June 10, 2005

Bernstein’s Bait Redux

by Andrew Stern · , 11:59 pm

Echoing the debates we had two years ago in both blog and book, Mark Bernstein has recently restated his argument, with the coda, “As far as I’m aware, this argument has been essentially ignored.” Actually, I responded to this argument in my First Person book essay response to his and Diane Greco’s essay (see below).

Before you stop reading, thinking this is just pointless academic jousting, let me say I think Bernstein and Greco’s argument is a good and very useful one, pushing important design issues to the fore, that I rarely see done. And although I’m not wanting to rehash the debate, it would be interesting to hear others’ take on the issue, if anyone has any new thoughts to contribute. (Mark includes a link to a good new essay from WRT on frustration with IF and HTF.)

Here’s an excerpt from my response, written four years ago, taken from the book (that you won’t find in the abbreviated version at EBR):

“Even if we could experience Hamlet on the holodeck, it wouldn’t work. Tragedy requires that the characters be blind…” I agree, it seems likely that certain types of stories such as traditional tragedy may not work as an interactive story, for the reasons Bernstein and Greco describe. Instead authors will need to tell the kinds of stories that do work interactively. Façade is a more open-ended, explorative, psychological situation. Is this drama anymore? We hope to understand this better once we get a chance to play with the finished work.

A bit more:

“Illusions that place the reader on stage necessarily founder when promised freedom of action is contradicted by the limitations of the simulated environment.” This is hard to accept. Is it hopeless to give the player the freedom to say whatever she wishes, to freely express herself? I feel it is too soon to answer this as definitively and devastatingly as Bernstein and Greco do. Certainly this kind of freedom is the dream for many players and authors. Bernstein and Greco seem to think that because we cannot fully deliver on this expectation, that we should discard the approach all together. That’s their choice, and their proposals are excellent alternatives. However this dream should not be abandoned because it is technically and artistically challenging to achieve. Instead let’s try to work within the limitations of the technology, push on them, use them as artistic constraints. The player’s expectations must be set at the appropriate level so she avoids struggling against a “necessarily recalcitrant world-model”. Some of us believe that today’s computational environment can in fact match at least some of our aspirations, and as technology inevitably improves over time, it will be able to match even more.