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The Aesthetics of the Medium

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Title: The Aesthetics of the Medium


1
The Aesthetics of the Medium
  • From Hamlet on the Holodeck byJanet Murray

Aaron Levisohn PHD Candidate School of
Interactive Arts and Technology Simon Fraser
University
2
The Three Aesthetics
Immersion Agency Transformation
3
Immersion
Immersion is a metaphorical term derived from
the physical experience of being submerged in
water. P.98 Being transported to an
elaborately simulated place is pleasurable.
P.98 Immersion can mean a mere flooding of the
mind with sensationbut, in a participatory
medium, immersion implies learning to swim, to do
the things the new environment makes possible.
P.99
4
Immersion
Entering the Enchanted Place The computer
itself, even without any fantasy content, is an
enchanted object. P.99 It can also seem like an
extension of our own consciousness.
P.99 Computers can give us uninhibited access to
emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, that are
closed to us in real life. P.99
5
Immersion Liminal Objects
Liminal Objects In psychological terms, computers
are liminal objects, located on the threshold
between external reality and our own minds.
P.99 Narrative is also a threshold experience.
p.99
6
Liminal Trance
Problem for digital media Because the liminal
trance is so inherently fragile, all narrative
art forms have developed conventions to sustain
it. One of the most important ways they have done
this is to limit participation. p.100 When we
enter the enchanted world as our actual selves,
we risk draining it of its delicious otherness.
p.101 Solution The answer to all these
questions lies in the discovery of the digital
equivalent of the theaters fourth wall. We need
to define the boundary conventions that will
allow us to surrender to the enticements of the
virtual environment. P.103
7
Immersion Finding the Border
Mingling of fiction and non-fiction Cervantes
Don Quixote (p.103) Internet bulletin boards
p.104) Seinfeld (p.105) Remind audience of
medias representational qualities Laurence
Sterne Tristram Shandy (p.104) Chuck Jones
Duck Amuck (p.104) Dramatize Border Winsor
McCay Gertie the Dinosaur (p.105)
8
Immersion Structuring Participation
The Visit The visit metaphor is particularly
appropriate for establishing a border between the
virtual world and ordinary life because the visit
involves specific limits on both time and space.
(P.106) Amusement park rides Jurassic Park
Like visiting a real place But Jurassic Park is
not a place, any more than a theatrical stage is,
since the visitor cannot step off the boat
without destroying the experience. Jurassic park
is essentially a giant computer driven machine
for telling an immersive story, and the boat is
the fourth wall. (p.107)
9
Immersion Structuring Participation
The Visit in Digital Media Here the screen
itself is a reassuring fourth wall, and the
controller (mouse or joystick or dataglove) is
the threshold object that takes you in and leads
you out of the experience. Myst Good story,
limited movement Enterprise Movement without
Story
10
Immersion Active Creation of Belief
The reader creates belief When we enter a
fictional world, we do not merely suspend a
critical faculty we also exercise a creative
facultyWe actively create belief.
(p.110) Exploit Encyclopedic nature of
media Immersive stories invite our
participation by offering us many things to keep
track of and by rewarding our attention with a
consistency of imagination. (p.111) Make
objects real through use The telephone behaved
as a functional virtual object, and because it
became part of the accomplishment of a specific
goal. (p.111)
11
Immersion Masks
Masks are Threshold Objects The mask is a
threshold marker, like Harolds moon or the
Jurassic park boat. It gives is our entry into
the artificial world, and also keeps some part of
ourselves outside it. (P.113) Smart
Costumes Placeholder Brenda Laurel and Rachel
Strickland Social Avatars Woggles Oz Group at
Carnegie Mellon
12
Immersion Collective Participation
The audience shares role of sustaining the
theatrical illusion. (p.115) MUDs The power of
the MUD is that the computer filters out the
distraction of the actual appearance of the other
players who are present. (p.115) One key to
functioning in a mud is the ability to flip back
and forth between player and character(p.115) S
haring an unscripted fantasy environment with
other people entails a constant negotioation of
the story lineand also of the boundary between
the consensual hallucination and the actual
world (p.115)
13
Immersion Collective Participation
Goals and Plots In order to participate with
focus in the immersive world, a character is
usually given some goals to try to accomplish.
(p.118)
14
Immersion Regulating Arousal
the pleasuraable element in playing carries
with it the implication that the instinctual
arousal is not excessive that is, the objects
of the imaginary world should not be too
enticing, scary or real lest the immersive trance
be broken. (p.119) The trance should be made
deeper and deeper without the emotions becoming
hotter and hotter. (p.119) Maintain Distance
Over the shoulder shot in film Focus on
Exhibitionism rather than on sex We are
gradually learning to do what actors do, to enact
emotionally authentic experiences that we know
are not real. (p.125)
15
Agency
Agency is the satisfying power to take
meaningful action and see the results of our
decisions and choices. (p.126) agency in
electronic environments is often confused with
the mere ability to move a joystick or click on a
mouse. Activity alone is not agency. (p.128)
16
Agency Pleasure of Navigation
Spatial Navigation The ability to move through
virtual landscapes can be pleasurable in itself,
independent of the content of the spaces.
(p.129)
17
Agency Story in the Maze
The Adventure Maze The maze is a more
interactive version of the immersive visit.
(p.130) The maze turns visitor into active
protagonist. (p.130) The adventure maze embodies
a classic fairy-tale narrative of danger and
salvation. Its lasting appeal as both a story
