Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fall Up To The Sky

Or download the game (windows only but more stable)

The purpose of this project was both to better familiarise myself with the software that I'm using as well as explore methods of interaction and the generation of affect. Ironically, most of my research thus far has been about breaking convention in interesting ways yet I've gone and made something which in essence, is a fairly generic video game. I still want to explore these ideas but this is a good starting point to develop from as it has allowed me to program simple mechanics in an environment where I'm not overly concerned with the story yet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Plague Doctor

So far in my research I have been focusing on methods of interactivity and the affective nature of space. This is because I consider it to be the fundamental framework behind the construction of this sort of media and at this point I am most interested in the make up of this assemblage as it will provide a strong foundation to develop my own work from. Never the less, I have also been thinking about context and content of possible projects. 

Purely out of personal interest I have been reading about plague doctors, a special kind of doctor who, as the name suggests, 'treated' the plague in Europe during the middle ages. Most interesting to me have been the doctors of the 15th and 16th centuries who wore distinctive costumes consisting of a bird mask, goggles, a top hat, a thick coat and gloves. The people of the time believed the plague traveled through the air and so the doctor's beaks were stuffed with herbs to prevent them becoming infected. Their methods of treatment were equally based in superstition including putting frogs on the boils and trying to clean out the disease by blood letting. Generally these beak doctors were either washed up medical practitioners who weren't good enough for general practice or people with no medical training at all. The work was dangerous, the doctors were segregated from most of society and often preformed other death associated tasks such as record keeping and autopsies.

I found a table showing some other methods that really highlights the futility of their work:
Suggested Preventions and Cures How they were supposed to work What they actually did
 Carry Flowers or wear a strong perfume  The smells would help to ward away the disease  Nothing
 Drink hot drinks  The victim would then sweat out the disease  Nothing
 Carry a lucky charm  The charm would ward off the disease  Nothing
 Use leeches to bleed the victim  This would remove infected blood  Nothing
 Smoke a pipe of tobacco  The smoke would ward off the disease  Nothing
 Give a strong dose of laxatives  This would cause the victim to completely empty his bowels, thus removing the disease.  Strong doses of laxatives can cause death from dehydration.
 Coat the victims with mercury and place them in the oven.  The combination of mercury and heat from the oven would kill off the disease.  This could actually increase the likelihood of death - mercury is poisonous and the heat from the oven caused serious burns.

To me this historical context could translate really well to something interactive because the whole concept is so rich with imagery. There is something almost surreal about the figure of the plague doctor, made all the more haunting by the fact that the heritage of such was real. Some of the cures are so absurd that they are hard to believe, there is a great opportunity for black humor in this idea while still remaining historically credible. Even preforming some of these cures in an interactive form would make for unique content as well as mechanics. The character has an anamorphic vibe to it as well, it would be cool to play with this idea - perhaps the plague turns the doctor more and more bird like.

Playing around with the plague doctor concept with retro aesthetics
I began mocking up a scene in which could be used in a game about plague doctors though I'm not sure if this method would be the best way of presenting the idea yet. I'm working in a retro graphic style at the moment both because I like the nostalgic aesthetic, but also because it makes production a lot faster since I don't want to invest too much time into elements which I might not end up developing any further. I discovered a poem from the seventeenth century which made me think of other avenues such a project could take:
As may be seen on picture here,
In Rome the doctors do appear,
When to their patients they are called,
In places by the plague appalled,
Their hats and cloaks, of fashion new,
Are made of oilcloth, dark of hue,
Their caps with glasses are designed,
Their bills with antidotes all lined,
That foulsome air may do no harm,
Nor cause the doctor man alarm,
The staff in hand must serve to show
Their noble trade where'er they go.
I have seen interactive media expressed in the form of films, games and music videos so why not a poem? Could be an interesting catalyst. Regardless of how  I develop this idea, it seems like something which holds an abundance of potential both visually and thematically that could complement a skeleton of affective triggers.

Interactive Music Video

I've been looking at interactive music videos, or what might better be titled 'interactive music' as the notion of 'video' is certainly challenged in the interpretations which I have examined so far. Below are three different examples which demonstrate the diversity of this genre:

The Wilderness Downtown is an online music video created by the band Arcade Fire. The viewer begins by typing in the address of where they grew up and using Google Maps, the location is then integrated into the music video. This work is interesting because it serves to reminds that interactive media doesn't necessarily have to involve the pushing of buttons or constant participation - the interaction here is more generative, as the viewer effects the video only through their initial input. An additional point to note is how the video operates across different spaces with parts appearing in opening and closing browser windows. This sense of multiple framings is highlighted because it appears not from divisions of a single space but across an array of different spaces entirely.

