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Janet Murray on interactivity in popular culture

The past two decades have resulted in the domestication of digital expression, making interactivity second nature, like reading or listening to popular music, which, in addition to opening commercial opportunities for mainstream media, has created receptive audiences for a wide variety of serious experimental artifacts from Gonzalo Frasca’s antiwar newsgame September 12(2003) to Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia (2012), a touching “interactive journal” of gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy, to Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker(2011), a witty parody of Facebook games culminating in the very dramatic “rapture” of all the players’ appealingly whimsical assets in a cathartic Cowpocalypse, to Loveshack’s Framed(2014), a puzzle game in which the interactor helps a thief to escape capture by rearranging sequences of still frames that become animated as the protagonist walks through them. Such highly personal, handcrafted, often single-author story games are very different from one another and from high-resource artifacts like artificial intelligence systems built in computer science labs or the latest release of an open world blockbuster game franchise.

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But as digital television evolves as a delivery medium, viewers may find themselves unable to sit still for a conventionally told two-hour story. Just as the movie camera made the stage box seem too confining, so may the computer mouse make the director’s camera seem too confining. Interactor/viewers may want to follow the actors out of frame, to look at things from multiple vantage points. We can already see evidence of such viewer restlessness in the hyperactive camera style of the most filmic television series (Homicide, NYPD Blue), in which the noncontinuous cuts and rapid circling movements of the often handheld cameras reflect the audience’s own desire to roam around the space, to experience the action in three dimensions, and to jump forward to the next interesting moment as quickly as possible. Although critics who are strongly attached to older forms of presentation might see such restlessness as evidence of a shortened attention span or an increased need for stimulation, it can also be seen as the expression of a more active curiosity or eagerness to look around for oneself and make one’s own discoveries. In some ways this desire to anticipate the next story move is similar to the impatience that comes just before individual literacy, when members of a culture (as in the early Renaissance) or a subculture (Victorian women) or an age group (grade-school children) can no longer stand to be read to but want to go through their own chosen reading at their own pace.3

Both quotes from the new edition of Hamlet on the Holodeck


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