Posted by: soniahs | September 1, 2010

Exam reading: “Hamlet on the holodeck”

Janet Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck” is a 1997 book that tries to reconcile “good” storytelling with not-fully-realized new media. Yes, there are several Star Trek references. Unfortunately, most are to Voyager…

Summary: Murray explores how narrative may change in stories based in new interactive media. For her, the key to avoiding fears of VR addiction and culturally-depauperate stories is to concentrate on meaningful storytelling. She begins by describing storytelling in new media genres (MUDs, 3-D movies, simulators, etc.), the boundaries of which will eventually blur. There are four characteristics of digital environments that make them new: procedural construction, participation, spatial dimension, and encyclopediac scope (the first two = interactivity). Because of these characteristics, new media environments can: satisfy the desire for immersion in virtual worlds, give audiences agency (ability to take meaningful action), and offer a mutable environment that allows transformation of traditional storylines. She also outlines several possible “cyberdrama” formats, some of which are now in use: “hyperserials” (TV shows with added online dimension), “mobile perspective” programs, and virtual worlds for roleplaying. Meaningful storytelling in new media should seem true to the human condition. It could use stock formulas or characters in new ways- example of bardic performances that vary stock elements to create new compositions. Or it could explore possibilities of telling stories with expanded scope (a system perspective), or just explore world-building possibilities.

Comments: Since my focus is not on the narrative properties of new media, I’m skipping a lot of detail in that area (e.g., ways to create plot in a non-linear setting, game goals vs. plot-driven goals, ways to create responsive & believable virtual characters using AI). Provides some good links between more traditional ways to construct stories and ways to use new technologies. World-building ideas make me think of MMORPGs.

Links to: Hayles (e-lit & narrative); Turkle (psychology of interactive environments & AI characters); Manovich (components of interactivity)

I’ll add this analysis of the Holodeck as a narrative device (rather than Turkle’s Holodeck-as-technology):

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