Interpassivity, the uncanny double of Interactivity

I’ve taught Interaction Design for quite a many number of years, including the “Fundamentals” of Interaction Design. At the Diploma level, where young students are new to the concept of interactivity, we often seek to have them understand interactivity as a sliding scale, and we might use quite clear-cut examples such as a brick versus a mobile phone. But what is harder to explain is the notion of interpassivity, because the paradox is that the user does not always acknowledge it.

This week I am reading Robert Pfaller’s Interpassivity because a niggling question I have is: what exactly is interactive about a virtual walk through VRChat or Second Life? Most might say these are interactive games, completely open ended. There may be opportunities to play with the physics engine, to interact with environments, to virtually walk, but it is also possible to tactically avoid other players and not interact with other humans, and this may be a playing strategy of mine at time even (since I like environments and exploring spaces more so than having conversations with other players).

Selfie cam in vrchat

Another question is whether choosing to keep on walking in an open-world game (as opposed to sticking in one place and interacting with NPCs and other players) is driven by some kind of notion of delegated consumption and interpassivity? From my personal perspective, I feel a stronger interest in the experience of space and environment and therefore my main motivating reason to play computer games is to explore the world and less so about the social or competitive component of gaming. At its fundamental core this debate of whether something is interpassive or interactive seems to be about the act of transference or displacement – even in like RIGHT NOW how I am convieniently displacing the idea of “thinking” to an other “one”, or as an artist where I sometimes displace my agency by saying “we think that…” or “it is thought that…” (perhaps, even worse still as a designer when as designer I say “the user thinks that…”)

Now I haven’t finished reading the entire book, but I already have the book (and many other papers and books on interpassivity) filed away in my well-organised spreadsheet and google drive, where I hoard the PDFs that I plan on reading for my upcoming research (but may or may not read, because time is finite). Nevertheless it gives me profound satisfaction, as if the file drive holds the knowledge for me, as if I have already done the research. As if the symbolic registration is sufficient. The theory seems to get at something that I struggle to put into words: what is it that is unbearable about being directly confronted or transfixed by the object of fascination? Why is it only bearable when passed on to someone or something else? (And how does this relate to attention spans, procrastination, and productivity?)

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