Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 19, 2008

more! machinima! (it’s quick, i promise.)

Filed under: Discussion — lindsaybrandon @ 3:17 am
Tags: , , ,

I realized today that I’d posted something pretty lengthy on Sunday without drawing in any of the readings for this week.  So I should do that.

As someone who lives for narrative, I’m always happy to see a great argument for the relatively peaceful co-existence—symbiosis, even—of narrative and database.  I’m particularly reassured by Kate’s argument that if narrative needs database (I’m visualizing them as two distinct entities, sort of like Bert and Ernie–Bert is obviously “database”) for the securing of information and authority in an increasingly “computationally intensive culture,” meaning-making remains the province of narrative, and isn’t co-opted, disabled or supplanted by the database (although I can imagine, in some contexts, its function being displaced).

In the debates I alluded to earlier about whether or not games can be profitably explored as narrative, the main arguments as I’ve understood them aren’t that games align more closely to database than they do to narrative, but that the act of play can’t be reduced to whatever story might result.  It might help, though, to think of the possibilities inherent in gaming—the sum of what’s provided for by the game’s engine and development–as something like a database, and the individual play experience as something like a narrative:  a particular combo-plate  that’s been called out of storage.  Although the words are new to me and that makes me a little timid, this is how I read Kate’s citation of Manovich asserting that “the database of choices from which narrative is constructed (the paradigm) is implicit, while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit” (Manovich 49).

Help, that is, to understand game play not posited as a form of narrative but rather as an exercise that may well involve—perhaps can’t help but produce—various narrative outputs, which themselves are not unrelated to the act of play.  We could look at machinima as such a product—with, I suppose, the understanding that there’s no requirement that machinima follow a narrative, though lots of them do.

I don’t know if the Robert Nideffer chapter in the Vesna book was one of the suggested selections, but I love this section:

“We might think of the game engine as a database interface, a mechamism through which a predetermined, relatively constrained collection of procedures and protocols are used to render a world and make it navigable in context.  If we wish to look at the game engine as a cultural artifact . . . then we must extend the boundaries of what strictly constitutes the game engine and posit the game player as not only a functional requirement of the engine, but also as its key constitutive element. . . .  We need to ask, and this is critical, what constitutes the database of the player” (219-220).

We take for granted that games give access to experiences and pleasures other than competitive play; just as some people’s favored World of Warcraft experience on any given day may have more to do with social activity than level advancement, maybe the way some people “play” WoW is to make movies out of it.

With that in mind—or some cocktail of this an my previous post—I’d like to look generally at Roosterteeth’s Red vs Blue series (try here or here).  Really, what I’m interested in is the genre rather than any given piece, and I’ll probably refer briefly to other pieces tomorrow, but a few RvB episodes should give you something to think about.  I’ll download one for play tomorrow, too, if we have time.

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