January 30, 2005

One Idea about Narrative – [MLP]

There was an interesting editorial by Norman Mailer in the newspaper last week: PARADE Magazine | One Idea (Norman Mailer)--January 23, 2005. While he spends a little too much time praising the current educational reform effort, his "one idea" is the need to eliminate commercial interruptions on television, because they interrupt the narrative of the programs, and attention to narrative is an important part of reading literacy.

"In the early years of television, it was even hoped that the attention children gave to TV would improve their interest in reading. Indeed, it might have if TV, left to itself, consisted of uninterrupted narratives. That, of course, was soon not the case. There were constant interruptions to programs—the commercials." [emphasis mine]

I think this is an interesting argument with respect to interactive narrative and computer games as well. Computer games remain relatively free of commercial interruptions, so if there is something nice to be said about the narrative expressiveness of the form, it follows that computer games should encourage the type of concentration which will lead to improved literacy. Unfortunately I don't think there is much to be said for game narrative, and I also think that the economic disparity between those families who can afford computer game systems and those who cannot gives all the benefits to the former. Note that the so-called premium channels, where one can watch uninterrupted movies, require monthly subscription fees on the order of $600-1200 a year.

Posted by B Rickman at January 30, 2005 10:13 PM | TrackBack

Hmm, this jibes pretty well with the argument against cutscenes in games (an obvious argument I think, but worth saying nonetheless).

Posted by: andrew at January 31, 2005 01:04 PM

It does and it doesn't. Part of the cutscenes debate is the opposition of active/passive, and then considerations of the role of narrative and the role of interaction. If games were to provide narrative on par with a scripted drama then I think it would be easy to show the value of uninterrupted game narrative. But I don't see games doing much in the way of character development, or themes, or tropes, the things which would connect an appreciation of narrative to reading literacy.

Posted by: Brandon at January 31, 2005 01:51 PM

Actually I was thinking more of the idea of cutscenes in games might interrupt / disrupt the acquistion of procedural literacy. Cutscenes certainly corrupt the overall interactive experience, IMO, and could taint a player's understanding of what a "good" interactive experience could / should be.

Posted by: andrew at January 31, 2005 05:02 PM

If procedural literacy is a skill, then I would be hesitant to say something is good for or bad for acquisition of that skill. Most likely it simply requires a more advanced literacy to be able to appreciate the role of cutscenes in a game. Literacy is not a tool for criticism, it is a tool for understanding and appreciating the operations of a process.

As far as the cutscenes in GTA: San Andreas go, I don't have an opinion, if they merely establish mood and setting (which may be cause for complaint), or do they provide exposition and clues related to the player's task? Either way, the ability to sit through and decipher a cutscene is what procedural literacy enables you to do.

Posted by: Brandon at February 1, 2005 11:16 AM