Friday, 4 July 2014

Reflection on feedback.

Although it is nearly being a year since I had launched the experiment that led to the short, But Tomorrow was Yesterday, FINALLY I have uploaded the experiments outcomes. I won't make excuses, they should have been uploaded much much sooner - however, I can only apologise, and here they finally are. 

Overall the results demonstrated that their was potential of additional audience autonomy through the removal of the exposition narrative information such as location, objective and identity, evidenced by each piece of feedback being different. However, now I am reflecting on the project after a good time away from it, I don't think the results are as clear-cut as they initially appeared nor as effective in measuring as they could have been.

On Reflection

As much as I would like to suggest I've had time to give this lots of thought but in truth I have not; teacher training is incredibly mentally draining (and that is no complaint), with the time I have contributed to that and in addition to the time-scale since the project end, I find myself questioning how much of an obvious outcome the results I had identified were. 

Humans as subjective beings attempt to apply meaning to objects and it is this process that (I believe at least) that makes us different to other species. We don't just measure an objects initial threat or usefulness value, nor reject it with ease once it is rendered not useful to survival, we attempt to understand the deeper context of it. With this in mind it's only natural that the audience would strive to apply meaning to any information gaps that were present within the narrative. The gaps that the information left in this content were stitched together with interpretation or potential (or not) by the individuals and in this instance audience autonomy was evident. However, I wonder how much of this 'stitching together' is actually still present in formal storytelling. 

As Ed Hooks points out we always start scenes in the middle, not at the beginning. In stories there is always a beginning but there is always a past behind that beginning. A past that is supposed or supported but at the least informed by the location and the characters whether it be through action, emotion or aesthetics. Even right at the beginning, if we are there at the start of that life (the birth process for instance) there is an assumed - audience automated - past, that is applied through their own knowledge and experience; two adults must have conceived and at some point been in a loving relationship - at least on a human level. The significance of that loving relationship is a choice for the director based on it's significance to the narrative. But their is always a past to associate with or extend to beyond what has been presented. The cyclical nature to the final film I produced in someways removed the natural process of applying a past, and what i did not realise then that i do now is that the short, when viewed in this manner as intended (an endless repeat), is permanently starting in the middle, in terms of the scene and narrative, and any past sort after cannot be as easily assumed - at least by the laws of our universe or perceived existence.  

A result of this can be seen within the responses below. Some could not conceive a specific location, instead choosing to render this in its actual context of being unknown or an abstract place. Whilst this may have been an autonomous choice this was still informed through the direction of the work, and they did invest the cognitive effort to stitch together these other fragmented pieces of information through that provided autonomy. Even the (assumingly) random created locations such as Scotland are based on the knowledge and experience of the individual in the same way a past is applied when there is an exposition present in a narrative - it is just a less (director) informed one. This highlights the difficulty and contradicting nature of the results of the experiment. I feel at this stage I certainly did not provide as much autonomy as I had initially thought. But maybe that is part of the process? in part of searching for the boundary of retaining the audiences emotional experience as passive co-authors whilst simultaneously re-engaging them as active co-authors. It would appear that in some respect I had attempted to make the piece more interactive - at least on a conscious or subconscious viewing experience as opposed to full scale interaction as that of the games market.


That said, I still feel audience autonomy has to be guided otherwise they stop becoming an audience and assume the role of complete director or creator (the same as in the gaming i might add). The experiment itself provided the audience to have more of a platform to express what was happening inside their minds as they responded to the information present to the film, and on reflection, how well this cognitive process was recorded highlights issues with the experiment and are discussed later on. As mentioned in the summation presentation where I discussed one of Hooks topics about empathy in games, where he suggests that cinematic's are going to become a redundant feature of games, based on a visit he had taken to an american developer, I still maintain this is not going to happen completely. Whilst their is evidence of this happening in such brands as Assassins Creed, there are still cut scenes, and these allow extra emotive impact that an audience/participant would not experience in the same way if they were concentrating on task orientated interactions. My personal opinion is that games will never be able to create the level of empathy required to allow someone to cry (unless they are overly sensitive ofcourse); embodiment of the character lies on differing plains that sees the audiences interactive autonomy shift. Just as Crafton highlighted within cinematic animation evolution during the 1920's/30's, that their was a shift from figurative to embodied performance, and in games i feel this happens on a frequent journey from one to the other throughout a singular game (as opposed to the almost linear audience experience of cinema animation). I am yet to see this directly discussed  so for me the topic is still an under discussed one. 

