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Rick Gerard reviews Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative

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Rick Gerard reviews Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative
A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review


Rick Gerard reviews Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative

Rick Gerard Rick Gerard
Gerard Production
Roseville, California, USA

© 2003 Rick Gerard and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Rick Gerard takes a close look at Pause and Effect – The Art of Interactive Narrative by Mark Stephen Meadows. This new book from New Riders Publishing (ISBN: 0735711712) is a fascinating study of how interactivity has changed the narrative art and opened unlimited new avenues for creativity.


Do you remember that class you signed up for senior year that you thought would be an easy A? You thought you had a good handle on the subject. A walk in the park, a piece of cake . . . you thought. Then, on the first day, in the first five minutes, you had to toss away your expectations because the professor was so interesting and approached the subject in a way that you had never even considered. The class was going to require some real work. That's the best metaphor I can think of for Pause and Effect – The Art of Interactive Narrative.

The first section of the book, “Theory and Principal,” explores how we have traditionally used stories from a personal perspective to figure out a larger perspective on the “Human Condition.” In an effort to broaden our thinking about narrative, Meadows explores the link between narrative and imagery to convey perspective.

We are welding together our methods of presenting information and telling stories. The internet is a great example this merger. Unfortunately, according to Meadows, most of the denizens and the leaders of this form are largely clueless about the currency of their medium. Interactive media is blurring the line between reading and writing because we can change not only when we receive information, but where that information takes us. To be honest, I had never even considered that a person clicking through a web site was authoring, or at least, editing their own version of the information that is there. Meadows is very critical of designs that do not consider the relationship between the outside the skull elements of look, design, and symbol, with the inside the skull elements of feel, experience and meaning. The examples he sites of both good and bad design give you a definite sense that deeper understanding of the process will lead to better interactive design. One of the most fascinating parts of this section is Meadows’ exploration of the marriage of drama, time, and the reader’s ability to control where and when this happens.

The second section “Image and Icon” is an exploration of the relationship between the camera angle we use to look at life and our perception of events. Meadows goes into depth exploring how the angle we use and placement of graphic elements leads the eye to draw conclusions about the meaning of the image. It is storytelling with pictures at the postgraduate level. Image as metaphor and the importance of legibility, color, contrast and movement are discussed at great length. This is another example of Meadows’ uncanny ability to get me to think about why certain images, icons, logos, and designs work for me. Thinking about these kinds of relationships is very good for you. I am going to have a lot more of a foundation for designs that are presented to clients.

Section 3, “The Third Dimension – Place and Space” and section 4, “Development and Practice” bring the theory together with examples of successful design. The world and the way we talk about it, and learn about it, is rapidly changing. Our expectations are changing. Even the way we learn is changing. There are interviews and discussions with other writers and designers that expand on Meadows’ ideas. I need constant prodding to get off my duff and improve my skills. This book is full of motivation. Most of all, it made me realize how much I don't know about the why of my craft. I'm very good with the wrenches, and now, at least for the moment, I'm thinking much more about the art.

Mr. Meadows is a deep thinker, and eloquent writer, and a master theoretician. Most of all, he makes you THINK. His perspective on narrative forms examines the changing structure of conversation, literature, fine art, architecture, music, movies, TV, computer games, software and the internet. Anyone interested in how we communicate and what we expect from it should read this book, take notes, and discuss the process with their colleagues. If you're looking for recipes for successful and award winning design, this is the wrong book. If you want a manual that says tab A should be inserted into slot B, this is not it. On the other hand, if you love to experiment, grow, learn and improve, “Pause and Effect” is a great source of left brain thinking that will give substance to your right brain creativity.

I give it four and a half cows.



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