Interactive media are driven by computational processes.
Whatever purpose motivates us to create and interpret interactive media — art, entertainment, education, research — engaging with computational processes is key.
Yet it has become increasingly clear that computer science, the discipline that invents and refines novel computational processes, does not possess all the knowledge and methods necessary when pursuing basic research on the systems that drive interactive media. For example, while computer science often evaluates work in terms of efficiency (e.g., of execution, of task completion) it has no tools for evaluating the primary, media-focused aspects of this work.
However, at the same time that interactive media has been growing in importance to computer science, other disciplines have been developing new approaches to computational processes. Within the digital arts computational processes are being employed in media creation frameworks, evaluated in terms of design and critiqued in terms of art, while new approaches to teaching computational work are developed in terms of artistic expression. Within the digital humanities the interpretation of computational systems has moved forward along with the use of humanities concepts and interpretations as structures operationalized within computational media systems (both for communicating humanities ideas and opening new media possibilities generally).
Given these developments, rich interactions between media-focused computer science, the digital humanities, and the digital arts have the potential to drive major forward progress in interactive media creation and understanding. These disciplines have developed intellectual insights that could be of immediate use to one another, as well as ways of working that, when integrated, could produce important new methods of research, evaluation, and education.
But at the current moment there is only limited contact between these fields, a situation which we are beginning to see a national effort to address. The NSF/NEA "Re/Search" convening in 2010 was an initial step, which is now being taken further through the SEAD initiative. Our work seeks to broaden such efforts, in particular through deeper integration of the digital humanities and the interactive entertainment industries.
We believe that such efforts have the potential to open vast new possibilities for many types of media, including digital art, computer games, interactive narratives, and transmedia entertainment. We also believe they can enable the creation of tools that will allow those with an artistic vision to create types of media much more computationally complex than currently possible for those not trained as computer scientists.
At the same time, such efforts will help us better understand the increasingly computationally-driven world in which we live. This can be through the greater development of "software studies," as the traditional humanities mission of helping us situate and evaluate the products of human creativity moves into the realm of computational processes. But we believe it is also an essential part of the move toward "computational thinking" as part of education generally — combining the tools and approaches of computer science with the ability and motivation to create expressively, think critically, and situate historically that can come from the arts and humanities.
The Media Systems project begins by convening a set of field leaders who have been working across the boundaries of media-focused computer science, the digital humanities, and the digital arts. This is supported by an unprecedented group of partners: the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and both Microsoft Research and Microsoft Studios. The products of our meeting (in addition to the field building taking place through the meeting itself) will include both (1) a whitepaper laying out a high-level summary of lessons learned and future directions and (2) a set of multi-institution project proposals designed to move specific aspects of the field forward. In addition, talks from the meeting will be made available as video and dissemination trips will be made to major national meetings and funders to present the primary whitepaper findings and selected project proposals.
We believe the time is right for major progress in interdisciplinary work with computational processes. Our aim is to help catalyze it.