I recently posted a comment on a fellow designer’s blog. She had posted about first amendment rights, and I had commented about the irony of written word censorship over digital medium censorship. To find out if my statement was accurate, I contacted a local nation-wide bookstore to inquire about purchasing a copy of Lolita. I told them that my son (oh god) needed it for a book report and wondered if there would be any problem with him purchasing it since he was sixteen. (Do I sound that old I wonder?) The clerk told me there wouldn’t be.
While I was making this phone call during my work break, one of my coworkers overheard me and wondered what I was talking about. I told him about my statement; how it takes an 18 year old to purchase the movie version of the same book that a 16 year old can purchase. He responded with “Of course, there’s no pictures in the book.”
This, of course, is a common mentality about written word. A book of erotic fiction is never as damaging to one’s sensibilities as a picture of the same content. I pointed out to my coworker that my imagination has an unlimited resolution with far greater detail than any photo could ever have.
All of this lead me to a sort of mini-epiphany. The written word is an abstraction of the spoken word. Written word is just a permanent form of the spoken word, but it loses much of its content during transmission, such as inflection. Spoken word is an abstraction of body language. Before spoken word, our ancestors used grunts and gestures to communicate. Spoken word allows us to express more complex ideas quickly, as long as there is a common denominator (language) amongst communicators.
At SeigeCon this year, I had the fortunate opportunity to listen to a panel, composed of Ian Bogost, Ernest Adams and Dan Greenberg, talk about the idea of Game as Art. To me, Dan stood out on the panel because he didn’t want games to be art. In his explanation, he mentioned a form of communication, what he called the most basic and primal form of communication: mimetic impulse. Mimetic impulse was a method used by our ancestors to communicate. The shaman of the group of tribesmen would setup a ritual of role playing, in which certain members were hunters and the other were prey. By going through these mimetic impulses, the tribe would practice the hunt, allowing the tribe to understand and communicate what would go on in the real world. This is what body language abstracts, the mimetic impulse. And the mimetic impulse is an abstraction of reality.
So what? Well, two things came from this realization. The reason that people aren’t as threatened by written word as they are by pictoral representations is the level of abstraction from reality. Even if the content was the same, such as in Lolita, the abstraction from reality that is given by written word is not as threatening as the pictoral representation. Games are more closely related to the mimetic impulse, the most primal form of communication, which is why it is so powerful at expressing concepts. Because of its interactive instead of passive nature. This is also one of the reasons people fear it, and other digital medium, more than written or even spoken word.
It was a minor revelation, I’m sure, but it was also one of those profound moments that you feel you just need to share with others.
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