and a game pattern derives from the melding of a
cognitive problem (finding the path) with an
emotionally symbolic pattern (facing what is
frightening and unknown. (p.130) The adventure
maze is particularly suited to the digital
environment because the story is tied to the
navigation of space. (p.132)
18
Agency Rhizome Maze
Derived from poststructuralist literary
theory Unheroic and solutionless (p.132) In
trying to create texts that do not privilege
any one order of reading or interpretive
framework, the postmodernists are privileging
confusion itself. (p.133) But the unsolvable
maze does hold promise as an expressive
structure. (p.133) No resolution means no
irreparable loss is suffered. (p.133) Q This
seems like a quagmire for the digital narrative
author. What are your thoughts on the subject?
19
Agency Harnessing Anxiety
Both the overdetermined form of the single-path
maze adventure and the underdetermined form of
the rhizome fiction work against the interactors
pleasure in navigation. The potential of the
labyrinth as a participatory narrative form would
seem to lie somewhere between the two
(p.134) Regulate the anxiety by harnessing it to
the act of navigation. (p.135) Example The
violence hub A web of narratives exploring a
violent incident from multiple points of view.
20
Agency Problem Solving
One of the consistent pleasures of the journey
story in every time and every medium is the
unfolding of solutions to seemingly impossible
situations. (p.138) Capture and escape can be
simulated by keeping the player within a confined
space until the solution to a puzzle is found.
(p.139) Uh oh, What would Chris Crawford say?
21
Agency Games in Stories
There appears to be an inherent opposition Games
players want happy endings Games are
win/lose Authors of narrative want complex story
satisfactions (p.142)
22
Agency Games as Symbolic Dramas
A game is a kind of abstract storytelling that
resembles the world of common experience but
compresses it in order to heighten interest.
(p.142) Games as enactment We have a chance to
enact our most basic relationship with the world
our desire to prevail over adversity, to
survive our inevitable defeats (p.143) Games as
Interpretation Games can also be read as texts
that offer interpretation of the experience.
(p.143) Games as Rehearsals for Life Games
traditionally offer safe practice in areas that
do have practical value they are rehearsals for
life. (p.144)
23
Agency The Contest story
The Reunification The most common for of game
the agon, or contest between opponents is also
the earliest for of narrative. (p.145) The
Greek word agon refers to both athletic contests
and to dramatic conflicts, reflecting the common
origin of games and theater. (p.145) We need
to take advantage of the symbolic drama of the
contest form to create suspense and dramatic
tension without focusing the interactor on skill
mastery. (p.147) How do we do this? Is this
already being done?
24
Agency Constructivism
In childrens play, there is no sharp
distinction between authoring and
experiencing (p.149) The constructivist
pleasure is the highest form of narrative agency
the medium allows, the ability to build things
that display autonomous behavior.
(p.149) Changing emphasis of MUDs from game areas
to social areas. As computer access spreads, it
is likely that more and more people will turn
from win/lose game playing to the collective
construction of elaborate alternate worlds.
(p.149) Q We now have sites like Second life and
MMPORGs like World of Warcraft. Which is more
compelling?
25
Agency Interactor as Author
The interactor is not the author The interactor
is not the author of the digital narrative,
although the interactor can experience one of the
most exciting aspects of artistic creation the
thrill of exerting power over enticing and
plastic materials. (p.153)
26
Transformation
We delight in variety Because digital objects
can have multiple instantiations, they call forth
our delight in variety itself. (p.154)
27
Transformation Kaleidoscopic Narrative
The computer presents us with the spatial mosaic
of the newspaper page, the temporal mosaic of
film, and the participatory mosaic of TV remote
control. (p.156) We need to develop
conventions Just as we need to define new
narrative conventions for entering the immersive
world and for exercising agency within it, so too
do we need a new set of formal conventions for
handling mutability. (p.155) There will not be
a single answer, but every narrative will have to
signal the reader very carefully about what is
allowed in order to not raise inappropriate
expectations. (p.159) Authors must ground the
reader somehow Examples Map metaphor, Bus,
Waiter (159-160)
28
Transformation Morphing Environments
Interactors are invited to construct their own
stories out of a set of formulaic elements.
(p.162) Example The Brontes The exercise of
constructive agency on external, formulaic
materials invests the character or toy with the
power of a threshold object, the power to create
the immersive trance. (p.165) In order for
electronic narrative to reach a higher level of
expressiveness, the medium as a whole must make
the shift that Charlotte made, that is, away from
adolescent rehearsal fantasies and towards the
expression of more realistic desires. (p.167) Q
Is this Murray expressing her particular interest
or is there a more universal lesson here?
29
Transformation Enactment
Enactment as a Transformational
Experience Enacted events have a transformative
power that exceeds both narrative and dramatized
events because we assimilate them as personal
experience. (p.170) Virtual Reality
Therapy Must establish the (VR) world as a
fictional space.
30
Transformation Refused Closure
  • Electronic closure occurs when a works
    structure, not its plot, is understood. (p.174)
  • Lack of closure can still be emotionally
    riveting
  • Dramatic Contest
  • Sustained Arousal
  • Closure through exhaustion (p.174)
  • When the story no longer progresses, when it
    cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the
    experience of reading it ends. (p.174)
  • Closure can even be feared
  • The interactor does not want to leave the
    enchanted place

