Thinking with a medium

Do you think with a medium?

Like an art medium: pencil, clay, or really glorious colored sand poured into little patterns on the sidewalks of Manhattan because you’re all about the process not the product and life’s but a walking shadow anyway? What does any given art medium say about the subject you’re capturing? How does it inflect the meaning of a sunflower if you render it in granite and not gouache?

But not just art media – music, dance, TV sitcoms … to keep it simple, let’s say each medium is like a mostly recognizable box,* with its own set of tools, tricks, affordances that you might use to make something. If we use live theatre to think about Macbeth, we get to use a set of tools: some are shared by other media, and some only exist in the “live theatre” toolbox. Things like a theater’s architecture or an actor’s presence or the show’s running time all contribute to how we can think about Macbeth with this particular theatre production. Among other uses, tools of a medium can highlight or suppress various themes in the play.

One of the questions Something Wicked asks is “what new insights can be gleaned by asking people to think about Macbeth with the tools of video games?” For me, thinking about Macbeth with video games starts with identifying the tools that are available only in this medium’s box.

Once we winnow out all the tools that live theatre and movies CAN DO TOO YOU KNOW it’s kind of a short list. Most interesting to me: 1) the possibilities video games offer for the player to be both spectator and enactor, and 2) the possibility of turning themes or character traits into game mechanisms that impact the player’s movement through the storyworld. Constructing the “invisible walls” of a video game make for a pretty good way to think about Macbeth’s overriding theme of fate vs. free will, no?

Tune in tomorrow for the first Meet The Team: Doris Rusch, our lead designer, who uses video games to think about a whole lot of thorny subjects.


*When I think about the concept of “medium” using my academic toolbox, of course “box” and “medium” and even “think” are all problematized directly into a thicket of intermedial/affordance/platform boundary destabilization (albeit productively), necessitating reams of unpacking before embarking on an actual argument. First: make a roux. But then this blog is rescued by my theatre director toolbox, which has a bumper sticker on it: CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE. And so the jargon gumbo is confined to this footnote.