Issues on Acting in Digital Dramas

Issues on Acting in Digital Dramas

Thomas Schmieder, Robert J. Wierzbicki
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-774-6.ch010
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With advanced technology there are new possibilities to interact in virtual environments. Game players are being given more and more new opportunities to intervene as avatars in what is happening in the game, take on roles, and alter the flow of the stories. Through the interaction of many users new storylines and plot constructs are developed, which demonstrate many typical characteristics of modern dramas which are performed in real theatres – the plot is, for example, non-linear and attention is no longer paid to uniting time, place, and plot. These digital “performances” differ greatly from plays performed on real stages, however they are programmed as computer games with the result that the plot must fit into a pre-defined interaction pattern. The players are not casted like real actors. They step out onto the virtual stage as non-trained avatar actors and apart from the usual help options there is initially no director to instruct them. Also, the actions of the virtual actors are not foreseeable and the stories told have no distinct dramatic composition. One of the challenging problems of tomorrow’s iTV is how to generate a digital drama that looks like a real movie but which emerges out of the interaction of many users. The problem of actors’ credibility has been widely discussed in the relevant literature, however only in the context of the traditional theatre play. This chapter describes the concept of a future digital drama and investigates some fundamental aspects of acting in digital environments. The focus is put on the “competitive acting”, a new paradigm for digital stage plays of the future which combine drama with interaction-driven dialogue and action elements in converged media.
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As media convergence evolves, it becomes more and more evident that not only digital environments but also the roles of the users therein are changing. Digital environments become digital theatres letting the players augment their physical existence through their digital representations in virtual spaces (Flintoff, 2004; Laurel, 1993). As the new possibilities to interact with the “old” TV medium open up viewers become active users and gamers. Players within interactive game environments become digital actors and performers; the users' actions not only push the game forward but also let dramatic plot structures emerge and unfold. The users' avatars orchestrate a digital stage play.

Drama is typically described as a work portraying life intended for performance by actors on stage. Traditional dramas strongly focus on roles to be played and on the verbal and visual expression of human emotions. They build on a conflict with the “me“, with the fellow human beings and with the environment. They are often concerned with the heteronomy of the individual, his constant search for identity and his instinct. The physical nature of dramatic forms arises out of the physical existence of a real theatrical stage where the action takes place. Even if the fixed structure is removed in modern dramatic approaches and the audience is confronted with non-causal plots and non-connected, strung-together “snapshots”, the implemented storylines remain linear and do not let viewers intervene in or influence the play.

With technology and interactivity becoming more and more distinct and predominant in our lifestyles, culture and society, a demand for interactive experiences and the delivery of more personalized entertainment content becomes noticeable. In addition, in the era of virtual worlds the human imagination on dramatic content design and delivery is tendentially changing since “the boundaries between the real and the virtual are becoming increasingly confused and the interface is becoming increasingly important in our experience” (Flintoff, 2004).

It is very probable that in future approaches to drama a virtual environment will serve as a stage. The actors will even play their roles distributed across different physical locations or as models who only lend their appearances, mimics, gestures and speech to virtual AI actors (Flintoff, 2004; Waxman, 2006). The recipients in turn will gain the possibility to actively participate in the play and thus rise to become active performers. Theatre might, in this case, become just a metaphor for an interface where the real and the virtual converge. Future digital dramas in such environments will tell stories involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue, as we know it from traditional theatre stage plays. The substantial difference will be the technology-enabled possibility to be involved in the action as a future “digital me”. We intentionally avoid at this stage using the word “avatar” since the future will almost certainly enable us to construct things which go far beyond what we associate with the avatars of today (2009), e.g. simple human representations in SecondLife-like environments (, 2010).

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