Archive: March, 2009

Erving Goffman: Forms of Talk

[Readings] (03.16.09, 11:29 am)

The outset frames the book as a largely experimental work. The subject is talk in a general sense, and the content poses models of a few particular types of talk. His goal is not for these to be seen as definitive and final, but rather as possibilities. I would venture to call the models that Goffman puts forth prototypes. The general aim is to think about how to understand the dense layers of meaning in talk. Talk in person is laden with many forms of communication beyond language, including glances, posture, intonation, and so on. The idea is to understand what these are, but also to understand how people can understand and decipher all these signals in the first place. There are three matters that are important: ritualization, a participation framework, and the fact that words are frequently not our own. These dimensions are characteristics of dramaturgy. The essence of this is that talk contains the requirements of theatricality.

Replies and Responses

The subject of this chapter is the schema of reply and response. This is initially very simple, but begins to complex on realizing the layers of context and embeddings that take place within replies. Responses are dependent on the frame of the question, and are significantly dependent on them for the purposes of understanding their meaning. Goffman is at first using examples of questions and answers, of particular interest are layered responses. Where the person asked the question must pose another question in order to give the response. Alternately, some implicit contexts might be assumed and simply done away with. An example of this is a simple diner script: (p. 8, but coems from Marilyn Merritt)

A: “Have you got coffee to go?”
B: “Milk and sugar?”
A: “Just milk.”

In this brief example, B’s response not only implicitly answers A in the affirmative, but also suggests a state change. A is not asking a question for information, but rather is asking for service. On the request, B moves to fulfill it.

Goffman explains that there are three types of listeners in conversation: those that overhear; those that are ratified participants, but who are not specifically addressed; and those ratified participants who are specifically addressed. The system of particpants is again suggestive of theatrical models. The assumption with talk, though, is that the central goal of it is to communicate, and for the listeners to correctly understand what the speaker means, whether or not they agree with what was said. Speech uses many cues to provide feedback to confirm understanding. This is interesting in relation to games, where, when the player communicates with non-player characters, comprehension is treated as a given (not necessarily rightly so).

Talk is presented, initially, as a communication system, in terms of transmitting and receiving messages. Feedback occurs on a “back channel.” In this system, the two-part exchange of question and response is a natural form. The example of the communication based model is a case in which the theory shapes the interpretation of communications. Later on, Goffman explores examples which are very challenging to the communication model. Goffman suggests an approach to this model that formats exchanges as statements and replies, rather than questions and answers.

For the speaker, the communication model suggests a protocol of gestures and pauses. The general effect of these is a way of bracketing the talk, so that it is clear what each statement means, and what its frame and context are. The full channels model  is beyond my needs, but is remarkably thorough. Goffman suggests several requirements for talk in this model: (p. 14-15)

  1. A two-way capability for transceiving acoustically adequate and readily interpretable messages.
  2. Back-channel feedback capabilities for informing on reception while it is occurring.
  3. Contact signals: means of announcing the seeking of a channeled connection, means of ratifying that the sought-for channel is now open, means of closing off a theretofore open channel. Included here, identification-authentication signs.
  4. Turnover signals: means to indicate ending of a message and the taking over of the sending role by the next speaker. (In the case of talk with more than two persons, next-speaker selection signals, whether “speaker selects” or “self-select” types.)
  5. Preemption signals: means of including a rerun, holding off channel requests, interrupting a talker in progress.
  6. Framing capabilities: cues distinguishing special readings to apply across strips of bracketed communication, recasting otherwise conventional sense, as in making ironic asides, quoting another, joking, and so forth; and hearer signals that the resulting transformation has been followed.
  7. Norms obliging respondents to reply honestly with whatever they know that is relevant and no more.
  8. Nonparticipant constraints regarding eavesdropping, competing noise, and the blocking of pathways for eye-to-eye signals.

Talk is not all about pure and raw communication. Talk is heavily dependent on social codes and other conventions around politeness, etiquette, privacy, and so on. Communication may contain layers of subtext, for instance, a greeting that is meant to be inviting to further conversation or closed to it. Necessary for the inclusion of these subtexts is to see talk as having a ritual form, or be composed of ritualized interchanges. The system of ritual concerns works by imposing a set of constraints on allowable actions and behaviors. Goffman gives three primary points for ritual communication (p. 21), summarized here.

  1. The speech act makes implications about the character of the speaker and his relationship to the listeners.
  2. Offensive or potentially offensive actions may be ameliorated by apologies, but these must be acknowledged as acceptable to the listener.
  3. Offended parties must give a sign that offense has been made, otherwise they are enabling a lapse of the ritual code.

Addressing the problem of dialogic analysis, Goffman turns to the question of units. What are the units of conversation? Classical linguistics looks at sentences, but a more general term is needed (not least because many utterances are not sentences). Goffman suggests the idea of a “turn,” which means an entire period of speech. Instead, he settles on the idea of a “move.” Both of these terms are associated with games, and lend a certain game-like quality to the model of talk, something which is encouraged in the text.

Goffman is critical of the noncontextual approach to conversation, which is normally introduced in looking at replies and responses. The noncontextual approach is reminiscent of the classical models of linguistics and cognition, where the person is a frontend for a database of known facts. Goffman emphasizes the primacy of context in the comprehension of interactions. The model of statement and reply does not adequately account for the process of communication, only its content. So, Goffman suggests a system where conversation is rather a system of responses, where each statement is a response in reaction to the context which has been induced by the last move. Goffman gives four bullets describing the properties of responses: (p. 35) Note that these are extremely worth considering in the conversation simulation projects.

  1. They are seen as originating from an individual and as inspired by a prior speaker.
  2. They tell us something about the individual’s position or alignment in what is occurring.
  3. They delimit and articulate just what the “is occurring” is, establishing what it is the response refers to.
  4. They are meant to be given attention by others now, that is, to be assessed, appreciated, understood at the current moment.

Goffman begins to challenge the primacy of the statement, and then the entire communication-based model. Switches to the idea that talk is simply a sequence of response moves in reference to each other. He emphasizes the idea of context and social setting as fundamental: “So, too, we would be prepared to appreciate that the social setting of talk not only can provide something we call “context” but also can penetrate into and determine the very structure of the interaction.” (p. 53)

Finally, Goffman explores an interactional view of talk: “What, then, is talk viewed interactionally? It is an example of the arrangement by which individuals come together and sustain matters having a ratified, joint, current, and running claim upon attention, a claim which lodges them together in some sort of intersubjective mental world.” (p. 71) Tellingly, he uses the analogy of games. The difference is that the moves of conversation are not composed of tokens and positions, but utterances and other nonverbal cues. Statements and responses may be seen as deriving from moves, not the other way around.

