Learning from video games
July 27, 2001
Craig Marion offers some interesting thoughts—from a software engineering perspective—on the history and debate around the term "interaction design," which goes back to late 1980s. Marion provides a good summary of some of the thinking that's come out of the traditional thinking of the years. But a reference to video gaming got me thinking about how much there is to learn from that industry.

Computer game designers have been particularly good at combining the "functional" and "atmospheric" elements to support each other. (The third dimension of web/interactive multimedia experiences—"information-retreival/web as hypertext system" aspect—isn't a nearly as important.) And some of the more intellectual game designers have given some serious thought to interaction design.

Back in the early 1990s, I was part of a group led by Chris Crawford—author of the seminal "Art of Computer Game Design" in 1982, now sadly out of print—who were trying to figure out "interactive entertainment"—or as Chris preferred to call it, "interactive storytelling." In other words, how can we add interaction to traditional narrative to bring the participatory engagement of video gaming and simultaneously bring an emotional drama to video games that they typically lack.

(Video games are quite adept at appealing at a intellectual level ("Myst") or a visceral level ("Doom"), but they've rarely succeeded at triggering the types of emotions of the sort of "serious" drama evokes. And the traditional gaming community doesn't seem particularly interested in this area—they're content to continue making the equivalent of genre action films.)

We never truly cracked the problem—after all traditional narrative has taken thousands of years to evolve—but there were some good ideas that came out of it.

For years Chris has pondered these issues and had some profound thoughts, which he's posted a collection. And he's got a new self-published book, "Understanding Interactivity," (he claims it was too philosophical for the general computer book publishers and not stuff enough for the academic publishers). You can decide for yourself, since he's posted several chapters online, and there's this review, which itself is an interesting summary of the issues as they can be applied to "traditional" interaction design. ::

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