1 August 2010

Definition of Interaction.

In the midst of the chaos among problem-solving, entertainment, story and everything else concerning game design and its evaluation, this tries to be a clearer point of view that targets the essence of videogaming and magnifies it to change mindsets.

Pre-Premise: This is not material of thesis or scientific research, it's passionate analysis from a videogamer/professor into videogaming criticism, a subject as exciting as it must have been centuries ago concerning literature, by people aware of the potential of that means of cultural expression and exploration of mankind, exactly as videogame is bound to become today.. moving the first steps into its new successor(interactive story-telling) after cinema is a historical opportunity nobody can pass. We who have been protagonists and spectators of its rise and evolution are privileged pioneers and are building the foundations of what will be an instrument to explore worlds in ways We can't yet imagine.

Premise: interaction is the most important part of a videogame, not the only one, but it's the element that can ultimately decree whether a game is good or not... the rest of the elements can either add in to the beauty of the interaction or be regretted as a waste. Interaction is not meant in its common and generic meaning we usually take for granted, it's not abstract! it's a quite small yet concrete-solid molecular element that can be singled out whenever the gamer is actually playing. Yet its size doesn't diminish its importance, it embiggens it. So interaction is:

A connection between the player's mind and the characters, items and the environment of a videogame appearing on the screen at least once during its extent. You can visualize it as a line of electricity between the player and his game that, unfortunately, in most games today it's not always active and when it is, it's faltering and weak

The goals of the entry are to single out this element inside a videogame and find a scale to separate real interaction from false one. In the course of it I'll use a simple example of a character in a First Person Shooter or a Role-Playing Game.

Degrees of interactivity:
--From zero to mediocrity--
-When a foe spots a player and He simply points the cursor at him and fires, interaction is either not there or too poor to be seen as real, he's not the real protagonist of the action, he simply triggers an animation pushing the button he's been told of having some effect. It's false interactivity. The designer was maybe "interacting" with the hypothetical players while he was projecting his title, but they aren't, they're not so different from spectators.

-If the player aims at different parts of the foe's body for generic increased effectiveness, but independently from the foe itself, he's interacting a bit less poorly but it's comparable to fighting a practice dummy or shooting a paper target, interaction is almost wholly missing. But in this case the player at least must be aware of what kind of creature he's fighting and "interact" with this notion to know where the head, or the leg is.

-If the player interacts with his own character using the skills to engage foes or friends in different ways but independantly from their actions, skills, movement or even alignment, he's like an executioner choosing which pain-inflicting tool he's gonna employ to have the most carnal satisfaction. It's poor interaction and it's purposeless, because usually it ends with the simple enemy's annihilation, so the player doesn't interact with the enemy, he interacts with himself and his sadism (for instance see Crysis?)

-If the player's using his character's peculiar skills and weapons depending on the foe's resistance to one of them, (I.E. because of his armor withstanding a certain type of bullet), or his position, interaction exists and the electricity is there but is still not sufficiently strong.

--From tolerable to superb interactivity--
-Finally, if, as above, the player aims at different parts of the foe's body according not only to his physical condition (including position) and his own, but also mental/social (he just heard him say something, or he's facing a lunatic, a gangster, a sleepy person, a noble) he's interacting in a complex and definitely more acceptable way, but the interaction ultimately revolves around the foe and his demise. This is the step of the scale that ends the isolated exclusive relation with the player's character and his enemy which is now COMPLETE and I thought it fair to have it reach the grade of sufficiency.

-If, when a player shoots an enemy down in a specific way, the game reacts accordingly, materially judging his actions for instance with a score based on his stealthood or his finesse, the interaction has moved OUTSIDE of the hero/enemy circle; It is a more complex one as the player is interacting with (taking in consideration) the game itself to receive the outcome he needs(He may not want the enemy dead to have a different score).

-If the same type of interaction as the last one happens not just between characters and the "game" but for example using specific objects found in the "room" the player's in, he's also interacting with the peculiar characteristics of the objects, the advantage consisting in the mental processes he goes through to realize that an object in the room has certain attributes which can be combined with characters or other items to obtain the desired result. This is the point into interaction that abandons the boundaries of "a game", for one reason: because "objects" with realistic features make the world more plausible than just killing critters to get a better score.

-If a certain action is directly related to the setting, or gives consequences to this, the player is manipulating (hence a real contact with) the environment, considering or even changing for example society living in it, or how people see him, or the story events; even a heavily story-driven game can afford to do this, and the story may show his intervention in it or simply make him more aware of it. It is worth noting that every previous step can be combined with this one. A player may want to use an object with, or kill(like in our shooting previous degrees), a character because the story, or the world, or even the characters' psychology are suggesting that at this point he should do that action, and the only way to know how to do it is interacting with the story and the whole setting. The interactable elements are now all around the player, they're bigger. He is the artifex of his world


The previous are just few examples limited by the case of an ordinary modern game. They're just an attempt to give a clear idea of interaction, its nature and its importance, the necessity to provide a way for users to personally manipulate what They're seeing on the screen, not just been acted upon. Hundreds more could be the examples, many examples can be found in between those i described. Many games don't even have characters and environments but they must still provide a closer contact with the game objects, to proove of some significance and worth playing. Tetris for instance gives a good degree interaction as it allows manipulation of different shapes and consideration in using such shapes to fit into static shapes.

One may disagree with the steps of the scale, and more likely with the mark that divides bad from good interaction. But it's not important.What's important is that you may locate interaction as a stand-alone element. It can be a good exercise to single it out of any game. It will certainly put things in a different perspective... and that's never wrong.

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I teach history, literature, linguistics, philosophy and psychology. I believe in a cosmic order. I love each place on Earth because everything has its unique attractions. I worship the God of progress and That of biomechanics. I try to write novels in a strongly interaction remainding formulaic fashion. As i'm progressist, i am a socialist extremist. I wanna open a social library art chocolate house. I write lyrics for my musician metal-crazed friends. I wanna be a theatre master. I believe Star Trek vision of society can be realized, but people are afraid of change and Power frightens people because they are afraid of loosing their privileges. I am incredibly dense in astronomy but i philosophically love it. I can't live without spirituality. I try to find the the key to happiness, investigating, exploring the way nature works, understanding its mechanisms, its secrets and mysteries. I believe one of the goals of living is to make life better for everyone.