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WEEK 6: Interactive Cinema

Interactive Cinema: database / experimental / 360·

 

Prepare

Daley, Kristin. “Cinema 3.0: The Interactive-Image.” Cinema Journal. 50.1 (2010): 81-98.

Daly Cinema 3.0

Veale, Kevin. “Interactive Cinema” Is an Oxymoron, but May Not Always Be.” Game Studies. 12. 1 September 2012.

Veale Interactive Cinema

Possibilia (Daniels, 2014) https://helloeko.com/v/D3iXb9

The Wilderness Downtown (Chris Milk & Arcade Fire, 2010) http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/

Screening /  Kinoautomat (1967) Radúz Činčera 61 min.
Guest Speakers Tonia Begali (MFA in IMGD) works with creative media that engages marginalized stories, explores new ideologies, and plays with pop culture. Emilia Yang (PhD in MA+P) is an activist, artist, and militant researcher. Tonia and Emilia will speak to us about their award-winning Downtown Browns (2016) an interactive series highlighting the decisions faced by women of color in Los Angeles. Each episode follows a different storyline, showcasing a bright woman making their way through a unique situation. Interactive decisions, mini-games, and perspective shifts are utilized to build an intimate understandings of the complex dynamics at play in city life.

7 thoughts on “WEEK 6: Interactive Cinema

  1. I wish the ending of “‘Interactive Cinema’ Is an Oxymoron, but May Not Always Be” was its beginning. I read the majority of the article confused about Veale’s claims until he summarizes them in the “Something New” portion at the end of the article. Specifically, I wasn’t sure of his direction until this paragraph:

    “The traits that all of the texts in these case studies share are that their control systems are simple and make no assumptions about the skill-level of the person playing them; they are experientially linear (barring noted exceptions), meaning that multiple players are likely to have shared the same experience in negotiating the text; and they are experienced in a context of reduced affective mediation, so that the ‘eureka moments,’ triumphs and failures of negotiating the text are felt directly by the player.”

    The article undertakes an interesting endeavor, as it attempts to categorize a type of game that doesn’t fit as well into our current definition of gaming. And on the one hand I believe this to be a valid and important undertaking. How do we navigate our world without naming its elements? On the other, however, I’m reminded of Charlie’s comment and the idea that, here, Veale is arguing for a new category based off what we already consider games and cinema to be. So how do we create new categories? And further does the very notion of “category” become newly problematized in the realm of new/interactive media?

    With technology comes an issue, there is now a wealth of NEW. Computers, cell phones, other types of hardware, software, operating systems, modes of recording and relaying information, new ways of interacting (through touch, sight, speech, and soon thought). How do we categorize it all? How do we figure out what it all means or what it’s capable of if to this day we struggle to name it? A painting is a painting, but what is “The Wilderness Downtown”? These technological “things” (for lack of a better word) are created using languages only a few us can decipher, and yet they are ubiquitous and plentiful among us. You could easily come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t be. What are we doing fully integrating ourselves with that which we barely understand?

    And without negating the importance of understanding, is there value in that which resists category? In that it reminds us that we lack an immense knowledge, in that it asks us to engage with something ‘else’ / something new, and in that it asks us to see the value in that which is not possible to categorize in the limited, English, western ways we have available to us. If we take “Possibilia” as example, we see the ways it is interactive and cinematic, as per the above quote, but what else is there? Is there anything to the way it loops or overlaps? What about the way a Coke advertisement is integrated into it? Or the mimetic nature of its pieces? What about “The Wilderness Downtown”? Is there something about the integration of maps and surveillance? Or the pop-up windows that prominently feature the user interface of whatever browser you’re using? What about the music? Is it a music video? Is calling it a ‘music video’ regressive?

