Multimedia is a bizarre concept– one that means different things to different people. In the realm of computing, it generally means combining animation, video, music and text in some sort of interactive melting pot. The idea is that the whole will add up to more than the sum of the parts. However, as Bob Hughes discusses in this thought-provoking book, multimedia, and especially multimedia CD-ROMs, quickly degenerated from a Brave New World for art, to a mass of poor ‘edutainment’ titles, often called shovelware.
This book isn’t a practical guide to learning leading-multimedia programs, but an investigation into the process of multimedia design.
Hughes covers a lot of ground, with plenty of metaphors, allegories and examples to illustrate his points – all of which make it a book that you can dip into and out of easily. Discerning a central thesis or methodology is harder work, with limited practical advice on how to apply the insights and pearls of wisdom. Many of his ideas can also be found in such key works as Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre.
Hughes’ core knowledge of multimedia seems stuck around about the early 90s when discs from Voyager, Broderbund and Dorling Kindersley set the standards. Does anyone here remember Critical Mass, PAWS, A Journey through Art, or the woeful Microsoft-effort Explorapedia, let alone MacJesus or the Hypercard-driven Expanded Books?
There is little or no mention of the Web as a format for multimedia, or DVD – never mind diverse phenomenon such as Lara Croft, Starship Titanic or The Palace.
There’s an extremely restricted definition of multimedia which Hughes is applying. Hughes sees the creative possibilities for multimedia as a deeply personal means of expression, which he connects to ‘peasant’ crafts, William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement, and a deeply flawed agrarian Utopia Hughes calls Cyberia, to set against a notion of industrialized multimedia – Microsoft – Hughes holds responsible for the dumbing
While I might disagree with many of the author’s philosophies, it does encourage one to think more deeply about the work we do, and offers new ways to conceptualise the creative process.