Friday, 26 November 2010

Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet H. Murray

ISBN-13 978-0-262-63187-7 (paperback 1998)

Thoroughly interesting book on where the computer might be able to take narrative in the future. Lots of examples of changes in narrative style in other media, and how time and experience with the medium leads to different forms of expression with them.

It ties in with the 'Persuasive Games' (Ian Bogost) view of the strength of the computer being the procedural nature, allowing for the scripting of the rules by which a story can be performed without necessarily dictating the full story - leaving that to the interactors.

I focussed more on what might be useful or interesting for our game and my multiplayer/singleplayer research.

The chapter on immersion had some useful insights that a simulation without other characters or some form of task to perform can be a really empty and lonely place that quickly gets boring (pg 109). There is some discussion about a chatterbot used in MUDs called Julia, where simple rules of engagement allowed her to pass on relevant information (e.g. whether a player is currently online, or so on) as well as 'conversing' (pg 215 - 219). Players seem bothered about whether she is 'real' or not. However, the presence of others is noted as something that potentially makes story-immersion more difficult. It's fine when the conversations that take place remain 'in character' but a non-scripted player may break character in such a way as to throw the other player out of the story too. (pg 115-116) Intriguing that apparently what keeps LARP cooperative (i.e. the story keeps moving in a sensible direction and players stay in-character more) is out of game connections and operate face-to-face. (pg 151)

The other interesting thing about LARP that I noted was that they have a wrap-up session after the simulation ends. That chimed (for me) with the post-game discussion on Green Revolution. Apparently with LARP the wrap up allows the players to see how their part fitted into the whole, as well as feeding back on their experiences within the simulation. (pg 180-181)

Puzzles within any game are thought to be most dramatically satisfying and reinforce the belief in the virtual world when they encourage the application of real-world thinking to the virtual world. The example given is of a moment in Zork II where to solve the problem of a dragon and a wall of ice you have to apply the knowledge that dragons breath fire and that the ice can be melted by the fire. (pg 139-140) So the world feels more real because of the application of 'real' knowledge. I'm not entirely sure if that's true, or if it's more internal consistency that's needed. In the Zork example you could argue that rather than build their own set of rules the game writers have 'borrowed' from real-world physics - not to say that isn't valid, but if they had previously established some rule that the character could melt ice in a different way it would still have been satisfying to solve it using this different rule.

Murray draws on the bardic oral traditions to point out that traditionally each telling of the story is different in detail, whilst providing the same overall story. (pg 188) That tallies with the idea of playing a game differently every time (whether with different companions, or with a subtly different goal) and still being able to pull out the same overall plot or experience. Could be potentially interesting. Equally interesting is the suggestion that digital narrative is potentially more powerful than other forms because it allows you to enact the narrative and experience it more personally (pg. 170-171). So enacting looking after a small-holding in Africa leaves a deeper inprint than reading about looking after a small-holding in Africa.

I found it was particularly interesting (because this book was first published in 1997) that a lot of the mechanisms she talks about can already be seen. E.g. on-going TV series that provide chatrooms shaped like parts of the TV world. Equally something like Second Life could be seen as an arena for co-authoring digital stories or the maturation of the MUDs where the players can make up their own artifacts and rules. Also very interesting to consider this as the infancy of the medium, and that maturity will only come as the medium becomes more familiar and the 'rules' for understanding/interpreting it become fixed.

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