    I ask all of this to get to a bigger question: How can we break through barriers that require us to use taxonomic structures that are limiting and, in this case, may be obsolete? This is what I appreciated the most about Veale’s piece, he fully admits that “interactive cinema” may not be the right term. That it’s simply a way to name something that hasn’t yet been categorized. But are we rushing this process? (Why do we always jump immediately to the need to categorize in two words or less?) And how might we interrogate new and old lines of distinction?

  2. This week, I’m struggling with the use of the word “interactive” in the readings and projects. I think that when I hear the phrase “interactive cinema,” I really want something more participatory than interactive – I want to see my interactions have a substantive effect on the work. In The Wilderness Downtown, I know that different addresses will show different street views and satellite images, but the film doesn’t fundamentally change. Just watching the Google Maps Street View capture of a neighbourhood in the background change isn’t satisfyingly interactive. In Possibilia, all of the options are always already playing out, and all I can choose is which thread to follow. No matter how many times I hit a side-arrow key, the woman never leaves the yard; she always ends up back at the dining room table, about to work through the argument again.
    Possibilia is a very cool project, but I’m not sure we can say it’s experientially that different from watching a film. In a theatre, as Veale says, I can close my eyes or look away, but I can also turn and speak to my friend next to me, I can watch the rest of the audience in the theatre (as long as the film is bright enough, I suppose), I can pull my phone out and search up a fact about an actor or director or film, I can walk out. All of these things can be a new or different way to move through the film, in the same way that skipping through scenes (or watching bonus features) on a DVD or scrolling through each scene in Possibilia is. There’s certainly more to watch, but that too can be said about lots of films. Personally, I find that every time I watch Hot Fuzz, I catch an action, a phrase, or a reference that I hadn’t noticed in a previous viewing. But in the end, with both of these types of works, there’s a limit to the potential differences. Eventually, I will have seen every pixel and heard every soundbyte of Hot Fuzz; eventually, I will have watched all possible permutations of Possibilia. Is there something satisfying in the idea of potential eventual mastery? Or is there a dissatisfaction in being promised something new but getting something that is really just a bit more than a standard film? I think a very useful aspect of Daly’s conception of Cinema 3.0, that Veale doesn’t address, is the location of interactivity outside the work itself. This provides less limitation and the potential for greater participation in this kind of intertextual, somewhat fannish interaction.

  3. Kristen Daly extends Deleuze’s Cinema 1 + 2 to theorize a Cinema 3.0 that “mimics the everyday shocks of our emerging digital society,” just as the cinemas of Modernity did in pre-digital society (e.g. see Benjamin, Gunning, others). Daly reflects on the proliferation of films that invite/demand that the viewer ‘figure out’ the film, dissolving distinctions between work and leisure in a characteristically neoliberal manner. This tension has been a central question in understanding the political economies of new media (e.g. debate surrounding Henry Jenkins’ work on fandom), as some celebrate interaction as empowerment while others critique its cunning extraction of uncompensated labour. Overall, Daly is quite techno-utopian and ultimately celebrates interactivity as a “counter to commodification” (98). I’m a little skeptical of this. For one thing, as we have discussed, interactivity is often a ruse. Today, many would likely describe VR as the paragon of an ‘interactive cinema.’ However, it remains decisively cinematic in Kevin Veale’s terms, where unlike in games, “the most we can do is look away.” Jordan Wolfson highlighted this total lack of agency where “the most we can do is look away” in his VR piece “Real Violence” at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year. I was also surprised by Veale’s insight about how DVDs fundamentally alter the experience of the cinematic texts towards something interactive, as it suggested that the DVD may have constituted a more radical transformation of our experience of moving photographs than (for example) VR does today.

