This isn't actually a shot from my gameplay, but it looks like something that would happen in my game, by which I mean it's AWESOME!

In case you were wondering, I'm playing a Breton Conjuror, and I just maxed out my conjuring skills yesterday.

Like so many things in the 21st century, the face of media is constantly changing and adapting. I’m sure most of us know, at least generally, how films went from silent to talkies, then black and white to color, then television showed up and VCRs made access to the media the public wanted easier than ever. Things have only gotten crazier since the advent of the internet, digital piracy and services like Hulu, Netflix and You Tube have offered the public video content with unprecedented ease.

So, since I assume you already know most or all of my basic history lesson, why do I bring this up? Well it’s all because of one of the most popular time sinks in the world over the last few months: Skyrim.

Bear with me, I know you probably sprained a muscle from your inquisitive eyebrow raise from just a moment ago. Hopefully this will all make sense in just a moment.

For those of you who don’t know, I attended Emerson College in Boston. Emerson is a communications school with a strong reputation here in LA. They’ve got some pretty impressive undergraduate production facilities and equipment. The aspects of Emerson that are most important for the point I’m trying to make today, though, are the requirements of students to study media history and the requirements of faculty to still be practicing within the industry.

With that word from our sponsors out of the way, I’ll get to my point. Many of the courses I took at Emerson not only established the past of media production, but also looked towards the future. Our professors encouraged us to think about how various forms of media might change to suit the ever-growing need for not only a quantity of new content, but also a need for control over it. Now that the public has had a taste of things like DVRs allowing them to watch TV shows whenever they want them, new episodes of shows being streamed online the next day and Netflix instantly granting access to a huge catalog of movies and series they’re hooked. They have a need to watch what they want, when they want on whatever device they want, and they grow increasingly irritable when that need is denied.

Join me as I make a big logical leap, won’t you? My preferred genre of video game is what is known as an Adventure Game. They used to be really popular in the 90’s, in fact, you may have played some without even knowing it. Games like Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and King’s Quest Defined the genre. For a while, even Lucas Arts was a big player in the adventure game…game, with titles like The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Mas Hit the Road. Games in this genre usually focus more heavily on story because of their simple style of gameplay, which usually consists of a point and click interface where you combine items in your inventory with the world around you to solve problems and advance the plot.

Don't even get me started on the whole Super Saiyan bit at the end. That game makes no sense.

The next big advancement in video games: a twenty yeard old board game!

A few years back a computer game was released called Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit to anyone living outside the US), and it proposed something revolutionary and highly exciting to me. It was to be an unconventional adventure game utilizing a new psychological system. You would play as four characters, though there was a chief protagonist, a mild-mannered person who starts the game after a blackout during which he killed a man. Supposedly you could affect the way the story played out by deciding things like how well you covered up the crime, as it would affect your character’s behavior and creditability during his interactions with the police later on. In the end, though, this new system had little affect on the gameplay, and this game with a great idea became characterized by quicktime events with a weird Simon-like interface.

Flash forward to this past year, 2011, and consider the Western-style RPG that’s taking the world by storm(cloak), Skyrim. At its core, the premise of the game is probably familiar to you if you’re a fan of video games; you play as the hero of a medieval world with a destiny to save everyone (this time from an invasion of dragons) and you can customize your fighting style to your liking. The real innovation of this game is how that customization takes place.  You can use pretty much any basic skill in the game from its onset, and the way you get better at anything is the same way you do in real life: by using that skill until you have a better understanding of it.

Though I'm sure I'm not the only one having consistently more trouble killing wild bears than dragons.

Your parents probably told you practice makes perfect. Apparently this applies to killing dragons as well. Who knew?

It’s such a simple idea, really, that you may be asking why I find this to be so revolutionary, especially if you’ve never played an RPG where your character building came in the form of generic points with which you can do whatever you’d like. Here’s what it boils down to, since you’re rewarded for playing the game however you’d like, the entire experience is organic. If you want to play the game using a bow and arrow, just use a bow and arrow, and eventually you’ll be an amazing archer. The game reacts to your style of play, not the other way around, which the gaming community at large had taken for granted as the norm.

So with all of that copious background and history out of the way, what IS the point I’m trying to make? Well, I suspect that Skyrim’s innovation in gaming may some day bridge the gap between video games and less interactive media to create some sort of hybrid that could well redefine movies and television as we currently understand them.

As I mentioned before, there already exists a genre of video game that focuses more on the story, so it’s not that implausible to think it may some day evolve into an engrossing interactive movie where you can genuinely shape the events of the story, or even an entire character with which to interact with someone’s idea of a plot.

Again, during my time at Emerson there was a lot of discussion as to how the major American Television networks could compete with both the internet and the ever-expanding landscape of cable television. We looked at some of the unsuccessful experiments of the past, and even discussed things like hypertext storytelling (an online literary medium that used hypertext links within the body of the content to link you to other pictures, poems, stories, etc.).

One of my professors felt strongly that interactivity would be key to engaging an audience who’s grown tired of the old structures and customs of television. I suspect it is because of his conviction on that point coupled with my interest in the Adventure genre, which is already halfway there, that spurred this hypothetical rant.

At least I saw it in a double feature with The Dark Knight, otherwise I'd be more upset about having to watch it.

It wasn't that long ago that Journey to the Center of the Earth came out in 3D and it was kind of a big deal. It was also very bad.

I have no idea if the technology is anywhere close to really letting us interact with a story on our own terms, or even if other people are truly interested in such a thing. I do know that the public at large seems willing to try new experiences, since motion controls in video games and 3D movies have both continued to become more and more present, despite each of their humble beginnings as bleeding edge gimmicks. I also know that Skyrim is a game that has exploded in popularity and I think a large part of that is the organic gameplay; whatever it is you want to do within the confines of the game, and even to a limited extent, the plot, you can do it and the game rewards you for it.

At the very least I think it’s this intuitive sort of thinking, working with human expectations and allowing the audience to interact with a world in any way they see fit, and reinforcing your decisions, whatever they may be, that will eventually shape our interactions with the media we consume. I believe that’s the sort of thinking that caused the boon of Apple’s success within the last decade or so, and a decline of those kinds of ideas that is now seeing Apple’s gradual decline.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the current state of television. Well, not for the most part, anyway. As a student of television and an aspiring participant of its process it behooves me to consider the future and how we might change things to further engross our audience. Some day I’m sure I’ll go on my diatribe about planning story arcs, but for now I’m going to get back to work on my You Tube videos to try and connect to the modern audience.

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