During the morning of February 17th, 2008, a young animation student called Daniel Floyd uploaded his art history assignment to YouTube.
Titled Videogames and Storytelling, the ten-minute presentation was an engaging thesis on the current issues and future potential of narrative-driven interactive media. What made it special was not simply Floyd's obvious zeal for video games, but the critical integrity that shone through, and animated his passion.
"Simply put, the majority of games are poorly written. There are exceptions... but even games lauded for being literary usually have subpar writing compared to any other medium" (2:43).
Floyd praises, but never overpraises the medium of which he speaks, and he provides a distinctive historical perspective which allows for the enthusiastic analysis of what has made—and what will make—video games into a great cultural medium.
Today, the characteristic exuberance and devotion of digital media professionals is often counterbalanced by societal criticism, and the relationship is typically one of post/riposte.
Floyd's uncommon restraint lends him rhetorical credibility, while exemplifying a mature love of media sorely needed in current industrial praxis.
In order to truly venerate and refine digital media, designers and content creators cannot leave criticism to the critics: they must foster a praxis of "digital humanism," acquainting themselves with the humility and responsibility arising from a critical recognition of the plurality of relationships influenced by digital media.
To be clear, though, digital media professionals must first possess exuberance and devotion towards their craft. An absence of delight is detrimental, as what survives in the user experience is the novelty which initially thrills and captivates designers' imaginations.
Cliff Kuang, senior editor of Wired magazine, discusses the exciting shift to an era of "screenless digital interactions" in which designers will be challenged "to make this new world feel like something we’ve always wanted and a natural extension of what we already have”.
Kuang consistently encourages his readers to imagine the possibilities of such an era, which he describes as "seamless," "sophisticated," and "amazing". His fervor is not just essential to retaining reader attention—it represents the innate human curiosity driving the establishment of every technology and art form in history.
The significance of media, however, must not be elevated above the factors assisting in its creation and maintenance. Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier argues that "online culture is filled... with rhetoric about what the true path to a better world ought to be, and these days it's strongly biased towards an anti-human way of thinking".
Although essential, Kuang's focus on the possibilities of wearable computing and similar technologies ostensibly blinds him — as it does many proponents of the digital — to the complexity of human needs. Emphasizing the wonders and capacities of a medium eventually imbues it with an ideology or logic unto itself; the result divests both designer and user of personal responsibility, degrading the vital relationship between human needs and the means to fulfill them. As Lanier relates, "we can't afford to respect our own designs so much".
A major factor in the transformation of Daniel Floyd’s Video Games and Storytelling video into popular web-series “Extra Credits”, designer James Portnow had previously been hired to develop narrative elements for Zynga’s hit Facebook game, Farmville.
“I agreed because it was interesting, the idea of doing narrative for 120 million people," related Portnow. However, the designer also emphasized potential ramifications of his design choices.
“If I had further driven those people to retreat from life... there’s [an] opportunity for great harm... when you’re dealing with things of that scale, we need to have a level of responsibility that we currently don’t often exercise in games"
Portnow’s attitude towards his medium embodies a fundamental axiom of the digital humanist: “the computer has value only as it enhances that which makes us human”. It is not enough to be passionate, nor critical. Attending to the relationships created and altered by computerized technology forms the basis for digital humanism, and is essential for improving digital media and through it, human life.
Even decades after their inception, the novelty and potential of digital media remains staggering. For the medium not to lose its relevance and potential, it is crucial that digital media professionals engage and deepen their humanity with every creative endeavour through a full consideration of the relationships influenced by their craft. The result will be a medium responsive to human needs, a medium that showcases the best of us, a medium that forever delights.