I've Seen Enough is an interactive video which demonstrates the active nature of the viewer or player as in this example you have direct control over the music itself (albeit within the limitations of the device). This is achieved by clicking on each of the four band members to adjust the part they perform. For example, you can toggle the guitarist to play an acoustic or an electric guitar, switch the piano to a synth or drums to a tambourine. The song progresses irrespective of these changes, changes which can be constantly altered. The resulting song is dynamic, offering a great deal of possibilities within the confines of the music’s basic framework. At first I considered this interaction to be quite restrictive but what adds greater depth is that it tracks the most popular combinations made by all the users who have engaged with the video and allows the player to choose these setups. What this means is that the interactions of the player however insignificant, contribute to part of the experience of this work adding a sense of vicarious interaction through a 'hive mind' which engages with other viewers.

Inside A Dead Skyscraper is an interactive music video which resembles a video game much more closely than the other examples which I have looked at. The player controls a character in a radiation suit exploring a frozen moment in time where a plane has crashed into a high-rise building. There are echoes of the 9/11 attacks which resonate both in the lyrical content of the song as well as through the game’s imagery. Time is suspended, the player can do nothing to alter events but rather simply explore this moment. As a game I don't think Inside A Dead Skyscraper isn’t anything particularly ground breaking though there are some original ideas such as being able to read the thoughts of the frozen characters but overall, what resonates with me is the liberation it offers to the way in which we think about music video and the application of interactivity within this genre. A lot of the examples that I have looked at in previous posts draw definite (however minimised) influence from video game convention. What immediately struck me when exploring interactive music videos is that this stem doesn't seem to exist. It is very much the conventions of music video which serve as the primary proponents of these works with the methods of interaction being less complex and much more focused on the player as a direct participant as opposed to a character in a world. Inside A Dead Skyscraper is in fact the only example I’ve found so far which breaks this mould.

To consider the agency of the player in the aforementioned examples:

  • Inside A Dead Skyscraper 
  • The player becomes an agent of affect through the game character and so too is affected via this mechanism.

  • I've Seen Enough 
  • The player themselves are direct agent of affect; there is no representation or avatar through which interaction passes through.

  • The Wilderness Downtown
  • The player (perhaps more viewer in this case) effects rather than affects. The result of this is not continuous. There is a lesser sense of feedback loop as there is no further interaction once the project has been started.  

This again highlights how interactive music videos in general offer much simpler interactions than perhaps what other forms of media are doing with the medium. Just A Friend is another interactive video which I would consider 'simple' in that offers a 'pick a path' type mentality. This could stem from the expiatory nature of a song itself in that it has to come to an end (or does it?). It really goes to show how the background from which interactivity is approached from has significant effects on the way a work tends to be constructed. I think interactive music video could learn a lot form video game convention, Inside A Dead Skyscraper demonstrates this but perhaps the same could be said for other interactive media taking notes from music video too as these simple interactions are much easier to control and in terms of mapping affect are considerably more precise in their intentions.

As a side note, I found the dialogue with the player's superior officer in Inside A Dead Skyscraper to be aptly provoking:
 "...please don’t be immature, this isn’t a game".

 And even more striking:
 "I know what you're thinking, history has huge inertia and your agency isn’t that much."

These statements are referring to the player's inability to change the events of the plane crash in the game, though it's quite uncanny how they can be taken as greater statements of the work itself as a piece of interactive media.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Understanding Affect

Affect is the “capacity for interaction”. Every component of media affects, the lighting, the narrative, the sound, methods of interactivity as well as the environment from which the media is received all have the potential to interact or affect the viewer. These ‘affective maps’ hold a mutualistic relationship with space itself both born from such space as well as working as part of the assemblage which constructs it. This space is not flat nor is it three dimensional, there is no ‘real’ space only space which is representational. Space is thick, thick with affective mechanisms that can interact with the viewer. In terms of interactivity, thick space entails an infinite feedback loop by which the viewer is affected by the media and then responds through action. This affect operates at different levels of intensity while the audience has thresholds at which these intensities affect at. The strength of such interaction is variable, meaning that affect is not an on/off operator, in fact, it is hard to judge the level at which an element may affect as the outcome can be both conscience and subconscious as well as generating different responses when experienced by different people. 

This is a useful paragraph I found from Steven Shaviro's Post-Cinematic Affect
"Visual space is empty, extended and homogeneous: a mere container for objects located at fixed points within it. But audile-tactile electronic space ‘is constituted of resonant intervals, dynamic relationships, and kinetic pressure’ (McLuhan and McLuhan 1988, 35), and constructed out of ‘intercalated elements, intervals, and articulations of superposition’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 329). Such a space is a heterogeneous patchwork, continually being curved and folded and stretched. It is traversed by ‘densifications, intensifications, reinforcements, injections, showerings’ and other such processes (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 328). Movement through this space is therefore not smooth and continuous, but abrupt, nonlinear, discontinuous and discrete. Tactile space has ‘lost its homogeneity,’ Deleuze says, and ‘left behind its own co-ordinates and its metric relations’ Deleuze 1986, 108-109). In consequence, it must be apprehended – and indeed, it can only be apprehended – bit by bit, ‘fragment by fragment,’ and from moment to moment, through the constructive action of ‘linking’ one space to another, materially feeling one’s way from one space to another (Deleuze 1986,108-109 Film-Philosophy 14.1 2010)"