By Polly Frost and Ray Sawhill
Ray Sawhill: “Voyeur” is a video game with sex-thriller and “Dynasty”-like narrative elements. It’s played on your TV, meant to be enjoyed by grown-ups, and to turn them on.
Polly Frost: Computers, multimedia, pornography … Why do I have to share your enthusiasms?
RS: I don’t care if you share them. I only want to know how you react to them.
PF: I really went for Masa, the Japanese eco-terrorist. He’s one Pacific-Rim hunk! You seemed to like the scene where that major cocktease Chloe, in skimpy undies, interrupts Masa’s martial arts work-out and gets him to rub her shoulders. You interacted your way every single time to her cute little blonde-girl butt.
RS: Only because it reminded me of yours.
PF: Hah. And you liked the line Chloe says to her cousin’s uptight wife Lara, “The bra has to go.” Would you like to say that to your woman?
RS: Actually, I liked hearing a woman say it to a woman.
PF: How passive of you. “Voyeur” is about as effective a marital aid as getting a flat when you’re on vacation, and one of you has to read the instructions while the other one changes the tire.
RS: An erotic suspense story should have an I’m-on-a-waterslide excitement. In a movie it can be arousing that you can’t re-run a favorite scene — narrative does have its purposes. I never experienced linearity as the horrible thing some theorists make it out to be. Did you?
PF: I grew up on the LA freeways. I wouldn’t know what linearity is.
RS: Now that digital media give us the ability to bring up our favorite movie and video bits instantly, and run them past over and over, I wonder what new frustrations and yearnings we’ll discover. How did the partial point-of-view work for you?
PF: It was like a Christmas advent calendar. You’re in an apartment, looking through a video camera. Across the way is the mansion of a powerful, sinister family. You’re peering into their windows, at pieces of a story. Some are video segments with actual actors, some are audio clips, some are clues you zoom in and pick out. You have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery. Then you warn the character in danger, or you contact the police. When I heard the words “interactive multimedia” I was afraid I was going to have to do a lot more than that.
RS: “Voyeur” is halfway between a movie and a video game, and it isn’t a satisfying mesh.
PF: If you play a typical video game, you enter into it as a character, like Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s your id set free. “Voyeur” would be more fun if you could be Reed, who wants to be President and tries to bury his dirty secrets, or Chantal, the dominatrix who really runs his empire.
RS: It seems to have been made by entrepreneurs rather than entertainers.
PF: It didn’t lead to great sex; it led to weird dreams when we conked out instead.
RS: And different kinds of dreams than the ones movies stir up.
PF: Death or sex should be the catharsis of interaction. In “Voyeur” I never even got to see anyone killed. It might work if my prurient interests were being more expertly catered to.
RS: Inept game-players like us need more payoffs along the way. Maybe what’s supposed to be adult about “Voyeur” is the endlessly postponed pleasure.
PF: Interactive multimedia makes me feel like I’m in one of those restaurants where they tell you to create your own omelet. I say, show me what your chef can do. Then let me bitch about it. I don’t want to be the one who decides whether Anna Karenina jumps in front of that train! Is it the technology itself that turns you on?
RS: It’s like watching the birth of a new medium. Imagine being in on the first days of movies, when people were trying things out that had never been seen before.
PF: Film seems far richer than multimedia.
RS: I think that’s because only a few people have begun learning how to do more with multimedia than show off the technology. Lousy as “Voyeur” is, look at how complicated even it gets. When we cut in close to gather evidence we sometimes wind up looking at someone’s computer — we’re watching our TV, which is portraying an image seen through a video camera that shows us a message on a computer screen. For 25 years, worlds-within-worlds self-referentiality was an aspect of art that baby boomers were obsessed by. Who knows why? But for better or worse multimedia is the recently-hatched culmination of that obsession. And people are still mostly just fumbling around with it.
PF: It gave me a headache.
RS: Humanizing the computer world and learning how to interact with it are two of the great intellectual/aesthetic challenges of our day. Can I make some other fast points?
PF: Only if you number them. I love it when you make lists.
RS: 1) When you’re using it with interactive programs, your TV becomes a different device than the one that’s discussed by critics of TV like Neil Postman. It’s no idiot box. Imagine: all that theorizing disproved, just like that. 2) Videocam style is entirely different from the classic visual language of the movies, and may be obliterating it. 3) The home entertainment center — the stereo/TV/computer rig — is today’s cathedral, museum and theater. 3a) Don’t do that.
PF: Don’t do what?
RS: Don’t scratch your back yourself. Think interactive, baby. Tell me how you want it scratched.
PF: Down up down right there yes not there do it right aaaahhhh. This is exactly why I find “Voyeur” boring — if I’m going to boss someone around I want to do it in person.
©1992 by Polly Frost and Ray Sawhill. First appeared in The Modern Review.