Here on My Side of the Screen

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(I’m officially retiring my usual “Ian here” greeting, as, in the absence of student posts, there will be no one but me posting on this blog for the foreseeable future.)

Early in his book Pilgrim in the Microworld, a phenomenological account of videogame expertise that stands as landmark work of first-person game criticism, David Sudnow attempts to describe, to a presumably completely ignorant reader, the experience of playing Breakout (Atari, 1972). “There’s that world space over there, this one over here,” he writes, “and we traverse the wired gap with motions that make us nonetheless feel in a balanced extending touch with things.”[i]

Today, the term “wired gap” is archaic—we sit comfortably in the age of wireless game controllers. But the general logic of this gap, and how it is traversed, nonetheless persists. On the one side, we have the electronic world represented on the screen. On the other side, we have ourselves, cordoned off from the world of the game by virtue of being flesh-and-blood. If we act upon that other world from our side of the screen, it must be by virtue of some sort of electronic input device: keyboard and mouse, DualShock 4, Wii Remote, Jungle Beat bongo drum, what have you. Wired or not, the relationship we have with that world on the other side of the screen is necessarily mediated by technology: sever that particular link, and our involvement with it ceases.

Not all games follow this logic, however. In this post, I’ll be looking at three games, all of which came out around 2012–2014, that ask you to do more, as a player, than simply manipulate an electronic interface. These games have a different sort of contract with their player. They ask you agree to more wide-ranging sets of behaviors over on your side of the screen, which, by their very nature, cannot be regulated in strict procedural terms. These are games that re-map the points of contact between our fleshy, spacious realm and the realm of bits and pixels.

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Lesson Plan: Lying Narration in Cinema and Videogames

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Ian here—

In my 2013 “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames” course, I devoted a week to the genres of mystery and suspense. In this first class of this week, we discussed theory. Students read a portion of David Bordwell’s Narration in the Fiction Film, in which he discusses the concept of communicativeness of narration, and the specific ways communicativeness is clamped down in the detective genre. We also discussed the ways in which mysteries play with time, using the formalist conceits of fabula and syuzhet that Bordwell draws from. This dovetailed with our second reading, Jesper Juul’s 2004 article “Introduction to Game Time,” in which he expresses skepticism that videogames could ever pull off a flashback-based story structure.

The screening for this week included the entirety of Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950), as well as selected chapters of Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010), which I had students play live, and discuss. We re-convened during the next class session for a discussion on unreliable narration and the relative “fairness” of twists. Readings included Kristin Thompson’s chapter on Stage Fright in Breaking the Glass Armor, and Emily Short’s writings on Heavy Rain. Spoilers on the (potentially unfair) twists of both texts below.

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Lesson Plan: Irony and Lies, pt 2

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24 City (Jia Zhangke, China, 2008)

Ian here

Here’s the second week in my “Ironic Narration and Lying Photographs” section for my course “Moving Images and Arguments.” Below the fold: Mitchell Block’s …no lies (1973), Luis Buñuel’s Land without Bread (1933), and Jia Zhanke’s 24 City (2008). Let the beguilement commence!

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Lesson Plan: Irony and Lies in Photography and Cinema, pt 1

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Pierre Vallieres (Joyce Weiland, Canada, 1972)

Ian here—

In my fall 2016 course “Moving Images and Arguments,” a survey of rhetorical techniques across cinema (including plenty of documentaries and essay films), video art, and videogames, I devoted two separate class sessions to the theme of “Ironic Narration and Lying Photographs.” What follows is the first. (I’ll be posting the second later.)

One learning objective for this week was to get students thinking critically about where, exactly, the “lies” come from in photographs that we consider untrustworthy. To this aim, I assigned “Two Futures for Electronic Images,” a chapter from D. N. Rodowick’s The Virtual Life of Film, as reading. I also directed students to the website for “Altered Images,” the Bronx Documentary Center’s exhibition of manipulated documentary photography, to peruse the images and stories collected there. My second learning objective, though, was to slide away from issues of documentary and “lying,” toward issues of humor and irony. Where do we draw the line between lies that are meant to deceive, and lies that are meant as entertaining winks?

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