For Interface, Against Regression! An exploratory surgery of an transhuman umbilical cord

Hanna Wirman, Olli Leino

In the situation of playing computer games, most of the human sensory I/O channels are unused. However, examples such as feelSpace belt successfully augmenting our sensory repertoire with the sense of direction (König et al., 2004) suggest that the human sensory system is rather flexible for rewiring itself to accommodate new forms of input. With Harawayan spirit, we can assume the game/player (Giddings 2006)
as cyborgean entity whose sensory system is composed of all the individual interface elements available, (e.g. visual flickering on a minimap replacing the aural indicators of an approaching enemy) each corresponding to one or more competences of transhuman body. Interface forms an umbilical cord through which new senses are enabled and existing ones limited in the gaming situation.

Some recent games including Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Game of the Movie represent a shift from prima facie non-transparent interfaces (e.g. EveOnline) to transparent interfaces. For individuals desiring to become transhuman this, as well as for example the direct correspondence between the movement of WiiMote and the movement of the tennis racket in WiiTennis, are regression rather than newly gained freedom. The transhuman umbilical cord has been cut, and for those without the extended sensory modalities the simplistic enticements of computer games are attractive only while the cheap fixes of euphoria from novelty, storytelling and competition last. In games with transparent interfaces the facticity in play is the facticity of meatspace. The activity requiring both sensomotoric and cognitive skills has become to resemble a contest in putting a thread through a pinhole repeatedly. Discarding of the interface necessitates a transhuman player whose limbs and sensory organs are violently amputated to facilitate an unholy alliance between diegesis and interface greatly limiting the abilities of both.

This paper aims to show that the game interface is one of the unique but underrated features of ludic media. Interfaces are elementary parts of computer games, not distractions to be overcome with proper usability engineering. We will explore the interface as a games’ ludic, expressive, and emotional element. The game interface should not be seen as a means to an end (e.g. as affording access to a virtual world) but as a part of the end itself. By drawing on Haraway and Merleau-Ponty the paper critically evaluates the phenomenon of sensory deprivation of the transhuman player and discusses the consequences it may have to the capabilities of computer game medium.

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