Friday, 13 March 2015

Considering characters & acting

Citing David Surman (Senior Lecturer in Game Design at Newport University in Wales) from his paper "Gaming, Uncanny Realism and Technical Demonstration", a point he has brought up in regards to "dominance of player-characters within an evolving notion of genre." (Surman, D. 2008) and this may be perhaps the most characterising development in the transversal of media ideas and ideology.

The concept of "playing" a game character in itself is acting or behaving as if one is acting, but it is more aligned to classical Greek masks where characterisation can be achieved on many levels regardless of the person "playing" the game. It is difficult to think of a gamer acting but when you observe how someone gaming interacts with the "in-world" they are participating in, the internal (personal) and objectified (game world) become somehow bracketed to this notion of "playing".

In this sense being provided with "developed" or "developing" characters is different from say, Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes the Terminator, how we see the Terminator in all its future representations is as Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, but this can also change if another actor plays the role again in future films. Yet, Arnold Schwarzenegger would have had to have some qualities that fitted with the original concept design. Woody Allen would not have been appropriate as the Terminator.

This is different however in games, you do not have to be short and have spiky hair to play Sonic the Hedgehog. The same can be said of interactive animated worlds, avatars can be anything from digital self-portraits to wild things of our imaginations.

If we look at characters in most media we find through merchandise and cross-over platforms that the continuum of that character's life remains relatively commensurate to the span of their popularity without any potential of "real-time" change. Big Bird remains Big Bird, doesn't grow old, doesn't physically or mentally show signs of augmentation by means of experience or circumstance. We can of course recognise change physically over-time due to trends or change in designers, these effects always refer to the original as a pivotal reference point which leads more to mimicry rather then any organic process. Big Bird isn't part of a developing characterisation, he is re-invented everyday exactly the same way, with little connection to his past or potential future. Will we see one day Big Bird as a grey feathered has-been hobbling along the streets of Sesame?

Probably one of the most famous examples of character transformation in the novel form is Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray", where Dorian's portrait hidden in an attic changes and Dorian in real-life does not. The portrait is influenced by Dorians behavor and reflects his attitude towards vice. So at the end of the novel we see what effect Dorian's psyche has on the painting (Graphic World) but Dorian himself is like an unchanging avatar in life (Real-World). In the game world, the player-character is more malleable depending on how much we can personify its form in ways that respond to our own lives and self-mythologies.

This can be seen from having the ability to change its appearance, add profiles, or simply use it as a kind of peer to peer engage and response proxy.

Cinema can condense time, and also allow room for more modulation in character development, and this is often the case when films bring out sequels. For instance in Pirates of the Caribbean we see many of differing characters go through transformations and non-conclusive predicaments, this partly caused by the writers unaware when they wrote the first film that sequels would be forthcoming, so the process of character development was more organic, more unpredictable, as is life.

With animated worlds this change can be seen as a non-linear historical narrative of character development. The player behaves differently to their character depending on the amount of time spent with it and the developmental stages of its being (Personification, experience, power).

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