Chris Crawford is a game designer, but the importance of his ideas about the expressive potential of computation goes much beyond gaming.
Like Alan Kay and other researchers in the field, Crawford wants to show that the computer is capable of doing much more than simply simulating traditional media (the word processor essentially imitates the function of a typewriter, for example).
The Dragon Speech
More than twenty years ago, Crawford gave the Dragon Speech, in which he declared that he was abandoning the game industry.
I dreamed of the day when computer games would be a viable medium of artistic expression – an art form. I dreamed of computer games encompassing the broad range of human experience and emotion. (video)
In the talk, Crawford suggests an analogy between the search for procedural expressiveness and the pursuit of a mysterious dragon, which he had never seen completely, but was certain that existed. He concludes his talk storming out of the room, sword raised in the air, as a symbol of his search.
His criticism is specific to the games industry, but it also reflects the broader necessity to fully explore the potential of digital media. In the following years, Crawford would dedicate himself exclusively to his research, and to projects in which he could explore the computer in a more profound and independent manner (among his most recent projects is Storytron, an authoring system for interactive fiction – according to the website, the project is currently in “induced coma”).
In a recent article, Crawford elaborates.
Whenever they turn a video game into a movie, they insert a relationship. In video games, the only way we explore relationships is through cut-scenes.
I had hoped [game] publishers would follow the Hollywood model: spending most of their money on the blockbusters while funding weird things that might take off. But game publishers were too dumb and didn’t realize the importance of that model.
The indie game developers (…) are the ones who will save video games.
Among Crawford’s theoretical contributions is the concept of process intensity.
Process intensity is the degree to which a program emphasizes processes instead of data. All programs use a mix of process and data. Process is reflected in algorithms equations, and branches. Data is reflected in data tables, images, sounds, and text. A process-intensive program spends a lot of time crunching numbers; a data-intensive program spends a lot of time moving bytes around. (Process Intensity)
Here he arguments for the importance of procedurality in the context of digital media:
Processing data is the very essence of what a computer does. There are many technologies that can store data: magnetic tape, punched cards, punched tape, paper and ink, microfilm, microfiche, and optical disk, to name just a few. But there is only one technology that can process data: the computer. This is its single source of superiority over the other technologies. Using the computer in a data-intensive mode wastes its greatest strength. (idem)
- Crawford updates his website (www.erasmatazz.com) periodically with the progress (and failures) of his work, as well as reflections on politics and news about his cats (?).
- Great talk between Crawford and game designer Jason Rohrer in this video (2009).
- The Kotaku article about Crawford cited above is very interesting.