Interactive aesthetics – Culture and Games Tsen Wang Assistant Professor Graduate School of Creative Design Ming-Chuan Universitye Taiwan +886 952933691
ABSTRACT Rhythm Action Games [RAG] are designed specially for musical and physical interaction. The experience of the RAG genre encourages each player have the ability to participate the virtual world in the game. No matter whether in RAG games or the KTV experience, we all share the human desire to extend our powers and, by coping with and adapting to the technology, escape from the reality of social structure and jump into the aesthetics of the screen imagery, the virtual world. As famous scholar, Jody Berland claims “The technical reconstruction is instrumental in the changing topography of social, cultural and political space.”  Through the common cultural codings exchange in the practice of games, the aesthetic has been established and recognized. Just like singing in KTV, where the users share the collective aesthetic and cultural values through their interaction in the cubicles, here they share playing the games.
Categories and Subject Descriptors D.m [MISCELLANEOUS]: Software psychology
General Terms Design.
Keywords Culture, Game, RAG, KTV.
1. Video Game Background Educator Mark Prensky refers to the youth of today as ‘digital natives’, due to their increasing exposure and fluency in the language of computers, video games and the internet.  The youth of the twenty first century are not playing with decks of cards or games of marbles anymore. High technology has established and allowed us to enjoy our fantasies in childhood. Video games have built a path for us to get involved with, and to seem to control, the virtual world. From the early versions of video game systems, such as Nintendo, SEGA, GameBoy, DreamBox, and Playstation, the newer versions have evolved to the point where they now include networking functions, WIFI, bluetooth and DVD players. Examples are the Playstation 3, Wii Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. Mobile HCI'07, September 9-12, 2007, Singapore. Copyright 2007 ACM 978-1-59593-862-6….…$5.00
and the portable Playstation PSP. Playing video games has become a major, possibly even the major, entertainment for the young. “Price Waterhouse Cooper’s publication The Outlook for Video Games reports that 60% of all Americans over the age of six now play video games.”  Now, because of the speed and convenience of Internet connections, and the functions of web chatrooms, the development of online games has also attracted many adults. The popularity and proliferation of Internet cafes, and the numbers of video game shops on the street, demonstrates a flourishing video game phenomenon, the size of the gaming community, and the depth of video game culture at the beginning of the twenty first century. But, by experiencing virtual gaming activity, people exchange the value with the metaphor of reality. Virtual reality has mutated the social ‘imagery’ of the young generation. The very deep, and highly fiction oriented, thinking model, that has been the demand of the virtual world, has meant that addicted game users find it hard to separate illusion from reality. In the article Cocooned between Reality and Illusion, the art critic Frankie Su analysed the Japanese Otaku. She claims that; [O]taku try to find illusion in reality, find reality in a fictional story. They are deeply obsessed with manga, computers and idols but ultimately hope to build channels to communicate with other people, hoping in a familiar area to find the affirmation they can not.  Also, “from Lacan’s concept of the imaginary, gamers’ imaginations act as a part of psyche that constructs one-to-one correspondences.”  Faced with unsatisfied feeling of endlessly chasing the tail of consumption that characterises modern society, people can more easily reconstruct themselves in the virtual video world. Slam dunking is no more than just a dream for a short guy, yet in a virtual world you can shoot your enemy on a main street, kick your boss, or even kill the police. The random imagination has subverted social morality in a subconscious, or unconscious, way. The social hegemony and hierarchic social structure has been broken and rebalanced in the virtual world, shooting the police becomes a satisfaction for oppressed citizens. Sometimes, drowned in the desire and merged into the virtual imagination has caused the addict users to become ‘mad’. In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault looked at how the idea of madness was turned and justified by the normal society in the post modern structural theory. Madness was; a condition in which all forms of liberty are gradually suppressed; madness shows us nothing more than the natural constants of a determinism, with the sequences of its causes, and the discursive movement of its forms; for madness threatens modern man only with that return to the bleak world of beasts and things, to their fettered freedom. 
Examples of madness are found in the Japanese Otaku, or cold blooded teenage murders, and the adolescent violence shown by people fighting for the virtual ‘Haven Money’, possession of which signifies success in the on-line game Haven in Taiwan, or the youth who brutally killed two police on the street in America under the influence of the video game A Perfect Crime. However, this is not a detractor’s argument. Virtual madness helps reveal any private and concealed lust for power, and any desire to subvert the gender, social or cultural structures. Clearly, video games have not only become a major consumption trend of the twenty first century, the video game also has significant influence in the shaping of social values.