Response Cries

The subject of this chapter is “response cries,” which are exclamations that one might give in response to oneself. Examples are things such as “hmm,” “ow!,” “ooh,” and so on. These are analyzed in detail. These kinds of expressions are not merely situated, they are situational. They are indicators of one’s own mental and physical state, partly aimed at others, to serve as indicators regarding potential interactions. These are thus theatric in nature.


The focus of this paper is the concept of “footing,” how the mode and frame of conversation is determined and how that is controlled (or not) by participants. Goffman’s first example is a transcript of president Nixon teasing and embarrassing a female news reporter, shifting the ground from a serious and official mode to a sexual one where the reporter is disempowered. Footing is important for the general understanding of reference (bracketing), and also for the role of power, which strongly relates to Johnstone’s status.

Instances of footing changes are conversational shifts. Examples of shifts are given here: (p. 127)

  1. direct or reported speech
  2. selection of the recipient
  3. interjections
  4. repetitions
  5. personal directness or involvement
  6. emphasis
  7. separation of topic and subject
  8. discourse type, e.g., lecture and discussion

Footing is important in fiction, as with social interaction, it is represented by various cues. In fiction and text it cannot be communicated subtextually through signs of gaze and posture. These signals exist, but they must be explained and raised to the level of the surface text. However, fiction has authorial shifts in terms of voice and focus, especially in the practices of different forms of speech (free indirect speech, for example), are closer indicators of footing changes. Footing changes are emphasized in film, and often are accompanied with special cuts to draw attention to the shift. The medium that probably would be most adept at communicating footing to games (in an interactional sense) would be comics, which are able to represent content with both text and images, with a great deal of simplification.

Goffman lists several qualities of footing in attempt to give a definition: (p. 128)

  1. Participant’s alignment, or set, or stance, or posture, or projected self is somehow at issue.
  2. The projection can be held across a strip of behavior that is less long than a grammatical sentence, or longer, so sentence grammar won’t help us all that much, although it seems clear that a cognitive unit of some kind is involved, minimally, perhaps, a “phonemic clause.” Prosodic, not syntactic, segments are implied.
  3. A continuum must be considered, from gross changes in stance to the most subtle shifts in tone that can be perceived.
  4. For speakers, code switching is usually involved and if not this then at least the sound markers that linguists study: pitch, volume, rhythm, stress, tonal quality.
  5. The bracketing of a “higher level” phase or episode of interaction is commonly involved, the new footing having a liminal role, serving as a buffer between two more substantially sustained episodes.

Normal language (channels) to denote speaker and hearer misses the other cues, and the other types of relationships: proximity, touch, gaze, and so on, that occur between particpants. These sorts of elements are crucial in footing, and are incidentally a substantial part of filmic language.

The first dimension is elaborating the relationship between the speaker, the addressed recipient, and the bystanders. This framing reveals the complexities of these interactions, especially as bystanders may talk and communicate amongst themselves, or there may be various levels of interaction between each level. Goffman explains these types of itneractions as byplay, crossplay, sideplay, and collusion. The act of speaking invovles more than just the speaker and receiver: “The point of all this, of course, is that an utterance does not carve up the world beyond the speaker into precisely two parts, recipients and non-recipients, but rather opens up an array of structurally differentiated possibilities, establishing a participation framework in which the speaker will be guiding his delivery.” (p. 137)

Goffman looks at the different modes of the speaker as: the animator, the author, and the principal. These roles each entail a different relationship between the speaker and the actual activity and content of speech. The animator is the dynamic dimension of the speaker in action, with the emphasis on the delivery and performance of speaking. The author links the speaker as the originator of the words that are encoded. The point of the principal is to stand, not as merely the speaker of words, but rather as the authority or the one whose position is established and identified by the words. The principal is not necessarily an authority figure, but rather someone who is committed to the words and who makes a connection between himself or herself and the words spoken. Together, these form the “production format” of the utterance.

Changing footing is not so easy as simply and mechanically dropping one context and assuming another, but rather, holding the old context in abeyance with the potential to be reengaged.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorGoffman, Erving
TitleForms of Talk
Tagsspecials, sociology, performance
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Mitchel Resnick: Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams

[Readings] (03.15.09, 5:52 pm)

Principally, this book is about emergence and decentralization. Resnick is heavily influenced by Papert (who both was an adviser and writes the foreword). Thinking in terms of autonomous agents suggests a new paradigm of AI and pedagogy. The central foundation and observation is that things tend to organize themselves, and they are not organized by some centralized controller. Resnick explores how things organize themselves, and how to think about them.


The focus of this is decentralized systems and models. Many systems, flocks of birds, immune systems, ant colonies, market economies, and many others are decentralized. However, centralized models are pervasive, and tightly woven into our thinking. Most theories of how natural systems came to exist originated with the idea of some central control. These models are have been problematic and have often been demonstrably incorrect. Decentralized theories suggest that organized systems made of agents are composed such that the agents each have small and relatively simple rules, which when played out, tends toward organization.

Resnick suggests three points for studying these models: (p. 5)

  1. Probing people’s thinking: Investigating how people think about self-organizing behavior, and what sorts of models that people use to think about systems.
  2. Developing new conceptual tools: Coming up with heuristics and quantitative tools for thinking about decentralized systems without resorting to centralized models.
  3. Developing new computational tools: Study and test systems by building and playing with them. The substance of this is Resnick’s StarLogo.

Decentralization exists in many areas, and Resnick gives a listing of situations where decentralized systems exist and are important: organizations, technologies, scientific models, theories of self and mind, and theories of knowledge.


Resnick discusses StarLogo, a variant of Logo specifically oriented toward developing decentralized systems. StarLogo has lots of differences from Logo: there are dramatically more turtles, the turtles have senses, the space is organized in cells, these have local attributes, there are daemon processes, and means for describing rules on a general level. StarLogo includes built in commands and structures for interacting with a distributed system of agents using relatively simple instructions. The idea is to develop a pedagogically oriented approach to looking at decentralized systems. StarLogo visualizes and helps map from rules to emergent systems.

The use of construction is particularly relevant in the context of Papert’s constructionist influences. Constructionism is especially important in decentralized systems because these systems are both everywhere and tremendously misunderstood. The commonality of centralized approaches is problematic, but the reason for this is that centralized approaches are easy to understand, and we have a great deal of linguistic and conceptual tools for thinking about them. Decentralized systems are, on the contrary, unintuitive, and require simulation in order to observe and test.


