On 12 June, at the Living Space Café just south of Waterloo station Public Access held a one night only exhibition of internet based artworks that attempted to show how which technology has altered the way we interact with each other and with art itself. The power of the computer, and the internet itself, to bring out aspects of connected contemporary life created something that felt fresh and interesting.
The exhibition reminded me of the 2005 art game Façade developed by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern as an interactive story, attempting to emotionally involve the player in a story environment that would provoke a response. A simpler comparison for Façade would be its similarity to a Choose your adventure storybook, but rather than branching off to different sections depending on whether you want to try and hack apart a goblin or not, the game’s natural language processing feature interprets your typed responses to decide your path through the game.
…a wide variety of inanities, compliments and more entertainingly, insults.
Rather than a fantastical setting, the game’s creators chose to showcase this new technology in the mundane setting of a couple’s apartment, where you are dropped in as an anonymous awkward third wheel invited round for dinner. Your conversational choices, which can be remarkably freeform, provoke a range of reactions from the husband, Trip, who responds appropriately to both a wide variety of inanities, compliments and more entertainingly, insults.
Depending on how you choose to respond to the chit chat of the Proto-Pete Campbell figure of Trip and his frustrated wife you can gain a range of insights into their marital difficulties, perspectives on art and even your subtle (or not so subtle) advances towards the wife.
The game’s flat visuals and primitive animation don’t act as a great obstacle to your involvement in the experience. The novelty of the freeness of interaction persuades you to explore what you can get away with. Once this novelty wears off, however, a nagging question begins to form. Just how much do we want to involve ourselves in a failing marriage as entertainment? I don’t think too many gamers would object to a bit of variety and intellectual stimulation, but don’t we still want games to retain an element of that pure escapism that makes arcade classics so compelling and addictive?
At the very least, this technology has helped big budget blockbusters that dominate the gaming scene to shed the awkward stilted dialogue that used to shatter the atmosphere built by the beautifully sculpted landscapes and characters. Now, an experience that even if occasionally doesn’t quite understand you, still feels uniquely yours and yours alone.