The Potential for Emotional Depth in Games

April 7, 2013

As an English major, I am naturally attracted to powerful stories and chose this major because of my love for literature. I have a deep craving for engaging stories and at times find myself so thoroughly immersed in the lives of fictional characters that I lose myself, somehow, in the process. It’s amazing to me how many stories I can have going at one time and yet keep track of where I am in them all–and yet still thirst for more. This love for stories stretches across all media: not only books but also movies, TV, and comics/graphic novels.

When I started teaching Writing for Interactive Media at Emerson College, I began to play story-games–video games that employ narrative, or gamified stories (which dominates is one of the great debates of the 21st century between narratologists and ludologists). What I can say is that any games I’ve played to date (most of them RPGs like Fable and Assassin’s Creed) do not satisfy me in the way that good literature does. This is indie game-designer Jonathan Blow’s primary critique of the video game industry: he wants to make games that really touch people the way that fine art and great literature can, and he doesn’t see this happening yet.

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One work that I’ve come across that does just that is an interactive fiction called Sand-dancer by Aaron A. Reed. It is actually the model game that he creates in the process of writing his book Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7. (You can play Sand-dancer now within the browser)

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This story has great emotional power yet includes interactive game elements with significant choice that truly effect the story’s outcome.

I also heard recently about a newly released game called Cart Life that looks like it might have the same powerful effect.

It’s interesting to see the discussion around this game. One person writes: “WHY, would you want to create a game about real life experiences like working, talking, eating, brushing your teeth, etc? … It could be me, but I play games to escape real life for a moment and go on an adventure and do stuff that I can’t do in real life.”

Comparing this to literature: there are books that are written as escapist fare, but there’s also serious literature that talks about “real life experiences.”

As for me, I’m happy to see games like this that begin to approach the emotional depth that some of the best books I’ve read have achieved.

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On the Horizon: New Technology in Education Requires Paradigm Shift

April 1, 2013

As I consider the materials for Week 2 of the Games MOOC course I’m taking, I think of the context where I work and of how hard it has been to bring about even the most obvious of institutional changes.  Some of the readings asked us to look at recent New Horizon reports, where the next 1-5 years of edtech adoption are anticipated for any given year.  It’s interesting to look back and see how their predictions fared.  For example, the 2009 report for K-12 (the first of its kind for K-12) speaks of “collaborative environments” and “online communication tools” in one year or less; “mobiles” and “cloud computing” in 2-3 years, and “smart objects” and “the personal web” in 4-5 years.  The only one of these that has begun to impact my own school is “cloud computing,” and that impact will only be felt in the “back end” (data closet applications of a hybrid hosted solution for a phone system), with occasional use of cloud storage.

My point is simple:  there needs to be some degree of institutional support for these kinds of changes to become widely integrated.  Otherwise, it remains to the “outliers” or pioneering teachers to continue experimenting and integrating the latest technologies (the latest being games and mobile devices and augmented reality, all subjects of this latest round of the Games MOOC).

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The other point:  the required paradigm shift — a move toward “student-centered,” constructivist or “constructionist” models of education with “inquiry-based learning,” “problem-based learning,” and the like — has been discussed and theorized for decades now.  There is very much a slow trickle-down process (molasses like!) when it comes to how these ideas infiltrate current practices.  When I first read it back in the early 1990s, I was encouraged by Seymour Papert’s book The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of Computers, in which he writes that “…computers serve best when they allow everything to change.” He describes the phenomenon of School as a bureaucracy that absorbs any innovations and sequesters them, enabling the existing system to continue unchallenged.  This has been my experience for the past 16 years trying to integrate this kind of change Papert advocates in his book, which has been published for almost 20 years now. I think with schools being pushed into 1:1 initiatives and/or BYOD, the technology might finally push the institution into shifting the paradigm at long last.


Writing for Interactive Media

October 8, 2009

I have been invited to adjunct teach a course at Emerson College called “Writing for Interactive Media.”  I have begun the process of researching possible text books and creating a syllabus.  I’m excited about the prospect of employing the concept of electracy as a way of organizing this class, as well as the chance to research narrative as a form of information storage and retrieval that might provide ways to maximize the communicative potential of new technologies.  There will be more to say about all of this once the course gets started.  For now, though, I’ll be busy with a lot of good ole-fashioned book-reading!


Liquid Theory

April 1, 2009

Just after posting my extended comments on “how concepts function,” which mentions a desire to explore fluid-flow principles and de Bono’s concept of “water logic,” among other things, I came across this post on liquid theory, inviting us to contribute to a liquid book, a call-for-collaboration in a wiki-book of philosophy: Liquid Books. Here we go!


How Concepts Function

March 31, 2009

I started reading the IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) entry on “Concepts,” which starts by laying out “tasks for an overall theory of concepts,” one of which is to determine what the metaphysical status of a concept is. As I thought about Deleuze and Guattari’s theories, it occurred to me that they are not so much concerned about what a concept is so much as what a concept does: how it functions in a particular context or assemblage, what it accomplishes in solving a particular problem.

