Will mobility kill the medium?

Girls using laptops outside

Laptop computers are becoming increasingly popular. To my great frustration because they are often underpowered machines, certainly when it comes 3D graphics, and our games require every last bit of performance they can get. But is there something else going on too?

We’ve always been very fond of the intimate nature of desktop computing. One person alone with one computer in the sollitude of their home office. That’s more or less how we imagine the ideal environment for experiencing our work (not unlike a 19th century gentleman going through his secret drawer of lewd pictures). A very intimate situation in which the player can be at ease and concentrate on the work. But as more and more people use laptop computers instead of desktops, this ideal situation will occur less and less. Through becoming mobile, computers also become trivial. Mere accessories to take on the road, for convenience, not media that you actually devote some time to.

Would cinema have been so succesfull, culturally, if it had become mobile before even maturing as a medium? I highly doubt it. It is exactly the demands that cinema makes on the viewer, that give the authors the room required to create their art. Cinema, nor literature, or theatrical or musical performances, are casual media. But if computing becomes mobile, what will be left of it as a medium?

Picture by fabuleuxfab

37 thoughts on “Will mobility kill the medium?”

  1. I realize it’s silly to mince metaphors, but to me a laptop seems totally like the drawer of lewd pictures. The desktop seems more like a curio cabinet.

    Is a fixed position necessarily more intimate? It seems like it could be more intimate to take your laptop to some secluded corner, for example.

  2. Carrying on from what Michael Daines said- the laptop could indeed become more intimate, especially if it becomes *part* of the person.

    However, what bothers me is that there is no “full experience” with a laptop. The experience is subpar.

    Maybe we need to make different experiences that fit with the portable medium.

    But, I do not think this will *kill* the current medium. There’s still consoles- which in my opinion do a far better job of creating a intimate space.

  3. Yes, I do think that the consoles may be continuing to hold the torch for the intimate experience. The television set is less intimate than a personal computer because you can share it with your family. But at least you’re not surrounded by a bunch of strangers on the bus.

  4. Yes, but think of the other factors involved with a console: the couch, the whole atmosphere is changed.
    With computer, a lot of people think “work”.
    With console, a lot of people think “relax”.

  5. I think players who wish to fully experience the medium will seek out a more intimate environment, despite the fact that mobile technology exists.

    An example from another medium is the way in which I seek out solitude on my university campus, with my mp3 player so I can listen to music, even though I could hang around my friends and listen to it there.

  6. If you’ll notice, mobility for film is not really an issue.

    We may have portable DVD players and iPod videos and laptops, but people still flock to theatres. People still watch movies at home, and people (like myself) don’t just build computers, but entire media centers with multiple monitors and surround sound systems to be fully immersed in whatever experience.

    I love my desktop, but i also want a laptop because i have so much work and it is more convenient to work on. But if i really want to experience There Will Be Blood or Amadeus again, it’s going into my Media Center.

    The thing is, though, Art is in all ways a community experience. What is art that doesn’t involve community? It’d be like a secret tattoo under your skin that no one can see. I mean, on some level that sounds appealing to me, but on another why? Art seeks to communicate. Why not instead of fearing mobility, design a game that can ONLY be used if mobility is available? Now that could be something interesting.

  7. Ben, i think you’re right while saying that art involves community, but in a more “passive” way.
    What i mean by passive, is that i dont think you can really understand all of an art piece when you’re with someone. You need to discover alone the art piece, and then “communicate” with others about it.
    The only “active” communication i think should exist in art, is the one that exist betwin the artist and the viewer.

    To get back the the initial question, the only problem i think exist with mobility is , what you said Michaël, is that it becomes more “casual”. But i don’t think you need walls and a roof to create an isolation, isolation is not “physic”. To enjoy at the maximum the art, you just need people who don’t disturb you, and that, even walls can’t always stop them…

  8. Which is very to the point to someone who just visited the Louvre… Lots of people there…

    I think it is ok for movies and music to become mobile now because they have matured as media. We already know how to appreciate them best. Computer games are not mature yet. Especially not the kind that I consider truly new, the kind that really uses the medium and doesn’t just translate the gameplay experience from other media to this one. Casual games are fine on mobile devices. To some extent they are, in fact, as mature as they are going to get already. It’s the other computer games, that I fear for. The ones that have similar ambitions as film and literature in terms of storytelling, evoking meaning, provoking emotion, etc. They could do with a bit more time in a protected environment before being unleashed in the wild.

