What PhD supervisors are for

I had a great chat with my supervisor on Thursday, after helping out with a Masters seminar. As regular readers may have worked out, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a coherent testable design to test out of my half-formed ideas and lofty ideals.

The problem was trying to think of a cheap way to test some of the theory I’ve come up with. I’d got hung up on trying to think of a way to track visitors round a site and test their reactions to that. Until I solved that I was handwaving the issues of breaking the story into natoms, and balancing the conflicting needs of multiple visits in the same space. Those two problems both felt more within my comfort zone. The problem is that I’m not a technologist, that bit is so far out of my comfort zone that I’d need to enlist (or pay for) one. On top of that, the tech itself isn’t that cheap – getting a wifi network into some of the heritage places I know, with their thick stone walls and sheer scale, isn’t about buying just one wifi router.

I’d mentioned the other problems (particularly in the one of negotiating conflicting needs) in the seminar. (The students had been reading about a variety of museum interpretation experiments for their “homework” and we discussed the common issue that many of the experiments focussed on the issue of a visitor in isolation, and hadn’t thought enough about multiple users in the same space). Afterwards I spent twenty minutes with Graeme, my supervisor, in his office. I felt he’d finally got what I’d been trying to say about a “responsive” environment, and his interest was particularly focused on the two issues I’d handwaved. We talked about low-tech ways or exploring both of those, and of course THAT’S what I should be doing, not worrying about the tech. These are both things I can do (I think!) rather than something I can’t .

So by the end of our chat, when Graeme had to return to his students we’d worked out the rudiments of a simple experiment.

  • What I need is a relatively small heritage site, but the possibility of lots of choices about routes, lots of intersections between spaces. What Hiller calls a low depth configuration (that last link is to a fancy new on-line edition of the book, by the way. It’s worth a read).
  • I need to work with the experts/curators of that site to “break” the stories. Break is a script-writing term, but it feels particularly appropriate when thinking about cutting the stories up into the smallest possible narrative atoms. (Although maybe “natomise” is better!)
  • Then I need to set up the site to simulate some of responsiveness that a more complex system might offer. Concealed Bluetooth speakers for example, or  switches like these that can be controlled by Bluetooth.
  • Finally, rather than try and create the digital system that tracks visitors and serves them ephemeral natoms, I can do a limited experiment with two or more humans following visitors around and remotely throwing the switches that might light particular areas of the room, play sounds or what ever other interventions we can come up with. The humans take the place of the server, and when they come together, negotiate which of their visitors gets the priority. Graeme suggested a system of tokens that the human followers could show each other – but the beauty of this concept is that the methods of negotiating could become part of the results of the experiment! The key thing is to explain to the participants that the person following them around isn’t giving them a guided tour, they can ask questions of him/her, but s/he isn’t going to lead their experience.

So, now I have a a thing that it is possible to do, with minimal help and with a minimal budget. And its a thing that I can clearly see has aims that come of the research I’ve done, and results that inform platonic ideal responsive environment I have in my head. If it works, it will hopefully inspire someone else to think about automating it.

That’s what supervisors are for!

 

Cultural Agents

I’ve been reading Eric Champion’s Critical Gaming: Interactive history and virtual heritage. Eric asked his publishers to send me a review copy, but none was forthcoming, and I can’t wait for the library to get hold of a copy – I think I was to quote it in a paper I’m proposing –  so I splashed out on the Kindle edition. I think of it as a late birthday present to myself, and I’m not disappointed.

One thing that has struck me so far is a little thing (its a word Champion uses only three times) but it seems so useful I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely, especially in the heritage interpretation context. That word is “multimodality”. As Wikipedia says (today at least) “Multimodality describes communication practices in terms of the textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual resources – or modes – used to compose messages.” But its not just about multimedia, “mode” involves social and cultural making of meaning as well. Champion says:

Multimodality can help to provide multiple narratives and different types of evidence. Narrative fragments can be threaded and buried through an environment, coaxing people to explore, reflect and integrate their personal exploration into what they have uncovered.

