 am by Tyler Snell »
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2012, 08:24:52 am »

Wrote an essay on this:
http://unbirthgame.com/TheSelfPresenceStorytelling.pdf

Basically the main concept is that interaction is used to create a sense of immersion. I think that this is pretty much how a game like Dear Esther works. The difference between simply watching a playthrough of Dear Esther and actually playing, is not so much making actual choices. (You can consider a version of Dear Esther where you simply take path choices along the ride.) What makes Dear Esther is instead the finer and continious input that creates this sense of "being there".

Not sure that is what you had in mind. I mean this theory is still based upon a very tight framework of input and output, but at a more subtle level. Also the big distinction is that the motivation for the designer is not make the player learn anything (as in better aiming, spatial traversal, puzzles, etc), but to transport the audience into another world.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2012, 04:01:58 pm »

I don't know about more emotional or spiritual ways of defining interaction but I think whether you would consider moving in a game world interaction is to do with the distinction between the player interacting with the game and the in-game character interacting with the world around them. In the first case movement is clearly interaction since when you move your character the screen displays a different output - the character and/or the camera has moved - while there isn't necessarily any in-game interaction occurring from the movement since often NPCs and the game-world don't respond to player movement.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2012, 10:20:28 pm »

In the past there has been some quoting of Chris Crawford, who relates it to a conversation. I find that to be a very helpful metaphor. Even your example of pressing a button and seeing a result isn't really interactive. It's just reactive.

So a deeper form of interactivity would involve two separate parties reacting to each other. It suggests more equal footing. That's why I think a conversation is such a useful concept.
Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2012, 06:38:03 am »

Thomas:
Apparently I had already downloaded that paper a while ago, but never read it! I read it last night though, and it was very interesting. I tend to cynically throw in the feedback loop concept in with the addictive put-another-coin-in-the-arcade type design. That paper definitely made me think about it differently.
And it is indeed what I had in mind: In a sense, it's a different way of looking at the same thing, which results in a creating a wholly different experience.

I really like the conversation idea as well, reminds me of a book I read a while ago, Computers as Theatre by Brenda Laurel. It was written in 1991, I believe she worked on the original Mac OS interface, and it has some interesting ideas about treating interface more as a living being. She equates interactive elements to actors on a stage.

I've been thinking along the vein of interacting simply by being an environment, too. In a sort of Zen way, interacting through not interacting. Something like drawing a more direct (i.e. abstract) line of interaction between the processes within us as we perceive a virtual environments, and the processes occurring within the virtual environment (the game engine). Interaction on an entirely different level. A sort of equivalent of Tarvkosky attempting to make a direct line to the spirit of the viewer of his films.
Not sure where I'm going with this now, and I might not be making sense--I'm starting to type as a think--but I think there is potential there.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2012, 09:34:52 am »

It doesn't matter. Use interaction in your work if it inspires you, if it helps you, if it makes your work better. Don't feel obliged to. It's just one of the many colors on your palette.

And don't worry about definitions. That's a job for the critics. We need to give them things to define.

For myself, and perhaps along the lines of your references to Zen and Tarkovsky (but also Duras), I strive towards the absolute nothing. The less there is in a game, the better the game is. It's a sort of purism, yes, but a very directed purism. I want to achieve a certain impact. And I believe the impact is maximized when the means are minimized.

Maybe because it makes the player work harder, do more themselves. Of course a balance needs to be found to invite the player in, to make them want to make the effort it takes to achieve aesthetic ecstasy. And that's where interactivity can be very powerful. The artistic experience is something that happens in the viewer. And interactivity can help us help the viewer create this experience for themselves.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2012, 09:45:13 am by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2012, 10:59:36 am »

The more I think about it, the more nagging the feeling becomes that an excessive attention for interactivity is barking up the wrong tree. I imagine it's like early cinema obsessing over its capacity to record life as it is. It's the obvious thing. But that doesn't mean that it is where the power of the medium lies. Or that it needs to be part of every project made with the technology.

In fact, if the purpose is artistic impact, aesthetic joy, I think a certain degree of passivity is necessary. Continuous activity will keep our brain from contemplating, analyzing, interpreting, etc (the things that lead to aesthetic appreciation). Our goal should be for the player to be active, to actively explore what catches their eye, to follow their heart when navigating our work. This activity needs to be self-motivated, or deep aesthetic pleasure will not occur.

A game that constantly tells its player what to do or constantly gives opportunity for activities may be amusing and even pretty. And that is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. But if you are reaching for the stars, if your goal is the creation of art, then I think you should be very careful with interactivity and only use it where it is absolutely necessary.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2012, 02:21:05 pm »

My, you're inspired today Michaël.

I too believe this recent shifting of the focus back to interactivity is enabling unnecessary pressure to rest on designer's shoulders, as if the zenith of the medium was to achieve a plenitude in interactivity. It's a natural consequence of the industry reluctance to move forth from a technological viewpoint, players grab hold of what is within their reach. I'm somewhat disgusted to hear "interactivity" portrayed as the essence of all this, the sap from which players should nurture themselves. They even say it's the very substance which does not exist in film or painting, which therefore enables games to be different. A very cockeyed perspectives, yes.

