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The Magic of Interactive Digital Media. . . as ideology?

September 22, 2012

I’m absorbed these days with questions of how ludic artifacts can use their manifest interactivity (the thing that in my view differentiates them from non-ludic artifacts like traditional film and novel) to do new things. The examples are starting to pile up: BioShockNo Russian” in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and the controversial ending of Mass Effect are the examples that stand out for me among mainstream games thus far, but it definitely seems like games that actually use their interactivity in thematic ways are growing more frequent.

As a quirky, but I think very important side note, I found this piece by Alex Stone about the role of choice in the arsenal of a magician’s tricks very revelatory:

Another familiar force is known as Magician’s Choice, the equivoqué. The idea is to set up multiple paths to the same endpoint. In the simplest version, you deal two cards down on the table and ask the spectator to “remove” to one of them. If your volunteer removes to the card you want to force, you say “Ok, that’ll be yours.” If, however, the spectator points to the other card, you eliminate it, saying “Great, we’ll remove that one.” (Here you’re exploiting the ambiguity in the meaning of the word remove.) Either way the spectator winds up with the same card.

Two things spring to mind: “ludic” films like The Usual Suspects (along with ludic epics like, say, the Odyssey, and, more importantly to me at least, every narrative digital game ever that convinced you that you were making real choices. The great frontier of making this illusion of choice manifest to the player is the one I’m excited to think we’re facing, and I take hope that the makers of games will be able to do a very great range of thematic things with it from the incredible variety of forces (of this illusionist type) one finds in traditional works of art: from the different ways Shakespearean comedies end with a marriage to the construction of the forum of Augustus as a traditional Roman family-home.

I’m suggesting that ideology can be viewed as a magician’s force, and that the connection may mean that narrative games have access to the machinery of ideology in a way they’re only beginning to explore. Worth pondering, maybe.

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