    But back to Cinema 3.0. Daly describes the experience of ‘figuring out’ the film as akin to what Manovich describes as ‘discovering the algorithm,’ or what Alexander Galloway theorizes as the process of interpreting a game’s ‘allegorithm.’ This desire to discover and master an underlying system is characteristic of digital life. One of my concerns is that this computational way of ordering the world seems to have become a hegemonic worldview in which there is a self-correcting equilibrium that underlies everything, including injustice and inequality. According to this view, both the free market (conceived in itself as an ethic) and ecosystems are self-regulating systems. Even stochastic indeterminacy is refined in probability distributions that amount to a digitally inflected model of futurology (btw is this why astrology and its radical illogic are so popular right now?). On the other hand, maybe this Cinema 3.0 also has the cultural impact of drawing our attention to the existence of algorithms that structure our lives and creating a desire to figure them out IRL. The creation of such a desire becomes important in a world in which algorithms emanate a pseudo-scientific authority yet are invisible, unaccountable to democratic oversight, and evade social discourse.

    I appreciate that towards the end of the essay, Daly complicates her techno-utopian determinism that equates interactivity with agency. She reflects: “We might ask ourselves how these movies of Cinema 3.0 might represent or portend our consumer and political culture” (97). She’s calling for a similar analysis to that which Kracauer performed of Weimar films in light of the rise of the Third Reich. Writing in 2010, Daly is implicitly asking us to reflect on cinematic interactivity in relation to the ubiquity of neoliberal power that is itself structured by digital logics. How does her question change in light of the resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe these past 5 years?

    Finally, there were some interesting discussions of non/fiction in Veale’s article that I won’t go into, but that perhaps we could discuss in class—for example, Bernard Perron’s suggestion that ‘interactive fiction’ is an oxymoron, and the implications of a game’s ability to create a feeling of responsibility for documentaries that proclaim that same goal.

  4. This week’s readings on interactive cinema. along with my readings in other classes, have been pushing at my previous understandings of film (and games) as a stable concept and media object. Games and films have become unfamiliar or, rather, they have become defamiliarized. As such, I wonder if the structures of games and cinema are as mutually exclusive as Veale argues, though I do agree with his attempt to push the study of games in a direction that asks us to consider what we are being asked to experience instead of just how well we experience it

    I do have a few questions about Daly’s account of interactive cinema. This comes out of my skepticism towards the perspective that games are automatically empowering because they have interactions. Can we interrogate this assumption a little bit, especially considering Daly cites writers like Benjamin and Deleuze whose work observes the alignment of cinema with systems of social control? As Daly observes “viewsers seem not to be able to avoid re-creating their world of everyday work in the cinema, much like the viewers Benjamin imagined in describing early cinema mimicking the mechanical work technology of industrial modernity” (p. 97). If there is such a sharp alignment between marketing and content creation and the social practices of contemporary media ask users to perform much of the labor, then how does that change our understanding of what empowerment means? It’s unclear how the development of interactive cinema can act as a “counter to commodification” (p. 98).

    If “database cinema forces the viewer to imagine that there could be other configurations,” (p. 90) as Daly says, then how do we account for more or less shared interpretations and experiences of a given game or movie? Even though interactive cinema might afford multiple paths through a story with multiple viewpoints and unstable characters, the number of possibilities might only be theoretically, not functionally, infinite. Despite the more radical reading of the possibilities of interactive cinema, narratives do tend to form observable patterns due to the social and cultural forces that shape their production.

    Veale’s attempt to grapple with interactive cinema is much more ambivalent. He is unsure whether interactive cinema is the best term to describe what he is witnessing, but it might be the best term we have at the moment. The struggle to balance the general and specific qualities of language are really evident here as Veale is trying to describe a formation that is still in progress. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m also struggling with the concept of interactive cinema. It’s still a concept in formation that we might only be able to categorize neatly in retrospect (if we want to categorize at all).