Interactivity hides many great possibilities not yet tapped, true, but is rather shallow in itself when all other aspects of a creation aren't developed and refined. It's known to allow creative thought within reason, though above all the sort of problem-solving activity which is so typical to our (post)industrial age. Ultimately, it hinders most any other cognitive activity some of us find strictly necessary. This is why so many have chosen to characterize games as occasionally beautiful artifacts that are best kept at a distance.

God at Play raised an interesting point regarding the true nature of most so-called "interactivity" in games, a term which would be better coined as an often feudal variety of "interreactivity", as it doesn't abide by a basic principle of mutuality. A game of chess, or Crawford's example of a conversation, understand that both parts are the same, regardless of skill - meaning the ability to devise strategies or natural gift for eloquence, and so fort.

Early designers such as Mel Croucher tried to create an environment where the player could commence a dialog with the computer using text inputs and outputs, although one soon realizes that in spite of its value as a visionary practice - those were the eighties -, humans and computers need a buffer zone with which to adjust their intercommunication. Computer are required to make sense of our inputs, which is why the medium is mainly one of games: the restrictions offered by them are the ideal intermediate structure for computers to reach out to us on a mildly challenging level which nonetheless, and from the player's perspective, often involves stooping down to a pitifully circumscribed environment. This continued and repeated practice is in no way stimulating or even respecting plurality of human thought, of conscience, of reason, memory or culture.

My point being that the best way to rethink interactivity is to end its worshiping cult, to understand its veritable implications and how its sparing and conscientious use tends to add renewed value to any experience. The case of Dear Esther is rather illustrative of this and perhaps, with greater substance to it, who knows if it couldn't have been conclusive even?
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2012, 03:52:27 pm »

Also worth considering the more interactivity you have (or at least degrees of freedom) the more difficult it comes to construct a consistent world and vision. Just try a game like Dishonored which try to give a great sense of freedom. It very soon just crumbles down to a chaotic mess unless the player is careful to obey certain rules. There is some fun and beauty into this sort of chaos, but it can also be very damaging. For instance, if you have characters that you want to give the illusion of being in a certain way, then any extra way the player can interact adds an extra uncertainty to if you will be able to achieve this. This is so important because I think for certain type of objects (especially characters) the only way to make them possible is to use make-belief. We cannot simulate an interactive human being, but we can do something that will give the player the illusion of being a real human. Interaction really stands in the way of having life-like humans and the like in game. Just compare how much alife the characters in Heavy Rain are in the cutscenes compared to how stupid they can be when you have full control (walking into walks, dead stare, etc). The trick is to have just enough interaction to realize your goals, but not any more. Something like Einstein's "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2012, 05:50:03 pm »

I'm more and more inclined to think we should just admit that the characters in our games are not humans. That the life that we give them is not a human life, but still a kind of life that we can interact with. We should find a way to communicate this honestly with our players, to tell them that the characters in the story are artificial and therefore not as sophisticated as they are themselves in many ways, but that they can still be interesting partners in play or simply to look at. The most successful way of dealing with this so far has been the use of a cartoony style or characters that are young or explicitly unintelligent (animals, e.g.). But I hope we can find a way that doesn't have the childlike connotation of these examples. I desparately need videogames that treat me as an adult (looking at you, Unfinished Swan!…).
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2012, 06:01:28 pm »

I desparately need videogames that treat me as an adult (looking at you, Unfinished Swan!…).

The prototype was so artsy, wasn't it? Not that I oppose to it being oriented towards younger audiences, as they also starve for something finer in taste. But selfishly speaking, I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2012, 06:23:22 pm »

I desparately need videogames that treat me as an adult (looking at you, Unfinished Swan!…).

The prototype was so artsy, wasn't it? Not that I oppose to it being oriented towards younger audiences, as they also starve for something finer in taste. But selfishly speaking, I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity.

It just felt to me like they didn't know what to do with their mechanic.
Lesson learned: don't build games around mechanics. Always know what your game is about. Or what you are looking for with the game.
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Re: New ways of looking at interactivity
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2012, 03:58:10 am »

I desparately need videogames that treat me as an adult (looking at you, Unfinished Swan!…).

The prototype was so artsy, wasn't it? Not that I oppose to it being oriented towards younger audiences, as they also starve for something finer in taste. But selfishly speaking, I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity.

It just felt to me like they didn't know what to do with their mechanic.
Lesson learned: don't build games around mechanics. Always know what your game is about. Or what you are looking for with the game.

I haven't played it, but I was similarly excited and then disappointed by the old and new trailers respectively.  Maybe that statement should be amended to be don't build games only around mechanics?  It's perfectly fine for art to be a process and a dialogue with yourself through a particular medium.  A priori, I don't have an problem with a game starting with a mechanic as long as you end up discovering either of Michaël's latter points.  A posteriori might be a bit of a different story - given that games that emphasize mechanics tend to end up being made as distractions from life rather than enhancements.
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