Pedagogically, Resnick is interested in changing the emphasis from simulation to stimulation. He stresses thinking from the perspective of the agents within the system. He also stresses the concept of the microworld, as an experimental arena for testing ideas, rather than simulations, which are generally taken to be things based on reality. By de-emphasizing the realism, Resnick is able to open the microworlds to more freedom, openness, and experimentation. Resnick gives several examples of systems modeled by StarLogo: slime molds, ant colonies, traffic jams, and termites. The actual decentralized rules are startlingly simple. The listings of code are very short, but easily produce elegant behavior. These nonetheless suggest a significant cognitive leap from the intended system to the rules to generate that system.

Much like how Papert shows us that Logo and procedural knowledge tend to suggest an approach to mathematics that resembles calculus much more strongly than the types of math traditionally exposed to children, Resnick shows that distributed and decentralized models too lead to different models of mathematical concepts. This approach to math and geometry resembles the effects of fields and fluids, which are traditionally subjects first introduced to students in college (fluids usually late in undergraduate). That they should be so straightforward to represent using a Logo variant is nothing short of remarkable.


The centralized method of thinking is pervasive, and quickly invoked in guessing models of phenomena. It is integrated into other metaphors, language, and culture, especially in terms of leadership. This is also woven into goal and planning based models of behavior. Planning is integrally about centralized organization. In his conclusion, Resnick gives five bullets that describe characteristics of centralized models: (p. 134)

  • Positive feedback isn’t always negative. Positive feedback often plays an important role in creating and extending patterns and structures.
  • Randomness can help create order. Most people view randomness as destructive, but in some cases it actually helps make systems more orderly.
  • A flock isn’t a big bird. It is important not to confuse levels. Often people confused the behaviors of individuals and the behaviors of groups.
  • A traffic jam isn’t just a collection of cars. It is important to realize that some objects (“emergent objects”) have ever-changing composition.
  • The hills are alive. People often focus on the behaviors of individual objects, overlooking the environment that surrounds the objects.

This last point is especially noteworthy, especially in terms of cognitive models. Situation and environment are crucially important, and the emphasis on simple rules implies that cognition and decision making can effectively be pushed into the environment.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorResnick, Mitchel
TitleTurtles, Termies, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds
Tagsemergence, simulation, specials
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More on games and adaptations

[Research] (03.12.09, 5:12 pm)

This web site is becoming more and more a repository for accumulating research notes. I spoke with Celia earlier today, and she pointed me to her interview with Louis Castle. For those who are not in the know, Louis Castle is faculty at USC, but was one of the founding members of Westwood Studios, the ones responsible for the original Command and Conquer series.

The interview discusses game adaptations among other things, and what adaptations are and should be about. Castle describes several of the adaptations that he would like to make, and the core of these is about recreating some of the important emotional and aesthetic experiences found in the original work, as well as recreating, to some extent, what the work is about. Castle’s focus is on the emotional reaction to the world, rather than the mechanics of the world, and this is an interesting point of difference between his process and the ideas that I have. It raises an interesting question of how related the two things are. Certainly, there are ranges of intersections, there can be a game that communicates the mechanics without the emotional connections, but I can not say whether it is possible to have a genuine emotional adaptation without adapting the mechanics.

In his discussion of the Blade Runner game, Castle describes the process of adapting the film into a game. In my impression, his goal of adapting the emotional experience led to a very particular interpretation of the world’s model and mechanics. I can’t say whether it is successful as an adaptation (because I have not played the game), but it was at least a very successful game on its own. Castle has reservations about how successful it was as an adaptation, because, he argues, the film noir genre is impossible to bring into the game, because the genre requires an incorporation of failure, something that games have a great deal of difficulty integrating. Blade Runner as a work conveys an extremely evocative and rich world, and thus is something I would argue would be represented very well by simulation, and this is exactly what Castle has done.

Pride and Prejudice (BBC Miniseries)

[Readings] (03.11.09, 9:24 pm)

The BBC adaptation makes a fairly accurate adaptation of the Pride and Prejudice novel. Because the show was produced as a miniseries, it was able to include most of the significant content without doing much compression.

The series is notable as a having reformatted the presentation of the story to be more inclusive of the perspective of Darcy. One of the notable scenes that involves changes is the scene wherin Darcy appears unexpectedly at Pemberly. Before he arrives, we see him fencing, and then leaving he shakes his fist and says “I will conquer this!” When he does arrive, we see him diving into the pond, a gesture of escape from the pressure and burden of authority. These scenes are noted in Wiltshire. Both are total fabrications, arguably pushing the series into a narrative frame more familiar to contemporary audiences. The scene where Darcy dives into the water supplants (or rather, augments) the scene where Elizabeth views Darcy’s portrait and sees his smile, causing her to rethink her original first impressions of him. The narrative emphasis in the series is on the audience’s discovery of Darcy’s sudden release of reserve, rather than the reader’s discovery, alongside Elizabeth, through the viewing of the portrait.

Filmic and visual language are also used to communicate much that is normally simply narrated in the text. This is most significant when put alongside scenes where Austen gives us glimpses into the inner minds of the characters via her distinctive free indirect speech. Instead of a voiceover or verbal description, there is a presentation of the character, usually as a close up, where we see significant emotional expressions. The view given this way is more distant, and thus justifies some of the fabricated scenes where the audience is allowed more of a view of Darcy’s character than would be originally present in the book.

Many lines of dialogue were also necessary to fill in the spaces that were subject to extreme narrative compression in the text of the novel. Very frequently, Austen gives the reader an important line of dialogue that occurs between two characters, but without any context or setting for it. Mrs. Bennett’s announcement to her husband of Bingley’s arrival is introduced in the novel simply with: ‘”My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”‘ The discussion that follows takes place in the series while the family walks from the parish church to their house at Longbourn. This presents a much more concrete picture of the events, whereas in the novel there is no context given at all. The daughters are not visbly present, and their whereabouts and the privacy of the conversation are left ambiguous. This ambiguity is removed in the series. Austen’s authorial and famous opening line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Is moved from the space of commentary about the world into an actual line spoken by Elizabeth.

The introduction of new lines of dialogue becomes very significant in scenes for which there is no actual text other than Austen’s summarization of what was said. In Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, the novel gives him his opening line, but the rest of his proposal is simply summarized. Austen tells us of Darcy’s reservations regarding Elizabeth’s inferior family and class, but we are left to speculate as to what it is that was actually said. The BBC series again was required to fill in his proposal in detail, to mention every detail about Darcy’s reservations, in such a way as to shock and disgust the viewer.