Which is surely what all curated cultural heritage spaces are trying to achieve, isn’t it? (Some with more success than others, I’ll admit.) Champion is referring to the multimodality of games and virtual environments, but it strikes me that museums and heritage sites are inherently multi-modal.

It sent me off looking for specific references to multimodality in museums and heritage sites, and indeed, I found a few, this working paper for example, and this blog, but there are not many.

But I digress. I’ve started Eric’s book with Chapter 8 (all the best readers start in the middle) Intelligent Agents, Drama and Cinematic Narrative, in which he examines various pre-digital theories of drama (Aristotle’s Poetics, Propp’s Formalism (with a nod in the direction of Bartle and Yee) and Campbell’s monomyth), before crunching the gears to explore decidedly-digital intelligent agents as dramatic characters. Along the way, he touches upon “storyspaces” – the virtual worlds of games which are by necessity incomplete, yet create an illusion of completeness.

His argument is that there is a need for what he calls “Cultural Agents” representing, recognising, adding to, or transmitting cultural behaviours. Such agents would be programmed to demonstrate the “correct cultural behaviors given specific event or situations” and recognise correct (and incorrect!) cultural behaviours. For example, I’m imagining here characters in an Elizabethan game that greet you or other agents in the game with a bow of the correct depth for each other’s relative ranks, and admonishes you if (in a virtual reality sim) you don’t bow low enough when the Queen walks by.

Which leads on to what he calls the “Cultural Turing Test […] in order to satisfy the NPCs [non-player characters] that the players is a ‘local’, the player has to satisfy questions and perform like the actual local characters (the scripted NPCs). Hence, the player has to observe and mimic these artificial agents for fear of being discovered.” (As he points out, this is in fact a reversal of the Turing test.)

Then he shifts gear again to look at Machinema (the creation of short films using game engines, which I learned about back in Rochester) as a method for users to reflect on their experience in-game, and edit it into an interpretation of the culture the game was designed to explore. Its a worthy suggestion, and could be excellent practice in formal learning, but I fear it undermines the game-play itself, if it becomes a requirement of the player to edit their virtual experiences before comprehending them as a coherent narrative.

Also in all though, I can already see that the book will be an enjoyable and rewarding read.

 

I promise, this is the last time I bang on about @HeritageJam – until next year

The only thing I haven’t covered, since last month’s Heritage Jam event, is the on-line entries, which were more numerous. You can read about them all here (scroll down), but I want to use this last (I promise) Heritage Jam 2015 post to pick out just a few of my favorites.

First up is my award for Most Fun, which goes to Howard WilliamsHeritage Jam: Conserving the Past, an investigation of the actual jams available for sale at heritage sites on his family holiday in Wales. But its not all fruit-spread based humour, he also manages to fit in this specialist subject: the heritage of death, and even the death of heritage.

Howard also contributes to the winning team entry for the on-line competition. This is a shoe-in on my own favorites list because of it’s medium. The Volund Stories: Weyland the Smith is a comic, created by Hannah Kate Sackett. I love comics, and it inspires me to pick up my pencil again and practice drawing. (My problem is that I use a tablet for everything nowadays, and my fingers have forgotten how to control things like pens and pencils.) Only the first few pages were submitted for Heritage Jam, and I eagerly await the completed work, which will be published (free) on both Kate and Howard’s blogs.

The individual winner was also another of my favorites, Cryptoporticus by Anthony Masinton. This is a “first-person walking simulator” (in the style of one of my favorite games Dear Esther) around a mysterious imaginary museum.  To tell the truth, when I saw this (and another which I’ll mention later) appear in the Heritage Jam gallery in the last few hours of wrestling with my own entry, I almost gave up. This looked so brilliant, I thought mine and Cat’s work could not possibly compete.

