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Computers as Theatre [Paperback]

by Brenda Laurel
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 10, 1993 0201550601 978-0201550603
This paperback version of Brenda Laurel's 1991 hardcover classic features a new chapter that takes the reader through virtual reality and beyond to a new level of human computer interaction that is genuinely transforming. Like its predecessor, this book presents a new theory of human-computer activity. 0201550601B04062001

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Computers as Theatre + Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
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Editorial Reviews Review

When Brenda Laurel first wrote this book in the early '80s, it may have seemed a bit far-fetched to most computer users: "What? How can my interaction with a computer have anything to do with theatre? I'm typing!" But with the emergence of WebTV, VRML, and the dawning of real online interactivity where our interface with the computer and others is not the keyboard, but instead our imagination and the suspension of disbelief it requires, Laurel's ideas are finally coming of age. Snotty digerati might sniff that this is an old book, but I would argue that it is a book that has finally come of age.


A lucid and provocative study of the art/craft/business of optimal interfaces... takes a highly original look at our imperfect relationships with our machines, then points the way to improving things. Fun, and of real importance. -- William Gibson

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional (September 10, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201550601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201550603
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,317,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Putting dramatic structure on the user interface July 22, 2000
The idea that is perhaps most central to this book is that if you design the action involved in a user interface, the design of all other objects in the domain will follow. To support this, Laurel reconciles the seemingly disparate and relates user interface design with producing a play in theater. For example, the way she brings in the Freytag triangle works very well.
This said, I wish I wish that we would see a book from Laurel (or from one of her other usability guru companions) that treats with more recent issues-- particularly the Internet. I think she's one of the smartest people out there in the field, and I try to read what she's written, but I'm getting tired of reading about Habitat, Guides, and the Holodek on Star Trek. That's not the fault of the book, given that it came out pre-Internet hype, but it did inflect the reading experience with some weariness.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I finished reading "Computers as Theater" by Brenda Laural yesterday. The book has many good ideas in it, and it may well be worth reading just to pick these up.
It is also one of those books which does not do a good job of unifying its material, in my opinion. Rather than being a progression of ideas that builds to some intellectual climax, it meanders through various interesting points not quite aimlessly. The book introduces two useful diagrams: 'flying wedges' which describe how the space of possibilities in a drama go from the 'possible' to converge on the 'necessary', and 'freytag triangles', which measures the rise and fall of a plot. If these are used to describe this book (a slight abuse?), it doesn't fare well. The freytag diagram never peaks, and the wedge doesn't converge to the 'necessary'. This may be because the objectives for the book were not clear. As a reader, I didn't realize she was not (mostly) speaking to the modern commercial software world for quite a while into the book. The book also ended with two chapters about virtual reality (the substance, not the hype), and I was left wondering if perhaps *this* was what the book was really about (if so, I didn't see it coming).
All that said: there are many good ideas in the book, some of which will make you stop and think for a while (e.g. those diagrams). It is valuable because of this. As an individual, I simply wish the book had been better structured, for I'd have gotten more out of it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aristotle's Poetics applied to software design August 8, 1997
By A Customer
Laurel is quite the scholar - she's got experience and learning in the fields of theater and human-computer activities. Laurl applies Aristotle's Poetics to computer software design. I especially liked her comparison of computers to theatrical production - a tremendous amount of action goes on "behind the scenes." As Laurel points out, dramatic expression is a type of virtual reality; anything we develop with computers has a very long heritage. A must-read for the digerati
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
... because it reminds me a great deal of Bruce Lee's "Tao of Jeet Kune Do." In that book, the reader is warned in the preface to approach the book actively with pencil in hand to jot notes and draw lines between connected ideas. I have done this with Brenda's book. It will take about 6-7 reads and lots of mental connections before everything starts to gel.
It is a new "Way" of thinking, and, indeed, is so far ahead of any way we design software now that many ideas that this book suggests still need extensive research to even understand how to implement. (e.g. Freytag graphs as a way of structuring software/task flow to provide a pleasing HCI, and Brenda's Principles of Intelligent Computer Agency as a means for implementing truly AI agents with personality and emotions).
Along with the wonderful head rush of compelling new theory, she also takes the second half of the book to explain principles of software design that you can implement in your programs _now_, and also takes the time to introduce you to fascinating HCI research offshoots like Programming by Demonstration.
It is wonderful writing, and her ideas and concepts continually refresh and remind me why I am in such an exciting field.
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