|Ben Gonshaw: Digital Media Theorist & Game Design Consultant|
3rd Novenber 2004
I watched Ghost in the Shell again last night. It’s always interesting to study people you have forced to watch it. For the first few minutes they wonder why you want to watch a cartoon. After 15 minutes they are baffled by the oriental story telling style, impressed by the visuals and shocked that a cartoon can be as mature as a real film. By the end they are cursing The Matrix for being such a rip off, perhaps they are struggling with what actually happened, but most importantly they will certainly be contemplating the nature of our consciousness.
The medium that a concept is presented in limits what can be expressed. A proof of a scientific theory cannot be adequately expressed through a visual medium, it must be done using text. The predominant method for communicating ideas has changed over time, and the ideas that have been put forward have also changed. This is not simply because of the medium used, but the range and depth of the concepts is limited by it.
For example, before the printing press, when books had limited availability, ideas were communicated in speeches. A great amount of depth could be reached, but precise detail was beyond all but the longest of speeches. When the printed word was made possible, scientific communication took off. It enabled writers to communicate highly detailed theories to a great many people, and let them study at their leisure. Imagine attending a reading of Newton’s Principia all in one session.
When the visual medium became the dominant source of information this detail was lost again. Broadcasting a person giving a lecture proved not to be too popular with the masses. Although speeches put to pictures remain interesting, ‘documentary’ programs lack any real information, beyond a basic summary of one aspect of a topic. However, information found its channel in a popular form. It came through in an allegorical, entertaining way, as a story, drawing on theatre as its grounding, the popularist form of speeches.
However, now there is a new medium. The videogame is a medium that until recently has been entirely devoid of any way of sharing information, except in the most oblique fashion. Perhaps you could claim that Tetris teaches people how to be neat and tidy, or that Pacman was a lesson in planning and being meticulous. Most likely only a few people have looked at games in that way. Certainly early arcade games did not have much power to communicate ideas.
However, the medium is evolving and storytelling is no longer just a possibility it is a requisite. Unfortunately there has been little in the way of sharing information in an allegorical, entertaining way, and much more in the style of cardboard characters and hair’s breadth plots.
Hidden within this medium is another method for communicating ideas, which has been somewhat obscured by the first stumbling steps of arcade gaming. Detractors believe that interactivity is a permanent barrier to meaningful communication. I believe that interactivity is a powerful enabler. A new forum for the exchange of ideas is lurking in the digital medium, be prepared to embrace its emergence.
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