Response: Exploring Emergence

December 2, 2011

Exploring Emergence by Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman is an interactive essay, looking at how simple rule sets can generate interesting, often complex interactions. They explain this concept using a grid of squares, introducing varying rules that constitute how squares can be turned “on” or “off.” For example, the most popular rule set for this demonstration, known as Life (created by John Conway in 1970) states, “if a square is off, it turns on if exactly three of its neighbors are on. If a square is on, it stays on if exactly two or three neighbors are on; otherwise it turns off.”

The article serves as an engaging introduction to generative work. There are many ideas that have been left unexplored, however – one that comes to mind is the notion of generative user interaction. In part, users could interact with the grid of squares in the essay by turning individual spaces on or off before applying a rule set. This is where the interaction ends – any “generative interaction” that is discussed after this point refers to the interaction between squares. What if instead, users were able to continually interact with the squares in real-time? A feedback loop could be created, not only generating an algorithmic response, but also potentially generating new user behaviour. For instance, imagine a camera input was mapped to the grid space, where pixel values from the camera constituted which squares would turn on based on a colour intensity threshold. Another interesting idea that came to mind was using the grid space to activate squares based on external data sets, drawing parallels to the imposed rules (e.g. population data and the rules of Life).

Face Fighter, an interactive game I worked on in this class, though not generative art per se, explored alternative modes of interaction by interfacing the game’s “hero” (a space ship) with a player’s head movements. There was a continuous feedback loop, as the player controlled how the ship was to move and when it should shoot, while the game had the potential to “back fire” (due to its somewhat archaic control algorithm). If the game was to reject the user’s input at a critical moment of gameplay, the ship could take damage or be destroyed. As a result, there is a constant revision process, where the user must evaluate his or her behaviour and make changes – I like to view this phenomenon as “generative interaction.”

While I find the potentials of generative systems intriguing, it is ultimately the meaning injected into the piece that makes it interesting to watch or interact with. Combining generative art with other ideas we’ve explored in class could create much more meaningful interactive experiences than the primal rules introduced by John Conway and other generative rule designers.