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Text Commentary

Television as interactive system and device for cinematic exploration of game narrative architecture.
by slc68 `

In this scene the television is transformed in operation from a unidirectional medium to a two-way interactive system. In doing so, this scene touches on the possibility for ubiquitous surveillance and paranoia through the act of making the television an interactive system. Van Orton's character shifts from being the lone, passive and “safe” consumer of information and entertainment to an active participant in revealing to the television news anchor character his anxieties of being the object of gaze and subject of the overarching Consumer Recreational Services game. Interactivity here enables a type of surveillance and tracking by the game system as Van Orton's behavior equates to the decisions and procedures a video game player performs in a game, actions that may have serious consequences on the final outcome. This is an aspect of surveillance because the point is to manage, manipulate and hopefully produce the desired behavior through the threat of real consequences similar to how the formal structure of a game system is deliberately designed to influence and manipulate player behavior.

In one shot, Van Orton is seen cautiously approaching the television screen with his hand out as if to touch the screen. This alludes to a video game player's immersion into an alternate game universe. As William Gibson once noted of early arcade gamers, players looked like they wanted to reach through the screen to grab what they were interacting with. The experience of immediate feedback here encourages deeper exploration and eventual immersion into an responsive system.

This cinematic moment also makes a statement on the sublime aspect of the "talking" interactive video game screen, through the news anchor's response to Van Orton's reaching towards the screen gesture by suggesting that having a “conversation” with one's television is “impossible”. It highlights a magical and eerie quality to the dynamism and "alive"  quality emanating from simply flat images. As in eXistenZ, in which the protagonist experiences a blurring of different realities, Van Orton also encounters this uncertainty of the overlaying of a game universe onto his "normal" reality through the sudden transformation of the television into an interfacial screen, providing him with critical game starting condition information and an enigmatic game objective. Here, the flat television image signals to the protagonist and audience that the real space of Van Orton's living room is also a beginning “level one” space of the narrative architecture of the game. The talking television that provides self-reflexive game information is an embedded narrative element, a critical artifact of the pre-structured narrative that needs to be discovered and unlocked in order for the player to move forward physically and psychologically in the story.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
The Game talking television set by David Fincher (1997) A television set once again appears as a narrative device for communicating with movie characters