Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's ALL There, There.

One of the central tennets of Alexander Technique - which I've been doing for about a year now - is being present; remaining aware, and in the moment, and connected to your physical being-in-space.

Now, oddly, I spend most of my waking hours being in not-space - my concentration is out in the no-there of cyberspace, both at work and in my main leisure activity.

It's a strangely disjointed feeling - my life is lived so intently on the other side of a screen, that I often feel slightly disconnected when I'm not drifting in search of information, or following a simple string of challenges in Azeroth.

The great thing about AT is that quite asside from relieving the incredibly painful sympoms of RSI - which, of course, are brought on by hours spent at a computer - is that it resets me - brings head and body back in to the same place. I leave lessons feeling... functional. Rooted. Aware. Whereas I leave the office feeling useless, sleepy and impotent. But anyway.

This virtual double life I lead took me to a strange place yesterday; most specifically, to Sevenoaks.

I was asked by the BBC Writers Room to talk to a group of writers about.. well. Games. The brief was 'to inspire them with my experiences of Games and Online Worlds.' I think I may have reinforced the idea that these places are where geeky people who don't function well in the real world hang out. Oh well. But then again, what kind of psychology does it take to want to sit around writing about the human condition, then watching other people act out those fake emotions? Horses for courses... :-)

Anyway - it was fairly gruelling; three days worth of preperation and rereading source material, putting together a beautiful powerpoint and getting there to find... no projector, so everyone sitting around my laptop. But I was fairly pleased with the ideas that shook out.

I topped off the day with - finally, after having barely logged in for over a week - an evening playing WOW. I hit 50! We killed the farting princess! Go Altus Chillers! etc etc.

There is a strange backdrop to the game at the moment; there are massive 'world events' going on - quests and narrative points that involve every player. Currently, it's preparations for a war; all are gathering resources as fast as possible in order to complete the quests to open the gates to a new world area. It's rather like being in a crowd at an unexpectedly significant event - no-one is quite sure what will happen, rumours are flying around, there's a palpable sense of expectation in the air. Also, the economy has gone completely barmy - with usually cheap resources selling for huge ammounts. I'm reading 'Wartime: Britain 1939-1945' at the moment, and the parallels with the atmosphere during the Phony War and attitudes to Rationing described in the book are... well, maybe it's just me being over excited, but it feels very real.

The thing is, when you spend enough time somwhere else, you invest in that other world, and in some way leave part of yourself there, or take the world with you when you shut off your monitor. And when little reminders pop in to your regular old RL existence they seem... somehow, much more exotic. And you miss the other place in the same way you pine for the holiday beach on your first day back in the office.

Anyway. Look! Tourists in a virtual game! Cool! Medivh Server have done it already!

(I'm incoherrent with tiredness today - can you tell?)


Anonymous said...

It's not just MMORPGs that can create that sense of a more desireable other-place... case in point, I am finding it very hard to get down to work rather than play Oddworld: Stranger's Curse on the Xbox five feet away, because the atmosphere and environment of the game is so beautifully realised that the desire to spend time within it, experiencing and exploring it, is very strong. It's actually a very shallow game, narratively and character-wise, but the world is a thing of joy.

The original Halo did it too: all the videos of players exploring its every nook and cranny.

This is a point I made to the Writer's Room lot: once players have finished the basic story of a narrative game, they can derive a lot of enjoyment from exploring the backstory and the world and messing about with them. Not just in digital virtual worlds but with books, TV and film (fanfic, fan-art) as well. Many ARGs, one could argue, are almost entirely about exploring backstory.

And there's a point where depth of narrative, or at least breadth of narrative, becomes a world: I'm thinking of all the Alien and Predator stuff, the comics, the games, building a complete continuity that fans have completely bought into. But it's possible to create an exciting, attractive world without that. Or at least if you give people an environment and the tools to make their own fun -- the right tools -- they'll make it a world, and from that they'll create their own narratives.

We like story, yes, but we like worlds too: places where we feel comfortable. Stories produce worlds; worlds create stories. Has there been much discussion on the synergy between them? And when did the shift from story-to-world to world-to-story start? The mid-70s, with the first tabletop RPGs?

Hm. I sense a long, tedious essay coming on.

kim said...

Yes - I don't think my post was clear (I was the walking dead) in that I feel that any medium has this ability to create a sense of a desirable-other-place-to-be. Books do it; it's that sense of not being able to put it down, or having your perceptions of the everyday changed because they filter through the story world afterwards.

Its related, I think, to transference, and the audience identification 'dreaming into' that gets discussed in any screen theory. It's particularly noticeable in game worlds because you as the player/reader have to do less imaginative work to make the world concrete, freeing you to play within it, test its limits, so on and so forth. And that is absolutely where the fanfic drive comes from; engagement with a millieu.

Henry Jenkins, I think, has some good thoughts on fan participation and active audiences.