I only managed to get a few minutes with the actual game during the event itself, but I liked it very much. Sadly the link to download the game on the Heritage Jam page no-longer works. I hope this is only because Anthony is dealing with a couple of bugs he couldn’t manage to fix before the deadline, and the links will eventually work again, because I for one want to have a go playing it right through.

The other entry which almost made me give up my own efforts was the excellent website Epi.Curio, by the appropriately named Katherine Cook. This encourages visitors to interact with the past, and with museum collections, in the multi-sensory sphere of cooking and eating. It’s just such a brilliant idea, presented in a beautiful responsive website. I am overwhelmed and insanely jealous of Katherine’s imagination. (And yes, before you ask, there is a recipe for an actual Heritage Jam.) I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I’m thinking about making Pan de Muertos for the end of the month.

Spooky Pan de Muertos from the Epi.Curio website

So that’s a quick whizz through my personal favorites, though there’s plenty more quality stuff in the gallery though, check out Shawn Graham’s Listening to Watling Street, for example. Indeed, there was so much high quality work on show, that wen I submitted mine and Cat’s piece, I was feeling quite subdued, depressed even, despite the amazing etheral quality of Cat’s auralisation. I felt we had worked really hard, but hadn’t come close to some of the showstoppers that were already entered.

So imagine my surprise, and absolute joy, when on my way home from the event, I saw the tweet from Heritage Jam that our piece had been Highly Commended in the judging of the on-line entries. Despite being on the winning team at the in-person event, I was even more excited by this “second place” than that victory. The judges comments were so kind, so I’ll finish with them (and the electronic versions of our certificates).

The breath-taking audio reconstructions included within this complex project captured our judges imaginations and hearts whilst the intricate layering of narrative and interpretive contexts left them wanting more. They were hugely complimentary of the way in which the duo had structured the piece to meaningfully showcase and integrate narrative, reconstruction and data into the piece. The interactive nature of the project promoted significant discussion on the topic of agency, control and interpretation in museums and collections, making it not only a thought provoking piece in its own right, but also in relation to wider heritage themes and issues. The technicality, scale and artful nature of the project, as well as the thoughtful, comprehensive paradata far exceeded the expectations of our judges for a short-term “jam” project, leading them to crown “Among the Ruins” as the highly commended team entry for the 2015 Heritage Jam

HighlyCommended - Online Team

Winner - In-Person Team

 

Bartle – and the power of You Tube.

For the last few days, my blog has been really popular.

BartleSpike

I’ve been getting hundreds of hits on a post I wrote a couple of years back. Now, I don’t expect hundreds of hits. I’m lucky if I get a couple of thousand a month. so my first thought was that it was some sort of new spam bot, testing WordPress’ defenses. But I didn’t have any new spam comments to trash, so I checked out where these hits were coming from. – mostly search engines. But there was something interesting about the search terms. Nowadays, more and more people opt to keep their search terms private, but the vast majority of the known search terms were “Bartle Taxonomy.”

My post on Bartle has always attracted a steady stream of hits, but most of them come from searches for “the Bartle test” (which is what my post is called). This time, whilst there were still some people searching for “the Bartle test”, most were using the “taxonomy” word. Something, somewhere had caused a spike of interest in “the Bartle Taxonomy” but what?

I googled it. There was the wikipedia page on Bartle at the top of the list, a bunch of other preferences, and my own post about 6th from the top. (Not bad – but Goggle knows who I am, so I wouldn’t put it past their logarithm to place my own posts higher when I’m searching. So I tried a couple of other engines too, who wouldn’t now me, DuckDuckGo and Quant, and I’m still up there, sixth or seventh. With is cool.)i

But I couldn’t see anything in particular that had prompted the spike in my visitor numbers. Until today, when this YouTube video was brought to my attention:

Its a good video, with a simple history and explanation of Bartle’s four type taxonomy. Interestingly, it doesn’t cover his revised eight type version – but who does? Where it excels though, is looking through the gamer types to the world/player and acting/interacting axes. They are going to “delve even deeper into Bartle’s world next week.” Looks like I’m going to have to subscribe. 🙂

Which brings me to my final point. This video was uploaded on the 14th of October, co-relating exactly with my visitor spike. That the publication of such a video can have such an impact on my little back-water of the web, suggests to me that search engines like Google are losing their power to navigate (or uncover?) knowledge. Instead subscribed publishers like YouTubers are introducing a new generation of web-users to all sorts of concepts, effectively becoming “curators”. Digital music companies are all about curation  – but there’s a an opportunity for the traditional publishers, of all sorts of media, to leverage their own skillbase as curators, if they are not already too late.

