March 16, 2004

First Person

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 3:24 am

Let’s face it. We’ve pretty much exhausted the story/game discussion, at least as formulated in the question, “What does Tetris have to do with Hamlet (or Half-Life)?” First Person exists to replace this with a more interesting question.

The contributors to First Person certainly consider games like Tetris. But they also discuss the “not games” and playable art I wrote about last month. They consider the politics of playable simulations, and the ways they may be employed for more explicitly political ends. They examine the ways that time functions in games, as well as the lack of dramatic compression in The Sims. They present concepts for game analysis and approaches to game design. They discuss the necessity of a field of ludology, and debate how it might be defined.

The contributors also certainly consider traditional stories, and the commonly-discussed game/story examples, and the ways that story-like experiences can emerge from contexts like massively multiplayer games. But they also discuss interactive drama and cinema. They discuss hyperfiction and interactive fiction. They discuss electronic poetry and textual digital art. They present narrative-focused alternatives to traditional AI approaches to characters and agents. They present frameworks for understanding very large scale online conversations and for understanding the roles that voice chips perform in intelligent toys, car alarms, and artworks.

This takes place in a conversational structure. 25 essayists each present a point of view, and then each is responded to by another essayist and also by an outside respondent. Then each essayist responds to their respondents.

The result, Pat and I hope, is a contribution toward ending some of the talking past each other that has plagued our field (e.g., in the debate that never happened). The result is, Pat and I hope, a contribution to helping us replace the exhausted question with a more productive (if also more complicated) question. If I were to try to articulate the new question, it might be, “In the field of digital media, how do we understand the playable, and how do we understand the literary, linguistic, and performative — in relation to the broader culture and to one another?”

Starting from where we are now, 25 essays and 74 responses aren’t enough to come close to definitively answering all the pieces of that question. But hopefully they’re enough to definitively open the question. And the next stage will be further discussion of these issues in the forthcoming First Person thread at electronic book review.

I post this with my first copy of First Person sitting beside me, just now in my hands.