Reading Response: What Is Interactivity?

Interactivity is a term that many people often throw around and slap onto things without truly knowing what it means. After reading this article, I realized  that my own understanding of the term was lacking clarity, and that the general public, including myself, are often guilty of loosely applying this label without putting much thought to whether a work is really interactive or what it means for a work to be interactive.

Something is interactive if and only if it is responsive, does not completely control, is not completely controlled, and does not respond in a completely random fashion (Smuts 54).

I found Smuts’ arguments against others’ definitions of interactivity very intuitive and perceptive, and I think that his criteria for interactivity rather compelling. I particularly appreciate Smuts’ description of interactivity as not being an intrinsic property, but as being a relational property in the way that “we can interact with our environment until we can completely control it” (65).  While Smuts notes that interactive games strive to find a balance between difficulty and the player’s skills, the question that must be asked is: how can you find this perfect balance to ensure interactivity– especially for each unique user who individually differ in levels of mastery?

Another interesting point of Smuts’ analysis is interactivity being equated to concreativity since it is an experience that is supposedly shaped by both the artist and the audience. He notes that many works are mistakenly labelled interactive when really, there is no real contribution coming from the audience. Instead, these works allow the audience to be stimulated and participate on a superficial level. In fact, this raises another question for me. When should you strive for interactive work rather than just an engaging work? Some people might not want interactivity in a work. Some might just want a stimulating experience and to be affected by the work. Or perhaps some might simply  want control over the work, enjoying that sense of authority, but as Smuts points out, people commonly mistake control for interactivity. Therefore, I think it’s important to ask what the work strives to achieve and for who, as well as keeping in mind what this audience really wants.

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