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My keynote at theEmotion Media and Crime conference October 30th

My keynote at theEmotion Media and Crime conference October 30th

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  • 1. Playing the Plot Agency and Embodiment in Reading, Watching and Playing Crime Fictions Kjetil Sandvik, PHD, associate professor, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen
  • 2. Establishing shot
    • Main assumption: we read to uncover and reveal the crime fiction plot in a more radical way than is described by Peter Brooks:
    • When it comes to crime fictions the joy and excitement in reading (watching, playing) is fueled by our attempts to  reveal and solve the crime (the core of the crime fiction’s plot) which are being carried out along side and in ‘competition’ with the with the  protagonist (the detective, the investigator).
    • We do not just read for the plot on the level of the story unfolding, we also do it on the level of the characters of the story and thus we engaged ourselves in playing the plot.
    • We submit to an investigative reading in which the exploration of both events (the crime) and place (the crime scene) are core (and intertwined) elements.
    • In playable crime fictions – from murder walks to computer or mixed reality games – we gain agency over the crime plot/place-structure and the ability to get embodied into the crime fiction, not only on a cognitive level (the level of perception) but on a physical level as well.
  • 3. Reading for the plot
    • Plotting: ”that which makes a plot ’move forward’, and makes us read forward, seeking in the unfolding of the narrative a line of intention and portent of design that hold the promise of progress toward meaning” (Peter Brooks, p.xii)’
    •  
    • ” the temporal dynamics that shape narratives in our reading of them, the play of desire in time that makes us turn pages and strive toward narrative ends” (Brooks, p.xiii)
    • In playable fiction the process of plotting is – to some extent – handed over to the recipient (the player)
  • 4. Reading for the plot
    • Plot: the principle by which a narrative organizes the relationship between story and discourse: dilation  suspense  proper closure
    •  
    • “ The desire of the text (the desire of reading) is hence desire for the end, but desire for the end reached only through the at least minimally complicated detour, the intentional deviance, in tension, which is the plot of narrative” (p.104)
  • 5. Agency and embodiment
    • A well-working crime fiction facilitates a double plot-reading by enabling a certain form of agency and embodiment:
    • - by putting out traces and clues and leaving possibilities for interpretations and solutions open to us, the structure of the crime fiction grants us the possibility of carrying out the tasks of investigation.
    • The crime fiction creates a structure and space for actions into which we not just project ourselves in the act of reading but in which we also may participate actively.
    • A classic ‘who-dunnit’ novel or TV series is an invitation to the reader/viewer to deliver the answer before Poirot, Marple, or Barnaby does it
  • 6. The importance of place
    • Crime scenes are constituted by a convergence of a plot and a place in chronotopian way:
    • the blending or intertwined relation between time and space in narratives:
    • “ Those things that are static in space cannot be statically described, but must rather be incorporated into the temporal sequence of represented events and into the story’s own representational field” (Bakhtin)
    • Places (the crime scene as well as other sites connected to the crime) work both as routes for the persons conducting the investigation and as coordinates for the crime itself.
    • The places are as such not just settings for the plot; they generate the plot in that they have been embedded with narrative traces which may be read, (re)enacted and reconstructed.
  • 7. The importance of place
    • Crime fictions are (often) set in actual places
      • Simenon’s Paris
      • Hammet’s San Francisco
      • Chandler’s Los Angeles
      • Rankin’s Edinburgh
      • Staalesen’s Bergen
      • Larsson’s or Marklund’s Stockholm
      • Mankell’s Ystad
    • By using this places as location for their crime stories, as their ’scene of the crime’ these authors (and the film and TV producers using the same locations), are plotting these places in ways that may be used also for more playable murder-plots such as murder tours/walks.
  • 8.  
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  • 11. Plotted places
    • Places which has gotten a certain surplus of meaning, a certain kind of narrative embedded into it.
    • Plotting of actual places implies that the characteristics of these places have been enhanced in that a certain mode, atmosphere or story has beed added to them as extra layers of meaning .
  • 12. The crime scene as a plottted place
    • Crime scenes are constituted by a combination of a plot and a place.
    • The place that has been in a certain state at a certain moment in time, i.e. the moment at which the place constituted the scene for some kind of physical activity, which has changed its nature .
    • Thus the place carries a plot (a narrative), which at first is hidden and scattered and has to be revealed and pieced together through a process of investigation and exploration with the aid of different forensic methods, eye-witnesses and so on; - through reading and interpretation.
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  • 20. Reading for the plot - revisited
    • According to Brooks theories the plotting in this scene is of such character that it produces an anticipation of meaningful closure: the nature of the crime seems explained.
    • But handing out the end in the initial episode of the series would off course produce an unsatisfactory closure:
    • due to the principle of dilation and tension-building (holding back information, giving misleading information) this scene produces a sense that the suggested closure (ending) – that the murder have been committed by fundamentalists – is false.
  • 21. Towards the playable plot
    • The sense of agency, embodiment and spatial experience is working in various ways depending on the media format:
      • the novel, the movie, the tv-series,
      • various hybrid formats which make use of cross-mediatic strategies,
      • the introduction of a physical, tactile dimension when crime fiction migrates  into the realm of games (whether they are  situated in physical space, mediated through computers or using a mixed-reality format).
