Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Dys4ia is an interactive, autobiographical narrative dealing with the transgender author's experience of hormone treatment and becoming a woman.

Dys4ia in itself is an assemblage of fractured spaces strung together by a continuous narrative. There is little connection in terms of game play between each of the scenes, some of which last little more than a few seconds. There is no way to win or lose, it is more about engaging the audience through interactivity to heighten the impact of the story which is undoubtedly the focus of work.

As a player you control multiple representations of the protagonist (also the narrator) across the different screens of the game - characters, objects, metaphors and abstractions. To me this highlights how most forms of interactive media confine themselves by their own mechanics. While I praise Portal for its ingenuity and originality in its construction of space, the fact is that it is this same construction which persists throughout the entire game. What I like about Dys4ia is the fact that it entails a multiplicity of spacial arrangements - no sooner than the player has become accustomed or expectant to the workings of a space the rules are reconfigured, not to the point where it becomes overly disorientating but far enough to keep you engaged with the gameplay and by extension, engaged with the narrative. This example shows the potential of the affective nature of space based on a constant and continuous deconstruction of itself. It is this refreshing of convention that makes simple mechanics like those of Dys4ia surprising and constantly immersive as the viewer is never given the opportunity become too comfortable in the world created.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Experiments in Space and Frame

I created a test project exploring some of the possibilities in spacial construction. This has allowed me to experiment with the concept in a practical sense which will help inform my work as it develops. A lot of these examples are to do with the way the frame works, its shape and they way it moves. I think the way in which the frame functions can be either passive or aggressive (or perhaps both) depending on how the user's interactions effect it.  Following the player strengthens the illusion of control while operating independently reduces it. Reminiscent of Portal, there is one example where the room is looped, meaning that when you fall from one side you appear at the other. Additionally the final room is made up of multiple frames, the player moves through them in an entirely illogical order, starting on the left then appearing out the other side then on top. These ideas begin to deconstruct the players expectation of space and open up a world of possibilities as far as the gameplay experience is concerned as well as the way in which spaced could be used to propel a narrative. Different settings could exist in the one space, different frames of that space could portray different points in time and multiple versions of the same characters could be used to show different sides of their psyche. These are just a few examples but it goes to show the power of space itself and by starting to understand that, space can be harnessed to strengthen immersion, narrative, experience and the thematic intentions of interactive media.

In addition to the conceptual exploration, this project has also allowed me to get a grasp on the process of game development. All the code used is completely original and it's interesting see the results working in HTML5. I'm not really that confident at the moment as far as coding goes so it's cool to see the possibilities I can achieve even now from within my own limitations.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Space As A Concept

It is interesting that we define a media as being 'interactive' when the viewer becomes a player and so gains the ability to effect on screen space. This notion of control however is illusionary as both two and three dimensional spaces are entirely fictitious in their representation of the real. This however doesn't reduce the powers which space holds but simply serves to point out the nature of such definition. In order to function space requires interaction with an audience. Through the participation of a player, space becomes an active agent of affect. 

We as the player are given the notion of control, we can navigate a world, perhaps open a door but it is the space itself which holds the real power. The player may interact with the space but this interaction is always confined by what the space itself allows. Space dictates when and how far we can move, which doors can be opened and most importantly, it holds the potential to strike feeling, tap into emotion, cause visceral reaction and provoke mental, physical and psychological response both conscious and subconscious. We tend to believe that we are the ones playing a game, playing a space, when in fact, it is the space that is playing us. The affective nature of space is dynamic and without limit. Such interaction is mutual, a cycle of the player effecting a space and in turn, being affected by it. A space itself may not be 'real' but its power as an agent of affect certainly is. This realisation or perhaps more a clarification is rather enlightening as it enables us to look at space as a construct of communication instead of a physical enclosure - space is abstract, space is a concept.

In continuing this train of thought, the video game Portal serves an effective example in exploring the concept of interactive space. The goal of Portal is to escape from the lab you're trapped in by reaching the elevator at the end of each chamber. To do this you must create portals through which you can travel through to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. 

Moving through portals is a true manipulation of space as the operation of such is far more extensive than simply teleporting the player to a new location. We can look through a portal like a magic mirror as space becomes indefinitely extended. It is interesting that this space is in fact infinite as the game presents the illusion of confinement (perhaps something which makes this experience of spacial manipulation all the more potent). Portals also have their own set of physics which enable the player to propel themselves across rooms as well as become stuck in eternal loops.

An example of the physics of Portal
The mechanics of portal highlight for me the potential that emerges when we stop thinking of space as a simulation of our own expectations of reality and instead allow it to function as an architecture through which we can experience a virtual world. By fracturing the mindset of what the viewer perceives space to be enables the agency of such a space to operate in much more interesting ways. Why put the restrictions of a physical reality on a concept that is inherently abstract?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Cat and The Coup

I was suggested The Cat and The Coup by another student and I'm really glad I checked it out!

