November 24, 2004

Links Not To Be Missed

by Andrew Stern · , 2:36 pm

12 Responses to “Links Not To Be Missed”


  1. Ian Bogost Says:

    While not affiliated with the UF conference, on a related subject Matteo Bittanti and I are editing a new book of criticism on vintage arcade games. Here’s the call for papers (we’ll be extending the deadline at least two weeks).

  2. Erik C Says:

    Doug Church seems to use agency to mean the player’s ability to interact–is this the typical academic/industry meaning? I thought agenccy was typically meant more in the sense of external agency; the sense of other (intelligent) agents/players (people) in the world apart from yourself.

  3. andrew Says:

    Hi Erik, good question. The writer of the article doesn’t get the definition of agency quite right; in his reporting he calls agency “choices” or “how games give control over the user” (? — did he mean control over to the user?) What Doug really means by agency, and what we mean when we’ve talked about it on GTxA, including our recent discussion, is the ability for the player to have true, meaningful effects on the world. Michael and I often talk about local versus global agency (see above link, or the bottom of page 5 of this paper (pdf)), which is akin to Doug’s “agency on the small” or “micro-agency” (local), versus “agency at that higher level” or “bigger agency” (global).

    The use of the term agency in the context of interactive experiences I believe became more widespread after Janet Murray’s use of the term in her 1997 book Hamlet on the Holodeck, a must-read.

  4. Erik C Says:

    >The strength of simulations, and what is lacking from structured narratives, is that the player has a high degree of agency and freedom of expression at all times.

    Thank you, but in your paper (as above) you more carefully (than the Doug Church article) use local agency and global agency, and it seems to relate more directly to story change, local events, and the overall direction of the story. (Correct?)
    So you are talking about player event agency and player plot agency.
    A good distinction.
    I thought he meant more environmental agency, the ability to interact/change the environment. We should maybe also distinguish between avatar agency and general interface agency.
    But the problem arises when comparing to presence research, where they tend to talk of social presence requiring social agents, ie other people (or agents in the sense of bots). What do we call this sense of other players, or other intelligent beings if not agency?
    In short, his term ‘agency’ to me means interaction control rather than (social) agency.
    And yes I have read/cited/quoted Murray’s work, though I think she did not go far enough in saying what a currently impossible concept the Holodeck is (in terms of interactive narrative)!

  5. Walter Says:

    Agency, fundamentally, just means the ability to intentionally cause something, and an agent is anything that has that ability. So when we speak of other agents in the world or in a game, we’re already assuming (or ascribing) agency to those entities we encounter in the world or game.

    Can you cite an example where someone uses the word ‘agency’ to refer to the sense of other players or intelligent beings? I have to admit, I’ve never heard of someone using it this way.

  6. ErikC Says:

    Walter,
    http://www.mindlab.org/web2/research/presence.htm
    Nowak, K., & Biocca, F. (2003). The effect of the agency and
    anthropomorphism of virtual humans on users’ sense of
    presence, copresence, and social presence.
    Presence:Teleoperators and Virtual Environments.

    Biocca is well known in Presence research circles.

    Also, in tourism and heritage environments, there needs to be a clear term for the perceived agency of others, ie not just dumb bots, you really feel there is an alien agency ‘inhabiting’ the place..

    Perhaps this is of help (when you consider the idea of cultural presence):
    http://www.arbld.unimelb.edu.au/~erikc/papers/CulturalPresence.pdf
    “To have a sense of a cultural presence when one visits a real site, is inspired by the suggestion of social agency, the feeling that what one is visiting is an artefact, created and modified by conscious human intention.”
    In relation to games this may be more apt:
    http://www.arbld.unimelb.edu.au/~erikc/papers/Heritage.pdf

    Perhaps not too helpfully, I have called it (this idea of ‘other’) cultural or social agency in the published version of the Heritage paper linked above:
    http://www.arbld.unimelb.edu.au/~erikc/papers/IndianaJonesAndTheJoystickOfDoom.pdf

  7. Erik C Says:

    I should add that apart from the above Mindlab paper/webpage which says “The challenges of how to define, measure, and improve physical presence and social presence have become central theoretical problems in communication theory and, potentially, into human consciousness, or how we organize space and perceive agency in the world.”
    ..this (confusing) notion of presence is also in presence questionnaires:
    http://www.presence-research.org/Questionnaires.html
    “The questionnaire was used in an experiment (n=134, between-subjects design) investigating the effects of agency and anthropomorphism…No significant effects were found between agency and any presence scale.”

    This may become an important issue if/when game research labs start converging with Presence research, ie when they start comparing a sense of agency and interaction between virtual environments and computer games.

  8. Walter Says:

    Ah. I might have misunderstood you earlier, but I can see how someone would use ‘agency’ as shorthand for “the perception of agency”–that certainly seems to go on all the time. But “the sense of other people” strikes me as meaning something subtly different, because you can perceive agency, for instance, by watching an actor do his thing in a movie, but you won’t get that sense of other people, the feeling of being in the same space as he is or was (not normally, at any rate).

    So in presence studies, it seems to me that you’re just supposed to take it from context that agency is always being perceived within a space inhabited by yourself, which would naturally lead to your having that sense of other people.

  9. mark Says:

    In my past brief enamoration with archaeology, I came across seemingly random use of the term “agency” in whatever context the author decided it would be nice to use it (perhaps not dissimilar from the use of the word “emergent” in some fields). Some of them seemed vaguely like this “social” or “cultural” agency. The best summary I can find online is a survey paper here: http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/~jer39/theory/agency2.html

    Is this similar to the cultural or social agency you’re talking about?

  10. Erik C Says:

    Thank you, interesting article, but no, he seems to mean something different again.
    >I came across seemingly random use of the term “agency” in whatever context the author decided it would be nice to use it

    Hmm I should have only mentioned the Presence Research papers, I merely wish to be clear on the separation between Presence Research notions of social agency and game studies notions of agency in the Murray sense. Again, as Andrew noted, game research has a few variations on ‘agency’ itself.

    The other concept–the feeling of ‘the other(s)’, is perhaps a sign of alterity and not agency as gamers know it. For example, the feeling in the real world that you are being watched (can any game do that?). There is research for example, on automatic eye gaze: http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/m.garau/papers/garau_realism.pdf

  11. ErikC Says:

    This confusion extends to AI (see esp agency mentioned in the conclusion)
    Is it an Agent, or just a Program?: A Taxonomy for Autonomous Agents
    http://www.msci.memphis.edu/~franklin/AgentProg.html
    “An attempt has been made to capture the essence of agency in a formal definition, which allows a clear distinction between a software agent and an arbitrary program.”

  12. Professional-Lurker: Comments by an academic in cyberspace Says:
    Coming soon to a computer near you: Google Library
    From Grand Text Auto (I added most of the links):
    The New York Times reports that Google has forged an agreement with Oxford, Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public …

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