Tuesday, 7 February 2012

More Thoughts on Communication Theory

Frame from the Piers Sanderson film: High on Hope

The interesting thing about communication is that it is a process by which we assign and convey meaning in an attempt to create a shared understanding. It requires both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills and it is through communication that we can develop collaboration and cooperation. As an old fashioned Socialist I strongly believe in communication as being at the core of all political activity and a lack of communication is usually at the core of organisational dysfunctionality and poor politics. I therefore worry about individualism. What can happen when the deep underlying reasons for collective, communal communication are lost is the rise of cultural fragmentation and individualism, a state that the Rowntree Foundation (Lawson and Thake, 2008) has argued as being one that needs to be confronted and replaced. "This individualism was seen to have damaging consequences, fuelling selfishness and greed and leading to isolation and fear as people struggle to cope and live fulfilling lives."

As DFGA Students you specialise in moving image communication techniques. We presume that a visual message with movement and sound has a greater power to inform, educate or persuade a person than a static visual. I.e. it is a synchronistic concept, whereby two or more forms of communication come together in order to achieve a powerful effect. In The Mind in the Cave by Lewis Williams (I do believe this is essential reading and I know I have mentioned it several times before) it is pointed out that sound, vision, dance and touch were all used to convey shamanistic messages to the tribe. Perhaps the rave is the clearest modern format for this. The film/music documentary ‘High On Hope’ which commemorates the 20th anniversary of acid house, telling the story of the infamous ‘Hardcore Uproar’ warehouse parties in Blackburn in the late nineteen eighties is a good illustration of this. Over 10,000 people dancing in cavernous warehouses across the north-west every week was the nearest to a Shamanistic experience I think we could get. For a brief moment perhaps our individualism is shed and we operate as one with the group.

You could say that one implication of communication theory is that evaluation of a good visual design/communication can be done by measuring the comprehension by its audience, not by aesthetic or artistic preference. In this case the problem in terms of communication theory is that if the people evaluating the art, media product or design are themselves media professionals they are too 'attuned' to the business to be aware of how a non media specialist would receive the communication. I.e. the best critics are those experiencing the communication, in the above instance the ‘ravers’.

However it is within the old history of rhetoric that I find a deeply fascinating series of narratives. It is strange and wonderful and as it covers memory training, body language, voice projection as well as the well known 'rhetoric tropes'. It is indeed a deep river to fish. (To use the rhetoric trope 'metaphor'.)

An image from Yates: The art of memory

A key book to look at is I would suggest, ‘The Art of Memory' by Yates. For DGFA students this book can be an entry into a way of thinking of writing a film script as a memory aid (cues can help with memory retrieval) or developing a navigation theory for game design (Developing a system within which players' decisions are limited but significant). In fact if you follow Cicero’s rules for mind walking as a memory aid, you realise that the whole construct feels like an interactive video game. He suggests leaving odd, memorable images in significant places as you walk around a building. You ‘collect’ these as you retrace your memory steps, in a similar way to the collection of weapons or tokens as you navigate through a game. Cicero was when at work, a teacher of rhetoric to the powers that were in control in Rome. His texts were written to explain how rhetoric worked. What is interesting is that modern day computer games often outline how their ‘worlds’ work and there are several analogies between how Cicero pictured a controlled political environment and how game designers such as Hideo Kojima and Sid Meier set up the control systems for game parameters.

An orator speaks to the Roman senate

As Galloway (2006, p. 90) states in relation to a discussion of Meier’s work, “The gamer is learning, internalising and becoming intimate with a massive, multipart, global algorithm. To play the game means to play the code of the game.” I.e. you need to learn a process or set of rules in order to be able to calculate how to solve problems. This is very similar to Edward Channing’s (1856) definition of rhetoric; he stated, “rhetoric undertakes to show man rules or principles which will help to make the expression of his thoughts effective”. If you want to progress in a game such as ‘Civilization’ you need to internalize the logic of the program, once you understand the rules and principles you can make your thoughts effective. It could therefore be argued that a good game designer like Meier is someone that clearly understands how to use a contemporary type of rhetoric. In both cases, Cicero and Meier, their work can also be used to understand things about the wider political culture within which they both operate. In the game ‘Civilization’ the “massive electronic network of command and control”, as Galloway (2006) puts it, reflects the reality of contemporary power structures, whilst Cicero’s principles of rhetoric reflect the organizing principles of the Roman senate.

Sid Meier’s Civilization

Galloway., H. R. (2006) Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture London: University of Minneapolis Press
Lawson, N and Thake, S (2008) Why individualism has created "social recession" York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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