Well, I had planned to write another article about computer and video games, but I thought that I’d flip this subject on it’s head and talk about some of the advantages that non-interactive creative mediums (eg: art, comics, traditional prose fiction etc…) have.
And, yes, I know that there are interactive types of fiction out there (like this gamebook-style online story I wrote in 2015,) but I’ll be looking at traditional fiction – in addition to art and comics here.
So, what are the benefits of creative works that aren’t interactive? Here are a few:
1) Flow and control: One of the great things about non-interactive creative works is that they flow seamlessly in a single direction. If you’re looking at a painting, you can just look at the whole painting. If you’re reading a (non-manga) comic, then the next panel is always either to the right of or below the one you’re currently looking at (or on the next page). If you’re reading a novel, then you just have to turn to the next page once you’ve finished a page.
Because linearity is an assumed and accepted part of traditional mediums, they provide the audience with a seamlessly flowing experience. In addition to this, it also gives you (the artist, the author etc..) much greater control over the pacing. For example, if you want to “speed up” a comic page, then include little to no dialogue. If you want to “slow down” part of a prose fiction story, then you can add more descriptions, fewer actions and/or slightly more complex language.
One of the problems with interactive mediums (like games) is that getting the flow of the story right can be way more difficult. If a game is too linear, then it feels like the designers are either patronising the player or aren’t taking full advantage of the interactive nature of the medium. However, if a game is too non-linear, then it can be easy for the player to get confused and/or stuck during various parts of the game – which can lead to frustration and a wish for the game to just get on with things.
Thankfully, in non-interactive mediums, there’s no such thing as “too linear” and no way for the audience to get “stuck” either.
2) What you can show: Since the audience for a non-interactive work doesn’t have any control over what happens in a story, comic, painting etc… they will only see what you, the creator, want them to see. Although this sounds like it would be a limitation, it can seriously increase the quality of a work.
For example, you can give the impression of a large, complex fictional world within a shorter story by only describing one location (where the story is set) in detail, whilst making brief and intriguing references to other locations that aren’t shown. In a comic, you can focus on drawing the more visually-interesting and/or easy to draw locations. In a painting, you have total control over what angle the audience sees the contents of the picture from etc…
In interactive mediums, the designers have to account for the player’s choices. In other words, they have to spend more time designing places that are meant to be explored (rather than seen or described), and which look visually interesting regardless of where the player’s character happens to be standing at any particular moment. They also have to adjust the dialogue and the events of the game to account for player choice. In other words, there are a lot of other things that they have to plan for – and not only does this mean that there’s a greater chance that they will make a mistake, it also means that they can’t spend as much time on each individual element of their project.
So, yes, not having to worry about interactivity means that you can focus more on improving the quality of whatever you decide to show the audience, rather than having to worry about a hundred other things too.
3) Dramatic weight: One of the advantages of non-interactive mediums is that you have a lot more control over how significant or dramatic any element of your story or art is. For example, you can use the lighting in a painting to emphasise particular parts of the image. You can describe your characters’ thoughts and emotions in a story. You can devote an entire page of a comic to a single dramatic image etc…
With interactive mediums, the designers have to account for things like gameplay too. As several videos about game design have pointed out, it’s difficult to add dramatic weight to a violent scene in a game if the player has just spent the past hour fighting countless adversaries. It’s like the old rule about profanity in fiction – the more you use it, the less “dramatic” it becomes.
Likewise, if a designer tries to add “suspense” to a game by placing a time restriction on part of the game, then not only will this frustrate the player if the time limit is too short – but, having to re-play the same segment of the game again and again (until the player wins) will quickly drain any sense of dramatic weight or suspense from that part of the game.
Because non-interactive mediums don’t have to worry about gameplay, they have a lot more freedom when it comes to adding things like dramatic weight, suspense, emotional power etc..
4) The interactivity is more interesting: Although I’ve described things like prose fiction, art and comics as being “non-interactive”, this isn’t entirely true. Sure, the audience can’t directly interact with these things – but they can interact with them in all sorts of fascinatingly indirect ways.
For example, if a story, collection of art or a comic is good enough, then it’s going to influence other creative people. They’re going to blend the best elements of your work with their own imagination and style in order to create something totally new. And, since it’s influenced by the things you made, you’re probably going to enjoy reading it too 🙂 In addition to this, if you produce something that someone really likes, then it’s possible that it might inspire them to become an artist, writer etc…
Since fully interactive mediums are complex, expensive things to make, the chances of an audience member becoming inspired enough to make something new are a lot more limited. Most ordinary people will be restricted to just modifying existing games etc.. And whilst this does have parallels with modern-style fan fiction and fan art, it doesn’t have parallels with things like original novels inspired by other novels, original comics inspired by other comics etc…
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