As games become more immersive, does the participant become more emotively responsive to the action as they have the opportunity to focus on non-important aspects that arrive with the free choice? Personally I do not think so. It is easy to miss important action within a narrative as i experienced whilst playing Assassin's Creed 3, where the games action was not using cinematic techniques to pull me in or guide my focus. I missed the embodied performance of the other characters to the figuration of my own character whilst moving  through the environment and planning how to perform an assassination. Whilst there is a narrative for the protagonist in games, this is becoming less empathic through the basis of having choice for that character - as the character is no longer making the reactions with their own emotions. The participant can respond emotively to the action in the physical world when they are making the decisions for the character in the immersive world, but the that experience is limited by the possible outcomes that the participant can respond with. Whilst the participant is cognitively distracted by the immersive objectives of the game, they may or may not acknowledge certain actions, emotions or responses of other characters as they perform embodied performances in a more autonomous environment. Whilst there is an element of control for the participants, their emotions are still being directed through cinematics. The pursuit of immersion therefore is damaging the embodiment of the protagonist. Providing more autonomy to the participant in an open environment prevents the user from understanding the character emotively. The actions, reactions, thoughts and feelings of the character become a redundant feature, and so this back and forward relationship between figuration and embodiment begins, and the separate identities of the character in the narrative and the participant become conflicted. This conflict, that prevents empathy, potentially detaches the participants emotions and will raise the bigger fundamental questions about the role of narratives within games and other interactive experiences, leading to developers questioning whether to pursue a development based on an emotive or reward based experience. Before i continue i will point out this is an assessment based on the narratives/story modes within games - multiplayer first person shooters for example, are purely based on rewards and interactions of participants and do not care for the on-scene figuration's they embody, the emotional experience is real and is based on the individual behind the figuration's that they wish to kill, in order for real world social status reward. 

Going back to empathy, in Hook's own words: 

'Sympathy = feeling for
Empathy = feeling into'

Quite simply, you cannot feel into something that you are (or are embodying!).

We know that complete immersion would be impossible unless the participants were truly free to make any choice that they wanted - that they could respond anyway they felt with their own emotions as opposed to a pre-determined set of choices (that usually involve a measure of our moral code or sense of risk to determine responses). The closest I have found to an emotive cinematic experience was during the game LA Noire. This relied heavily on the use of cinema and a set of pre-determined choices (that was set against evidence and construed through theorising rather than whether I felt guilty or not about killing a female companion as in Fable 3). However, LA Noire heavily focused on the integration of cinema and game interaction. Two things let LA Noire down in this pursuit of cinematic experience. Firstly, the protagonist changes right before the end. This is fairly significant, much of the cinematic's focus on the point of view of this initial protagonist Cole, building an emotional connection between character and participator/audience - further segregating the embodiment of cinema and the figuration of the immersive detective part of the game (to good effect i might add), because this removed the participators moral compass from the actions and reactions of Cole allowing them to remain as separate people enabling potential for empathy! (It is easy to think of immersion as creating an emotive experience when it is said but it does not in my opinion).

The two clear distinctions; 
1) Cole the character acting and responding emotively the to other characters and action, allowing audience empathy.  
2) The audience solving the puzzle of a crime and whether the individual had committed the crime or not, that immersed them but without any negative impact on their embodiment of Cole.

[The characters in the crimes (if i remember correctly) rarely include the main cast that Cole interacts with in the cinematic parts.]

In other words, the audience could feel into Cole during the cinematics, and could respond figuratively during the immersive sections that did not impinge on the outcomes of Cole emotions nor did the immersive sections allow distraction from the important emotional changes of Cole and the narrative. In other words, the audience never has to pretend they were Cole. However, as mentioned, because they changed the protagonist the emotional relationship developed left a negative experience on the viewer. In my experience, I felt abandoned and given a new protagonist right at the end of the story. Although the new protagonist was not a complete stranger, the emotional engagement with the narrative was significantly reduced to the point I never completed the game - I simply did not care for the character in the same way i did Cole.