2. Rhythm Action Games [RAG]
get in touch with music performance games. The inclusion of the adult audience turned the game into family entertainment. The RAG game genre is based on a predictable musical tempo - pitch beat sequence and response, which is combined with the player/performers’ rhythmic action and beat matching. Because of the familiar design interfaces and the sophisticated sensory controllers, and unlike violent or sexual video games on the market, the highly interactive toys and participating aspects of the RAG games have caught the attention of gamers of all ages. In what D'Arcangelo calls a ‘new call and respons’, the give and take of musical influence in the electronically-mediated world is stimulating the invention of new tools and techniques to give the audience a channel of response. 
In 1996, the video game company, Konami started a trend of music performance game types with the DJ simulation game, Beat Mania. After that came a series of Rhythm Action Games [RAG], such as the Dance Dance Revolution [DDR] 2001, Guitar Freak 2000, Keyboard Mania 2002, Samba De Amingo 2000 (see Figure 1), and Taiko No Tatsujin 2005. (see Figure 2) (Taiko means Drum Master) These games are designed specially for musical and physical interaction, and have started a fashion for playing RAG games that has swept the Asian video game market. “By building the RAG software with a game ‘mat’, Konami created a play-at-home adaptation of its wildly popular arcade game.”  As a result of the popularity of the RAG game series, Konami has made huge profits. According to a report in 2003, Konami had sold 6.5 million units for DDR worldwide. 
Figure 3.Top: The interface of Dance Dance Revolution [DDR]; Bottom: Play-at-home adaptation, the Dance pad, Image resources from: Top (ign.com); Bottom (kenxi.en.alibaba.com) Figure 1. The rhythm action game [RAG], Samba De Amingo Image resources from (Blaine, 2005)
Figure 2. The rhythm action game [RAG], Taiko No Tatsujin ( Taiko: Drum Master) Image resources from (ign.com) Originally, the dance game, DDR was based on the big video game machine usually found in video arcades and shops. Because of its popularity, DDR was transformed into the television video game system, Playstation 2. The widespread popularity of this device in the family, and the development of the play-at-home adaptation, Dance Pad (see Figure 3) which is a specially designed dance controller for DDR, enabled adults to physically
More recently, different kinds of interactive devices for the RAG games, have been marketed, such as dance pads, handle toys, mobile devices and motion capture devices like as the Eye-Toy, by Sony. All of these have encouraged the enlargement and consumption of the RAG market. The worldwide market for video game peripherals, consoles and software was approximately $23 billion in 2004.  The innovation of the RAG game does provide a new interactive experience on television. Waving or dancing with the shadow in the television screen, we become the moving pixels on the screen. The RAG genre is an experience of getting physically involved in/with the virtual world with our whole body, not just the fingers and imagination. “For McLuhan, artists’ deployment of new technologies functions as a radar system to help us cope with their impact.”  By using these dance pads or motion capture controllers, we use RAG to build a virtual environment in our real life. The interactive idea seems also to have impacted on KTV culture recently. The invention of tone controllers and the special stereo effect devices used in KTV, especially Holiday KTV, (Holiday KTV, 2004) and employing the pitch modifying technology now commonly used in the recording industry, provides customers/consumers with the ability to change their natural voice and become, temporarily, a pitch perfect singer and a virtual star. No matter whether in RAG games or the KTV
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experience, we all share the human desire to extend our powers and, by coping with and adapting to the technology, escape from the reality of social structure and jump into the screen imagery. As Berland claims “The technical reconstruction is instrumental in the changing topography of social, cultural and political space.” 
the controller becomes a means of communication for developing community through game play or a musical medium. Party games such as Karaoke Revolution, Dance Dance Revolution, Samba de Amigo, Groove, etc. thrive on feedback from community, as do most musicians with responsive audience. 
