Friday 16 May 2008

Call of Duty - The Class Presentation

As part of my honours year, I have a certain amount of coursework to do. In one subject, Creativity Theory and Practice, we were asked to pick a week and accompanying subject to give a presentation on in class. I got week 12, 'Virtualities', because it seemed the most relevant to my interests (to borrow a LOLphrase. Is that a word...? I guess it is now).

So I was planning on presenting to the class a whole bunch of things, but basically it was going to be too much and too broad. I wanted to log into World of Warcraft and give people an example of a 'Virtual World' in action, but the way it turned out, my presentation ended up a bit more focussed on the nature of Interactivity and Immersion.

The core argument for my presentation came from Chris Crawford, and his opinions on interactivity which I found to be biting and quite concise. To summarise the chapter or two I read on the subject, he scathingly remarked that everyone has an opinion on what constitutes Interactivity, and almost categorically, everyone is making it up as they go along.

Crawfords definition of interactivity is this:
"A cyclical process between two or more active agents in which each agent alternately listens, thinks, and speaks.”

In this definition, the terms “listen”, “think”, and “speak” must be taken metaphorically."
Just after this statement, Crawford states categorically that Movies are NOT interactive -
"…reaction, no matter how intense, is not the same as interaction. If you’re watching a great movie, and your heart is pounding with excitement and your fingers trembling with emotion, you’re still not interacting with the movie because it’s not listening to what you’re saying, nor is it thinking about anything. It is only speaking."
Well, from those two statements I made the argument that, when discussing interactivity, the issue is less HOW MUCH interactivity is present, but WHAT KIND or IN WHAT WAY. We had quite a bit of discussion on this point (and another that I made about immersion) and to demonstrate my point, I showed this highly affective level, 'The Coup', from Call of Duty 4. Now, by all accounts, the type interactivity in this level is among the most restricted available - with comparisons to a glorified movie cutscene totally permissible. Credits appearing in the middle of it, anyone? Yeah, way to go with keeping the immersiveness going there, Infinity Ward... I know you were trying for the whole 'it's the start of a really, really, really, long movie' but it just annoyed the heck out of me.

The level in question
I argued that even though this level presents the player with a restricted type of interactivity, it is still infinitely more interactive than a movie.

The reactions that it got were quite interesting - and ecouraging. One person remarked in a somewhat awed voice 'it's like watching a movie' and yes, the comparison is apt. People audibly winced when the players face got "stepped on" near the end of the level. The most fun bit (for me) was just before you-as-the-recently-deposed-prez get executed. Time slows down at that point and just as the person playing it looked over at the gun about to be pointed at you, someone in the room said "Uh oh".

Uh-oh indeed. A flash of muzzle flare and a moment of intense violence was directed at the player... and you were dead. I think my lecturer even said 'wow', or something similar.

Maybe I'm just overly dramatizing it, but I think the first person perspective, along with the appropriate level of agency given to you, combined to elicit engagement and to an extent, immersion. This combination is something I hope to explore in my paper on Virtual Reality and the First Person shooter, the text for the proposal of which, is available here. I apologise for the some of the writing in that proposal. I only just recently realised how badly worded some of it is. A few paragraphs are particularly bad...

Anywho, if anyone is interested in the subject, or even if you just want to let me know that there are people out there that actually read my rambling blog, feel free to leave a comment.


Cited works:

Crawford, Chris. Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling. Indianapolis, Ind.: New Riders, 2004.


Fashigady said...

I wish I could've been there to see your presentation, it sounds like it went really well.
It seems I'm the only one who bothers with your blog :(

Ben Abraham said...


I'm sure there are plenty of 'lurkers' around who've popped by once and never said hi. That's OK. I can still stat track their IP's. :P

Yeah the presentation did go well, and in an email I sent to her about a different assignment she noted that if I just tidied up my writing a bit (e.g. Do more final editing ;-)) then I'd probably do really well.

Cheers, Fashi.

Kirk Battle said...

Nice...those scenes in Call of Duty 4 are rapidly becoming the thing I show to people who don't play games when I want them to experience something interesting.

I like that definition, Noble Carrots just had a piece on Final Fantasy X and I ended up commenting that even controlling the pace of the film is more interactive than a movie. At this point, I'd rather developers kept experimenting than try to achieve some pre-defined standard.

Ben Abraham said...

Yeah I really liked Crawford's definition, and his point about the fundamental chasm that separates "interactivity" of any kind, from (I guess) "non interactivity" was really important in forming some of my views on games, and even on the arguments in my thesis.