@HeritageJam 2015 diary, 1: Frustration

I woke up this morning with the day planned out in my head.

I was doing to listen to everything I could find by a composer I hardly knew on Apple Music, while digging out a bunch of index cards and a marker pen. I was going to, in script-writing terms, “break” my story. I had a ghost of a graph in my head, and very specific ideas about a running time (45 minutes max, if you are interested). I had all sorts of story elements buzzing around too: a moment of disorientation as with waking from (or falling into) a dream; a conversation with a “genius loci”; a revelation which may have been a moment of self-realization (“am I … a slave?”); too many more to list. But I had only the vaguest idea which ideas I should use, and what order they should do in.

I knew there WAS an order, or that one would become apparent, because order is what turns events into kernels and facts into narrative. I wasn’t even sure how many narratives I’d find, but I wasn’t worried about that. I could discard or include as many as I wanted. What I needed to do was move events around on my dining room table (or the floor) and see what emerged. Maybe take some photos, or maybe if things went really well, transcribe everything into Scapple.

That’s was the plan. It didn’t work out. Moments before I got an email from my prospective teammate saying what a great idea it was, I got an email from the stakeholders I really need approval from, saying that approval wasn’t forthcoming.

So, I need another idea, and I’ve been thinking what that might be. Yesterday afternoon, after the theme was announced, I was bouncing off the walls. The theme was almost too good  – there were too many possibilities. I was buzzing with them – I couldn’t sit down. I had to find things to do, like washing up, or bringing the washing in, to calm my brain down. When the idea finally came, it seemed so obvious, so perfect, I couldn’t quite work out why I hadn’t thought of it first.

But this morning has been very different. The energy has been sucked out. Everything I think of, every other idea I had yesterday, comes up wanting against what I really want to do, but can’t. Yesterday afternoon was full of possibilities, this morning has been full of barriers.

So I need to get out. Get some fresh air, some inspiration. One of the ideas I had this morning and haven’t fully rejected, is trying to something based around Basing House. The thing is, I’ve never been there. Its one of those places that so local I never visit it, because I always could next week. So this is just the impetus I need to actually go and check it out, see if it inspires me…

Guess what?

Closed on Fridays.

Heritage Jam 2015 – sign up soon!

Heritage Jam at York University – registration opens on 20th August

I had a great Skype chat today with Neil and Paul from Info-Point. I’d first met them a couple of years back, and wrote about their product here. In fact, I’d put them in touch with one of my client properties at the time, Saddlescombe Farm, that had a problem which I thought Info-point might be the perfect solution for. It was – and Info-point have now supplied solutions to a number of out-of-the-way (and out of signal) National Trust sites across the country.

Their challenge is that they are technologists, not storytellers, but sometimes places come to them hoping they can supply the content, not just the platform. To this end, they are working hard at building a network of interpretation designers and content providers, who they hope will use their technology when heritage sites come calling.

We were chatting idly about setting up a two-day “hacking” event, to bring together heritage custodians, storytellers and technologists. While we were talking I thought “we could call it something like Heritage Jam!”

Afterwards I thought – “Heritage Jam… that too good an idea to be mine. Where have I heard it before?” and a quick Google later, I knew where. York University will be hosting Heritage Jam towards the end of September. I missed it last year, and made a mental not not to miss it this year. OK, so that mental note came back a bit garbled, but it came back in time for me to get myself on the mailing list. Registration opens and closes on the 20th August. So if you want to go, set a reminder in your diary! If you can’t get to York, there’s and on-line participation month kicking on the 20th of August too, so check that out.

