New Media, Video Games, and Interactivity

Feels like forever since I put up a quality post, hope to change that today. I've been copyediting a forthcoming book on new media and its impact on traditional conceptions of mind and body. Essentially, the author convincingly argues that new media continue / engender the deconstructive project: that mind and body can no longer be "split," that consciousness can no longer be considered as stable or unified. He seeks to show that our media have always intended to cover up this lack of unity (even going as far back as spoken language, a move that decontextualizes meaning from presence--every move away from presence continues a fragmentation of consciousness). Good book, I'll write more on this later. In discussing new media, the author brings up Lee Manovich's exceptions to describing new media as "interactive." The argument: media have always been interactive, since all literature requires the participation of human cognition. I feel this is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard in academia. Serisously. Especially since our first method for articulating digital text production on the internet (HYPERtext) stresses a-linearity. User participation. Its been a few years since I have written anything in this area, but I still tend to agree with Espen Aarseth: much of new media does stress interactivity (what Aarseth refers to as ergodic textuality), actually relies on it--not just to ascribe, decode, realize meaning, but more importantly to order, arrange, generate, enact plot / narrative. Not all video games, therefore, are ergodic. But this is a direction that some gaming genres are moving in: I think a great example is the early Silent Hill games, where character choices determine ending. There are certainly even more fluid environments (Fable comes to mind), not to mention dynasty sport games, second life simulation games, and MMO-RPG games. What makes these new (mediated) forms of experience is that people can interact in unpredictable ways to control the direction of the story. Sure there's still FF games, which, despite presenting expansive environments, follow linear plots. But to ignore the depth of interactive experience new media invloves is, well, quite ridiculous to me. I never mean to insinuate that humans can do without story. Far too much Aristotle and Johnson as an undergrad for that (and I'm a plot junkie to boot). There will always be an exhiliration tied to a great twist--an affective attachment to the unfolding of the unknown. But there is a new exhiliration available to a wide range of people-not an unfolding of the unknown, but the construction of it. An this is an equally affective experience. For instance, I am currently playing MLB: 2007, The Show, trying to make the Red Sox as a third baseman. Recently, I got called up to the majors, only to sit on the bench behind perennial all-star and gold glover Mike Lowell. I even asked Terry Francona (my manager) for a spot start twice--and both times he laughed in my face. That hurt. I really mean, I had a visceral reaction to failure--I felt frustration. And this frustration feeds into a plot that is dynamically emerging. Now, back in triple A, every time I hit a homerun (10 in 130 at bats) or drive in a clutch RBI (34 ribs in 31 games), I imagine what the Boston media might be asking Francona: when will the kid get a chance? And everytime I stirk out (which, I am ashamed to admit is quite often--I currently have six walks and 31 strikeouts), I imagine Francona and Epstein reminding the media that there 19 year old prospect needs to learn more plate discipline (earlier in the year I had a 21 walk to 23 strikeout ratio in double A, time to relax at the plate). My point, if I have one, is that video games facilitated cathartic / affective responses in "new" ways. So, I think I can make a strong case for how video games (if we consider them among new media) mandate that interactivity remains a key term in discussions / definitions of new media. Up next: how the internet is fundamentally interactive. Oh: I saw a trailer for this new game Portal this morning on G4tv. Looks VERY cool. Hope it comes out for Wii. Hope I can finally find a f@cking Wii.

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