  9. I agree PBB about the passivity of the communication, on some level. And i agree and disagree about needing to be alone to fully “understand” an art piece. In many situations i’ve found that discussing an art piece with others enhances the experience. So there is a certain level of active communication between viewers of the art. Also, if you are reacting, say to a movie or a theatre piece, you are actively communicating something. The thing is, you are actively communicating it to really no one in particular, however this again communicates with the other members of the audience and the case of a theatre production with the actors themselves.
    When i said community, i meant communication between two or more parties (among other things.) Definitions of words can cause so much confusion in a philosophical discussion.
    And too Michael, do you mean you want more time for the Medium to mature or the audience to mature? To me it sounds like you desire for people to learn how to properly enjoy the medium, when you say “we already know how to appreciate them best.” I think what you are hitting on is the INCREDIBLE importance the viewer has involved in the art as well. Which is probably why you have such an affinity for interactive art. I’m under the belief that for art to be at it’s best the viewer must be at his/her best.
    I think the issue doesn’t involve mobility as much as people that do not know how to properly appreciate the medium, maybe there is a way to teach people how?

  10. I don’t think games as they are now deserve “proper” appreciation of the audience at large yet. I think we need to work harder on making artworks that are relevant to people’s lives before we start demanding that they learn how to appreciate games. To influence the audience to appreciate games in their current state is the exact opposite of maturation. It’s infantilization.
    So, I want the medium to mature. More accurately, I want games to mature so that they become a medium. I don’t consider games to be a medium yet. But there’s a lot of potential that I’d hate to see wasted. And I’m worried about mobility encouraging the superficial and casual side of games while neglecting the deeper, artistic side.

  11. Brilliant!
    You are completely right! It’d be like teaching people in America to “enjoy” the “art” of theatre back when everyone was stuck doing the Melodramas (which were basically over dramatic action/soap operas). In a lot of ways games are can simply be archetypal over dramatic messes and to tell someone there is a way they must enjoy them at this point would be patronizing. I hadn’t thought of that.
    I do think right now a few games do shine out of the rough art wise, like Killer 7 and Shadow of the Collusus, even though people complain about there “gameplay” there is something about them that will stay with me forever, unlike Unreal Tournament were i just think about headshots…

  12. Like you say Ben, there is a few games, but not enough people to enjoy them. I tried to show poetic games to a lot of different categories of persons, and most of them don’t understand and stay stuck eather on the particular visual, or on the gameplay.
    Games need to get more mature, but for the moment, i don’t think the audience is ready yet for art games. For exemple, look at Okami, who is a wonderful game, but the studio crashed just after, since the audiance wasn’t ready. I know that for every exemple of failure we can find one of success, but yet, it is , i think, a proof that the audience is not ready yet.

  13. My own cold shower in this respect came from witnessing a friend playing Ico. I consider Ico to be one of the most artistic games ever made. But my friend had a very hard time seeing past the game conventions and structure, even though she is a computer expert and had played games in the past before.

    Some people might argue that she just needs to learn how to play games as long as it takes until the conventions become invisible and she can recognize the artistic value. But I’d rather simply design games without these conventions. And design them for people, without expecting a lot of literacy. I’d even dare to simply call that “good design”.

  14. That is one thing i appreciate about TEF, it’s simplicity of control. And that is a tough thing to make the conventions invisible, I mean, isn’t that what we as artists attempt to do when we are creating art? I mean, make it so to us the tools like the pen or the paint brush or the pencil are invisible to the artist and s/he only thinks about expressing?
    It’s tough because it comes from two angles, how much should we require of the player to learn so that s/he can play and enjoy? We as artists must learn much before we can truly express what’s in our minds (which is when i enjoy art the most). Are we making that sacrifice so that others can have the experience more easily? I like to think so.
    I like to feel that what i do is on some level a sacrifice for the viewer, that he can experience what i have without the endless amount of work that i have put into it. But interactive art pulls the viewer in as a part of the art…so again, two edges.

