The Contradiction Of Linearity
October 7, 2010 Page 3 of 4
Designing the Now
The concept of "the moment" serves as a starting point for both the experience of our audience and the design of our work in real-time media. It is inadvisable to create for a real-time medium in a sequential format.
Much like it is ludicrous for a painter to describe the picture he wants to produce rather than make a simple sketch, it is inappropriate for us to develop an interactive piece by means of written words or spreadsheets.
Much like the painter needs to see his brush strokes, we need to navigate through the world we are creating and touch it and poke it and play with it.
Designing for the real-time medium is a playful activity. This is because we are designing for interactivity; we are not purely designing rule sets anymore. We are creating situations in which people can have experiences. We are architects, we are masters of ceremony, we are priests and prophets.
We are designing the now. Not creating the event as such, but creating a situation. A situation in which events may happen. In which the player might experience a story of their own. All we do is carefully create the conditions.
But there does not need to be a story. This is why this medium is so revolutionary. It allows us to explore ideas beyond the logical constraints of cause and effect. In a space where many realities can exist simultaneously. Real-time technology is a poetic technology -- a medium that allows us to explore the infinity of a moment.
A useful model for nonlinear design is the utilitarian computer program. Applications like Photoshop or Word present us with palettes and toolbars and menus. But they don't tell us which ones to choose, or in which order to use them.
From experience (or from reading the manual), we know that for certain tasks, certain strings of commands are the most adequate. But that doesn't mean we need to do any of those tasks, or that we cannot achieve a similar (or more interesting) result in any other way. The creators of the program don't care which image or text you are going to create. But they do try their best to optimize your chances of creating a beautiful one.
A world of possibilities. And nobody telling us what to do.
The goal of playing a game is not to produce a drawing or write a text. The goal is to amuse oneself, which often amounts to seeking wonder in some way. This is where interactivity enters the stage. Utilitarian computer applications are generally not very interactive. Any action usually consists of the user pressing a button and the application executing the command. Interactive simulations such as video games, however, can do a lot more on their own. When the player does something, the application can respond in ways that can help them approach the wonder they are after.
There is no doubt that linear game design can produce a lot of amusement and wonder in a player. But its impact is limited, because its systems are designed in a top-down fashion. Like roller coasters, such games are designed by putting the right turns and accelerations at the right moments in order to maximize amusement in the player within a given set of constraints. To some extent, it is the lack of freedom that produces the desired effect.
Nonlinear design comes out of a bottom-up thought process. It centers around the act of playing. It's thinking in terms of opportunities rather than goals. When dealing with nonlinearity, we largely abandon game design as a discipline, in favor of more general interaction design. Our job is not to come up with challenges for our player, but to offer them opportunities to create their own amusement. We stop dictating what we think will produce fun. We have to remove obstacles, not build them.
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