Many of the scenes incorporate new content, depictions and reifications of the events in the world of the novel. In the series, we see the shifting gazes between the characters during the various social events. The movement and grouping of the characters is carefully rendered, even when little information is given about this in the text. One of the arguable reasons for the textual omissions is that the actual written part of the novel explains what is not ordinary, and what can not be assumed or taken for granted. The omissions, therefore, can be taken for granted. Because the level of detail of the visual medium is so great, something must fill their place, and for that, the production must substitute something. They are afforded by this, though, to emphasize things that were alluded to in the text but could not be presented, for instance, the cold austerity of Rosings, the tastefulness of Pemberly, Darcy’s smile, and Elizabeth’s bewitching eyes.

All these changes, the differences between the novel and miniseries, I believe are not to be repudiated, but are inevitable consequences of adaptation. Both the novel and the miniseries have their own freedoms and constraints from their respective media. It is the role of the adapter to find a means of mapping those elements which may be unique to the source medium to analogous versions in the target medium. It is worth thinking at this point about how these elements might be translated into the format of a game.

Linda Hutcheon reminds us that having experienced a visual adaptation of a text, is difficult to strike that vision from one’s imagining of the text, and that furthermore, one’s perception of the text is fundamentally altered. I must admit that I saw the miniseries before I read the book, and that the experience of watching it was most strongly motivated me to choose it for the adaptation project. As such, the adaptation that I am planning on doing is likely to be at least as much inspired by the miniseries as the novel. The visual language of the miniseries is powerful, exceedingly effective, and a good subject for adaptation into the game. What strikes me as the most significant is the visual presentation of social etiquette (from Elizabeth and Jane’s politely reserved greetings to Lydia’s shouting), to the navigation between conversational clusters (during the Netherfield ball), and to the important role of attention and gaze (exchanged between Elizabeth and Darcy). These are layers that are not only primarily indirect or absent in the book, but also are spaces for meaningful engagement and participation. These layers are fully consistent with the social and moral world of Austen, and the central themes of Pride and Prejudice itself. My point is that where the BBC miniseries adds, it serves to complete the model.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBBC miniseries
TitlePride and Prejudice
ContextFilm adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Notable for iconic charactarization and techniques to represent literary elements.
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials
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Nancy Drew games

[Readings] (03.11.09, 1:44 pm)

I’ll have to admit to start with that I am probably not qualified to do real writing about Nancy Drew. I am not all that familiar either with the many series of books or with mysteries in general, but I will do my best at examining this in context. I wanted to look at HerInteractive‘s Nancy Drew games, because they are important examples of game adaptations, and because they are aimed toward a female audience. In looking at these games, there were several factors that stood out as immediately important. The first is that the Nancy Drew books are mystery novels, and as such, operate according to some formal structure. The games themselves fall squarely under the category of adventure games, which is a genre that has its own conventions, forms, and structures. The transformation of Nancy Drew from novel to game, I believe, is primarily a transition between the mystery genre to the adventure genre, mapping the means of investigation and finding clues from the novel to the game.

The games themselves are surprisingly long, requiring considerable time investment, even given walkthroughs. I played two of them, “Message in a Haunted Mansion” and “The Secret of the Old Clock”, the latter of which is based on the very first Nancy Drew book, which was originally published in 1930, and then again in 1959. Message was set in an old house in San Francisco, which was being restored into a bed and breakfast, but was subject to many construction accidents. Gradually, Nancy discovers that there might be hidden treasure, and uncovers that the supposed haunting is fake. Clock was actually set in 1930, and Nancy had access to her car in order to do errands around the town, and finally to perform a car chase at the game’s climax. The historical tone was constantly alluded to, in terms of characters, dress, and allusions to the upcoming Great Depression.

The gameplay in both of these consist of a point-and-click user interface, where Nancy can move about environments by clicking arrows indicating where to go, and clicking to interact with objects. Interaction with other characters is done one-on-one, and, interestingly, also over the telephone. While Nancy is not able to perform the adventures with her friends (although in a later game, I think that one of Nancy’s friends can come along), she is able to call her friends and also her family, who she can talk to about not only the events and characters, but can also petition for advice and hints. Conversation is given with a standard multiple choice dialogue tree, and is spoken via voice actors. The voice acting is a major part of the games, and is used to account for a diversity of characters. Clues are found by looking around, interacting with everything that can be interacted with (indicated by changes in the mouse cursor), and by picking up everything that can be taken. In short, the game follows the standard adventure game mechanics.

In addition to finding clues by looking for them in rooms, frequently the player must wait for other characters to leave, in order to sneak around them and find out what they were looking at. A major emphasis on the mystery aspect of the game is that anyone can be a suspect, and that everyone can be hiding things. Frequently, in addition to looking around, the player must solve puzzles or minigames. These tend to be simple logic puzzles, tile puzzles, word games, or deciphering codes. These types of puzzles seem to be very common in adventure games, but to the best of my knowledge, are rare in mystery novels. Clues and items can be given as tokens or rewards as a result of completing these puzzles, as well as by doing other forms of sneaking about.

The Nancy Drew games are different from most adventure games in their rigorous emphasis on voice acting, as well as the social connections. Much of what takes place is focused on the history of the environments, and the nature of the characters. There is less emphasis on action, so much as discovery and uncovering reasons. It would be possible to see the Nancy Drew games as female play environments that are halfway through the play town and the secret garden. There is an emphasis on inward directed exploration, of learning more about the space in which the game takes place, and also as a setting for interacting with different other characters and understanding their relationships and attitudes toward each other. Similarly, personal danger is a threat, but not so common a threat as in many other adventure games. It is possible for Nancy to die in some of the games, but most of the failure conditions come from the player breaking rules either explicitly given, or of social conduct. For instance, Nancy can get caught snooping around in someone else’s property, or raising attention to her invasion of another’s privacy, and this could lead to her getting in trouble and getting kicked out by the people who invited Nancy there in ther first place. When the villian is found, a climactic scene will follow where Nancy must do the right thing otherwise the villian will get away. What is important in this is the emphasis on the social nature of risk and reward, where failure leads to embarrassment or ostracism, instead of bodily harm.

The games follow a pattern of introductory exploration, then investigation into history. Early on, the cast of relevant characters are introduced, and then gradually their roles in the history of the mystery become evident. The first half contains a number of side activities, following events or false leads that may not be directly related to the final plot itself. As with all Nancy Drew stories, there is always some paranormal force that appears to be at work, but it always turns out to be a hoax. The false nature of the paranormal is discovered in the second half of the story, where the real focus becomes on finding out what the real cause of the problems is. Additionally, several dramatic points are highlighted in the course of the story, until some major thing occurs and the period leading up to the climax if focused on putting the pieces of the central mystery together. Eventually, the game reaches a moment where Nancy is about to discover the truth, and it is immediately after this point that the villian’s identity becomes known, and Nancy must do something to stop them. I do not know the books well enough to account for parallels, but I strongly suspect that this dramatic arc is the same if not similar to that of the mystery books.

