Friday, September 23, 2011

Interactive Ritual

I've been thinking about video games and their growth from other interactive mediums. Perhaps spurred by Alternative Ending's apology for RPGs and desire for more emergent narrative, although I'm not yet sure how much this discussion will have to do with her discussion.

Interaction has been and still is a part of human rituals. So far I have categorized these interactive rituals into three categories, defining a ritual as an action that is performed multiple times in the same way, usually with pre-scripted parts, and interactive where the participant does something. I feel like there should be another classification for where the participant can do multiple things which in turn affect the outcome of the ritual, but I don't know what that word is yet:

Social rituals (require more than one person):
-Oaths. The marriage oath, swearing into court, and the presidential inauguration all require the participant to accept or reject the situation, with different consequences either way. 
I really just wanted an excuse to put in a picture of a Russian orthodox church.
-Call-and-Response.  Common in camp songs and some Christian-type sermons. The leader says one part, and the audience answers theirs or repeat what has just been said. 
-Call-and-Action. Traditional storytelling that has the audience do actions in certain parts would fall here, as well as children's finger plays. Singing with actions, like jump-rope rhymes and clapping songs might also go here. If you say/do the wrong thing everyone else will probably keep going or stop. 
-Daily living. Includes greetings, exchange of goods, pouring a drink for someone else, etc.
-Other. Everything I haven't though of yet.

Individual rituals:
-Counting off. Including counting your money, plucking daisy petals, etc. to come to a conclusion.
-Bodily rituals. Going to the toilet, eating, etc.
-Daily living. Washing hands, Sometimes combined with social rituals for extra effect. Includes quirky things like you always put your keys in your right-hand pocket, read before bed, etc.
-This is getting ridiculous and I need to stop thinking about it.

We can think of video games as rituals. In Portal for instance (forgive my constant references to this game, but I'm writing my thesis on it so it's on my mind and readily available, mentally), the structure is that of call-and-action. GLaDOS says the same things every time you play the game. If you do something other than the scripted event of an action that leads to beating the game, you just can't continue. There is no way to complete the game and not fight with GLaDOS (well, short of modding the game I suppose). But an essential difference is that the first time you play a game, you don't know what's going to happen, so it doesn't feel like a ritual. It's only on replaying a game that you feel that it is a ritual and become comfortable with it. Most games with a linear flow follow this feel.

Games with multiple endings are still a sort of ritual, or at least a set of different rituals which you have to figure out. Creating a level in Little Big Planet seems like it's not a ritual, unless you're creating the same level over and over again. Open-world games have breaks from the structure of ritual, but still within the rules and confines of the game. I also wonder how ritual works in games with procedurally-generated content or in sandbox games. Certainly exploring the dungeon levels in Persona 3 time after time seems like a ritual, even if the floor pattern is a little different each time. When playing Minecraft with zombies the first day seems to play out the same: make shelter for the night by digging materials. And I don't think ritual is a bad thing; I think it's important to acknowledge that part of the experience of playing a video game is rooted in very old experiences. Gameplay elements which become ritualistic in one playthrough of a game (like grinding in RPGs or digging in Minecraft) hold a special quality which both bore and comfort us. I hope to follow this post up with some more awesome, but this might be as far as the idea goes.
Ah, grinding. Oh, I forgot to mention FF6. Here is this screenshot I stole off the internet anyway.
Edit: Because I'm a budding archivist, I'd like to link over to Digital Ephemera's further discussion of this post and interactive ritual in games.