Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Is the virtual medium a "writerly text?"

A passage struck me in the Manovich reading this week:

"His constant concern is the viewer's attention and what she will encounter: "The reaction of the viewer during her movement through the installation is the main concern of the designer... the loss of the viewer's attention is the end of the installation." This focus on the viewer offers a lesson for new media designers, who often forget that what they are designing is not an object in itself but a viewer's experience in time and space." (12)

This passage immediately evoked for me the concept of a writerly text and the question of the viewer or reader's role in creating her own experience with the work. In fact, I might even complicate the passage above by questioning whether the new media designer is really "designing... the viewer's experience in time and space." The way I see it, the new media designer is setting up an interface that will influence the viewer's experience - not necessarily "designing" that experience in full.

It’s easier to see the way that virtual experiences function as writerly because it’s obvious that without the viewer’s participation, the experience simply does not exist. As the same time, am I right in thinking that this does not mean the virtual experience is purely writerly? While we didn’t get to play Myst tonight, we did watch a short video of the game’s introduction and while, technically, the character we saw playing the game could have made some alternate choices, it was pretty clear what was to be done and in what order in order to get the plot to progress. While I trust the game as a whole does not function this way, the intro sequence had to run in a very linear way to set up the information needed by the player and, in this sense, the game was being readerly – or maybe “playerly” – in that it could be played but the player was not truly actively creating the game experience. I’d be interested to see a game that could be coherent without some readerly elements.

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