31
Transformation Tragedy
  • Murray believes that interactive narrative must
    encompass tragedy in order for it to mature.
    (p.175)
  • Three examples
  • The Mind as Tragic Labyrinth
  • The Web of Mourning
  • Simulation and Destiny

32
Transformation Tragedy
The Mind as Tragic Labyrinth Puts the reader in
the position of both enacting and witnessing the
tragic. A labyrinthine hypertext might be the
ideal medium for capturing the interior monologue
as a sort of snapshot of the mind itself.
(p.177)
33
Transformation Tragedy
The Web of Mourning A kaleidoscopic story in
which the interactor is able to see the unfolding
events from any characters perspective. We
would experience the loss in all of its resonance
and have a sense of all the worlds of caring and
trust that are torn apart by a violent death.
(p.177)
34
Transformation Tragedy
Simulation as Destiny The interactor is given the
power of decision making. She has limited control
over the events in the story. In the simulation
treatment of Robs suicide, the interactor would
be put in the position of a god over Robs social
world but a god with a limited power of
intervention. (p.178) Digital narrative could
capture something we have not been able to fix as
clearly in linear formats not just a tragic hero
or a tragic choice, but a tragic process.
(p.180)
35
Transformation The Multipositional View
  • We cannot bring to a transformative,
    shape-shifting medium the same expectations of
    static shapliness and finality that belong to
    linear media. But that does not mean that we will
    forgo a sense of completeness and emotional
    release. Instead, we will learn to appreciate the
    different kinds of closure a kaleidoscopic medium
    can offer (p.180)
  • Ability to explore dense narratives over and over
    again
  • We are able to explore process
  • The pleasures of digital media are in some ways
    continuous with the pleasures of traditional
    media and in some ways unique. (p.181)
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