Hamlet on the Holodeck: Interactors of Digital Materiality

Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (which is nearing its 20th anniversary since publication—I wonder if it might be revisited through digital sensory extensions? Did anyone else sigh small sadness over the URL to the book’s resource page being a nonspace? Imagine this with a digital compendium!) has left me with much to think about as one of the first digital explorations we are venturing into as I carry forward my interest in possibility spaces, agency and materiality. Digital materiality—tactile and sensory interaction with digital materials—is something I’m captivated by in my own work/thinking. It is this interest in exploring sense and digital sensorium (extensions, amplifiers, interactions) that left me thinking about the video game the main character Theodore plays in Her while reading.

The game is of interest to me in its balanced blurring of boundary between Theodore’s apartment/life and the game—the game interacts with his actions (embodied/his body is read as the control) and speech in real time and is responsive (scripted, but still receptive), but it does not slip into a virtual reality (perhaps its more of a hybrid reality than a hyper reality). Thinking about this game while I read, I found an interview from The Creators Project with the designers of the two video games featured in the film; I’m drawn to the work of David O’Reilly, the creator of the alien child game featured in the clip above. It’s interesting to read about the creation process of the games themselves and fitting them into a reality that is removed from our current capability, but that does not seem too far removed in terms of completely foreign technology or environments.

To me, this game, as well as this narrative of this game within the film, represents some of Murray’s concepts of immersion, the liminal, and agency. Theodore is immersed through sensory interaction with the game medium and narrative/character, and this is broken and added to through interaction with his OS Samantha (something to explore as far as elements not part of the game/play but that are bounded within the player’s reality and environment). His game is mediated and mediates his external reality of his life and the internal reality of the game, allowing for interaction through the medium. His actions and inaction affect the game play and seemingly the narrative and character. But this is a fictional game on a fictional system/technology in a fictional future. I wonder, though, within our current technological affordances in the digital, how this medium interaction can be explored through games. I’m extremely curious if/what digital games treat the technology less as conduit and more as extension of self/senses and what the player can do within them—as a material component acting, interacting, and reacting. Murray’s articulation of agency/actor/player as interactor, I think, illuminates a space to explore digital materiality:

The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exciting aspects of artistic creation—the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency (153)

I’m not sure how this advances/adds to my seeming obsession with material possibilities in games, but through Murray’s interactor, I feel as if there is an ability to get a firmer grip.

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