There is a lot more to say about this in the context of fictional adaptation, but I need to read some of the novels before I can really comment on that in full.

Reading Info:
TitleNancy Drew games
Tagsgames, feminism, adaptation, specials
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Wayne Booth: The Rhetoric of Fiction

[Readings] (03.08.09, 11:02 pm)

Booth’s seminal work looks at fiction as rhetorically oriented. That is, that it serves to persuade, to make a point. In the preface, he cautions the reader that he is not interested in didactic fiction, which is explicitly intended to be rhetorical, but rather ordinary and conventional fiction. The bulk of what is discussed are novels, although many of his arguments can be extended beyond the form of the novel alone. Booth is aware, seemingly painfully so, of the arbitrary isolation of technique from the dynamic of authors and readers. That is, Booth isolates technique as the intentional and motivated product of the author, something which is in contrast to someone like Barthes, who challenges the primacy of the author’s intent. This analysis of technique is cautiously done, not posing the author’s voice and ideas as absolute, but the careful hand that guides the intercourse between the author and the reader.

Telling and Showing

The substance of this chapter is the role of telling and showing within authorship. Early narratives speak in an authoritative and absolute voice, leaving little room fo the questions or doubts of the reader. One can see this absolutism in biblical narratives, as well as in classical epics, such as Homer’s Odessey. These works convey as absolute fact, without perspective the events described. Internal views are given revealing information unknowable even about one’s closest friends. These views are presented factually and not as the products of any one person or character’s perceptions, simply as facts. Modern narratives tend to offer internal perspectives. This is regarded in theory, clumsily, as the difference between telling and showing. Showing requires a perspective, and transfers the burden of judgement from the author to the reader. It is the role of the reader to interpret and judge the characters and events as they are seen, rather than being told how to feel. However, even in this view, the author’s role is significant in terms of what to tell, in what depth and what light to tell it. Just as the cinematic lens is neither neutral nor objective, the author’s showing of a narrative does not make it impartial. The line between showing and telling is arbitrary, as the author always imposes some sort of perspective.

General Rules, I: “True Novels Must Be Realistic”

Booth discusses realism, and the tendency of criticism of fiction to establish a dogmatic order of genres. This dogma imposes hard boundaries and requirements and constraints between what may be permitted to be classified as what. What is a novel? What is a romance? A book may fail as a novel but succeed as a romance, and so on. These boundaries form a system of “great traditions” that define the criteria and lineage of the literary genres and forms. “The novel began, we are told, with Cervantes, with Defoe, with Fielding, with Richardson, with Jane Austen–or was it with Homer? It was killed by Joyce, by Proust, by the rise of symbolism, by the loss of respect for–or was it the excessive absorption with?–hard facts. No, no, it still lives, but only in the work of…. Thus, on and on.” (p. 36) Such dogmas are hostile to pluralistic (as per Frye) and general systems of genres; they are about authorizing works, and giving them legitimacy.

There are three general categories of judging fiction, in traditional criticism. The work itself: the arbitrary imposition of standards which range from “realism” to “purity.” The author: who must be either objective and detached, or present and engaged. The reader: Who may be either detached or immersed, passive or critical. These are discussed in this and the following two chapters.

The realist agenda of conveying the fictional world in excessive and weighty detail eventually becomes taken to an extreme with Sartre, who suggests that not only should the author be objective and impartial, but should seem not to even exist. Otherwise, the fictional characters will seem to be puppets, and by denying the author’s role and existence, the characters are given some form of independence from the control of the author. This view is essentially simulationist, but Booth points out that the characters are really not free from the author’s influence. I would go so far as to say that the independence is illusory, and that the author’s simulation is still explicitly composed. Instead of writing the plots of the characters, the author writes the rules of the simulation. The influence is still present, but it is less visible and covert.

The modern novel (in Booth’s timeline, the novel of the mid 20th century) is a system of simulation, where the story tells itself free of intrusion. But this neutrality and objectivity is still false, as the author still takes on the role of determining what is dramatized versus curtailed. Booth explains that this practice is the art of authorship, and his interest is in the criticism and judgement of the author’s skill in this practice.

General Rules, II: “All Authors Should Be Objective”

This section addresses the idealized objectivity of the author. Objectivity is treated not as in inevitable consequence, or as a natural thing, but rather as an aesthetic, a goal to which one should strive. The goal in this program is impartiality, an emphasis on fairness, but this is arbitrary and necessarily absurd. Why do novels need to be fair? Authors inevitably take sides. Subjectivism at its extreme can ruin a novel, though. Booth draws a distinction between the author and the implied author, who is not the same as the literal one, but becomes the voice of the narration in the text. It is the implied author who the reader hears, and whose opinions and judgments are read. The author may speak through the implied author, but Booth emphasizes a separation between these. After all, the implied author’s stated opinions may be the opposite of the author’s, the contrast used for ironic commentary. The implied author may be seen in an interactive medium as made up as the rules that underly the world, which is what directly conveys or denotes how things work and occur. These rules may not be how the real author literally imagines the world to work, but is the perspective of mechanics through which the user engages with the world. Booth sees the subjectivity of the implied author as the stuff of real fiction: “The emotions and judgments of the implied author are, as I hope to show, the very stuff out of which great fiction is made.” (p. 86)

General Rules, III: “True Art Ignores the Audience”

Classical criticism puts the novel as a “pure art,” that is, one which ignores the audience. Booth criticises both the feasibility and the desirability of such an agenda. The idea of the work as neutral and self-sufficient, not requiring the support or interest of readers to stand on its own, is a half-truth if not an outright falsehood. Actual authorship must involve acknowledement of both the author and the reader. Aristotle makes the argument that drama should use as little rhetoric as possible, but the dimension of authorial communication is to reproduce in the reader some intended reception or understanding of an event or scene, but this is not possible without some use of rhetoric.

General Rules, IV: Emotions, Beliefs, and the reader’s Objectivity

If the novel is to be seen as non-rhetorical, then the reader must have some distance from it, but, on examination, distance is a difficult and problematic concept. Literary interest and distance can be distinguished into several kinds: (1) Intellectual or cognitive, where the reader is intellectually curious about the facts or true interpretation of a scene. (2) Qualitative, Where the reader is interested in seeing a pattern or development completed. (3) Practical, where the reader desires success for loved characters, punishment for disliked ones, as well as hope and fear. This last category is the most human, while the rest seem somewhat more artificial. There is a such thing as intellectual interest, or a desire for completion of qualities, where there is a genuine desire for knowledge or wholeness, which is something of the completion of an aesthetic arc. The pleasure of the satisfaction of qualities is akin to the resolution of a model, or a completion of a puzzle, where everything falls into place.

