Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation


Two influential texts--Computers as Theatre, by Brenda Laurel, and Hamlet on the Holodeck, by Janet Murray--suggest that computer games refigure tried-and-true methods of narrative and engagement, agency and interactivity. Laurel, for example, harkens back to Aristotle for a theory of dramatic engagement which has seen numerous challenges in the dramatic and performance theory of the 20th C. This remediated borrowing has been critiqued by Jesper Juul and Espen Aarseth as a narratological bias, and with others, they theorize instead the model of luddology and the notion of the ergodic cybertext.


"The concept of cybertext focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange...In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text." (Aarseth, 1997).

Protocols of Improvisation

A mode of highly-engaging and challenging performance--improvisation--typically occurs within a matrix of constraints. As a mode of performance, improvisation privileges the expressive power of the individual within a community of players. Approaching computer games from the standpoint of performance, we shift the focus from content to process.

Our interaction with computing technology involves a reciprocity of influence, and requires a degree of reflexivity and self-consciousness common to other modes of performance. If one approaches the design of computer games with a view towards encouraging improvisatory activity, what features might one consider?