Putting Humanity Back Into Technology

March 21, 2008 by Thad McIlroy

It was some time after I finished school that I first heard about the trend towards co-operative non-competitive games and sports. I had been raised on games and sports the relied upon killing your opponent before he killed you, and so was taken aback by this new twist on things. It sounded kind of OK, a superior approach in some respects, yet I always had the nagging feeling that there was a little too much idealism in the concept, and a shortage of realism about how people really prefer to interact, in games as in life.

A March 12th Wired Campus blog entry on the The Chronicle of Higher Education website called “Putting Humanity Back Into Technology” describes how this concept is being transmuted to the Web, at least one attempt to do so. Last weekend the University of Central Florida’s digital-media department Interactive Performance Conference “to show what this new discipline is about.” According to Jeff Wirth, the director of the Interactive Performance Lab, much of the research works in an “emotion-based framework.” The article continues, attempting to clarify the meaning of “interactive performance”: “For example, while traditional video games are goal oriented (‘get to the next level’), research in interactive performance focuses on creating games where the success is in human interaction.”

So far so good. What startled me were Mr. Wirth’s own illustrations of the new discipline. “When you go to see a movie,” Mr. With explained, “and you see a character evolve in an understanding of his or herself, or a relationship to their world, it’s not about if the character survives,” he says. “It’s about whether the evolution during the course of interactions in that character is engaging…” Apparently Mr. Wirth views only a certain type of film, and appears to have missed the entire oeuvres of Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal and Bruce Willis.

By way of example Mr. Wirth said that one of “the exhibitions” at the conference would be an unscripted role-playing session that simulates a prison. That is just the beginning. The article points out that there are larger ambitions afoot: “For example, a class could re-enact parts of World War II.”

They seem to have a pretty good grasp on moving gaming away from traditional competitive role playing, but I think that may have some work to do on the scenarios.

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