    • In these last examples it becomes clear that crime fictions not just invite us to read for the plot, but incorporate the reader’s body and agency in the experience of playing the plot.
  • 22. We want to solve the crime mystery ourselves
  • 23.  
  • 24. CSI as cross-media entertainment
    • TV-series + website + games + spin-offs (CSI: NY, CSI: Miami)
    • CSI: NY – the Second Life episode: possibility for conducting your own investigation in SL in parallel with the (prime time) airing of this weeks episode
    • Website: game-features: forensic learning and experience facilities (also live-exhibits)
  • 25.  
  • 26. CSI (CBS)
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  • 29. The playable plot: key concepts
    • Narrative : the structure of actions and events
    • Dramaturgy : the anatomy of actions and relationship between actors
    • Gameplay : the possibility for the player to perform actions and inflect change upon the structure of actions and events
  • 30. Basic narrative elements
    • Interrelated characters
    • performing together (with or against each other) in a conflict-based structure of actions and events
    • creating a story
    • about something (e.g. a murder case)
  • 31. The dramaturgical engine: Agency Chief of Police Solving the crime The society: justice being served Assistants, csi-team Skills, knowledge, tech. The detective reader identification controlled by the player The villain(s), false evidences, clues
  • 32. Game plotting
    • The way player-inflected actions work within the game as part of causal chains of pro-actions and re-actions in a (mono- or multi-) linear structure producing change in time and space.
    •  agency: controlling the plot
  • 33. Case: Blackout (Deadline Games, 1997)
    • Double mystery-solving:
        • What happened to the beheaded woman on the bed?
        • What is your own identity?
    • Film noir setting (melodramatic)
        • Deranged people and society, the detective’s personal problems bigger than problems concerning solving the case…
  • 34. Levels of agency
    • Kinesthetic agency
    • Character agency
    • Dramaturgical agency
    • Narrative agency
    • Discoursive agency
  • 35. Agency and embodiment
    • To the fictional character the story will always be here-and-now (realtime).
    • The computer game provides the player with the opportunity to go in and play a character and thus partake in the fiction’s realtime.
    • The player does not just get emotionally involved in the story’s character; she embodies the character: her visuo-motoric actions are extended into the character.
    • The player executes vital agency in the fiction’s here-and-now time.
  • 36. Extending the player’s body into the game universe
    • Playing computer games consists of an
    • interplay between the player’s body movements in the physical world and the agency of game characters in the game’s mediated environment
    • with the controller as a mediator remediating the movements of the player in physical space into the actions of the avatar and into its navigational operation in the space of the game world.
  • 37. Embodiment and agency
  • 38. Body and movement
    • Engagement of the player’s body takes place on several levels:
    • the virtual physicality inherent in the player’s embodiment and agency found in the player’s control over the game character and game story
    • the tactility in encountering and operating the games interface.
  • 39. Interface: engaging the body
    • Screen
    • + mouse/keyboard or controller
    • + joystick, steering-wheel , guns etc.
    • + voice control
    • +dance pad, EyeToy, Wiimote, etc.
    • Or: the physical world as interface
  • 40.  
  • 41. Interface in Blackout
    • Screen, mouse + keyboard
    • 1. person POV
    • Old-school point-and-click navigation and interaction with the environment, the characters and multiple-choice menues
    Do you want to talk? Yes No
  • 42. Levels of agency
    • Kinesthetic agency
    • Character agency
    • Dramaturgical agency
    • Narrative agency
    • Discoursive agency
  • 43. The character as vehicle
    • The character may be understood as a suite of characteristics or equipment utilized and em-bodied by the controlling player.
    • We do not play e.g. Lara Croft – we gain control over a certain set of ‘skills’ regarding the ability to act and which is implemented in the Lara-avatar: the avatar’s action become an extension of the player’s body.
  • 44. Character agency: The Sims
  • 45. Character agency: Blackout Imagining the character
  • 46. Levels of agency
    • Kinesthetic agency
    • Character agency
    • Dramaturgical agency
    • Narrative agency
    • Discoursive agency
  • 47. Dramaturgical agency: Blackout Story -space Story -space Story -space blackout blackou t
  • 48. Levels of agency
    • Kinesthetic agency
    • Character agency
    • Dramaturgical agency
    • Narrative agency
    • Discoursive agency
  • 49. Role-play improvisation
  • 50. Levels of agency
    • Kinesthetic agency
    • Character agency
    • Dramaturgical agency
    • Narrative agency
    • Discoursive agency
  • 51. Sandbox game Design tools Concept Second Life Environment
  • 52. Agency
    • T he satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices.
            • Janet H. Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck , 1997
    • Activity alone is not agency.
        • Although gamemakers sometimes mistakenly focus on the number of interactions per minute, this number is a poor indicator of the pleasure of agency afforded by a game
    • In Blackout the loss of agency is vital to the over-all gameplay and game story
  • 53. The loss of agency
    • Your loss of memory renders you unable to act (and others hold the truth about your identity).
    • The hostile environ-ment take command.
    • The blackouts take control over the course of the plot.
    • Interplay between chaotic openings and meaning-producing endings
  • 54. Questions? Comments?