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Interface Seminar: The Theory of Video Games

Tim Lenoir then proceeded to host an excellent history of video games, showing the seminar what a singularly different cultural form they really are. After Tim's brilliant multimedia history of video games, including excellent video of everything from King Kong to the latest Final Fantasy, we inspected various readings, first being Henry Jenkin's "Nintendo and New World Travel Writing: A Dialogue"Jenkins's primary task is to connect the literary discourses of colonialism and exploration with video-games, and so explain their popularity. "Virtual reality open new spaces for exploration, colonization, and exploitation, returning to a mythic time when there were worlds without limits and resources beyond imagining."Jenkins believes that video-games offer a return to a limitless world, without deep narrative, but heavily reliant on the spatial exploration of surface. Indeed, the return of this type of "adventure narrative" makes extraordinary sense given that with the era of globalization, there are no longer any "undiscovered" lands for adventurers to explore. Instead, we create virtual undiscovered lands in video games. This explains the importance of "maps" in video-games: "Maps appear in fantasy novels with the same frequency and function that genealogies appear in the great 19th-century novels, suggesting the relative stress the two forms give to spatial relations and character relations."In our discussion, we seemlessly blended into at work by Alexander Galloway, who gave what can only be called a strange, if fascinating, geneology of games in terms of literary and film theory in his "Algorithmic Culture" book.Galloway's motto is: "Videogames are action." It is this level of interactivity that provides the crucial difference between video-games and cinema. This is related to Deleuze's historic study of how the advent of the cinema changed human perception, as for the first time in human history human vision and its movement was moved away from actual eyes. However, this action is not totally unrestricted, but must follow the rules of the games.Also, there is not only the action of the human, but action inside the videogame itself, like the movement of virtual winds through virtual trees that occurs even when the game has been "paused." Galloway calls this "ambient action."Galloway divides interactivity on two ways, the machine (the game itself) vs the operator (human player of the game) and the diagetic (dialogue act that moves the story) versus nondiagetic (act has no narrative value). As for an example, having your player move objects and talk with other characters is diagetic, while moving about a menu to start the game is nondiagetic. Sometimes, like when your character must "die" for the game to be over, the nondiagetic and diagetic acts can be combined.There are various types of viewing shots in cinema, which Galloway divides into the Four Movements

  1. Looking at the characters from the perspective of the audience
  2. Looking from the point of view of a camera
  3. A character looking at another character
  4. The character looking at the audience. The fourth kind of barely used.

The third kind is usually from a camera near the head of a character, not front "inside the head of the character himself" - i.e. "so the subjective shot" has not been a successful strategy for cinema. In movies such as the "Lady of the Lake" (or more recently, "Being John Malkovich"), people in cinemas find it generally unsettling. However, because of special interactivity offered by videogames, this kind of shot has become popular, as in DOOM when your character runs around it is "you" that are holding the gun, and when killed "red blood" fills the screen. The discussion then ranged across a number of subjects. Many people felt that Galloway, while quite bright, needed to understand what was truly new about video games, and create a new theory that broke with old theory. It wasn't just interactivity, it was the world of social relations and training that video games provided. Which we go into next seminar...

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