10 January 2007

Let The Games Begin?

Hi all! I'll be taking a somewhat different tack in my contributions here because of my different background. I am a social worker, with some backgound in neuropsychology and cognitive science from my undergraduate experience. I am also a phenomenologist and attempted writer, but have very limited knowledge of cinema per se. My primary interest in these technologies are:

a) in the feedback mechanisms which could potentially be used to incorporate viewer response into the process of "recomposing" quantum films
b) the subjective experience of viewing such a "self-composed" film
c) the social consequences of the loss of conventional shared narratives
d) applications of quantum cinema outside "art"

I want to start off this conversation by saying that quantum cinema already exists and it is called video gaming. Whether Pac Man qualifies for the medium is an academic discussion that is hardly relevant at this point. The new wave of game systems offer games in which characters can be designed, rendered somewhat realistically, and directly controlled to move within certain specifications. This creates virtually limitless possibilities of narrative in a sense, although games are almost universally unsatisfying as stories.

One reason is that the stories tend to bottleneck at certain points (usually during the preconcieved "cinematic" sequences during which the character does not have control). This creates the existencial conundrum of having absolute control but no optins.

A second reason is that the system gives too much control and predictability for the brain to translate into an emotional response. Most intense experiences I have had with cinema have been accompanied by the intense feeling of not being able to control outcomes and therefore being dependent on the story. One good example is watching an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and becoming painfully uncomfortable with the actions of the characters, feeling for example the intense need to apologize to the other characters for the actions of Larry David while at the same time feeling a great deal of sympathy for/with Larry David because of the actions of his wife.

The reason linear cinema is so succesful is that it allows the film maker to speak directly from the story and therefore "make a statement". If you ask a videogame player (full disclosure: I am one, I especially love shooters) what makes a game great, the most common answer is not the story, the music, the graphics, or even the design of the maps or the artificial intelligence. It is something called The Engine, the invisible but explicitly felt algorithms which determine the ways in which the manipulation of the controls translates into modifications of the game world. The well known Halo franchise, for instance, won out largely on the strength of it's engine. Will fans of cinema one day stop talking about stories and start talking about engines?

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