False Dichotomy of Interactivity

I don’t see a categorical difference between the interactivity of video games and the interactivity of more traditional mediums like television/radio. On a long continuum of interactivity we could certainly place video games on a side of “direct-highly-interactive” and something like radio on the polar opposite; but we <i>do</i> interact with these apparent one directional outputs. It’s just less direct.

With a video game, we expect to have near complete control (within the confines of the system) where our inputs are immediately correlated to some reaction on the screen. With TV, our interaction is a little less direct. Instead of an immediate reaction to pressing a button, there’s a lag time between, but reaction nonetheless. Those television programs that induce observers to change the channel (or simply turn the TV/radio off) are subsequently pushed off the air. Or, modified in some way to cater to a more appropriate target audience. In other words, if stupid people watch the show, the jokes/dialogue will get more stupid. If a show has an extremely large audience, they often feel the pressure to take on more social/political/topical issues; consider themes of “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, “South Park”, in their later seasons compared to the earlier seasons. The size and type of audience has a direct (or more indirect) impact of what the show’s themes will be. And, has anyone ever called into a radio show? Whether you get through or not, you’ve essentially pressed the ‘A’ button. I don’t see why we should discriminate on “interactivity” being instantaneous and predictable vs variable and subtle.

Perhaps somewhere closer to the middle of the continuum would be a DVD menu; or better yet the “spectate” function of many competitive video games. The spectate function within League of Legends or Starcraft 2 give the spectator the ability to see the game played from a different perspective, and to modify the perspective in real time. The spectator may not impact the result of a match, but their unique exercise of skill and judgment in deciding what is important to consider (graphs of army strength, economic factors, which character to follow and when etc..) if expressed (recorded…?) would certainly be the subject of intellectual property. There are professional spectators, well paid for their expertise in this role!

One response to “False Dichotomy of Interactivity”

  1. Jon Festinger, Q.C.

    Totally see your point Tyler. The reality is that even an on/off switch is a form of interactivity. Thus your continuum point is entirely correct.

    That said the opposite ends of the continuum are arguably a really big distance apart and may even be functioning on different models. The story telling on television, radio etc. is controlled by the originator/transmitter. They create and we watch/listen pretty well passively to what they have created. We not only watch and listen on devices called “receivers” – we are in fact the “receivers”. We may even get immersed in the story – but we cannot change it (except in our heads – I have many alternate better endings to Star Wars Episode 6). We do also have the ability to turn off the device or change the channel.

    In games, whether real or an illusion, we feel that we are the “transmitter” much more and the “receiver” much less. It feels like the story/narrative/event is changing in reaction to what we do. In fact we literally hold a “controller” in most cases, or are the “controller” in Kinect. Of course we are hardly the only or true controller as most games have bounded worlds and some sort of branching architecture – so the game designer/game creator is very much a “partner controller” at the very least.

    Still no two video game sessions are ever exactly the same. I have never gone around Monza in Grand Prix Legends in a Lotus 49 with the exact same time, much less on exactly the same racing “line”. And that is within my “control”.

    So the interesting part (to me) is interactivity in the “story” as the “game changer” 😉

    What do others believe?