Wednesday, August 30, 2006


“...transposability of the story is the strongest reason for arguing that narratives are indeed structures independent of any medium...”

Choose a narrative that has been expressed in both an interactive and a non-interactive medium. Discuss how the transposition to/from interactive media has changed the narrative. Has the structure of the narrative remained intact?

The Wachowski Brothers catapulted themselves to cult fame with "The Matrix" in 1999, which combined groundbreaking special effects with philosophical musings on the human experience. Four years later, in between the back-to-back releases of the next two installments of the trilogy, they offered "Enter the Matrix", a game which allowed you to take control of either one of two secondary characters from "Matrix Reloaded" and run around the Matrix universe doing all the cool stuff including activating "Bullet Time", and hacking into the mainframe. The game culminated in medias res, to be concluded in the final movie.

I admit this is a rather peculiar example to choose, for here the interactive medium of an electronic action game actually allows the viewers of the movie to effectively fill in the narrative gaps between the movies. Thus rather than retaining and preserving the original narrative, "Enter the Matrix" actually helps render the narrative complete and whole. It is a necessary component to retain the structural integrity of the narrative. Transposition here therefore serves then to close the narrative loop, by apparently empowering the audience to faciliate that closure/kernel.


Interactive media allows for choice and control on the part of the reader/user. What problem does this raise for self-regulation? What, if anything, does this suggest about designing interactive narrative?

The immediate problem is that once when choice and control is given to the user, the user becomes the author(albeit in a limited sense, depending on the medium), whether or not he realises it. The reader/author plays both roles simultaneously, and self-regulation ceases to effectively function. For the shift in authorial control indicates that the narrative itself is destablized, because it is no longer just the creative product of the original author.

Intuitively and logically, it suggests this: For self-regulation to be maintained, and not have the narrative disrupted needlessly, restrictions must be imposed on the user's choice and control, so that authorial authority remains largely in the domain of the original author. This would then restrict the degree of interactivity experienced by the user.


Think of an example of the use of narrative in interactive media. With reference to your example, suggest what the “peculiar nature” of interactive media may be, and which narrative effects it may specialize in.

"Enter the Matrix" departs from conventional ideas of narrative, by allowing the gamer to help solidify the "indeterminacies", or complete the inherent ellipsis in the narrative, as well as subverting to a certain extent the idea of interactivity, for the game allows for a digression of sorts. Rather than empowering the gamer to significantly alter the narrative, the game merely indulges in a little fantasy digression of sorts, unraveling a secondary narrative tangent, in which the gamer's actions will appear to ultimately resonate in the linear filmic narrative.

Monday, August 21, 2006

post, the long one

1) In “What is New Media?” Lev Manovich proposes 5 principles of new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. Choose an example that you consider to be “new media”, and describe it in terms of these principles. What implications do these principles have for narrative and play within interactive media?

DVDs, with an array of extras and special features on their platter besides the feature film, in many aspects exhibit a high fidelity to Crawford's new media principles. These discs are essentially made of the binary data written into the pits of its surface. And aside from this, DVDs also feature digital transfers of audio and picture, which are numerically coded.

The film scripts and exclusive stills that might be included are discrete and modular elements in themselves, yet are combined together on the "Extras" section of the DVD to significantly alter and deepen the experience of watching a film.

Beck's 2005 DVD Guero featured video artists D-Fuse who designed "interactive video remixes of each track". (Sorry, not going to go into whether it's 'interactive' or not here. Heh.) The packaging claimed that there were "over 100 unique visual possibilities" The viewer could use the remote control's "angle" button to change the visual images onscreen while the music played. There is in some sense "low-level" automation going on here, though it may be argued that the automation goes on in the DVD player and not on the DVD itself. Yet the user, and the DVD, are agents which provide the input for the changing of the visual image.

DVD-ROM weblinks allow for variability, branching the film experience onto the Internet. By connecting itself to the vast amount of hypermedia distributed throughout the Internet, the user can return anytime to explore another different path through the links.

And of course, in its short life-span of less than twenty years, the DVD, chiefly as a technological data repository, has become entrenched as part of our culture. The movie industry now sees DVD releases as major marketing events, almost on par with gala premieres. It has both upheld and revolutionized the conventions of HCI, and by such transcoding, films that get released on DVD take on greater levels of cultural engagement.


2) Manovich questions the usefulness of the term interactivity, suggesting that “once an object is represented in a computer, it automatically becomes interactive. Therefore, to call computer media ‘interactive’ is meaningless – it simply means stating the most basic fact about computers.” In contrast, in “What exactly is Interactivity?” Chris Crawford proposes a much stricter definition of interactivity. Compare these differing views, with reference to your own experience of interactive media systems.

It is hard to choose any one definition over the other, for both have their merits in terms of challenging the diluted use of the word nowadays. I would advocate an understanding of interactivity that lies somewhere in between both of theirs. Traditional media when represented on the computer, becomes new media, but does not necessarily become "interactive". An digitized image can be altered with the Paintbrush tool, just as its original can be painted over. Yet interactivity does not need to be as purposeful as Crawford suggests. A computer program can give a processed response to a user's input, after its algorithms have calculated the best response. One example is in interactive sound art, where a user's movements are captured by a video camera and sent to a computer, which will emit sounds based upon the variations to light and color.


3) Narrative, interactivity and play – how does Run Lola Run reflect these concerns? How does this relate to Manovich’s concept of transcoding?

Lola's experience is configured as if within a game system - She has twenty minutes to obtain the money to save Manni. Each time she fails her in attempt to rescue him, the narrative restarts. The initial epigragh by Herberger "After the game is before the game". alerts us to the recurring nature of the game - we are allowed to restart at the end, for is that not the point of a game after all? So, the first two attempts end in Lola and Manni dying respectively, and lead on to the alternate codas which while distilling and emphasizing certain aspects of the preceding narrative sequence, signify the end and the beginning of another try for Lola.

The triptych structure of the film is appealing for it plays with the traditional convention of linear narrative, and it also plays with the experience of life as we know it. Rather than being confined to the singular diegetic trajectory which films normally concern themselves with, Run Lola Run toys with the idea of "What if?"

Lola, in each consecutive turn, interacts with her environment. She learns what to do and what not to do (eg. jumping over the dog in the third time) While she is able to defer and alter her own narrative trajectory, others like the thugs and Herr Meyer cannot seem to escape their ultimate fate(ending up in a car crash) despite different things happening to them. A comment on predestination? Perhaps.

And with the advent of computing, we have options like "Undo" and "Redo" to cover up mistakes we make. This concept is realized in its filmic extreme in Run Lola Run, where Lola is allowed to rerun the entire twenty mintues all over again, twice. It is, in a sense, the computerization of narrative conventions. Cultural computing norms find themselves transcoded, and re-presented on film.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

post, the first

Hi y'all. I'm Lucas Ho, a 2nd year undergrad majoring in English Literature. This module is already whetting my appetite, in terms of non-linear narratives and gameplay. I've got a few ideas swimming in my head, but i'll sort them out first and then post later. Yes, I am also real chuffed to find a mix of seniors and freshies in this class. Hope to get to know each one of you. Till then, hang tight, enjoy the first week of school, and I'll see you all on Thursday!

About me

  • I'm lucasho
  • From Singapore, Singapore
  • slow down, hold still
    every crooked line of this sad city.
    down by the river; we'll play awhile,
    looking for that elusive goldmine;
    maybe i'm a little weak to dance.

    it's a beautiful piece of heartache...
    yeah, we're gonna be alright.
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