Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Interactive Cinema

Carolyn Handler Miller opens her article with a description of three narratives, any of which could be the pitch for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. These narratives, the reader is surprised to learn, however, are all the basis for works of interactive cinema, which requires active participation to “assist” in unfolding the story. These works appear on either a DVD or CD-ROM format, formats that allow some sort of participant intervention, and share common threads that are liken to video games (although Miller attempts to avoid this obvious correlation) or choose your adventure novels:

* They are story driven
* They have dimensional characters
* Though they may have some game-like features, narrative plays an essential role
* Choices made by the users profoundly affect how the story is experienced (pg 334)

Miller continues to praise interactive cinema as a direct descendant of cinema, specifically beloved narrative-based cinema, but questions why “relatively little work is currently being done for either large-screen or small-screen interactive cinema,” but is confident in the work that is being produced.
The article pinpoints certain companies that have embraced interactive cinema, dominated by a local Toronto company, Immersion Studios. However, large-scale immersive works are mostly produced by academic institutions and government funded works, where “interactive storytellers can get the necessary support to work in their field” (334). Although I can’t say I participate in the following works, I am well aware of the porn industry taking advantage of interactive cinema for its means, where choices, I would imagine, revolve around choosing a sexual partner(s), positions, and even a climax option. Ultimately, Miller laments that the majority of interactive cinema is geared towards three different purposes: for pure entertainment, for training, or for education (335).
Miller begins her exploration of interactive cinema with a description of “large-screen interactive cinemas” and the companies that champion(ed) them, namely, Interfilm, whose films were ultimately commercially disastrous. Nevertheless, like the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, the previously mentioned, Immersion Studios, took up where Interfilm left off, and has produced a number of works, mainly interactive educational pieces for prestigious institutions such as The Smithsonian, and the Mystic Aquarium. Although the interactive film’s tackle scientific themes, Miller argues they are “edutainment” – once again cinema has found a way to trick our kids into learning!
Miller spends a large portion of her piece explaining the user’s experience with the interactive films, involving buttons in arm rests, allowing audiences to choose at various points in the film, but stresses, that the point of interactive cinema is for the participant to feel as though they are an active member of the narrative – that their decisions matter. Furthermore, some works involve group-based activity, meaning that the decisions of the group will affect how the narrative progresses, which Miller compares to MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), such as World of Warcraft, a fantastical multiplayer game that has been known to consume participants to achieve new levels of experience that may or may not exist, develop its own currency, been parodied on Southpark, and has broken up at least two relationships in my personal sphere of acquaintances. However, the form, content, and mediums of the works Miller describes differ from conventional MMOGs because of their educational or narrative agendas.
While Miller was initially successful in distancing Interactive Cinema from gaming, this fell apart when Miller quotes Stacy Spiegel, CEO of Immersion Studios, saying that “audiences respond strongly to gameplay and his company is thus steadily increasing the amount of gaming in their productions” (337). Which, if the films are meant to be educational, one must question whether or not the participant is actually learning something, or is just caught up in the competition. Miller goes on to explain how a participant can “become deeply involved with the stories, to the point of shedding tears if their action are unsuccessful” (337).

Angry German Gamer Kid

This, to me, is no different from any game out there be it Monopoly or the Olympics, where the goal is to win, not to learn.
Under the section of “A Sample Large-Screen Experience,” Miller describes the educational goal or Vital Space “to give an inside look at the major human body systems” (337). The last paragraph of this short section, continuing the description of “cinema,” seems to depart from this goal, and proceeds to describe the more interesting aspect of the “film,” its gaming content: “like a first-person shooter” (338). I again have a hard time understanding how anyone is supposed to learn about major human body systems while their immersed, shooting down parasitic intruders.
An inarguable positive aspect of Immersive Cinema is that, as Brian Katz of Immersion Studios points out, the works have attracted visitors to the educational institutions they were made for. Interestingly, the younger participants typically had a more positive experience with the works because of a developed comfortableness with multiple screens and multitasking, as opposed to older participants who are unsure of where to look, which poses some challenges to the creators of these works. Moreover, while the goal of these works is educational, the gaming components do make more active participants, allowing them to pay closer attention to the slower, potentially more pedagogical moments. However, these works may also need to be approached from an epistemological point of view if their mode of pedagogy becomes increasingly popular.
For the remainder of the article, Miller shifts her focus to small-screen interactive cinemas, largely comprised of works that are viewed on a CD or DVD-ROM, which allows for increased participation and interactivity; a user is able to select different aspects of a story, affecting its narrative trajectory. Furthermore, the increased opportunity for multiple, simultaneous narratives with small-screen interactive allows these works to take on more “probing sophisticated psychological themes, somewhat like the films one can find in art house movie theaters.” I believe this is where immersive cinema is most likely to benefit and gain in popularity, as this cinema is generally accepted to be more challenging, creative and innovative, before being ultimately swallowed up by the mainstream, allowing for more commercial funding for these works.
Lastly, immersive cinema used as a learning tool was utilized by Boeing in a film titled Transition to Management, which was a hyperstory designed to “help new managers deal with tough issues that had no black and white answers, particularly in matters involving communication” (334). This goal of these learning immersive cinemas is reminiscent of NASA Flight Simulators, where astronauts learn their skill in the safety of a pod, which simulates some of the problems they may encounter on real missions; why not adapt this idea to fit the growing experience-lacking, white collar workforce, in a negative outcome-free zone?
Although the multiple modes of immersive cinema seem exciting, Miller is disappointed that the progress of future or different works have slowed down to a crawl due to unsuccessful business models as well as an unsatisfactory attempt to meld cinematic storytelling and interactivity.

Does interactive cinema, in its various modes, affect the way viewers participate in narrative films, change they way we learn, or is a viable way to achieve experience-based development?

What are some ideas to meld cinematic storytelling and interactivity in a sustainable way?

Mon, November 16 2009 » Futurecinema_2009