THE DICTATORSHIP OF INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

Marie-Béatrice Vulin
Midterm Spring 94

NOTICE

According to the mass-media, entertainment is essential to our very nature. Entertainment gives a meaning to work, one must work in order to get the reward of entertainment; and a sense to life, the realization of oneself depends on successful entertainment. It democratizes the society. It is a right for everybody. A wide range of choice is offered from the cheapest to the most expensive. All wonderful, full of promise but unsatisfying, the ultimate pleasure is never reached. Always something new will come out. Salvation to boredom relies on belief in the boundless world of entertainment and therefore in the up-to-date of their technological media. Interactivity humanizes the relationship with the machine and the human bringing the illusion of "dialogue". The fantasy of a friendly robot becomes reality.

At first glance, new entertainment must seem revolutionary or even radical. A new life style is being creating reagardless the level of innovation. For example the old round screened 80's TV is taken over by a new squared angle and flat screen with multiple entries bringing home comfort and freedom of choice, five hundreds channels. The new design itself represents modernity. Individuals would dive into the delight of new commodities for a more radical experience: the reality of virtual worlds. Image and reality are merging together. Human being and technological commodities unite to create a perfect symbiotic cocoon. Each of them rely on each other through the umbilical cord offered by the technology of the "interactive" media. This endless consumption allows oneself to identify with the technology.

An advertisement displays a young woman and a young man. Black and white pictures catch the reader's eyes with their trendy look. Both characters are clean and well groomed, almost unreal in their attempt of representing the 90's youth. Their wide open eyes stare at the camera in a deep and persuasive glaze. A text explains the situations:

She: Don't lie to me

He: Please be honest.

Examining the advertisement the reader discovers the cutting-edge CD-ROM player. The language, the advertisement has chosen, is borrowed from the basic but volatile human assumption: trust cements the relationship. Then transposed to the machine, the CD-ROM player becomes the faithful friend incapable of betrayal. If a problem occurs, a 800 number will rescue the user solving the problem "honestly". Frankness occurs more easily interacting through beats of ones and zeros than in a human relationship. Indeed the latter is the most unpredictable.

In virtual reality games the body does not seem to have access to the experience anymore. The body has shifted from being the driver, user of tools to becoming the tool still useful to operate the new demiurge: the computer. Denying the body is denying time and space. This assumption leads to the conception of an eternal time and infinite space. Therefore interactive entertainment in virtual worlds sustains the myth of absolute freedom, the dream of endless conquests of new worlds. These concepts form the basis of western societies : democracy and colonization.

Paramount, Mattel, Blockbuster etc., the worldwide powers on imagery besides the World Bank, eager to introduce new sensations are using the word interactivity as their own true revolution of the end of the century. They give to myth and dreams a virtual reality and make them possible in the real world through the entertainment media. Action happens in real time. This spontaneous time transcends relativity to propel the human being in an other world whose one is the master and sometimes the pseudo-creator. This world of freedom gives the choice of electing A rather than B or C. Moreover, it allows to interact safely since the situation of the player will not be transformed fundamentally. The player would loose the game or beat the score already set-up by engineers. The essence of games involving only humans seems to use the constraints to transform the present situation in a non-established but accurate strategy. It supposes a chain of actions all dependent on each other. Victory is the accomplishment, a conscious realization. In the world of virtual entertainment consequences of actions belong to the old world since set-ups are frozen in a limited numbers of strategies. It is already assumed that the irreversible unpredictable is just an annoying waste of time, a threatening obstacle to a so well merchandised product.

Mattel has been educating people early on. Twenty years ago, Mattel released its first "Baby's First Data Base management System" called See'n Say designed to teach the alphabet. In the beginning children do not know the alphabet and "play" with it. They endlessly repeat the same commands: pointing images and pulling the lever to hear the voice which pronounces the corresponding word. "Kids love to pull the arrow and so they want to use the toy". Rich Gold, design manager of Mattel, chooses the word "use" instead of "play". Kids "use" the toy to make it play. The toy has an independent life existing as its own entertainment entity. Children enter in contemplation of the consumption's world of entertainment.

Furthermore the perspective of the active learning process is hidden under the neutral denomination toy. The real educational content already places kids under the dictatorship of a entertainment. It implies that the learning process must be unconscious and passive but the form of it pleasurable and immediate. It also imposes only one way of learning that is repeating the same things in the same order. The toy reflects the pitiless law of right or wrong, good or bad, one or zero which seems to rule American society, Hollywood movies and electronic language. Kids have to play without asking any questions. They have to accept the virtual voice or leave the toy. Once the alphabet is learned at school the toy would be totally useless. Nevertheless kids have understood the first consumer's rule: contemplative amazement and passive consumption of entertaining time keeps people young, maintains childhood for ever. Nintendo, "the new interactive TV" as some people say, knows this very well.

Interactive CD-ROM keeps the action on the experimentation level. The step-by-step electronic process: click, wait and see, click again or shoot again, places the user in a constant expectation of the next step. The interactive process allows the possibilities to go further or sometimes back giving the illusion to be "the master of time" without the possibilities of transforming the data into something else than the pre-established set up. With a limited number of possible keys, the so-promised endless freedom of choice fails. For example CD-ROM chasing games give only to the player the possibility to save ones life. Never does one have the possibility to be the first offender for instance. Indeed a moral dimension censures the possibility to start the fight. Killing is allowed for a worthy cause therefore it is assumed that the set-up represents automatically enemies. The player obeys the law of the score which increases or decreases. The player has been "hired" or hooked by the "boundless"game simply to kill, to watch , or to learn an uprooted knowledge. S/He must be the specialist of his/her function like workers in a factory whom nobody asks to be creative but efficient in their "specialized" task.

Coming back to the game, if s/he has a chance to triumph from hell's game, "it enables the player-in a microcosm- to get the instant gratification of being able to set and reach goals that the player could not attain in real life", says Johnny Wilson from Sega. It gives the possibility to be number one, to be a hero which fits in one of the greatest principles of the American society. The identification to a super-power, human or machine, being a hero has been well fed by Hollywood productions since the time when Hollywood has used the power of propaganda in movies.

Giving the illusion of power and freedom through virtual reality's game keeps people from their creative power. Worldwide companies caught in their megalomania impose their senseless way of playing, dreaming and existing. They are shaping differences and cultures in a flat screen of electronic beats.

Foolhardy the one who would refuse to go to the movies, watch TV or play CD-ROM games. Foolhardy the one who would ask for more than consuming but instead wish to create expressing new ideas in different forms. That is maybe the reason why it is impossible to find Greg Roach's CD-ROM The Madness of Roland, an interactive novel reliant on text. Speaking of his interactive movie: "we offer the player as much as freedom as we can in terms of exploration. At the same time, as filmmakers, we take the control. What we need to shape is the experience into a cohesive dramatic whole." G. Roach does not speak Hollywood's language, promising dream, escape and power. On purpose, the filmmaker is looking deliberately for a new way of interacting with the audience. He does not offer an endless freedom or a universal power but tries to give his vision different lights which together form a wholeness. A new form is applied on a real new discourse about the filmmaking itself. The spectator enters a much more complex universe where each step gives to see a part of a reality. Because the artist has a perspective, the player really starts to interact with the machine to discover the artist's "vision".

CD-ROM, used in an artistic manner, will represent our end of century in its attempt to create new worlds, contemporary mirrors of diversity and identity.


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