Booth gives four examples of qualities that can be completed: Cause and effect, where the reader wishes to see the effect of a cause, to see the impact of some sort of perturbation of a norm. Conventional expectations, where the reader knows how a thing will end, but wishes to see it performed and enacted out. Abstract forms, such as balance and symmetry, where the reader takes pleasure in the formal events of the narrative. “Promised” qualities, which are things such as irony, profundity, and so on.

Fulfillment in fiction depends on desires and expectations. There are realistic portrayals and melodramatic ones, the real issue is what the reader cares about. “There is a pleasure from learning the simple truth, and there is a pleasure from learning that the truth is not simple. Both are legitimate sources of literary effect, but they cannot both be realized to the full simultaneously.” (p. 136) authorship is thus a determination of what to include or exclude, and what to simplify, much like the process of building a model.

The communication between the author and the reader is about establishing a common ground, and developing a consistent model. Shakespeare’s world or model, for instance, relies on several core assumptions: “Shakespeare requires us to believe that it is right to honor our fathers, and that is wrong to kill off old men like Lear or grind out the eyes of men like Gloucester. He insists that it is always wrong to use other people as instruments to one’s own ends, wheter by murder or slander, that it is good to love, but wrong to love selfishly, that helpish old age is pitiable, and that blind egotism deserves punishment.” (p. 141) Models are not uniform, and rejection of some elements will cause one to be frustrated in a work. “Bennett asks us, in short, to accept Sophia as a good though foolish person, and Gerald as a bad and foolish one. If we approve of Gerald’s behavior in spite of Bennett’s efforts, if we detest self-pitying, ignorant young girls, or if, to move in the other direction, we refuse to pity an unmarried young woman who gives a “burning response” to “ardent” kissing in a hotel room, we can hardly react as Bennett intends.” (p. 146) Thus, to convey a message, the athor and reader must have some shared beliefs or assumptions.

Types of Narration

There are many modes of narration, but there are listed five forms of discourse effected by those modes. These forms of distance establish a relationship between the narrator, implied author, characters, and the reader. These elicit different kinds of familiarity, alienation, and endorsement by the logic of who is associated with or distant to whom.

  1. The narrator may be more or less distant from the implied author, and this distance may be moral, intellectual, or temporal.
  2. The narrator may be more or less distant from the characters. The narrator may differ intellectually, morally, temporally, from them and their norms.
  3. The narrator may be more or less distant from the reader and the reader’s norms. This distance may be physical, emotional, moral.
  4. The implied author may be more or less distant from the reader, a distance which may be intellectual, moral, or aesthetic. A book that expects the reader to accept and share these values is likely to not be well received by its audience.
  5. The implied author (carrying the reader along) may be more or less distant from the other characters. Distances can also be seen to fluctuate, where a character might alternate between sympathetic and unsympathetic.

Distance in Emma

Booth discusses Jane Austen’s Emma as an important and striking example of how rhetoric is used to guide the reader’s interpretation of the character of Emma. My notes are not comprehensive, but summarise a few important notes. Emma is a challenging work because of the issue of sympathy. Her character in most cases is unsympathetic and her flaws are frustrating. To create sympathy for readers, Austen reveals Emma’s penitence after each breach of irresponsible behavior. The character of Jane Fairfax is given as a much more sympathetic and heroic character, which is interesting because there is a fictional continuation that tells the story of Emma from Jane’s point of view. In Emma, there is a conflict between drama and irony. Drama requires a showy and sudden dispersal of mystery at a climax. Ironic drama requires revealing the mystery earlier, so that the character’s discovery of the error and misreadings are all the more pleasing.

The Morality of Impersonal Narration

Booth concludes by discussing the important question of why write at all. This is especially significant in the study of adaptation. “The ultimate problem in the rhetoric of fiction is, then, that of deciding for whom the author should write. We saw earlier that to answer, “He writes for himself,” makes sense only if we assume that the self he writes for is a kind of public self, subject to the limitations that other men are subject to when they come to his books. Another answer often given is that the writes for his peers.” (p. 396) The peers are therefore the audience of readers who are liable to share the author’s underlying assumptions about the world, and are liable to be persuaded by the arguments elicited by the fiction. However, the readers do not simply come into being as peers, but they generally become peers by virtue of reading. The author makes the readers, creates his peers by crafting a work which the readers have never seen before.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBooth, Wayne
TitleThe Rhetoric of Fiction
ContextBooth explains that fiction is intrinsically about rhetoric on the part of the author. This supports the casting of fiction as modeling.
Tagsfiction, specials, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Roger Caillois: Man, Play, and Games

[Readings] (03.07.09, 5:27 pm)

The Definition of Play

Caillois opens immediately in reference to Huizinga, that Huizinga’s concept of play is enormously influential and important, but also lacking. Huizinga’s work Homo Ludens was important in two respects: it sought to develop an exact definition of play, and it also attempted to establish the role of play as essential within culture. This aim is laudable, especially in the sense of legitimizing play and establishing it as a cultural foundation. However, Huizinga’s definition is both too broad and too narrow. The definition is too narrow because it focused entirely on competitive games, and conspicuously neglected other forms of play, most notably games of chance. Secondly, the definition is too broad because it describes the secret and mysterious as being in a sense equivalent to play practice.

Caillois gives a set of bullets that define the formal qualities of play. He gives an emphasis to rules in all kinds of play, and acknowledges that while playing with dolls and other forms of unstructured play do not have formal rules, they are still governed by a make-believe “as if”. This “as if” function replaces and is equivalent to the function of formal rules in other forms of play. I think that this is arguably a kind of simulative logic, that the rules of make-believe are the rules that govern the make-believe world. In childrens’ play, these are often very flexible and ephemeral, changing rapidly, but they do define a kind of boundary condition. At this point it is also important to make a note of the language, that the French word for play has the same root as the word for game, and they are not as readily distinguished as they are in English. What follow are Caillois’ formal qualities of play: (p. 9-10)

  1. Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;
  2. Separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
  3. Uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative;
  4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind; and, ecept for the exchange of property among the player, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;
  5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;
  6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life.

The Classification of Games

The bulk of what I am interested in here are the rubrics of play given by Caillois. His classification divides play into four main categories: agon (competition), alea (chance), mimicry (simulation), and ilinx (vertigo). Alongside these categories is an axis denoted by the directions of ludus and paidia. Roughly, in Caillois’ terminology, ludus means an emphasis on rules, while paidia is an emphasis on playfulness, although there is a little bit more to it than that. All of these cross between the play and games of adults and children, as well as between physical and mental forms. The four categories are not meant as exclusive and inseparable, in fact, Caillois gives examples of many types of hybrids between the categories. They are well thought of as elemental, they are not components, but they dimensions of any given game or form of play.