The Cat and the Coup is a documentary game in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. During the summer of 1953, the CIA engineered a coup to bring about his downfall. As a player, you coax (the ghost of) Mossadegh back through significant events of his life by knocking objects off of shelves, scattering his papers, jumping on his lap and scratching him.

I've never really considered the concept of a documentory game before so for that aspect alone this is kind of eye opening. The idea of using video games as allegories has a lot of potential in my mind and what I like particularly about this game, is that it not only communicates these ideas but does so while providing interesting gameplay elements. The puzzles are all fairly simple but challenging enough to keep you interested.

Aesthetically, The Cat and The Coup feels like a collage peiced together from paper cut outs and magazine clippings - visuals which certainly complement the fragmented style of this historical retelling. In fact, the game goes as far to use real clippings from the time to tell parts of the story. What is also interesting is the fact that the game world is seamless, the player falling into new areas which are connected in a fairly surreal manner, layers of two and illusionary three dimensional depth coexisting within the same flat space. 

Definatly a game I'll need to revisit.

Dear Esther

Dear Esther is a first person interactive narrative in which the player travels across an abandoned island as the story is delivered by the narrator. What is interesting is that the interactive aspects of Dear Esther are very much secondary to the narrative and aesthetics of the work. The player is given the illusion of freedom in that they can move where they want but in reality the path is entirely linear. Although the time it takes you to reach each plot point effects the pace at which the story unfolds, the player has no influence in the direction of the experience. Basically, it is like a short story in which each paragraph is delivered by venturing further through the island. It's also very metaphorical with meaning being left to the player's interpretation.

Also, opening gameplay

To me, the experience was one which I am glad to have taken but it was not without issues. I found the pacing to be poor in areas as the gameplay (simply walking at a sometimes monotonous pace) distracted from an otherwise interesting narrative. By the time I spent a few minutes walking over a hill to reach the next section of the story I had already forgotten the previous part and so found the plot difficult to follow because of its fractured nature. In all honesty, I can't say I enjoyed playing it that much it until towards the end - like one of those films you don't really have fun watching but when you think back on it, realise it was actually quite amazing. I'm starting to think about Dear Esther less as something to play or enjoy but more as an experience as well as a statement in the potential powers of interactive narrative.

As I've been searching for readings I came across Mike Jones' blog and by perfect chance, he wrote about Dear Esther just a couple of weeks ago. It is worth quoting him at length because he articulates concepts that are not only relevant to the game itself but ideas which in my view, are highly prolific in the study of interactivity as a whole:
"Cinema has been described as the only art where more comes out than goes in; that there is a tangible difference between the intention and the affect- the affect of a moving image is more than the sum of its parts.
In Dear Esther the story and its mise-en-scene components of space, light, form, sound and voice do not add up to the experience one has while playing; play is something more.
It is not interactivity for the world does not respond, it is exploration.  If Dear Esther were played back as a film, a 90 minute single take film, from a single point of view it would be banal, tedious, tiresome. Yet when I as a player, am simulated into the geography of the island as a simulation of self, something is added, something which elevates Dear Esther from the sum of its parts. Is it a game? Am I playing it? Are there rules? How do I win? These are irrelevant questions, it is an experience and the feeling state of that experience is one distinct and apart from that which might be presented in book or film - stories connected to space and I only hear those parts of the story when I stand in that space, move through that space and methodically take the time to get to that space."
The beginning of 'Dear Esther'
The notion that the simplest of interactions can draw the audience so much deeper into a piece of media really fascinates me. Whether it is walking from point to point or even something as mundane as holding down a single key, this interaction instantly transforms media into something more.

Jones concludes by saying:
"Dear Esther is a story that is not adhering itself to game mechanics but rather one exploiting perfectly what game mechanics do best: the exploration of space and the architecture of awareness."
It is this idea that interactivity lends itself to further an 'exploration of space' which really resonates with what I want to do - using this interactivity to achieve a greater, or even just a different, means of exploring space than what can be attained by observational media alone.

*Interestingly Dear Esther has received critical acclaim as well as commercial success being sold as an online download for $10US. I'm actually surprised something like this was successful. For all the praise however there equally seems to be a lot of distaste towards it, the main issue seeming to be the expectation of Dear Esther being a 'game' as opposed to an interactive story.

