Sunday, August 29, 2004

This blog is put on hold for the time being.
Follow my work at http://www.kommunikation.aau.dk/ansatte/nikolajh/

Thursday, April 01, 2004

This has been my first day of work as a PhD-student, at VR-Medialab and IT-vest Aalborg. The PhD is entitled "Interactiondesign and games", and will allow me to continue the study of experience-oriented design of interactive entertainment, that was begun with my masters thesis. A national graduate-level program in computergame-design is being put together, and I will be involved as a lecturer and contributer.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The focus of this site is the participant of the interactive drama, and how his resulting emotional experience is created, directed, and intensified. As such, this focus has a broad base: the constituents and functionalism of emotion and motivation, the mechanisms behind how we establish an understanding of the world around us, how our conscious as well as unconscious reactions to audio/visual stimuli are formed, and how mediation affects our experience.

My theoretical vantage point is that of evolutionary psychology, which draws upon the fact that there exists a functional link between the organism and the environment in which it lives. As such, our minds are adaptations shaped by evolution to optimise the organism's behaviour, in an ever-changing and chaotic world. For this purpose we have evolved a series of cognitive mechanisms, which help us interpret and evaluate information from the environment. As these mechanisms are older than our conscious mind, they operate involuntarily and at the unconscious level. By studying our behaviour in everyday life with these facts in mind, it becomes possible to identify and explain the workings of the mind – how we interpret and understand the world around us, how this understanding can be manipulated, how we establish a sense of space and of being in it, how and why emotion appear and disappear, and the effect of mediation on these emotions. All useful stuff, when dealing with the experience of the computer game.


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The feeling of presence is the fundamental requirement for the emotional experience of the participant. Of course other factors are important, such as conflict and engaging events, but more on this later.
The feeling of presence is dependent on several factors: The responsiveness of the environment, the scope and quality of the medium (screen size, sound quality, etc.), the life-likeness of the characters, and so on. As usual more is merrier, meaning that a more responsive environment, more believable characters, etc., will heighten the sense of presence. In general, the more the impression of the virtual environment is indistinguishable from the impression of the real world, the more real the events unfolding will seem, and the greater the emotional impact. Evaluation of reality-status is an unconscious act, and when events around us seem 'real', we relate to them as such. A low degree of reality-status makes us conscious (to varying degrees) of the situation, and this detaches us emotionally from the events.

Marie-Ryan is right, when she says:
"1. Why did Mark ask the question of serious human interest about computer games? It would never cross our mind to ask if chess, monopoly, soccer, roulette, or cops and robbers are able to evoke themes of deep human significance. I take this as meaning that computer games are perceived as being closer to literature, film, and drama than these other games because of their frequent narrative content. (I can hear the collective scream of the ludologists on the other side of the Atlantic.)
2. My answer to Marks’s question: why should games cater to “serious human interests” to be valuable? Don’t we deserve an occasional break form the concerns of the real world? Don’t fantasy, make-believe and pure play for its own sake have value as a way to relieve the stress of being citizens of an imperfect, often cruel world?"

The reason why the computer game is perceived as being closer to literature, film, and drama, is that it is slowly gaining the same 'depth-of-world' or 'scope of frame' as these. Historically games have been simulations within a very basic frame, like chess (its frame for the action being the board, the pieces, and the rules of gameplay) or soccer (the football field, players and ball, and the rules of gameplay). But advances in technology have expanded the capabilities of the medium that transmits the frame of the game, so that it is now possible to dress the game in a deeper 'narrative skin' (than for example chess, where the frame indicates a clash between two medieval armies on a square battlefield), by using a high-quality imitation of the real world for a frame (as opposed to the quality of the real-world frame in chess, where the characters cannot talk, movement-patterns are highly restricted, there is no bloodshed when fighting, etc.).

