Tuesday, January 18, 2011

interactivity

What is interactivity?

Defined by the most modest of standards, interactivity is: acting on one another; act reciprocally (Webster's New World Dictionary: Third College Edition). However this definition was established prior to the evolution of what is now referred to as new media and prior to the popular recognition that games (of the old and new media variety) are in-fact, interactive. As these concepts have reframed the implication of what it is to interact, it is necessary to properly define them before we can qualify the term interactivity in their wake.

In Understanding New Media, Lev Manovich outlines five tendencies that serve as defining principles of new media:

1. Numerical Representation
All new media objects, whether created from scratch on computers or converted from analog media sources, are comprised of digital code; they are numerical representations...A new media object can be described formally (mathematically)...A new media object is subject to algorithmic manipulation. (pg. 27)

2. Modularity
Media elements, be they images, sounds, shapes, or behaviors, are represented as collections of discrete samples (pixels, polygons, voxels, characters, scripts). These elements are assembled into larger-scale objects but continue to maintain their separate identities. The objects themselves can be combined into even larger objects- again, without losing their independence. (pg.30)

3. Automation
The numeric coding of media (principle 1) and the modular structure of a media object (principle 2) allow for the automation of many operations involved in media creation, manipulation, and access. Thus human intentionality can be removed from the creative process, at least in part. (pg. 32)

4. Variability
A new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions. This is another consequence of the numeric coding of media (principle 1) and the modular structure of a media object (principle 2). (pg. 36)

5. Transcoding
In new media lingo, to "transcode" something is to translate it into another format. The computerization of culture gradually accomplishes similar transcoding in relation to all cultural categories and concepts. (pg. 47) Because new media is created on computers, distributed via computers, and stored and archived on computers, the logic of a computer can be expected to significantly influence traditional cultural logic of media... (pg. 46)

While this is an incredibly elementary treatment of Manovich's defining principles of new media, it suffices in providing us with a rough idea of what new media is.

What might it mean to "act reciprocally?"

Webster's New World Dictionary: Third College Edition, defines reciprocal as present or existing on both sides...equivalent or interchangeable; corresponding or complimentary. Thus for items to be considered reciprocals, therefore being able to act reciprocally in relation to one another, that they all must exist in a common context that allows them to act in interchangeable or complimentary roles. A number of items acting interchangeably, or in complimentary roles, within a common context could then be easily classified as a system.

In Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman outline four essential elements endemic to all systems as established in Stephen W. Littlejohn's Theories of Human Communication:

Objects are the parts, elements, or variables within the system.
Attributes are the qualities or properties of the system and its objects.
Internal relationships are the relations among the objects.
Environment is the context that surrounds the system. (pg. 55)

Furthermore, Salen and Zimmerman state that...something is interactive when there is a reciprocal relationship of some kind between two elements in a system. (pg. 58) This explains that the Earth and the Moon are, in-fact, interacting as two elements in a system, but that does not necessarily make them explicitly interactive in our media-centric framing of the concept. This opens the door to the possibility that there is a nodal approach to interactivity.

Rules of Play affirms this notion in advancing a Multivalent Model of Interactivity.

The model presents four modes of interactivity, or four different levels of engagement, that a person might have with an interactive system. (pg. 59)

Mode 1: Cognitive interactivity; or interpretive participation...This is the psychological, emotional, and intellectual participation between a person and a system. (pg. 59)

Are books interactive? Are paintings interactive? Is sculpture interactive? Such questions were fairly common to early discussions of media interactivity. Viewed through the lens of cognitive interactivity, the answer is "yes" as expounded on by this passage from Janet H. Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck:

As the literary theorists known as the "reader response" school have long argued, the act of reading is far from passive: we construct alternative narratives as we go along, we cast actors or people we know into the roles of the characters, we perform the voices of the characters in our heads, we adjust the emphasis of the story to suit our interests, and we assemble the story into the cognitive schemata that make up our own systems of knowledge and belief. (pg. 110)

Additionally in The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich expresses his concern of cognitive interactivity being casted aside for, or confused with, more physically visceral forms of interactivity.

...there is a danger that we will interpret "interaction" literally, equating it with physical interaction between a user and a media object (pressing a button, choosing a link, moving the body), at the expense of psychological interaction. The psychological processes of filling-in, hypothesis formation, recall, and identification, which are required for us to comprehend any text or image at all, are mistakenly identified with an objectively existing structure of interactive links. (pg.57)

In this light all media, new and old, is interactive. We are automatically incorporated into any system which we can conceptualize cognitively. Suddenly prehistoric food chains are as interactive as Pac-Man. While a powerful form of interactivity, this mode of intellectual and interpretive participation cannot be view as the defining qualification of the grouping we popularly refer to as interactive media of which games and new media are
The model presents four modes of interactivity, or four different levels of engagement, that a person might have with an interactive system. (pg. 59)

Mode 1: Cognitive interactivity; or interpretive participation...This is the psychological, emotional, and intellectual participation between a person and a system. (pg. 59)

Are books interactive? Are paintings interactive? Is sculpture interactive? Such questions were fairly common to early discussions of media interactivity. Viewed through the lens of cognitive interactivity, the answer is "yes" as expounded on by this passage from Janet H. Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck:

As the literary theorists known as the "reader response" school have long argued, the act of reading is far from passive: we construct alternative narratives as we go along, we cast actors or people we know into the roles of the characters, we perform the voices of the characters in our heads, we adjust the emphasis of the story to suit our interests, and we assemble the story into the cognitive schemata that make up our own systems of knowledge and belief. (pg. 110)

Additionally in The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich expresses his concern of cognitive interactivity being casted aside for, or confused with, more physically visceral forms of interactivity.

...there is a danger that we will interpret "interaction" literally, equating it with physical interaction between a user and a media object (pressing a button, choosing a link, moving the body), at the expense of psychological interaction. The psychological processes of filling-in, hypothesis formation, recall, and identification, which are required for us to comprehend any text or image at all, are mistakenly identified with an objectively existing structure of interactive links. (pg.57)

In this light all media, new and old, is interactive. We are automatically incorporated into any system which we can conceptualize cognitively. Suddenly prehistoric food chains are as interactive as Pac-Man. While a powerful form of interactivity, this mode of intellectual and interpretive participation cannot be view as the defining qualification of the grouping we popularly refer to as interactive media of which games and new media are

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