  15. That i think, brings us to this question:
    Does unusual or complexe gameplay kills the art?
    I would like to think not, that will mean that interactive art stays on the basics of games and just adds emotion to it. So does interactive art needs to stay “convention gameplay” so the art can be understood?
    What i see is two major sides, the ones that like simple gameplay, and don’t search for art [all the youngsters that play Pes and Gta for instance, and there is many of them], and there is the ones that search for original gameplay, and just “throw” the games who don’t have any, and so a lot of the interactive art stuff.
    Okay, that’s not all the players, but a big majority… So what direction should interactive art take to be attractive to more than the small interactive art community?

  16. I like to think we should all emulate Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

    Robert Frost writes some of the most seemingly simple poems, but under that there is so much more. Anyone can enjoy a Robert Frost Poem.
    When Shakespeare wrote his plays, mainstream is the best word to describe it. He wrote action, love, comedy, stuff that appealed. Didn’t he put the witches in Macbeth because the king is into witchcraft? And yet, he created some of the most amazing and well respected aren’t of all time.

    Art doesn’t have to ostracize the viewer to be great, and it can run on trends, but it must have HUMANITY, it must be TIMELESS. Heck, you can make a modified Asteroids and add in a little human condition and make something amazing out of it, that is timeless and cuts to the soul: a pure beauty.

  17. I’m afraid GTA does not fall in the “simple gameplay” category. It’s incredibly complex, actually. People who have been following this blog are well aware of my opinion that traditional game structures and art are often mutually exclusive. So we need to focus on interaction as a whole and not limit ourselves to game-interaction. And then it all depends on what you are trying to say, as an artist. Some content may be best served by simple interactions, other content may flourish only in complexity. Some may even work best in a game-like structure. The point is that the interaction design should serve the content. While games tend to be complicated for the sake of being complicated. In fact, that’s probably a good definition of game design. :)

  18. This is just plain dumb. The democratization of a medium does NOT dumb down the medium, it makes it accessible for more users. Most users are not power users and your image of the nerd in front of a screen in a dark room will be lost, but these types of users will still exist, they’ll just not be the majority.

    While there will, with some certainty, always be games that will push the hardware this does not mean that it’s a good thing. Nintendo’s DS has proved beyond any doubt that you don’t always need top-notch graphics. Most users aren’t interested in that, only the power users, which thankfully are very few.

    Ask yourself this question; have paper back books destroyed the medium of books? No? Then why on earth would less demanding games destroy the medium of games? World of Warcraft seems to be doing ‘good’, and it plays great on most laptops…

  19. I think the DS and the Wii are working miracles for games. And mobile devices probably as well. And that’s great. But games are not the medium. We’re interested in the interactive medium and its artistic potential. I am aware of the fact that there may be little interest from the masses in the exploration of this potential. But I am certain that they will enjoy the fruits of this exploration.

  20. Democratization of a Medium? That’s not what this is really about, but mobility and how things are enjoyed, if i’m not mistaken.
    And i disagree, in my opinion, unless the medium was unapproachable to begin with (for example dada) then democratization does dumb down a medium in many cases. For example, Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” faced “Democratization” and he was forced to change the ending of his play so that the female lead stayed with her husband instead of leaving! This ruined the purpose of the play and only encouraged further backwards thinking and abuse towards women.
    This is a perfect example of how a medium was made more accessible through democratization and it did dumb it right now.
    Now you may perhaps argue that in this case content was what was dumb down and not the method of viewing, which appears to be the heft of your argument. But i’m sorry to say, that the method in which something is viewed changes the content completely. Ever watch a horror film with the volume on zero? Hardly as scary. With a laptop, for example, you may be playing a game on mute.
    All Michael is arguing is that people can not all enjoy his art the way it was originally intended. For example, say i didn’t speak english and plopped your comment into babelfish to translate it to my language, esperanto for example. The translation would be far from perfect and what you were communicating would not likely get across with all of it’s depth and nuance. Instead, something garbled and perhaps even offensive. Would you want to run that risk? Michael’s worries are founded, whether or not I agree, which i don’t fully but do in part, or you agree.

