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Douglas Rushkoff-- Present Shock and Presentism: Interview Transcript

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Douglas Rushkoff Well, sure! Traditional sports are actually tinkered with every year or two; you know, you change the rules in basketball or football to try to make the climax better: "How are we going to keep the game close to the end? How are we going to keep it fast moving?" They're looking to bring it up -- because ideally, what you get is this, "It's the last five minutes that everyone just has to watch," rather than "A game that people are tuning out as it's going along." So it's the same as a story, or writing a play, or writing a movie: you've got to have a "get." At least in the majority of games, you want it to move up to that.

A two hour sports game really is a narrative: it's a narrative of two opposing armies coming to the field of the court to have it out. Even boxing is that: it's dramatic in the classic sense of the word. Whereas, freestyle sports - the extreme sports like snowboarding, or skateboarding, or surfing (which is the original one) - they don't quite have that same, "We're going to go and do this thing a win!" There's more of a Zen to it. The pure surfer is just trying to stay in the wave as long as possible; stay in the tube or on the wave. And we're looking at his style: how is he doing it? What makes a champion surfer? It's not that he's beaten some other guy, even with the /

Rob Kall: (interjecting) And this is where you come with this idea that stories which are linear (that have a beginning, and middle, and ending, that have a protagonist who faces challenges and overcomes them) - that's changed, you're saying; so that now what we have is somebody living in the present. Can you talk a little bit more about where you see things moving away from this narrative approach that has been the way humans have functioned for as long as there has been history and before?

Douglas Rushkoff It isn't as long as there's been history and before. I think that storytelling has changed. If you look at the narrative style of the Bible, it's really different. This really [isn't] the same "Crisis, Climax, Recognition." It works differently; you almost need to be able to tie together whether it's Old Testament and New Testament, or you need to be able to tie together a story in Genesis with a Law in Numbers to see how it really works, how it ties together. It's almost a more hypertext style narrative happening there.

But, yeah; certainly for a couple of thousand years, though, we've watched characters go through things. They go through stories that have really already happened. Most stories are told in the past tense: "Then he did this, then he did that, then he did this.." And you listen, and you know that something big is going to happen; and he's going to make a decision; and he'll either get hoisted on his petard (he'll get his comeuppance), or he'll vanquish whatever his obstacle or enemy is.

And the Presentist narrative style (not that it's completely new; we've always had them with us, but they haven't been the dominant form) is something more like a video game: where, instead of watching somebody else go through a story that's already happened, you are making the decisions in real-time that bring us through the story. You're bringing yourself through that story: making choices rather than watching someone else's choices.

So there's much less predetermined about it. It's not about a story conforming to the tragic flaw, the preexisting tragic flaw of the hero. It's much more about, "Where do I want to go with this? Where am I going to bring this thing?" In some of these worlds you actually go, you make friends, and then you can walk around with them, you can decide on going on adventures. It's much more like the open-ended style of play that you had when you were a kid than it is like some kind of a board game.

Rob Kall: And what's interesting is, the game business is now bigger than the movie business; in terms of the entertainment world, it's much bigger. But I wonder: if somebody is a writer, and they're writing fiction, writing novels, is there advice that you could give them based on this Presentist narrative style, that would help them in their writing to create the kind of story that would work better for people who are becoming accustomed to Presentist narrative style?

Douglas Rushkoff: Yeah. There's people who are doing it, from [unintelligible] Smith to Jonathan Lethem. You know (it's kind of funny) Michiko Kakutani and the Times might call it "Post-Modern Pyrotechnics," that it's substituting for bad storytelling. But I would argue that this is good storytelling, this is the new storytelling; it's much more fractal in nature. So instead of it being a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, it's a story that your narrative is more connective and cumulative, that you're moving through a world that things open. The positive neurochemicals that get released as you read this story have to do with making connections, with drawing patterns, with making discoveries. It might feel more like a Super Mario World than a traditional novel.

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