The game does not have to be 'serious or deep' to have emotional impact. Regarding emotional impact it is important to distinguish emotion from its intensity, as these may vary independently. Games like Tetris can evoke strong arousal and hence satisfaction in the player (primarily through the manipulation of closure, as the height of the bottom bricks is alternating), but the emotional diversity is restricted to a basic positive / negative, depending on whether you're doing well or poorly. By 'dressing' the game in a narrative skin (as the real world has been used as a narrative skin in 99.99% of all entertainment - books and films for example almost always take place in world-like surroundings), the emotional repertoire expands dramatically. The reason is that by introducing a narrative skin, all the complexities of human emotional life potentially comes into play, and trigger the player's emotional reaction through his compulsion for empathy. This is an unachievable task, some may argue, but all it takes for emotion to be triggered is the dramatic structure inherent in games, and when non-player-characters are introduced into this dramatic structure, the participant himself create a narrative understanding of their actions and reactions, and this narrative understanding form the basis of emotional experience.
Of course we are consciously aware that we are not present in the virtual world, and this is the central reason for limited emotional intensity - the characters and events are not real, and therefore have no real importance to us, and without importance there is no emotional reaction. But when going to the movies we are often 'fooled' by the characters' very real appearance, even though we consciously know they aren't real. They act and talk like real people, and so we are easily swayed into the fiction, partly because we want to, and partly because we aren't hardwired to differentiate between real and virtual characters. But when the characters in computer games act like assembly line robots (having limited awareness of their surroundings, and performing simple repetitive acts) we are very much reminded that the game-world is virtual, and therefore of no existential relevance. Even though the possibility of interaction adds a completely new dimension to the overall reality-status of the computer game, 'robotic humans' entails a lower reality-status than the absence of interaction with movies, as this 'non-interactive' mode is also an experiential part of real life. Emotion and emotional experience is possible from as well movies as games, and the more they seem like the real world (having high reality-status), the stronger emotional impact can be created. But the computer game ultimately has the potential for highest reality-status, as it includes the possibility for interaction. And technical advances will constantly improve the quality of the narrative skin, until at some point, when the game-world envelops us (through HMD), the environment spreads out before us in fractalized splendour, when characters respond with the logics of emotion and motivation, and when we are free to do whatever we decide to do, only consciousness will be left to limit the power of the emotional experience.

I see the most interesting solution for implementation of the interactive drama, in a simulated world functioning as a narrative skin, thereby acting as a backdrop of the dramatic events. This backdrop has to be of high quality, as it plays a major part in creating a heightened reality-level, together with the logics of the drama (actions and reactions of the characters, and causality of events).
In relation to this virtual world stands a narrative engine, designed to check for certain conditions in the environment, functioning as triggers for pre-designed scenarios. If for example the main-character (the player's avatar) goes down to the local pub the bartender might ask him if he's interested in a job… Or when driving around, a bank might be robbed. If he chooses to intervene, the results are calculated accordingly, and integrated into the development of the scenario. The elements of the scenario are described in terms of 'classes' of characters and objects, instead of specific characters and objects. This way the engine can trigger events leading to dramatic stories, independent of the actual location of the main-character. When a certain character is needed as defined by the scenario, the engine labels one existing in the virtual world that fits the part, or places one.

The AI can be modelled after rather simple evolutionary emotion/motivation algorithms in an object-oriented language, to achieve what represents natural behaviour, and hence form the basis of an emotional relation to and between the characters. Object-oriented programming becomes advantageous, as our understanding of, and interaction with, the environment is relational - our emotions are triggered in relation to certain situations, and our resulting motivations are oriented towards these situations.

Requirements on behalf of the participant for feeling present are (amongst others): willingness to spend his attention on the drama, interest in the events, understanding what the hell is going on.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Well, first things first I guess, having just finished my masters thesis on emotional experience and interactive entertainment of the near future (in 3-5 yrs).
But now there is hopefully only going to be a couple of months between posts...
The purpose of this site is to promote both the academic study of computergames, as well as myself, being a creative and visionary individual, looking for a job (while your here, check out my CV).

Monday, July 21, 2003

The cover for my Masters Thesis "Intense experiences in the interactive drama, or how to kick ass with a virtual foot". It forms the basis for my current employment as a PhD-student - english abstract available here.



Sunday, July 13, 2003

This is the online rambling-dump of gamedesigner extraordinaire Nikolaj Hyldig.
Soon to be expanded upon....

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