The meeting and the birth

Why are we interested in interactive fiction and roleplaying games as new forms of art? Presumably not simply because they are new and relatively unexplored, but because of the interactive aspect in its modes of creativity, complicity, judgement. (Thinking about the artistic modes of interactivity should be one of highest priorities.) Traditionally, a work of art is created by a writer, is the responsibility of the writer and expresses the judgements of the author.. Sessions of playing an RPG or reading a work of interactive fiction may transfer one or more of these wholly or partially to the players and/or readers.

Why is this a good thing? What can a work of art that is interactive in this sense do that a non-interactive work can not? But perhaps this is already the wrong way of thinking, if we wish to arrive at a critique of IF and RPGs.

First, there may not be a work of art. Is the program or the game book a work of art? It is certainly not the work of art we are looking for. Is the played-out session the work of art? No; for the played-out session is not interactive. The transcript of a session is simply a story written in a strange style. In roleplaying and in interactive fiction, there is no work.

Art used to come to us as a work. Now it comes to us as an event.

The work/event distinction is not the thing/performance distinction. There is a very real sense in which we can watch the same performance of a play twice, but cannot play the same session of an interactive fiction story or a roleplaying game twice. We can recreate a session, but only by stepping outside the modes of creativity, complicity, judgement in which the original session got its specific meaning.

Second, the event of art does not primarily do anything. Even for works of art, it is wrong to think of them as objects that primarily are the cause of certain effects on the reader, even though they may be that as well. Primarily, a work of art is an opening through which another world can reveal itself to the viewer. An event of art is primarily an opening through which the player can step into another world.

A book, a movie, a theater performance or a painting is a work that allows a world to reveal itself. A roleplaying game or an interactive fiction story is an entrance into a world. A session of a roleplaying game or an interactive story is an event of entering a world and acting in it. Reading a book is like meeting a person. Playing an interactive story is like being born.

From now on, I will talk about these modes of art as the meeting and the birth.

Here are some questions. Isn't the enrichment that art can give us the meeting with the Other? Is it possible for us to be reborn as someone not ourselves, or are we locked into repeating our ingrained beliefs and behaviours in the world which we have entered? Can we believe that interactive arts are an alternative to the mainstream arts captured in the framework of mass media, technology and the economy if that means we have to believe that the world opened through the program/book must somehow be free of these influences? If escapism is the attempt to escape from all responsibility, are the interactive arts with their simulated and therefore unreal responsibilities not the pinnacle of escapism?


  1. I think a lot of theatre people would disagree that all performances of a given play are the same, even with the same cast, crew, location, etc. How often is the Sunday show multiple times better than the opening Friday show, even with the same content and actors?

    Also, it kinda bugs me when roleplaying thought tries to make up new terminology for things that have been widely discussed in aesthetics for hundreds of years. There have been many, many discussions of the differences between static and performance-based artworks, and how interactive artworks should be understood.

    But, yeah, carry on. I'm interested to see where you're going with this and what you point ultimately is, even if I'm unsure about the way you're getting there.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I agree with your first paragraph, but it is beside the point I was trying to make - which means I was probably too obscure. You can watch the same performance twice in the sense that if there were a second, identical performance, going to see it would again be watching a performance. On the other hand, participating in an identical roleplaying session would not actually be playing a roleplaying game.

    As for making up new terminology, I'd been reading Heidegger just before I wrote this. He makes up so many new terms, it makes you want to do so yourself. :) Something continental breathes through this post anyway.

    Do you know some good books or articles specifically about interactive artworks? I'd be interested in that.

  3. The second "identical" game session wouldn't be the same as the first, but the third *would* be the same as the second.


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