Narratives in social science

I ought to watch out for the literature rabbit holes I can fall down. After my last foray into narratives and sociology, I got sucked into another work that was only tangentially about what I’m studying. This one though did at least have a few quotable quotes I might want to use later.

Brian Alleyne kicks off his Narrative Networks; Storied Approaches in a Digital Age by asking (on page 2) “What is narrative?”

“Narrative, in its simplest sense, consists of a series of connected events, and a particular way in which theses events are told. The first element is the story, and the second element is the narrative discourse… It follows from this that a story can be rendered through different narrative discourses”

He goes on (page 40) to reference “Jerome Bruner (1986; 1991) [who] has argued that humans make sense of the world in two fundamental ways, in two cognitive modes: paradigmatic and narrative. In the Paradigmatic mode the human mind recognises elements as belonging to two categories in a classifying operation.So in this cognitive mode, when we encounter an object, we seek to map it onto already existing classificatory schemes pf objects, trying to work out what kind of object it is. […] For Bruner this mode of cognition is most characteristic of science.
“In the the narrative mode of cognition we seek to connect people and events into a temporally coherent whole. The passage of time is important in this mode.As Paul Ricoeur (1984) argies, some sense of the passage of time is quite fundamental to how humans understand themselves and the world around them. The narrative mode of cognition is one with organises ideas and experiences into stories and is seen to contrast with the paradigmatic, scientific mode in that it operates in an emotive or emotional and expressive register as opposed to the rational register of paradigmatic cognition. These ideas are obviously abstract ideal models of cognition and cannot always be easily separated from one another in seeking to account for how people go about making sense of the the world.”

So it can the argued that a label in a museum or cultural heritage site, which categorizes an object, can’t connect the visitor emotionally to that object, unless they bring a story with them. But a purely story led interpretation of a site or collection can’t help the visitor understand it.

Later on in the book (page 92)he touches upon the Narrative Paradox “The fundamental issue here is that however defined, narrative text is characterised by a coherence that links human, and non-human agents, their actions, experiences and other happenings into a temporal chain – the following of which leads us to some kind of conclusion. The problem here for thinking about “hypertext narrative” lies in the very nature of hypermedia: unless the author of a hypertext network deliberately imposes a narrative structure on that collection of texts, the collection will have a degree of openness which militates against narrative coherence” using classic text adventure games Zork and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as examples he concludes “Interactive fiction therefore sacrifices the open-ended possibilities of hypertext in order to maintain some degree of narrative coherence.”

He also summarises the Narratology/Ludology debate, on page 93 and later (pages 116-121. As a gamer and a narrativist, he offers a balanced view, citing many ways in which games are not narratives but also pointing out that “Narratology has been part of the videogame designer’s toolkit from the start (Crawford, 2003; Rollings & Adams, 2003; Ryan, 2001; Salen and Zimmerman, 2010). Many computer are based on the three-act narrative structure of situation, conflict and resolution, that that same structure being repeated as the player moves through the game.”

In his debate on whether games can be analyzed narratively, he looks specifically (page 119) at history themed games like my old favourite Civilization: “In order to make these games worth playing narrativity has to be be balanced with playability, which means departing from the tight emplotment of historical that is at the core of historical narrative.”

Does any of this leave me any more enlightened? Not particularly, but I enjoyed reading it.

Ambient lenses

Struggling with writing up my literature review, I turn to some of the theses I have on file, to see how they have structured theirs. And of course I’m sucked into reading some part of the actual thesis, because something captures my attention. The thing that’s caught my eye this time comes from Mark Eyles‘, who I wrote about … (yikes!) just over two years ago, just before his thesis was released upon the world.

In an effort to distinguish “ambient” from merely “pervasive” Eyles describes six “lenses” (from Schell, J. (2008). The Art of Game Design) that help define what ambient means, in game terms.