The second thing that lets LA Noire down is that the figurative animation. The cinematics were filmed with with motion capture and live-action mapped performances, they are truly embodied performances. The interactive and more immersive part of the game's animation was creative using motion capture. The movements are clunky and noticeably stiff - it lacked the emotive impact and often becomes frustrating to navigate with. As a result the relationship between the figuration and embodied was noticeable and prevented LA Noire being the first true cinematic game that it was striving to be - albeit you could argue it did become exactly that, as nothing has bettered it since. I truly believe if these two aspects had been given more attention it would have lived up to it's intent, where the empathic response they were striving for would make it an effective 'movie-game'.


In some respects, trying to create a movie with more audience autonomy could be seen as an  interactive 'game-like' development. I had guided the audience and had been actively looking to them to make a contribution. I asked them to fill in the gaps and I am asking them to solve a puzzle. Although their is no reward, and they cannot influence the outcome of the character, they are allowed to embody the character and his narrative in the way an immersive environment cannot. My feelings now is that I may have met the boundary on how much autonomy can an audience be provided without negatively impacting the potential empathy. This I argue, without going to the extreme and giving the audience complete ownership as if i facilitated them with a space for them to determine everything.

The reason for highlighting this and empathy in games generally is that in verbal conversations with audience members they were actively engrossed with the narrative (or lack of narrative) within my production. Some wanted answers; some didn't want answers. As evident below some desperately wanted to help him. To me this showed that they had empathy with the character and despite the lack of narrative he was real to them and they cared. The lack of a face did not impinge on this either, some participants chose not to illustrate his potential face. Ultimately they engaged with the embodied performance's emotions - and that was something they had no control over. Providing more autonomy to the participants indirectly, that did not require their input to influence any outcomes of the action or emotion, facilitated the empathy and resulting application of meaning that is inherent in human nature.

In one interesting example a participant provided no answers at all except a name. This could have been interpreted in many ways; it did not need to be stitched together; they accepted everything about the character and his environment, only choosing to give them that link to human nature - a title (name) or reference to be distinguished or defined by. It could be that the name is that of the participator - all of which do indicate there has been evidence of empathy.

There were several problems with the experiment though, and something that will be considered in much more depth moving forward. Firstly, the questions provoked the audience, they asked them to provide answers. The questions did not ask if they had already produced those answers and as a result there is argument for the results to be invalid. Were they creating them after the experience because they had been prompted? Whilst this did generate them as active co-authors, as they did produce that content as a creative agent, this didn't necessarily happen within the duration of the film and therefore the content didn't prompt that human nature - but i can never know as it wasn't measured during the experiment. Secondly, the questions did not ask why they came to the conclusions that they did. Thirdly, what did that created context mean and where did it come from? 

For me, this is where the results of the research would have been interesting. What experiences and knowledge were they applying and why did they select those responses? Was it a rapid response to being prompted or a conclusion determined prior to that?

Behind those decisions I feel lies the concept of the active co-author. What happens with that knowledge once it has been developed could potentially be interesting - would the director have the ability to manipulate creativity on a deeper level? In truth that is probably an obvious answer - yes. It would certain contradict the meaning and purpose of the active co-author I am attempting to develop. One difficulty that still remains as I have discussed, how much freedom can be give before it is no longer possible to lead as a director without being completely void or without empathy from the audience? The gaming industry provides some interesting insights in providing audiences more ownership and i have discussed one aspect of that here. One thing for sure though is this, immersion and embodiment have a close relationship with a fragile boundary. Immersing into a character and immersing into an environment can reshape a participants experience significantly with regard to empathic and emotional impact. As the research below shows, further audience autonomy is possible, but the extent to which that impinges audience emotional engagement of the protagonist in a animation cinematic environment is only just beginning to be explored. 

My summative research document will be uploaded shortly. Please keep into context the distance between the two discussions and be aware of the differences between my thoughts now, and my thoughts back in September.

- Adam

P.S. A final thank you to all those that participated and aided me with the project. 

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