  21. We should also consider that some people consider portable devices more intimate than stationary ones. Because they can cuddle up with them in bed and such. Which is a bit hard to do with a desktop computer. 😉

    So maybe we should design “games to play in bed”? :)

  22. Yes absolutely!
    or games that require GPS so that you can play them when you travel different places!

  23. You know, I’d love to go to bed and play a “game”.
    In fact, I sometimes do! With Electroplankton or something.

    But I mean, in the same way you read a book in bed. That’d be cool.

  24. I really think that the living core of art, in other words the meaningfull part for human beings, can transcend any medium.
    Games as a medium need to mature, I agree. But perhaps that has more to do with the pulsing life behind that medium, then with the actual medium itself. The medium will mature if the meaning it is used to express is worthwile. If games really have a story to tell, they will mature naturally. People will turn to them, because they offer something that other media don’t offer in quiet the same way

    So the other options available and overall developments (like on the internet, mobility,… .) won’t be that much of a hindrance to games, if they can transcend other mediums on the level of “meaningfullness”. I think people respond to that inner core much more then to any “form” of expression in itself.

    I’m not sure if I”m making myself very clear. If really not, I”l try to explain it better 😀

  25. Sure. But media are not living organisms. They don’t evolve by themselves but through the use that humans make of them. Though the relationship between the (technical) evolution of a medium and it’s maturity as a means for human expression is certainly an interesting topic.

    There are already many interesting things that can only be expressed through interactive media. Things, in fact, that humans have been trying (and failing) to express via other media for hundreds of years.

    Perhaps this failing was even the very basis for our modern concept of art. But that’s another discussion. 😉

    Realtime interactive media are a great vehicle for dealing with complex and ambiguous content, for dealing with diversity and the place of the individual in a larger system, etc. In short: for dealing with extremely urgent contemporary issues. I believe it’s just a matter of creators taking up their responsibilities.

  26. i would proffer that human beings are the pulsing life behind a medium, both as creators and viewers. I believe that not only does art take great artists, but also a mature audience. Both come with time (maybe) but also they require that person who steps forward to do something different.
    For example, if Jane Austin never stepped forward and created the modern novel what would books look like today, and perhaps all other art? The original issue with novels before Jane Austin is they were drab morality pieces. Is it not true that video games stick to this formula? Good vs. Evil? Even some of the most artistic games, for example bioshock, still focus on Good and Evil but maybe from a more ambiguous standpoint. Even GTA focuses on Good and Evil, it just turns the tables.
    What is really needed, in my opinion, for the medium to evolve is that game where good vs. evil is not the stories main focus. Perhaps a game with themes like those in Catcher in the Rye or themes that Bradbury touches on in his short stories (now that i think about it, who wouldn’t want to play a game based on bradbury! i’m thinking like a game based on The Fox and the Forest where you flee through time for freedom, and seek to hide by fitting into the group you are in)?
    I think TEF steps outside of the Good/Evil barrier, and so does The Graveyard and i think that ideas like this may inspire some to push the industry forward but i don’t know if it will quite yet. Something epic needs to happen, something big. We may not recognize it now, and we may hate it and scoff at it, but 100 years later, people will look back and see how it changed everything, not just the face of interactive art.

  27. I do think also that the black/white world is a factor that blocks the media to mature, but it isn’t only that that blocks it. But its pretty hard to forget these “laws”, they are part of our ethics and education… So even if you try to break the ethics, you can create an contrary ethical game, as you said, like GTA and other “bad boys” games.
    So i think also that it is blocking the maturing of games, but we should’nt only focus on that…

  28. well yes, of course not. Jane Austen didn’t only break those rules, she was a heckuva good writer.

