Whatever (Virtual Feedback)

[a half past 2 production]

Synopsis: live interactive TV show aimed at 15 - 30 ABC1

Keywords: ground-breaking, live, interactive



  1. What is Interactive entertainment ?

Interactivity implies user participation during the entertainment process. To give a simple example watching Oprah on television is not an interactive experience, whereas playing the role of Rock Hardman, Space Marine Captain, rescuing the world from an invasion of aliens on your computer is an interactive experience.

Likewise it is true that being in Oprah’s audience in the TV studio is an interactive experience because you can vary the flow of the show by the questions that you ask. The converse is also true, that is watching Rock Hardman take on the aliens on Channel 5 is not an interactive experience.

These seemingly innocent examples cover quite a lot of the following table of current commercial interactive experiences. (table 1).


who interacts with who


one person

many people

1. one person


computer game


2. many people

conventional TV program, cinema

live TV, chat show

networked computer game

table 1 - current commercial interactive experiences


The nobody sector is listed simply as a counterbalance to illustrate what non-interactive experiences are like.

In recent years interactivity has been limited to the one-one or many-one sector simply because technology did not easily allow for anything else.

What small forms of interactivity were encouraged on TV - such as audience participation chat shows, were limited by design, since if everyone in the audience spoke at the same time then the result would be spectacularly useless.

It fell to the computer to provide a simple way of people interacting with a story arc using actions alone. If I move the joystick left, Rock Hardman eludes the alien horde and lives to fight another day. If I move it right he dies and the story ends there. The results of human interaction are immediate and effective (as in the viewer can make a difference).

It was computers again, wired together through the internet, that allowed for the explosion of multi player gaming over the last few years - this is currently the only entry in the most interesting column of table 1, the many - many sector (henceforth called m&m).

Games like Marathon, Doom and Quake dominated the software market in unprecedented fashion.

Though written to provide both single-player and multi-player experiences, the multi-player options immediately superceded the single-player to the extent that some games released today cannot be played by one person alone.

So if we already have m&m interaction in the entertainment arena, what is the purpose of this document. With this in mind it is useful to break down m&m interaction further, into constituent media processes.

An interaction which results in a change to the entertainment content passes through three distinct stages (the interaction chain)

    1. interaction - where the interaction takes place
    2. effect - where the interaction has an effect
    3. display - where this effect is displayed

To illustrate what is meant by this, consider a conventional multi-player experience, be it PC based or one of a multitude of game boxes (nintendo, sega etc.)

interaction medium - internet / proprietary networks (e.g. x-band)

effect medium - virtual space

display medium - computer graphics (tv/monitor)

Now as the large number amongst you that may have read Mr. Stephenson’s or Mr. Gibson’s odes to interaction in virtual space will know it works great - when you have computers interfacing directly with your mind, that is. For now, it is very interesting to consider interactivity that has effect in real space (i.e. real life).

There are a few examples of this on the web, such as a model train set linked to a camera - you can control the trains remotely and actually see them move around. The example may be simplistic but it illustrates the following interaction chain. (a sort of virtual feedback into the real world)

interaction medium - internet

effect medium - REAL space

display medium - computer

All the examples mentioned above use a computer (for purposes of this argument all gaming devices are treated as computers) to display the effect of an interaction.

We all know that TV’s are far better suited to displaying the kind of high-quality-fast-cut video we have come to expect in commercially mass produced entertainment than all but the most expensive computer based displays.

So the object of the exercise then becomes to construct a form of entertainment which allows for the following interaction chain.

interaction medium - internet

effect medium - REAL space

display medium - TV

Such a form of entertainment is the Virtual Feedback show described elsewhere.

[for forms of interaction possible - see Appendix I]

  1. What is multimedia ?


Over the years, the term multimedia has meant many things to many people, most meanings serving simply to dilute the beauty of the concept.

To video artists it means a sprawling array of cables and monitors which produces weird noises and colours when people approach it. This interpretation of multimedia as literally ‘utilisation of more than one medium’ is embarassingly simplistic and should be steered well clear of.

To the majority of the video gaming community (as in the programmers, not the players) this term should not even apply, since calling a good video game interactive multimedia is analogous to calling a good old fashioned game of chess a role-playing adventure.

To 95% of all CD-ROM developers worldwide, multimedia has provided a one-word career definition crutch. Web developers are not entirely without blame either.

"Hi my name’s Kyle. I’m an interactive multimedia developer from San Francisco".

No Kyle.

You make buttons depress and video clips play when graphics are clicked on computer screens all over the world.

If this is multimedia then a poster showing a picture of a TV or a TV advertisement with a radio playing in the background is multimedia.

I think the time has arrived to consider what multimedia really means - and how we can make something good out of that word.

Each medium has a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

Television has fast moving videos and pictures but it’s a totally passive experience and a small number of companies control the content of a whole medium.

Phones on the other hand, have no content or video but are both easy to use and ubiquitous.

The Internet has bad video capabilities but is very interactive and there is no centralised content control.

The list could go on - radio, cinema, newspapers....the point that I am trying to make is that in order to construct a multimedia experience we simply need to consider what kind of things we might want to see or do, and which medium is most appropriate for them.

For example - I like to watch my entertainment in full colour, full screen video, not as a combination of text and still images - therefore I choose to watch my entertainment on a television.

However when I watch TV I would like to comment on shows in the way I can comment on web sites - so I choose my interaction entertainment to be the internet.

I also like interacting with people on the phone so I might want to use a telephone aswell.

All that remains is to fuse these media together.





Appendix I

Types of narrative influence (interactivity) offered to the user

[breakdown - by table of pros (+) and cons (-) of each method]




1. physical viewpoint switch

personal preference

all editing control lost - multiple movies needed (or computer rendering of camera POV)

2. personal viewpoint switch

other side to the story

multiple movies (microsoft’s patent covers this area)

3. jump further along story

easily implemented (solves boredom)

you might miss key pieces of the story (summary)

4. hypertext further info

easily implemented (allows product placement tie in to catalogue sales)

not actually influencing the narrative



very difficult to influence the story without having direct effect - such as in LIVE broadcast - because of course the story is real.



1. physical viewpoint switch

personal preference

of questionable value in news or documentaries

2. personal viewpoint switch

other side to the story (good for documentaries)

multiple movies (microsoft’s patent covers this area)

3. jump further along story

easily implemented (solves boredom)

you might miss key pieces of the story (summary)

4. hypertext further info

easily implemented (allows product placement tie in to catalogue sales)



Though points 1 and 2 are highly desirable characteristics in an interactive story they are exceedingly difficult to do.

Points 3 and 4 however are executable with present day technology.

The summary referred to in point 3- of both tables is simple an overlayed ASCII summary of the what happens on screen - so much in the same way as if you go out of the room for ten minutes during a movie and come back to ask everyone what happened - you would simply jump to a later part of the movie if you were bored and scan the summary to see who killed whom and other such plot twists.

Point 4+ is also within current technological grasp, but only if the set top box unit can display on screen at the same time as the PC - since full screen, time stamped imagemaps could then be used to tell the server what the person has clicked on - so if the viewer is watching ‘The Saint’ and clicks on the Nokia Communicator - the server responds with a web page of information about it - allowing you of course to purchase it.

As mentioned before if the program is broadcast LIVE points 1 and 2 come into effect without overly expensive computer rendering simply because we can allow viewer control of the camera.