Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet H. Murray

A few further thoughts - The strength of Murray’s book is the historical and literary perspective she brings to this study, recognising that we are still in the early stages of developing the forms and grammar that will enable us to fully exploit the possibilities offered by CMEs. Perhaps inevitably we approach a new medium with the models and conventions from established media – in this case books, radio, television, film - and it will take some time before we can free ourselves from these constraints. Interactivity is seen a key aspect of CMEs, and Murray explores the possibilities of multiform dramas where ‘interactors’ can select different points of view, follow sub-plots or choose from a selection of plot developments. However it strikes me that the task of producing a work with real depth where an observer can choose how to experience the drama would be colossal - I was reminded of Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, a play based around two of the minor characters in Hamlet whose exploits occasionally intersect with scenes from Shakespeare’s play. How often could we hope to combine talents such as Shakespeare and Stoppard on a single production? Also it seems to me that part of the power of fiction is that a good author can take you down paths you would not otherwise choose to travel, and left to our own devices we may choose to stay with what’s familiar and unchallenging. The possibility of an 'interactor' helping shape the unfolding drama brings a new dimension to the tension between character and plot in traditional fiction - if, as an author, I allow my characters to have a life of their own, my carefully crafted plot may well be torn to shreds; however keeping my characters subservient to the plot may render them flat and unconvincing. In Murray’s multiform cyberdramas, it’s hard to see how ‘interactors’ can have anything more than token roles if an authored plot is to be preserved. In the context of educational games this raises issues of freedom, constraint and learning outcomes – how much autonomy can we give individual players while maintaining the coherence of the game and achieving the desired leaning outcomes? If players are overly-constrained, frustration and lack of engagement may be the result; on the other hand, with insufficient guidance the game could descend into chaos and learning outcomes will not be realised. Reading this book also revived in me the nagging question of the players' roles in Green Revolution. Are they best cast as a group of lexia-wielding cyberbards, controlling the destinies of their families, or would it be better to give them the roles of particular characters in the game?

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