Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Practicalities of The New Science: The Practical Application...


Right, I've talked about politics enough, so let's get on to something I really find interesting: the practical application of what I've learned.

One of my thesis projects is to bring old pre-digital (pre-internet) forms of media, like radio and tabletop role-playing games, into the post-digital area. Some of you might immediately think 'Wait a mo, we have Sirius Digital Radio and MMOs. What are you on about?' but stay with me for a moment and you'll realize that these things are not equal.

Others might ask 'Why bother?' To that I can only give a simple answer at this point, and that is that I believe that these forms of media are interactive in ways that modern forms cannot be. As a matter of fact, I believe that in some ways they are superior and can actually help to keep us quintessentially human as exponential technological advance drags us further away from that humanity in a number of ways. As such, I believe that they should be modernized to bring them back into use and not vanish into the dustbin of media history.

With any old form, the first task is to ascertain (to quote Marcus Aurelius) 'This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world?' In other words,what is it that makes a particular medium unique? What are the basic qualities that can be distilled from it and moved into another form while still retaining its basic nature?

In the case of tabletop role-playing games, we have to look at them in comparison to their nearest competition (and offspring), the MMO. In my estimation TTRPGS offer a few things that the average video game cannot:

1. The ability to create truly personal stories in a truly Acoustic space with few Visual spacial restrictions.
2. The ability to change those stories and add new elements on the fly, as the story is being told.
3. The cooperative story-telling environment of an RPG is best as a truly face to face social interaction experience.

Our second task is to find the right modern technology to streamline and modernize said medium into a new form while still retaining the inherent nature and qualities of that medium. Laws and Media takes this task and gives it a useful systematic basis in the concept of the Tetrad, a set of four questions that can be asked by anyone about any media and then tested to provide a general verifiable statements about it. What does the medium:

1. Enhance or intensify?
2. Render obsolete or replace?
3. Retrieve that was previously obsolesced?
4. Produce or become when pressed to an extreme?

Let's take a look at applying the Tetrad to my modernized tabletop role-playing game concept: the Playbook.

1. Computerized interfaces enhance interactivity and automate functions which means the players spend less time 'out' of the game managing details and more time 'in' it, creating the story. It also enhances the need for high tech items like tablet devices, which makes it an experience limited to those who can afford such items.

2. By moving the TTRPG to a tablet or other form of digital medium, it replaces writing utensils, dice, miniatures, physical maps, counters and a mess of rulebooks with a slick interface. The downside, of course, is a hit to the print RPG industry, but that has been in decline for some time.

3. Modern computer games, though the technological offspring of the TTRPG, lack the three qualities given above. This format retrieves them.

 4. When used to its fullest, with many of the Visual space distractions eliminated or reduced, the TTRPG becomes more immersive than any Visual game can be, and more socially constructive as well.

Answering these questions can also bring to mind other points like the feasibility of using said media on a desktop instead of a tablet or smartphone, the point of overload in functionality (how many features is too many for a TTRPG), what programming language is the most appropraite (in my case Java as it is extremely cross-platform), etc.

I think the Tetrad was very useful here in validating the Playbook concept and it could be just as easily applied to other forms of media as well, new or old (is Twitter all that useful, for instance), and can help to define not what is the best form of media, but what is the right media for the given activity. I'll talk more about the design itself in later posts...

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