Theorizing New Media

By reading the introduction of Manovich’s book, I realized the necessity of analyzing and theorizing the present new media. Manovich used the example of cinema art theory to clarify his idea. He also said, “The advantage of placing new media within a large historical perspective is that we begin to see the long trajectories that lead to new media in its present state, and we can extrapolate these trajectories into the future”

This is actually very similar to an old Chinese saying: knowing the history, knowing the future. For a better understanding, maybe we can take a close look at the history of TV game console development. The earliest Nintendo FC is in red and white, with one direction button and two action keys on the control panel. The graphics processing chip was in 8 digits. 10 years later, PS2 has 32-digits graphics processor built in it, and also more than 10 buttons on the control panel. The complexity has been greatly increased both in graphics and game control. In the year of 2006, Nintendo released the revolutionary Wii. Wii doesn’t really have much improvement in graphics (maybe PS2 graphics is better than Wii). But the way of game control has been created in a more nature-simulating manner. Swing the remote as swinging a real tennis racket. This kind of interation makes people more involved in the game.

We can see some orientations in the 15 years of TV game console development: better graphics, more complicated game story, more reality-simulating game (Guitar Heroes, Wii Sports), control in a more natural way, etc. By summarizing all these trends, we can get player’s needs and then we can come up with some idea about next generation of TV game console. Maybe we are not able to fully depict what the future Wii 2.0 will look like, but we can tell some by analyzing the flaws of the present Wii. (At least the remote and nunchuck have plenty ways of improvements)

I guess the TV game console is part of the new media, and it is also a really good example to study interaction culture besides film theory.


  1. thismarty

    We have another saying here in the States – “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is to say, maybe an examination of the history and ethos of cinema will help interactive designers to do a *better* job of defining thier medium. 😉

    Manovich isn’t alone in comparing interactive design to cinema, but there are just as many people, maybe more, who aren’t as sold on the inevitability of the comparison. After all, cinema is traditionally linear and narrative, neither of which interactivity has to, or should, necessarily be.

    Personally, I think there is obvious value in borrowing from cinema as we chart the contours of interaction design, but I think this borrowing and the pholosophies that it engenders should be tempered by a heavy appreciation of other sources of inspiration as well.

  2. thismarty

    I agree, zhuofengli, sometimes a simpler toolset makes for better, more thoughtful, design. There’s probably an “80-20 Rule” here: better to use 20% of the capabilities of a development tool well than to use 80% of them poorly. Expanded power and capabilities can also be good though. In fact, even squandered power can be good. To expand on your example, before the 7th generation videogame consoles (i.e. Wii, XBox360, Playstation 3) were even out the door, people were already talking about how difficult, expensive and time-consuming it was going to be to develop games for them. Developing a AAA game for the preceding generation of consoles already took dozens developers, millions of dollars and multiple years to complete. And since the new consoles would support so much more by way of detailed graphics, sounds and computation, they would have to require even larger teams, budgets and development cycles to create games for, we’d need even more monkeys. It looks though like this may not have entirely been the case as the expanded power of the new consoles might actually want to make creating games easier. This starts to make sense when you consider just how much of current game design consists of holding yourself back. Reducing polygon counts, optimizing code, compressing sounds and music all take a lot of work. Ask any 3D modeler which is harder: making a tank with a 5K poly budget or making one with a 20K budget. It’s easy to see how the increased power of these new machines will potentially make for “better” games with “less” work. Another exciting prospect lies in the democratizing effect that the increased power of the new consoles could ultimately have. The performance margins on the current consoles leave little computational power to squander, thus games for them have to be programmed with a high degree of efficiency. But given say, a tenfold increase in power, the latest generation of consoles may very well have power to spare, at least for some kinds of games. Thus, some games could be developed using somewhat less efficient, but much more accessible, authoring environments with friendly interfaces a’ la Adobe Flash. Indeed, trading off a teeny bit of execution speed in the final mix for a much friendlier programming environment could open up the platforms to a wider field of developers, much as Flash has done on the web.

  3. Tyler Pace

    You make an interesting case for game consoles of an example for Manovich’s trajectory analysis. However, to many the Wii was the very opposite of the trajectory you plot and may represent a paradigm shift (however slight) in gaming.

    For many, the trajectory of console gaming was the PS3. A monster device of pure high definition entertainment power. All but the truest of Nintendo Fanboi’s predicted the absolute dominance of the PS3 over the kid like Wii. A year later and we know that the Wii is breaking sales records around the world, saved a company and revitalized an industry.

    A new trajectory is set by the Wii. It is changing my expectations for gaming and I’m not alone in that regard. Playing Metroid Prime 3 on the Wii makes me question why anybody ever tried to make a FPS without the wiimote and nunchuck. I’m more engaged and excited by Wii games than those from nearly any other system. Even the outstanding games from the competition (Bioschock as an example) could benefit from a Wii control scheme.

    How will Manovich help us understand these dueling trajectories? One one hand you still have the Xbox 360 and PS3 going for clock cycles and CPU cores but you also have the Wii and DS aiming for new interaction methods. Will they coexist or must one die for the other to thrive?

  4. zhuofengli

    Yes Tyler, a new trajectory is set by the Wii, that’s what I meant too. I’ve put Wii as part of the trajectory in my post. Both the success of XBOX360, Wii and DS, and the failure of PS3, are parts of this trajectory. I am not able to depict the future console through this trajectory, but just extrapolate it into the future, we can get some idea of which direction the game console should head to.

    In my opinion, it’s all about interaction. graphics is also a part of it. Before Wii and DS, people put too much efforts on the game content(graphics, story), little improvement had been done on the way of control. Compared to visual interaction, the physical interaction was far behind it. Nintendo is the smart guy who saw this first. Unluckily, Sony didn’t, or they misunderstood the trajectory.

    I guess there should be a balance between visual interaction and physical interaction. Maybe graphics will return to the performance 10 years later, who knows.


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