Chungking Espresso

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Janet Murray

Posted in Gaming by Simon Ferrari on March 24, 2010

In 1997, Janet Murray published Hamlet on the Holodeck. It was one of the first attempts, from within the humanities, to gauge and classify the storytelling potential of the digital medium. Except for the notable influence of Brenda Laurel’s earlier research into computers as theatre, Murray drew primarily from the work of programmers and designers at Xerox PARC and DARPA. She combined technical knowledge with years of experience as a scholar of Victorian literature and science fiction. While recognizing a potential for the misuse of technology, she predicted a utopian future where we would co-create narratives of romance, danger, and exploration within a seamless virtual reality. This is considered a primary text of the “narratology” school of game studies, although Murray herself has always encouraged others to study games as distinct from their capacity to tell stories.

Murray explicated the four essential properties of the digital medium: it is procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic.

Procedurality refers to the computer’s ability to execute code.

The computer is participatory insofar as it responds to input.

Spatiality means that the computer can model space and time.

The encyclopedic capacity comes from the computer’s ability to store more information than any prior physical media.

Murray’s discussion recognizes that procedurality is the medium’s unique and defining trait, but she gives them all equal consideration. She pairs off these properties to explain where complex structures in computing come from. Procedurality and participation combine to form interactivity. Spatiality and participation together lead to the navigability of virtual space (following the advent of the graphical user interface). Encyclopedic capacity and spatiality give rise to the field of information design, primarily concerned with organizing data to make it more transparent, accessible, and compact.

Read the rest of the post at The Border House.


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