Thursday, March 4, 2010

S03 More Manovich

In “Navigable Space,” Manovich makes the point that “in contrast to modern literature, theater, and cinema, which are built around psychological tensions between the characters and movement in psychological space, these computer games return us to ancient forms of narrative in which the plot is driven by the spatial movement of the main hero.” We can think about games like Tomb Raider, The Legend of Zelda, or any number of other games in which the objective is to quest through different locations within a world or number of worlds. “If the player does nothing,” Manovich writes, “the narrative stops.” These games do not depend so much on interactions with other characters within the game (who usually only serve to provide clues or are actually threats to be eliminated) but rather on interactions between the player and the environment (that is, the hidden caves, treasure chests, giant spiders, etc.) The games center on building the characters in terms of experience levels, accumulation of knowledge/clues, and fighting techniques; the focus is not on the psychology of the character. I would like to think about, however, how games that involve intense, constant interaction with other human users might be a move back toward that “nineteenth-century European novel” model. It will be interesting to experience Second Life next week, to see how important—if it is indeed especially significant—the psychological space is in such a game.

Of course, unlike the novel in which the reader follows the thoughts and emotions of the character as the narrative, the psychological space is not as explicitly navigated in a game like Second Life. The psychological component, however, is felt more strongly by the player, who is much more aware of relationships between herself and other real people through the avatars. Actions do not just have consequences on the world and objects or monsters, but on other people.

A couple of my suitemates have been playing Japanese visual novels, computer games that play out in a similar fashion to a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Characters and the world are fairly static, although the player can navigate through different locations (this navigation is not crucial to gameplay). The player mostly just chooses (out of two or three options) what to say, whether to ignore someone or not, etc. The emphasis is not on the navigation through space as much as it is on the navigation through the plot. I’m not sure how well these novels fit into a Manovich’s discussion, but as an example I’m posting a link to a novel called Narcissu:

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