Agon is the competitive nature of play, and it is the form to which Huizinga gave the most attention. Agon depends on competition and oposition, so races, chess games, fencing, and any televised sport easily falls under this category. The point of agon is to have one’s superiority recognized, and this superiority maintains a culturally endowed significance outside of the space of the game. In physical conflicts, violence or harm is not the object, but simply superiority. Games of agon frequently require training and investment, to learn and master the rules, and master one’s own power within the game.

Alea is the element of chance, and in these games, it is destiny that governs the outcome. In games of alea, the player is passive, at least in terms of affecting the outcome. Partaking in games of alea is a sign of courage, as one invests and risks, and then waits anxiously for the outcome. The player in games of alea thus has none of the professionalism of the player of agon. The most prevalent forms of alea are games like roulette or lotteries. Card games where the player plays cards are a combination of alea and agon, because elements of competition and chance are predominant. Caillois explains “Agon is a vindication of personal responsibility; alea is a negation of the will, a surrener to destiny.” (p. 18)

Mimicry is about developing and participating in an imaginary universe. Both agon and alea enable a world where the rules of the game are sacred, within which the game is self contained. Mimicry is about becoming another, to participate within this illusory world. Mimicry is about becoming another character and behaving as that character, temporarily shedding one’s actual identity. Mimicry is found in animal behavior, but in animals (especially in insects), the alternate character is integrated into the body, is essentially a mask that presents the creature as something that it is not. Human mimicry is found in ritual and performance, as well as in make-believe. The simulated nature of make believe is the essence of spectacle, and lives on in the eyes of the witnesses in addition to the players. Agon is inherently spectacular (as to prove one’s superiority, there must be witnesses to acknowledge it), and thus players of agon become celebrities. Sports stars maintain a role as-player even outside of the game when dealing with fans. Mimicry exhibits all the formal characteristics of play except for the element of rules. It can be seen to have rules, but these are the rules of performance, which requires maintenance and cooperation of the imaginary world.

Ilinx is a topic described by Caillois that does not tend to have nearly as much attention as his other categories. This is the element of vertigo, and the pursuit of vertigo. Sports of pleasure, where the goal is the bodily experience, are derived from Ilinx. The kinds of examples given by Caillois are games of spinning, voladores, and are associated with vertigo, panic, and hypnosis. I think that this category could easily be seen to include skiing, bungee jupmping, skydiving, driving cars very fast, sex, rollercoaster rides, drug use, mountaineering, dancing, and so on. The pursuit of vertigo from a lucid state is extremely common. Unlike mimicry, where the goal is to don a mask and participate in an imaginary world, the goal of ilinx is to touch a trans-sensual world at the limits of human perception through a visceral and bodily experience. Ilinx and alea are common in that they involve a submission of oneself to forces outside of one’s control. Gamblers often describe their experiences as being totally intoxicating. This can also be seen as a common thread with mimicry, where, having donned a mask, one submits oneself to that masks power (as described by Johnstone). Ilinx can be easily compared to the joy of immersion, where the goal is a sensually captivating experience of being in a world, often being lost within it.

Paidia is defined with some reservation and difficulty. Paidia corresponds to the basic level of freedom within play. Rules and freedom have an antithetical relationship, because play is dependent on rules, but simultaneously is about freedom from rules. Paidia is that dimension of freedom. It is tied integrally to the feeling of pleasure and joy. Pidia is spontaneous and wrapped up in the experience of sensation and response. Developmentally, childrens’ play is paidia (as the word paidia itself implies), but gradually it moves to take on rules, to structure the experience of play, and in doing so play bifurcates from a single activity into the many forms of agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx.

Ludus works very differently. As defined, it is a desire to find amusement in arbitrary obstacles. This is a definition that leads to the sense of what games are, but the definition alone does not imply it immediately. The existence of the obstacle is what is intrinsic to ludus. The intensity of ludus defines the significance and importance of the obstacle, which leads to more structure. Caillois stresses that agon and ludus are not the same thing, though they may have correlation. There are two things that must be stressed about ludus. The first is that it is wrapped up in the idea of amusement. The amusement in overcoming the obstacle is integral. The imposition of an obstacle is not enough to make ludus; there must be pleasure as well. The second thing is that the obstacle is arbitrary. This arbitrariness becomes surprising sometimes when the absurdities of some games are brought to attention, for instance the restrictions on what parts of the body can used to touch the ball in ball games, or the role of the costume in theatre, or the significance of the roulette wheel in gambling. Ludus is how importance and meaning is endowed onto the space of objects within the magic circle and the world of the game.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorCaillois, Roger
TitleMan, Play, and Games
Tagsspecials, media traditions, games
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Games and Adaptations

[Research] (03.07.09, 2:33 pm)

Linda Hutcheon looks at an adaptation as a work that borrows or references another work while drawing attention to its influence. She sees adaptations as separate from sequels, in that the desire is different. A sequel or prequel or a fanfiction is a desire to continue the world and not let it end. I must disagree on this point. Mainstream games are works that tend to be either sequels or adaptations of films. There is additionally another phenomenon that is more frequent given the technological development in games, and that is the remake. A remake is less a sequel than an adaptation, but within the same medium and context, sometimes with more bells and whistles and so on. I think that all of these, remakes, adaptations, and sequels, are instances of the same phenomenon of continuing a text. This is Gideon Toury’s notion of breathing life into the text. (Although, admittedly, in this age the lives of games are increasingly short.)

Very frequently with game sequels, a plot may be developed and continued (as per literary sequels), but the essence of the game, the mechanics, are adapted. They are adapted to new content, they are adapted to new systems, platforms, and technologies, and they are adapted to new interface conventions. The “text” of the gameplay rules and mechanics is clearly an adaptation and not a sequel. Several interesting phenomena occur in game adaptations, especially in connection to the corpus of game-related films. I say game-related because there are a large body of films that have been adapted into games, and also a large body of films that have been adapted from games. Frequently the members of this latter category are deplored by critics and fans alike, but they take on interesting functions in terms of continuing the world.