In fact, the way that this line of thinking started was by thinking, “If you stop to think about it…” But stopping is artificial: there is no stopping: the mind is going going going, a model of Bergsonian duration, and it’s when we “stop” to think about thinking that we develop a metaphysics of thinking, a model of the “being” vs. “becoming” of thinking. Deleuze is about thinking on the go, thinking as going, and going implies a direction, possibly even a destination (unless you’re a nomad, that is) and/or an agenda: are you stratifying or destratifying? Are you becoming more complex as an organization or is there a kind of chaos-ification occurring?

Thought, that is (to repeat myself), requires a context (what are you thinking about? what problem are you trying to solve?). I see this in their concept of the machinic assemblage: things themselves have fluid ontological categories depending on the role they play in a temporary assemblage of parts/wholes that come together to fulfill a particular purpose or desire. A bicycle tire on a bike, for example, serves as a mode of transportation; in a work of art, however, it serves as a mode of self-expression. In a different context, faced with a different problem to solve, it could be/come something else (in the way that car tires are used as the soles of shoes in third-world countries).

For D&G;, it seems that the problem they want to solve is the question of how to think differently, how (ultimately) to think creatively. Beyond this (and with them there always seems to be a beyond), they want to capture the boiling roiling moment of a phase transition, whether the moment when water freezes or when water boils… In the words of Jeffrey Bell, in his Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos: Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of Difference,

A dynamic system. . . presupposes both the stable, structured strata that are in some sense *complete*, and it entails the unstable, unstructured, deterritorializing flows. As Deleuze and Guattari proceed to develop the implications of this thinking, or as they develop a philosophy ‘at the edge of chaos,’ they neither create concepts which solve, once and for all, philosophical problems, nor do they slip into a state of anarchical relativism. Rather, philosophy, as with a living organism ‘at the edge of chaos,’ must maintain both its stable strata and its unstable deterritorializing flows. Without the former, a living organism dies (or a philosophy slips into disordered nonsense and says nothing), and without the latter, an organism is unable to adapt and will also die (or a philosophy falls into a mindless repetition of cliches and platitudes). (4)

So there should be a give and take to thinking, one that allows for this kind of freezing (stratification, striation) then flowing (destratification, smoothening). Philosophical concepts, according to Deleuze and Guattari, function to facilitate such vacillations.

With all of this in mind, I declare once again my intention to investigate fluid/flow principles. An initial peek at the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology points to Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids, “rigid body dynamics,” viscosity vs. “viscoelasticity,” and the like.

And before closing this entry, I need to mention Edward de Bono’s Water Logic, in which he opposes the “rock logic” of the “Greek gang of three” (i.e. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, “who hijacked Western thinking”) with his concept of “water logic”: “Traditional rock logic is based on ‘is’ [identity: What is this?]. The logic of perception is water logic and this is based on ‘to’ [flow]. . . “What does this lead to?” De Bono concludes in a passage that might have been penned by Deleuze: “I write about the huge importance of concepts for water logic. It is concepts that give movement and flexibility in thinking. Such concepts do not always need to be precise because we are using water logic rather than rock logic, which depends on precision” (189).


Google Earth and Autocartography

December 30, 2008

I had lunch with John Craig Freeman, one of the organizers of the Invent-L Imaging Place conference I attended back in February 2007, my work for which has become the focus of this blog. He showed me his recent experiments with Google Earth, and I was intrigued by the possibilities for autocartography. The ability to embed youtube videos and other files in layers points to the map becoming an organizational interface for a kind of rhizographic, multi-genre autography. Here’s the slideshare file for my presentation on Autocartography:


Further Dialogue and New Directions

November 25, 2008

My response to the essay rejection prompted a dialogue about possible directions the essay could take in the future and possible venues. I am indebted to Craig Saper for his encouragement, his tending to expression of my “genius.” After giving it thought, I concluded that I could develop the autocartography as a genre and use a map interface for my presentation. I’ve also ordered the book Lacan: Topologically Speaking, edited by my former professor Ellie Ragland. I had a course with her while at UF called “Madness and Literature,” in which I applied Lacan’s theory of psychosis to a breakdown I had while an undergraduate. Getting back in to Lacanian theory will be a challenge of course! But this could tie into my references to topology as a spatial metaphor for “imaging place”: in this case, the place of the mind. Lacan’s use of topology to “map” the mind might yield clues to how it could be used to image place as I presented it at the conference (now almost two years past!). In my presentation (you can find the slideshow at slideshare.net: http://www.slideshare.net/rsmyth/second-life-imaging-virtual-place-part2), I mention the conceptual metaphor “thinking is moving through space” and consider what would happen to thinking if the space through which thinking moved was a topological space, or a multi-dimensional space.

There is much to think about here!