  1. Persistent gameplay – Eyles cites MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, as examples of games where things carry on happening even while you aren’t interacting with them.
  2. As an extension of the above,  player initiated game actions occur away from the player’s attention, for example, in Civilization, there are agents at work within cites, producing food and researching technology, but the play has the option of leaving them to get on with it, or zooming down to city scale to direct the work themselves.
  3. Gameplay events occurring simultaneously at different locations within the game world – Eyles says: “In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim there are many ambient background tasks occurring, hidden from the player; skills are increasing, experience points are being won and so on. However, although the world in Skyrim is large, complex and rich it is not functionally ambient, only aesthetically ambient. Events are only occurring in the immediate vicinity of the player, triggered by the player’s presence and the missions the player has started.”
  4. Modelessness (that’s Mode-less-ness) – players have the option to ignore game mechanics. The example Eyles gives is Skyrim again, wherein players don’t level-up automatically, they are told they that can level up, but can choose to ignore it until they are ready. He explains that this sort of philiosphy makes a “range of levels of engagement” available to the player.
  5. Automation – for example, in Civilization you can order an agent to, say, build roads and it will continue to build roads while you are concentrating on something else.
  6. Abstract representation – using another example from Civilization Eyles describes how icons hide deeper levels of complexity “This method of using abstract representation of systems and events not only supports complexity but can also facilitate ambiguity, since players may incorrectly interpret symbols and their implications.”

He only talks about four of these when I met him a couple of years ago, but as my own thoughts have developed away from simply locatative game mechanics and more towards a responsive environment, I only be come more convinced that these lenses (and maybe others like them) might also help me define exactly what I meant by “responsive environment.”

PS Maybe this little thought-journey has helped me with my literature review after all – I’m thinking about breaking it down thus (working titles for all these sections): Digital Storytelling; Interpretive Technologies; Narrative Structure; and, Personalisation. I’ll sleep on that and have another proper crack at it tomorrow.

Ludology vs Narratology Revisited

My previous post on the Ludology vs Narratology debate is one of my most visited, and I note that that the term frequently appears in searches that bring people to this site. So, in the spirit of “give the people what they want”, let me offer up this morsel.

I’ve been reading Espen Aarseth’s paper, A Narrative Theory of Games, and he both offers insight into the debate (as, it seems, a pretty early participant), and, more importantly, does a reasonable job of debunking the whole thing. Along the way, he demonstrates a masterclass in academic rhetoric, but you can’t help but feel its personal too.

In reality this is not one, but two debates conflated: one is the design-oriented discussion of the potential and failings of game-based narratives, and another is the discussion of whether games can be said to be stories.

Aarseth points the finger at Henry Jenkins’ Game Design as Narrative Architecture, for setting up the two sides of Ludologists and Narratologists. (Though in that paper, Jenkins appears to point the finger back at Aarseth for coining the word ludology in the first place.) Aarseth argues that pitting one side against the other was “unfortunate, because it obscured the fact that all the so-called “ludologists” were trained in narratology and used narratology in their studies of games.”

Aarseth argues:

The “ludologist” position was not, as has been claimed, “to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play” (Jenkins 2001) but to emphasize the crucial importance of combining the  mechanical and the semiotic aspects and to caution against and criticize the uncritical and unqualified application of terms such as “narrative” and “story” to games. In other words, the ludologists’ critique was a reaction to sloppy scholarship (in which key terms are not defined), one-sided focus and poor theorizing, and not a
ban against the application of narrative theory to games as such

(This next bit, I love)

That this challenge has been mistaken for a ban on the use of narrative theory in game studies is nothing less than amazing, and perhaps goes to show that humanist academics are often less astute readers, scholars and interpreters than their training gives them occasion to presume.

Oh, but what’s this?

Anyone who echoes Jenkins’ misleading nomenclature of “ludologists” vs “narratologists” simply has not read the literature itself.

That’s me well and truly told.