** I'd also like to mention that I think Mike Jones is awesome, both for his ideas themselves but also for the fact that his work is easily accessible. Huge kudos for being an academic whose thoughts can be accessed for free (and commented on) by anyone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Onscreen Realities

I've been reading part of Lev Manovich's The Language Of New Media and have come across several ideas which interest me. This quote in particular highlights a point which is important to mention:
"…realism is qualitatively different from the realism of optically based image technologies (photography, film), for the simulated reality is not indexically related to the existing world."
To be realistic or relatable, environments, characters and objects don't have to be photo realistic but simply representative of what the viewer already knows and understands. It is through such function that One Chance opperates, aesthetically basic but constructed indexically so that its graphics become a sense of style as opposed to a limitation. Realism is one way in which a greater level of immersion can be attained but by no means does an on screen world have to be realistic to our standards but rather convincing within a reality of its own design.
"Each new technological development (sound, panchromatic stock, color) points to the viewers just how "un-realistic" the previous image was and also reminds them that the present image, even though more realistic, will be superseded in the future — thus constantly sustaining the state of disavowal."
Here Manovich points out that our perception of what is 'real', convincing or unconvincing is firmly based upon our previous experiences with media and what expectations have already been set up. It is in this way that 'cutting edge' special effects from say the 80's are not as persuasive as they once were when interpreted by a modern audience. Ofcourse, this persuasiveness could appeal to a number of different distinctions besides our own reality. Aesthetic style or narrative are potential proponents of visuality that could lead to a sense of immersion.
"the reason we may think that computer graphics has succeeded in faking reality is that we, over the course of the last hundred and fifty years, has come to accept the image of photography and film as reality."
This is basically just reinforcing the last quote: that we are conditioned by existing media  to accept new media as being more real or convincing than it may actually be if it were taken at face value. This makes me think of retro styles which, although born from earlier technological limitations, actually hold appeal in their aesthetics. New media can be created to imitate this style and not be seen as backward, but nostalgic. 

The general vibe I have gotten from reading this chapter is that Manovich puts a lot of emphasis on realism in virtuality. This makes sense considering a lot of what he is writing about is in relation to computer graphics being integrated with live action film. I'm not sure how this all connects to my own work just yet but its helping me to better understand what exactly an onscreen reality may be. Not entirely related but reading this also makes me think of the potential in being completely unrealistic in the treatment of a virtual world, allowing new rules to be constructed and the audience's own expectation acting as a catalyst to unexpected affects.

One Chance

One Chance by Awkward Silence
Although I haven't gotten too deep into reading or analysis yet, I think it is important to mention a 'game' called One Chance. This (as well as some of the creators other projects) has been a major inspiration for me wanting to approach the topic of interactivity. What immediately struck me about One Chance was how, despite the low-fi aesthetics, retro soundtrack and the limited level of interactivity, the onscreen world comes across as being highly immersive. The story follows the last 7 days of humanity as a virus threatens to destroy all life. The player can only move left and right with the occasional option to pick a different path. Each day begins the same and progresses in a similar fashion with some events being effected by the previous decisions made. Thematically the issues tackled are pretty big (the end of the world, suicide, the true meaning of happiness) and in my opinion, the treatment of such was done so effectively and without too much pretension. The viewer is drawn into the world and to the characters in a short amount of time (it only takes around 10 minutes to complete) which is something that I put down to the interactive capacity of the media. I will no doubt go into greater detail of this example at a later point but the crux of my view on it is that many of the elements which are believed to be necessary in constructing a convincing on screen world can in fact be supported by interactivity where without it, such space would not be able to reach the same level of immersion. It is the simplest of interactions that makes One Chance really work.

Monday, March 19, 2012


This blog is going to be used as a research and development journal for my masters project at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. My study will be practice based and so this page will detail both my own practical explorations as well as the theoretical framework behind them. The focus of my work is going to be on interactivity from which my own media project will stem. 
An overview from my proposal:
This project proposes an investigation into the influence of interactivity in the construction and conceptualising of audio visual spaces within virtual environments. This research will be practice based and will involve the creation of my own work exploring the concepts of user interaction and the affective nature of this device. Based upon my own experience and the time frame available, I will be exploring fractured space primarily within two dimensional environments as both a conceptual as well as aesthetic basis for the work. I want the project to be released in a public way, this could take the form of an installation, online distribution or any other methods which may surface as the study progresses.
Possible questions of this research could be

-How is the perception of space altered by an interactive influence? 

-Treating interactivity as one of the many components of a virtual assemblage, what kind of affective energy does this element bring to on screen spaces? 

-How does interactivity effect audience immersion and what implications does limited interactivity have on this engagement? 

-How does the physical space from which an audience interprets a piece of interactive media effect their perception of it? 

I'm excited to see the direction that this project takes as it develops, at the moment it is still quite open so the plan is to start reading texts, viewing media and just absorbing all the information I can which in turn, will catalyze my own ideas.