3. Karaoke Revolution
The experience of the RAG genre encourages each player to become a singing idol. The birth of the video game, Karaoke Revolution 2003, caught the chance and provided an accessible virtual stage for those who dreamt of the possibility. Karaoke Revolution is a typical RAG game, the gamers use a play-at-home interactive microphone, with a custom microphone controller for the PS2 and XBox, and sing, following the melody and the tempo of the songs. The computer will give the gamers various points for singing techniques, such as the accuracy, syllable, pitch and rhythm. The interface of the game is composed of bars of varying heights and lengths to indicate the pitch and duration of each note. (see Figure 4). Points are collected by capturing notes, unlocking tracks and are multiplied along the way. This kind of game, transformed from the traditional pitch capture style game into a ‘musical mapping style’, is described as Harmonix Music Systems.  The presentation of the images is very bright and dazzling, with a choice of different kinds of characters as the singer, and the performance is set in various opulent three dimensional stage effects. The abundant visual effects make the game look like a hyper-real Australian Idol production.
In Pour Une Critique de l'Economie Politique du Signe, Jean Baudrillard makes the argument that social value is produced through the exchange of content and expression. Here, through the dazzling pictures and the virtual idol role playing, the aesthetic within the graphic and illustrations has integrated the cultural coding and the value exchanging. In a pleasurable and enjoyable way, the video games graphics not only communicate but also influence its users in a subconscious and powerful way. In post modern society, leisure entertainment has been valued and respected as a major activity in daily life. That being so, we have to look more carefully at the influences of leisure entertainment. Following Jacques Lacan, when we play different roles in the virtual karaoke games, even when we hold the microphone controllers, the identification that is apprehended on the screen, like the reflection in the mirror, is just a reflection of our unconscious imagery, but not the conscious ego. As Lacan said, “the ego is always an alter-ego.”  Looking into the cultural background of the karaoke video games, no matter whether Karaoke Revolution Version 3, or the Singstar Pop (see figure 6), we can feel the influence of the American popular music culture as our alter-ego. The pop mega-stars, such as Britney Spears and Beyoncé Knowles, show their substitute images in the video game Singstar Pop, providing the idol image for fans to identify with and adore. Under such conditions, image has been replaced by the symbolic signifier in popular culture. However, by looking at the ‘mirage’ in the game, the game has also become the weapon with which to practice culture. As Peter Buse claims in the article Nintendo and Telos, “Video games, it seems, incarnate the perfection of the mirror, inserting the subject in to a narrative in which she or he sees herself or himself projected as the hero and potential master.”  We are constantly engaged in an act of measuring ourselves up through identificitation with the images in the mirror.
Figure 4. Left: The interface of Karaoke Revolution Version 3; Right: the cover of Karaoke Revolution Version 3, Image resources from Left: (ign.com); Right: (www.gamespot.com) More recently, development of the third generation, Karaoke Revolution Version 3, has enabled chorus singing. Using two microphone controllers means you can have double your pleasure with your friends. Because the points gained are based on the pitch, and not for the voice recognition, it extends the flexibility of the performance. The game enables the user to easily experience the excitement and the intimacy of KTV culture in the comfort and security of their home. Different from the normal singer/ player game, this music instrument breaks the closed Otaku style virtual world. Combining game playing and the sharing of a musical experience, the Karaoke Revolution Version 3 totally simulates the real and happy experience of the actual KTV. By means of this collective leisure activity and the common entertainment communication, the play-at-home edition of the Karaoke Revolution Version 3 encourages friendship and closeness in a convenient and cheap way. In The Convergence of Alternate Controllers and Musical Interface in Interactive Entertainment, Tina Blaine argues that:
Figure 4. Singstar Pop, Image resources from Left: (http://www.idolblog.com/grandfinal-party-2005); Right: (www.optusnet.com.au/games/playstation2/) For KTV culture, the success of Karaoke Revolution Version 3 can be treated as a good example of a cultural practice that expands in the leisure entertainment. Therefore, how to best use cultural signs in the visual graphics to represent ideas has become a challenge for designers. It is no longer necessary to use violence or sexual stimuli, we still can build good connections
9th Intl. Conf. on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI’07)
with the audience by employing aesthetic values. As Bell asserts in the article Video Game Value and Exchange Aesthetics, “the aesthetic of the game can be linked to exchange value.”  Through the common cultural codings exchange in the practice of games, the aesthetic has been established and recognized by the users. Playing a game can be an interactive social experience that can be shared with your friends and your family. Just like singing in KTV, where the users share the collective aesthetic and cultural values through their interaction in the cubicles, here they share playing the games. The pleasure and enjoyable visual communication of the screen-based KTV unites the aesthetics of symbols with rapid reading and emulation of the moving images. Reflecting the image on the screen, the body performs as a tool for the music, elaborating the emotional desires and experiences of the outside space. The aesthetic values exist in the heterotopic space, mirror to real life. As Bell asserts, “something more can always be imaged. Here, a system of exchange couples with aesthetics, offering the target – in the form of another game – to alleviate that lack of satisfaction.”  Winning or losing has nothing to do with game play here. Watching the dancing figures on the screen, there is only a microphone with a virtual body. The design of the Karaoke Revolution Version 3 showcases good example of the RAG and the entertainment of interactive karaoke culture, fulfilling our singing ambitions and dreams of becoming the virtual star. In the screen based interactive and visual display dimension, the tones of the layout and the composition of visual elements are the key factors to attract and influence the users. The RAG has raised the trend in the future. In 2006, the success of the Nintendo’s new generation game systems, Wii (see Figure 7) has proved that the interaction can beat those game systems which only have high quality visual 3D presentation.