  5. I am very interested in the portion of Veale’s article that explains immersion. He divides this in to two separate forms of immersion: Diagetic immersion and Situated immersion. The former he related to being, “‘lost in a good book’” (8). However, situated immersion requires the player to engage and act within the space of the game, “When situated immersion has been achieved, the person playing the game or exploring the digital environment is no longer policing the dividing line of the virtual, and is invested in being perceptually inside the diegesis of the game text” (8). Veale argues that it is a sense of responsibility for actions and their consequences within the game that contributes to the game’s unique experience. While I agree, and this makes sense as a distinction from cinema or reading a narrative, I wonder how the concept of transportation would be effected. Green and Brock (2000) found that viewers can be “transported” into the narrative world of a movie or novel. A few of the factors that contribute to their transportation assessment are: distractions during reading or viewing, thought and memory after the reading or viewing, emotional response, anticipation of the ending, etc. (Measurement Instrument Database for the Social Sciences). Veale considers some of these factors when he explains that DVDs can be paused, or viewed out of order which would relate to distractions from outside the narrative world, or anticipation of the ending, which would effect transportation, but how does Veale’s idea of the importance of responsibility in a game encourage or break the impact of transportation. Does being aware that your actions will have an effect transport the player into the game world further? Veale explains, “Videogames present contextual worlds-of-concern which the player actively invests in, and the economies of cathexis and immersion at work mean that the person playing the game has a fundamentally different experience of the text than someone else who is watching the same game being played: someone who is an audience to gameplay has no agency, and no responsibility for how events unfold. There is less affective mediation inherent to the experience of videogame texts than would otherwise be provided by a protagonist within textual prose or filmic diegesis: feeling a character feeling is different than feeling yourself” (10). So, the emotions involved in playing the game would separate the experience from watching a film or watching a game being played. However, the observer could probably still be transported into the game world and narrative, and relate closer to Veale’s diegetic immersion. But for a player to experience situated immersion but actively participating in the game, they could still be transported into the game world, maybe even more so as they have the ability to interact with the story.

  6. It feels like there are a number of different ways to conceptualize interactive cinema. The Wilderness Downtown hints that an interactive cinema might actually be a personalized cinema. Daly’s article declares interactivity as the next wave of cinema, locating interactivity in both extra-cinematic engagement and the untangling of complex narratives. Possibilia implies that interactive cinema is one with interactive elements variously throughout a film that alter the experience of the narrative by either 1. actually changing what happens or 2. changing what part of the narrative is on screen. Veale, on the other hand, locates interactive cinema as far closer to games.

    Personally, I’m drawn to Possibilia’s approach because it’s the one that feels like it fits the definition linguistically – it is a type of cinema which is interactive. That doesn’t mean it’s the most interesting or important, but upon hearing the words it most nearly describes what I expect. The Wilderness Downtown to me feels like a different trend: something I might define as personalized cinema, where we don’t interact with the cinematic presentation, but it is unique to each person watching it.

    Veale’s article is interesting to me because it traces how to approach the idea of interactive cinema from the side of games — but I think the beginning of the last paragraph describes exactly how I feel about it: “Although it may be that ‘interactive cinema’ is not the most appropriate term to describe these case studies and what they represent, I argue that at the very least, they represent an experientially distinctive form of storytelling.” I think the boundary is interesting to traverse, though, particularly thinking about affective mediation. I think most of the games are definitely games, but because they have unique styles, play experiences, or limitations (like playing only once), they feel different. Small Worlds is the one that most feels like it lives at a boundary because it doesn’t seem like there is “failure.” There is just exploration and rumination. Thinking about games like that hint (yet again) at the importance of intention to me. Without prompting by someone like Veale, I wouldn’t think of Small Worlds as approaching cinema because I’m presented with it as a game.

