Writing in response to two essays by Brenda Laurel

Any discussion of theory has me looking for competing theories and seeing how they function in the same context as the specified theory. In this case Aristotelian drama immediately calls to my mind comparisons with Frazer’s and Campbell’s theories, centered on the hero and their actions, in stark contrast to the gestalt families of dramatic theories focusing on story, context, and relationship.

I’m having a hard time seeing the ‘hero’ theories comparison to software development leading me to think there is some quality to story theories that does relate to software.

Campbell and Frazer call to mind the brute force empiricism of Alexander’s Pattern Language, a set of theories and theoretical approaches that has been widely adopted and proved useful in software development, but at this point we’re talking more about motif and archetype than the organic of gestalt type theories. A comparison in the physical sciences would invoke the challenge of the anatomists and the computationalists, I know of similarly theoretical conflicts in geology and in biology.

I think there is another element to the rise of interactive and interpretative experiences of media linked to a humanistic need for having sufficient interpretive space in media. The rise of all media technology and the links Laurel describes between narrative and technology are occurring simultaneously with a growing body of post-modern criticism that has pushed the interpretive duties away from the author, and I’m speaking here specifically of Stanley Fish’s reader response criticism, and onto the patron of the piece. By eliminating authorial intent as the base of analysis many schools of post-modern analysis have shifted the basic layer of meaning to the text itself (reader response, semiotics, deconstructionism) and have required the bulk of interpretation to occur in the patron. This can be a burden on the patron! Adding additional interpretative layers in the form of media production in the form of games, films, television, teleplays, dramatization, etc. allows the patron to offload their interpretive duties and simply experience or enjoy the meaning of the work.

Laurel’s description of character, agent, and action and their uses in interpreting drama or computer programs is a fascinating framework for these ideas. The first thoughts that come to mind in this area are that we’re essentially dealing with meta agents and meta actions; that is to say that its not the ‘computer’ or the ‘drama’ that is inducing the actions of these agents, but rather there is a very real authorial intent that brings them into being, at which point we’re running into a reduction problem so that’s a bit of a dead end. The other thought I have is remembering several “bad writing tricks” like a character looking into a mirror and describing themselves; the old command to ‘show and not tell’ what is happening in the action.

One point Laurel supports well but I don’t think is as explicitly stated as some of the others is that characters are not people, they are exemplars of the action, there for narrative expediency and coherency but not always meant to represent fully formed people.