A literary view of gaming

What I should be doing today is creating the structured interview questions for my research on Cultural Institutions and Tech SMEs. But I’m distracted by this series of articles on gaming from playwright Lucy Prebble. Lucy is most famous for her play ENRON about the stocks and shares scandal surrounding the eponymous US energy company. More recently, her The Effect has had positive reviews. But she is also a gamer, and writes  a monthly column on games for the Observer.

Her column tends towards narratively driven “authored”  games, such as Gone Home, which as she is a professional narrativist shouldn’t be surprising, though she also discusses and appreciates more procedural games like The Sims and Farming Simulator. In her conversation with Bioshock’s Ken Levine, they discuss a possible future project which he is considering, which has all the procedural narrative of games like the Sims or Rimworld, but “this would still be authored, it would still tell a story. It would end. And actually, that makes it more true to life, not less.” which reminds me how powerful “the end” is to to storytelling, and why Red Dead Redemption is more emotionally involving for me than unending Skyrim.

Her most recent article praises Device 6 (enough to make me download it after considering it for months) and the Novelist among others, while making the claim that charity shops are starting to turn away books, unable to sell them because “Everyone has Kindles”. I’m not convinced that she, or rather the charity shop workers she spoke to are correct to prophesise the death of the book yet – the second-hand bookshops at National Trust places seem to be thriving and turning over stock at a reasonable pace. But she does make the point that adventurous writers are looking to games as a when to tell stories differently. And the truly adventurous are playing with the conventions of what a game is too:

Depression Quest is a simple interactive fiction game that guides you through the experience of someone with depression. Its creator, Zoe Quinn, reveals a powerful understanding of how to affect through gameplay. Some options are visible, eg “Open up a little, hoping she’ll understand” but you are unable to select them. This basic but intelligent design expresses so much about a mental reality where the sufferer knows what they “should” do but is literally unable to. Your own frustration with the choice is mirrored by the protagonist’s and eventually a peek into self-loathing and stagnation is achieved, as well as a glimpse into how to move forward.

A game she has persuaded me to buy and try is Gone Home, which describes as though it is a near-perfect cultural heritage interpretation experience.

You piece together a sense of who everyone is and what happened through seemingly disconnected items and evidence hidden around the house. And those connections are intentionally weak. It allows the plot and conclusions to take place in the mind of the player and not in the action of the game… By withholding its story so fully and wisely, Gone Home insists we join the dots ourselves. It takes the gaming element away from the screen, and into your head.

Prebble is very interested in games and emotion, and makes and important point about how words alone fail can fail to trigger an emotional response:

As a playwright, I have long been disappointed by the weakness of words. An audience is rarely moved by words themselves, but by the gaps between words. In theatre sometimes we reference irritation with actors who act “off the line”, meaning they put in breaths and little sounds around what’s written, slowing pace and drawing attention. But that’s because they know the writing is just a scaffold… I think games have an unrealised potential to be even more emotionally involving than other forms, because they can make room for the player/audience directly. And because they are alive to flexibility of choice and narrative. I believe the more you nail down a plot point or a line, the more it dies. When you catch words like butterflies and pin them behind glass, it feels like an achievement, but something seals as you press down the pane. And so, now more than ever, we need games like Gone Home that withhold and reinvent and leave space for thought and feeling.

Of course this can be incendiary stuff, for gamers and non-gamers alike. Ludologiest would argue (as one commenter did) “The problem with Gone Home is that people refer to it as a game, which ultimately it isn’t. Any piece of entertainment software that focuses solely on story is by definition not a game,” while traditionalists will say that a game narrative can not possibly be compared with the emotional resonance of a half-decent novel. But Prebble isn’t looked only at what either games or storytelling are, but what they might be…

I’ll finish this piece with a quote within a quote from Prebble’s most recent article, which illustrates the reactionary fears expressed when new technology encroaches on something we love:

Maybe it’s best to close with this warning from an 1815 publication bemoaning the demise of the chalkboard in schools: “Students today depend on paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” (fromRethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson)

I suppose we’re finding out.