    Daly’s article approaches the definition from the other side — moving towards interactivity from within cinema. Daly weaves a thread between a few different types of engagement, some fan-driven, some author-driven, and some technology-driven: 1. narrative complexity that encourages “viewsers” to attempt to sort out a diegetic timeline themselves, as in films like Memento, 2. transmedia storytelling content that adds to the cinematic narrative, as in the Blair Witch Project, 3. fan-based engagement with a text to sort out connections to other films, as with Pulp Fiction, and 4. watching a movie with control over the timing, as with a DVD. It leaves me with a lot of questions, though:

    1. Why are these trends generalizable? Are these features becoming more mainstream/common? A lot of the types of engagement are specific to types of movies made by a relatively small number of directors — how do these features apply to the work of other directors? What does it mean if these modes stay niche rather than becoming the dominant form? These questions are less for how to think about interactive cinema, more because of the stakes the article outlines for itself in describing a shift from Cinema 2.0 to Cinema 3.0.*

    2. Huge numbers of people don’t engage with media this way. The bulk of people who watched the Blair Witch Project didn’t engage with Bonfire’s additional material. Most people who go see movies in theaters talk about them with their friends, but don’t engage in the kind of rich extra-textual online discussions and forums that Daly discusses as being so empowering. When people engage in the same ways they have before, are these pieces actually part of a new trend? Are the pieces still interactive if people don’t interact with them? Leaving out the consideration of questions like that is the part of Daly’s article that disappoints me most. I think the emphasis on multiple ways to interact with a film is a really important development, but the variation and possibility isn’t discussed in the article — it solely focuses on the deepest level of engagement.

    I appreciate that the articles don’t construct a unified vision of an interactive cinema — and I look forward to sorting out what the limits and opportunities are with the term in class. A few last questions:

    1. What are the possible ways that the experiences of Possibilia and The Wilderness Downtown can be brought into the theatrical experience? Only Daly’s discussion of films like Memento can happen in a theater — everything else is outside, either because it’s at a computer or because the interactivity is in the surrounding time rather than during the film.

    2. What does it mean to define interactivity based on the mental activity of the audience? Given that people (almost) always negotiate meaning in a film personally, make guesses and hold on to hopes of what will happen later on in the narrative, does that mean that all cinema is interactive?

    3. What would it mean to define interactive cinema based on the way it’s engaged with? Is it possible or more apt to say that films like the Blair Witch Project are potentially interactive objects rather than defining them as interactive cinema?

    Cheers,

    ~Charlie

    P.S. 100% with Alex. I wish Veale’s article began where it ends.

  7. I found Kevin Veale’s article very interesting and it made me come up with many questions about the subject of interactive cinema and what it means and if it is at all possible. He states that in the end, he views interactive cinema in games is a different form of story telling that is neither better or worse than cinema.

    Veale makes a point that “film and games are conceptually difficult to bridge” when we encounter a cinematic experience in a game. As a player, we stop engaging in the game play and are sometimes forced to stop and watch this moment in the game. I asked myself it it would be “better” to have the player engage in this moment by being able to move or look around during this cinematic moment. However, would this ability to move and look around be considered gameplay? There is a reason why certain games enter a cinematic moment in the game because there is an important point that the creators are trying to communicate to the player. These moments are meant to involve the player in the story and characters even more and hopefully create a deeper connection between the player and the game. This argument of cinematic moments and game play is brought up quite a bit when it concerns VR. The challenge of this form of game play and story telling is giving the freedom to the player and what they want their experience to be versus what the creators want the participants to experience. How do you direct your subject to what is important in the game or the experience?

    Veale also mentions the inability to interact with film because of its structure, that there is little we can do to change our experience when we watch a film. I was thinking that the challenge of cinema and filmmaking is to pull out an emotional response from the audience. Games have this same ability if the story the creator is trying to tell is interesting. This also made me wonder if this is why games are trying to look more realistic because they want to emulate live action filmmaking in its ability for successful story telling. However, I also wonder if the issue of the uncanny valley comes into play here. Do we as players feel more connected or disconnected to the characters of a game because they closely resemble a real human being or does this disconnect us from the characters or the story of the game? Would games be more successful in connecting to their audience if the characters weren’t so realistic? Does the simplicity of a character help us to connect to the story and the character because we can see ourselves and others in a simple character as opposed to a character that closely resembles a human?

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