    I guess i was supposing the given of a great designer that is willing to break the mold.

  29. I’m curious. What things do you consider most urgent ?

    Do you think being in awe and wonder of the world aand of living in gerenral is something the world needs (a lot ) more.

    For this especially, I think realtime interactive media can be of very important influence. I love the idea of being able to explore a world, preferably very foreign to me. really exploring, from a very personally involved point of view. But I like to do it on my own pace, so MMOgames feel to forced to me sometimes.

    As an extra comment, I think I once read somewhere that “form follows function”. I think it was in a book on anatomy (The thinking body). The biological (technical) evolution and maturation of men, is shaped by our use of it 😀
    I don’t think technical evolution stands on it’s own, I think it’s direction is shaped by it’s inner meaningfulnes. By deepening our meaning, we create a surging need to express that meaning, forcing us to develop technically. This is what you also do , I suppose. You want to express more then is currently expressend through this medium.

    Well, by trying to express deeper meaning like you want to do it, your technical developments will be more or less differing from people who go more for the technical evolution in itself.

  30. I have no idea of what should be more urgent, but I can just see, by the other forms of media, that the breecking of ethical laws were not the begining of the new form of that media.
    So i think the breaking of the ethical laws can be a proof of maturing, but in a higher level, after the first maturing phase.
    I am still searching for what game needs for the first maturing, and starting by the end isn’t the best way, so i prefer to forget a bit of the ethical laws.

  31. During the renaissance realism in painting was achieved through the discovery of MATHEMATICAL functions. By they use of these functions, understanding things that no one had before like perspective were now simple to render in artwork. This understanding pushed art beyond what had ever been seen before. In this way, technical developments were required before art could really move forward. (though expressionists might argue it ruined it, i guess they can have an opinion…lol)
    Now what i was saying wasn’t about ethical laws, but about man vs man being the main type of conflict in a video game, as opposed to maybe man vs. nature or man vs. self and that by doing a man vs. man conflict the theme that is communicated is good vs. evil.
    I don’t mean break ethical laws, i mean like you said, simply ignore them instead of basing everything around them. It’s like saying everything in the world is good or evil, which is a poor way of looking at the world.

  32. Okay, now i understand better what you were saying, and i totally agree. But is guess they haven’t done anything men vs nature because you can’t shoot nature with big guns…
    But i don’t think we should totally forget about man vs man, there so much you can still do with it. In that thinking, i remember seeing a conference about innovation in video games with Jenova Chen, Jonathan Mak and others. I’m sorry i can’t find the link, when i will, i’ll try to post it here. But to resume, one said that what video games are doing is “farming” the already nown stuff, and sometimes go “fishing” for innovation. But even if he said we should innovate, he still said that we should not forget the already nown.
    What i mean is that i don’t think we need innovation for maturing. It can help, but it isn’t “mature” to just do different.

  33. Well, err, the only problem is that “the already known” is mostly extremely juvenile stuff. So I would argue that we do need innovation. Not in principle. But just in the given context.

    Which is not to say that there’s nothing to learn from the early period. But simply expanding on childish concepts will not get us closer to maturity.

  34. Well, i wasn’t really clear on that. What i mean was in particular about the men vs men stuff. We don’t asbsolutly need to change that to mature the medium, it will just do different, not more mature.
    Hope this time I was clear enough…

  35. And that was what i meant by man vs man conflict. The majority of it is juvenille, based on conflict that only centers around violence and who is good and who is evil (most often times).
    Games have interpreted conflict as violence when there are many other types. For example, even though there is physical altercation in “There Will Be Blood” some of the highest conflict is just characters looking at each other. Another problem there though is that game designers would turn something like characters staring at each other a button mashing mini game, when really they should just make the player WANT to stare at the character.
    I’m not even sure that’s possible, but i think it is.

  36. Well, it’s gonna need a lot of imagination to make staring contest a piece of art. But i see what you mean Ben, and totally agree.

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