¡§ Wii's remote-control wand can be swung like a tennis racket, fishing pole, or orchestra baton in easy-to-play games the company hopes will appeal to a wider audience than the traditional young male demographic…Nomura Securities Co analyst Yuta Sakurai said last month he expected Nintendo to sell 40 million machines, compared with 70 million PlayStation 3 consoles in the next five years.” 
the reality and virtual world, no matter physically or mentally. In the Joint International Conference on Cyber Games and Interactive Entertainment 2006 (CGIE 06), Dr Scot Osterweil take the example of the game, Sin City and claims that the games should engage players’ imaginations with places, events, themes and ideas that matter. As the For designers, the case of Karaoke Revolution Version 3 and KTV culture demonstrate that the cultural studies could help the video game or multimedia design. How to use the songs/signs to reflect and awaken cultural thinking in interactive aesthetics design is the key point in the future.
6. REFERENCES  Bell, P.D. 2004, Video Game Value and Exchange Aesthetics, Georgetown University Press, Georgetown. p.22, 46, 48  Blaine, T. 2005, ‘The Convergence of Alternate Controllers and Musical Interfaces in Interactive Entertainment’, New Interfaces For Musical Expression (NIME 04), Hamamatsu. P27, 28, 29, 31  Buse, P. 1996, ‘Nintendo and Telos: Will You Ever Reach the End’, Cultural Critique. p.169  Foucault, M. 1973, Madness and Civilization: The History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, Trans. R. Howard, Vintage Books, New York. p.83  Holiday KTV, 2004, Holiday KTV. < http://www.holiday.com.tw >. Viewed 02 June, 2004.  Intelligence, D. 2004, Worldwide Market Forecasts for the Video Game and Interactive Entertainment Industry, < http://www.dfcint.com/news/prsep222004.html >. Viewed 09 Oct, 2005.  Jody, B. 1988, ‘Locating Listening: Popular Music, Technological Space, Canadian Mediations’, Cultural Studies, Vol.2, p.3, 41  Lacan, J. 1988, Book Ii: The Ego in Freud' s Theory and in The Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955, Trans. S. Tomaselli, W.W. Norton and Co., New York. p.321  Newitz, A. 1994, ‘Anime Otaku: Japanese Animation Fans Outside Japan’, Bad Subjects, No. 13.  Prensky, M. 2001, On the Horizon, NCB University Press, p.5.  Su, F. 2004, ‘Cocooned Between Reality and Illusion’, in E.W. Frankie Su (Ed.), Fiction Love, Contemporary Art Foundation, Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei. p37
Figure 4. Nintendo’s new generation game systems, Wii, Image resources from Left: (www.misterinfo.de); Right: By Brett Jordan (www.powerpage.org)
 Taipei Times, 2006, ‘Nintendo Wii hits Japan market’, Viewed 03 Dec, 2006.
The participation in virtual world already can be seen in our daily life, such as the virtual chatting through the MSN messenger, the virtual chicken pet of your key ring or the virtual lovers on the Internet web space. The technology has blurred the lines between
9th Intl. Conf. on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI’07)