Thursday, February 25, 2010

S.03 - Manovich

As I read the Manovich chapter and as we discussed the interface in class, I started to think about the game (or rather, world) Second Life. Second Life purports itself as exactly that: a second, alternate life in a virtual world of possibility. According to Second Life’s Wikipedia entry, creator Philip Rosedale’s initial focus had been on the creation of hardware that would allow users to be fully immersed in the virtual world. As we know, Second Life would turn out not to be some kind of fully immersive VR game, an online, interactive virtual world populated by avatars representing their human users. This brings to mind Manovich’s image of a “twenty-first century cinema [that] involves a user represented as an avatar existing literally “inside” the narrative space” (82). When I thought about Second Life, I wondered why (other than due to the difficulty in developing the appropriate hardware) the game/world was played out in the third person rather than in first person. If the game was meant to be the second life of the user, why didn’t users view the world more in the way they view the physical world? Why didn’t it look more like a first-person shooter?

I think there are several reasons for the more “cinematic” feel of Second Life. Manovich discusses the influence of existing cultural forms on the cultural interface of the computer. “The area of computer culture where the cinematic interface is being transformed into a cultural interface most aggressively,” he says, “is computer games” (83). Second Life, like most other games, fits into his discussion of how various cinematographic techniques are employed by video games. I am more interested, however, in the idea that we in fact prefer to see ourselves in the third person, as if watching ourselves in a movie. We prefer it to seeing this virtual world from a first-person perspective. As Professor Chun discussed in class, there is a pleasure in the cinematic, in drama. In cinema, we can have closure and we can see causality. We can see the results of actions much more transparently than we can see consequences in our lives. This, I think, lends to the pleasure/desire of seeing the avatar acting in a cinematic world and viewing the avatar/self as a third person. Perhaps we feel that we can see more by being outside ourselves, that we have more power and/or knowledge in the second life because we can see connections, actions, and consequences as transparently as we often see them in the narrative of a film.

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