The ontology of interactivity

Jonathan FROME, The University of Texas, Dallas, U.S.


When discussing modern entertainment, people frequently use the terms “interactive” and “noninteractive” despite the fact that there is no clear consensus on what these concepts mean. To this point, in the book Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman write, “Interactivity is one of those words which can mean everything and nothing at once.” (2005: 58) Despite this ambiguity, there is an apparent consensus that interactivity is essential to understanding the difference between computer games and other forms of entertainment. It is often said that computer games are different from films, literature, and other works of art precisely because computer games are interactive and these other media are not. Not only is interactivity considered to be necessary to a computer game, but games are often criticized by gaming reviewers for having long noninteractive portions such as cutscenes, suggesting that interactivity is essential for a computer game to be successful (Newman 2004). So what is interactivity?