Sunday, January 29, 2012

Narrative Thinking

In my previous post I called out Play, Story, and Social Bonding as core human activities. There are other folks trying to riddle out this puzzle. What do they have to say?

From time to time I see many people pondering the nature of Games. Note that above we have Story and Play, but the word "game" ain't there. This is where most thinkers get off on the wrong foot with a bad premise. However the folks pursuing "Narrative" or "Story" don't suffer so much from the cul-de-sec of "Game".

Case in point, this morning, I read Raph Koster for the first time. His blog on "Narrative isn’t usually content either" was mesmerizing. A fantastic treasure trove of thinking and references to other thinkers on the subject. Absorbing and integrating all that material will take time.

The goal here is a succinct meta-story of human learning... one that provides actionable means to steer learning in ways that are both more useful and compelling. Any player of computer games can guess that useful and compelling are not complementary goals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Live and Learn

This blog entry is primarily a definition of terms. The language we use when discussing a problem (such as software or game design), has a large impact on the solutions we come up with.

People crave the following three things... and I day dream of software that supports them.

#1: “Play” is learning by doing: People play at things to gradually learn them in a fun way. Once the basics of a task are mastered and its a matter of exploring and mastering whats left, play becomes “sport” or “skill”. If something is mastered to the point where there is nothing to learn, exercising the skill becomes something of a chore or “work”. Teaching can be rewarding but at that point you are more storyteller than player.

#2: “Storytelling” is another basic human quality. We tell each other stories that entertain, teach, surprise, amuse, and amaze. This is learning by listening, watching, and reading.

#3: “Socializing” is connecting to other human beings. Forming alliances, expectations, contracts, and demands. “Build Human Relationships”. People connect with other people by sharing, selling, giving, taking, and doing. Call it love if you like, but competition also builds emotional bonds. A routine purchase from the seller you see every week forms a social bond or social expectation. We have a hard wired instinct for reciprocity.

Games take play off into abstract and competitive directions. But even the most refined game started with play, and introduces new players with play. I would define game as a play with no concrete purpose outside of the human connection. Its not a game to build a house or plant a garden. Its not a game to invest in the stock market or research a product. Refined games become Sport.

Human beings have a primal need for place and purpose in their life. A religious person well entrenched in their congregation has a sense of both their place in the world and the purpose of their life in it... and they experience a greater level of happiness and satisfaction than the average person. Work provides greater satisfaction if it is for a higher purpose. That purpose can be as simple as providing for your family. A sense of place is the security of a position within the social framework.

What made the earlier World of Warcraft addictive was also what made WOW and Facebook destructive. WOW hit on all the core needs above. WOW connecting us with people in far away lands with which we had nothing else in common, most likely at the expense (large or small) of time spent with our existing family and friends. If WOW had not created artificial barriers of level, faction, and server to playing with existing friends, family, and coworkers, I would not be nearly as disgusted. Happily WOW, the anti-Facebook, loosened its grip with the dungeon and raid finders. That and raid game play becoming work after repeated exposure.

Software should support, reinforce, and encourage connections to the people in our homes and local community. I'm not even sure that Facebook does that well.

People ARE getting dumber.

I posted the following elsewhere back in 2008 .... it fits well enough into this blog so lets bring that content over here...

Old news: I believe in Environmental Adaptation and Darwinism. Every changing (not just living) thing is a product of its environment. This applies to memes, software constructs, world religions, and cyclones.

If people are too smart to think with their gonads, they have fewer babies. This is counter productive. This is a feedback mechanism that limits the evolution of human intelligence.

The twist: If we improve education to make people behave in a way smarter than their genetics, breeding will naturally dumb down the population.