Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation


"Improvisation is fundamental to all drama. All performance uses the body of the actor, giving space and form to an idea, situation, character or text in the moment of creation. It does not matter that the play has been rehearsed for a month, with every move, every nuance of speech learned and practiced. In the act of performance the actor becomes an improviser." (Frost and Yarrow 1)

"The search for a definition of interactivity diverts our attention from the real issue: How can people participate as agents within representational contexts? Actors know a lot about that, and so do children playing make-believe. Buried within us in our deepest playful instincts, and surrounding us in the cultural conventions of theatre, film, and narrative, are the most profound and intimate sources of knowledge about interactive representations." (Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre, 21)

Frost and Yarrow point out that, while improvisation has deep roots in the dramatic practices of the world, there has been a resurgence of interest in the European and North American contexts in the twentieth century, during which it developed in close juxtaposition to jazz. Both jazz and improv acting are procedural systems which challenge restricting constructions of character; both seek to open up character to greater expressive potential, wider freedoms and responsibilities. Improvised jazz and acting both refashion character to provide alternate models of human aspiration and interaction.

Laurel considers human-computer activity as essentially dramatic, mainly from the classical perspective of Aristotle's Poetics. However, she also reflects on the role of improvisation within this model, and cites acting teacher Michael Chekhov on this theme: "Every role offers an actor the opportunity to improvise, to collaborate and truly co-create with the author and director....The given lines and the business are the firm bases upon which the actor must and can develop his improvisations" (106). Laurel concludes that the "value of limitations in focusing creativity is recognized in the theory and practice of theatrical improvisation." How are notions of character for the actant refashioned in selected comuter games?