A good example is the Silent Hill series published by Konami. Silent Hill is now officially in its fifth installment, but there has also been a PSP game, a comic book, and a film. The nature of the games is that they are not sequels that follow the same characters, but instead present different characters experiences in the nightmarish world of Silent Hill, and giving different perspectives on the same mythology. Both the film and the comic reinvent the mythology itself. They adapt and change not only the plot (which is not surprising, given the diversity of plots of the games), but also the underlying themes of the world. What is most fascinating though, is how the film (which was released after the fourth installment of the game) became a clear influence on the fifth, borrowing at least a couple of visual effects and devices that were used in the film. What is suggested by this is all of the works have something in common that is beyond the mythology alone, and this is an ur-mythology that conceptually links them together.

In addition to game and film adaptations, there are adaptations between game media. Some of the most common games that appear on every new computer that is bundled with Microsoft Windows, as well as on many handheld devices are games of solitaire. In this age of transmediation and media convergence, games appear on many different channels. For instance, World of Warcraft now has its own collectible card game and tabletop roleplaying game. It is also important to remember that Wolrd of Warcraft is a continuation of the original Warcraft franchise, so the mechanics have been adapted from real time strategy, to real time massively multiplayer, to turn based card game, to tabletop roleplaying. Common among these is not only themes and conventions, but also a particular reverence for the canon, the story of the world.

Game adaptations are not alone in their focus on canon. The hit TV series Lost, which is now in its 5th season (again, a work that has been heavily continued), has many sources that are interested in cataloging the canon of the show, and hypothesizing resolutions to the many mysteries that it presents. In addition to the television content, Lost has an alternate reality game that has created web sites for many of the fictional entities in the show, as well as Twitter feeds for the characters. Additionally, there is a video game released for the franchise, called “Lost: Via Domus”, that puts the player in the world, alongside the other characters, in effort to solve more of the mysteries independently. This game is very significant because it introduces a very different approach to the watcher/player’s engagement with the world of Lost. Interestingly, the game itself has been labeled by the authorities- the producers- as non-canon. The player-immersive experience, is thus an element excluded from what is given as the factual history of the show. More interestingly, the experience of playing a game, controlling an avatar thorugh a world, is an immersive experience. The type of experience given by the show, and its many media channels, is very different, this is an epistemophilic experience, not an immersive one. The epistemophilic experience is about learning the complete story about the world, as an external observer. The immersive experience is about being in the world, and learning about the world from within. All games tend to have a bit of both, and cultures around games will nurture both perspectives, but they are very different pleasures. I have not yet played Via Domus, but (being a glutton for punishment) I intend to, to see what it is about.

All of these give many different accounts of the adaptations of games, and the interaction between games and their surrounding contexts. I think that game sequels and the adaptations between the forms of games and between games and other media are different ways of continuing the world, either in terms of immersion or in terms of being able to comprehensively know and witness it. There is clearly not one way to make an adaptation, and certainly not one way to judge one. Of particular interest is the reverence, not for plot, but for canon. However, the space of games is fundamentally about interactivity, and in a sophisticated interactive world, cannon must be broken. Games thus exist at an uneasy junction between fixed factuality andinteractive freedom.

Conversation Minigame

[Research] (03.06.09, 5:22 pm)

Right now I am working on a prototype of a conversation game. Basically, since my adaptation project is focused on a literary world where there is so much dialogue, it is important to look at possible dialogue mechanics right away. I have some ideas as to how the mechanics should work, and the point of this exercise is to test it and see if 1) it makes sense, and 2) if it is fun to play.

The system as it stands allows characters to perform “discourse actions” which are simple spoken acts. Discourse actions have parameters as well, so a discourse action is essentially what one says, and the parameters are how one says it. Discourse actions can leave expectations, so the speaker makes an inquiry, then the listener is expected to respond and give some sort of answer. Expectations can be satisfied in a variety of ways, some ways are more conventional than others. The key differentiation in how they are satisfied is the level of awkwardness. So, disagreement is always a little awkward, but pausing or gossiping in attempt to change the topic of conversation is much more awkward, and usually considered rude.

This is what I have now, the next steps are going to be figuring out how to encode the conversation state, and how the different discourse actions and their parameters affect it. Then it will be a matter of figuring out how to execute goals and create conflicting goals in characters.

However, over the course of working on this, I discovered something interesting. Most conversation has a straightforward pattern and expectations are largely followed through. Most of the characters will do this, but not always. Occasionally characters will instead repeatedly not say what is expected of them, or rearrange or divert or misdirect the conversation. This is particularly noticable in the case of the in-dance conversation that Elizabeth and Darcy have in the Netherfield ball scene in Pride and Prejudice. There seems to the the root of a general game mechanic in this. There are two types of conversation, mundane conversation and intelligent conversation. Mundane is a “safe bet” but is unlikely to get one very far. Intelligent conversation is much more potentially rewarding, but is much more risky. A character can be good or bad (at least in terms of producing their desired effects) through the different kinds of conversation. Well executed intelligent conversation raises one’s status (which becomes a currency), but failures lead to embarrassment and status loss.

  • Elizabeth and Darcy both use intelligent conversation and are good at it.
  • Bingley, Jane, the Gardeniers, and others tend to be mundane, and are good at it.
  • Mr. Collins is mundane and bad at it.
  • Caroline Bingley uses intelligent conversation, but is bad at it (or at least, is not as good as others).

Watchmen and adaptation

[General] (03.05.09, 10:25 am)

So, I mentioned earlier about how Alan Moore’s views of adaptation are primarily author-centric, about how as an author, he wishes to have exclusive control and power over what happens with his work. This perspective is fundamentally at odds with an audience/reader centric view, where adaptation is an inevitable process in reader’s exploration of works. I generally think that the latter view is more important, because, once a work is released, the author no longer has control over what readers make of it. However, there is a point about this that is prickly for me, and that is about aesthetics. While many adaptations can and will be made of works, I do not think that every such adaptation should be considered equally, or given endorsement simply because of their connection to the original work. I think that there is a criteria for judging adaptations, and looking at them critically.

For example:

On the subject of Alan Moore, I discovered today that his book Watchmen, having been adapted into film, is being adapted into a game. It doesn’t stand to be a very good game. More to the point, the film itself frustrated adapters to no end. Even Terry Gilliam, who attempted to adapt the comic into film twice acknowledged that it could not be done. I haven’t seen the film yet, or seen any of the media surrounding the game, but I think it is a good candidate for thinking about what goes into a critical aesthetics of adaptation.

In terms of games, anyway, my theory is that to adapt a work, its world and model must be interpreted, and then reconstructed in the new medium. Criticism would probably occur on first the level of interpretation, and then on the reconstruction.

Although, maybe this is the wrong idea. Maybe we should be looking at this from the gloomy eyes of Adorno, Benjamin, or Greenberg, that we are living in a culture industry where new ideas are reproduced and disassembled into capital. That’s a cheery thought.

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