"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Simpsons Do Video Games, Pt.1

The Tetris effect has to be the clearest possible indication that computer games are naturally optimal Flow-inducing activities. As to why, well it has a lot to do with cognitive information processing. For more, look to the last link here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Am I ethical?

Fig.1 Laughing at people in wheelchairs (and the Stephen Hawking voice) - ethical?

On foot of the ethics campaign over at onlyagame let me bare my soul, or at least post my moral values on the web like automobile accident statistics.

Am I ethical? You know, to be honest I would say the simple answer is "only when I feel it would benefit me". Which some might say, is completely unethical. But more meaningfully, I think that I have such trouble defining ethics, and imagining principled positions that would apply in practical situations, that addressing the subject of my own ethics is to address the whole sum of my existence, and my relation to an objective reality. This is all broadening the scope a bit much for the question asked, so instead let me take a bottom-up approach and answer a few (apparently) key instruments on personal morals (a word I assume to be interchangeable with 'ethics'). The hope is that these should provide a basis for an inference on what, in general, my ethics might be.

For anyone else currently feeling inconsistent or vague in their ethical position, there is a website (when is there not) which proffers these simple self-report tools that might help to focus thinking.
http://www.yourmorals.org is the work of psy­chol­o­gist Jon­a­than Haidt of the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Vir­gin­ia in Char­lottes­ville, Va. Found out about him from here.
Most surprising thing I found out about myself - I have a slightly higher sense of disgust than average. Students these days - what are we coming to?!

So without further ado, allow me to unveil...me!
The scale you completed was the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire," developed by Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia.

The scale is a measure of your reliance on and endorsement of each of five psychological foundations of morality that seem to be found across cultures. Each of the two parts of the scale contained four questions related to each foundation: 1) harm/care, 2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights), 3) ingroup/loyalty, 4) authority/respect, and 5) purity/sanctity.

The idea behind the scale is that human morality is the result of biological and cultural evolutionary processes that made human beings very sensitive to many different (and often competing) issues. Some of these issues are about treating other individuals well (the first two foundations - harm and fairness). Other issues are about how to be a good member of a group or supporter of social order and tradition (the last three foundations). Haidt and Graham have found that political liberals generally place higher value on the first two foundations; they are very concerned about issues of harm and fairness (including issues of inequality and exploitation). Political conservatives care about harm and fairness too, but they generally score slightly lower on those scale items. The big difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that conservatives score slightly higher on the ingroup/loyalty foundation, and much higher on the authority/respect and purity/sanctity foundations. This difference seems to explain many of the most contentious issues in the culture war. For example, liberals support legalizing gay marriage (to be fair and compassionate), whereas many conservatives are reluctant to change the nature of marriage and the family, basic building blocks of society. Conservatives are more likely to favor practices that increase order and respect (e.g., spanking, mandatory pledge of allegiance), whereas liberals often oppose these practices as being violent or coercive.

Your Score:
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The scale you completed was the The Disgust Scale, developed by Jonathan Haidt, Clark McCauley, and Paul Rozin.

The scale is a measure of your proclivity to feel disgust. People vary quite a bit in how strongly and how often they feel disgust, and in the kinds of things they find disgusting. Earlier research using the disgust scale showed that there are three sub-types of disgust:

1) Core disgust: the "core" of the emotion, which is about defending the mouth from contamination by dirty or inappropriate things like body excretions, certain animals like rats and cockroaches, and certain foods, like ice cream with ketchup.

2) Animal-reminder disgust: things involving death, corpses, and violations of the external boundaries of the body, such as amputations. These things remind us that we, like animals, are mortal.

3) Contamination disgust: this kind of disgust is a defense of the whole body, not just the mouth, from contact with dirty or sleazy people

The idea behind the scale is that disgust is an important and understudied moral emotion, as well as being an emotion about physically dirty and gross things. Disgust is involved in many moral codes, for example it appears to be part of the psychological foundation of widespread ideas of purity and pollution. Many religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism) have extensive rules for regulating human bodily processes and keeping them separated from sacred objects and practices. Disgust appears to provide part of the structure of these rules and practices. Disgust also has clinical ramifications, for it seems to be involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder and in a variety of phobias.

Your Score:
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The scale you completed was the "Schwartz Value Survey," created by Shalom Schwartz at Hebrew University, Israel.

The scale measures the degree to which you value each of ten domains that Schwartz has found across many cultures. Values are defined as "desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in people's lives."

The idea behind the scale is that there is an internal order and structure to values. Using various statistical techniques, Schwartz has found that the ten basic human values show a pattern of relationships that can be graphed as a circle (see below). Values that are next to each other are closely related; values that are across from each other tend to be opposed, or tend not to be strongly endorsed by the same person. Political liberals have been found to endorse the "openness to change" values, while conservatives are more likely to endorse the "conservation" values. We have put this scale up on Yourmorals.org because we are interested in learning how Schwartz's ten values (which include moral and non-moral values) relate to the "five foundations of morality" theory from Haidt and Graham, as measured by the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire."
The values are described by Schwartz as follows:

POWER: Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources
ACHIEVEMENT: Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards
HEDONISM: Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself
STIMULATION: Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life
SELF-DIRECTION: Independent thought and action - choosing, creating, exploring
UNIVERSALISM: Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature
BENEVOLENCE: Preservation and enhancement of the welfare of people with whom one is in frequent personal contact
TRADITION: Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide
CONFORMITY: Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms
SECURITY: Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self
Your Score:
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The scale you completed was the Social Dominance Orientation Scale, by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto (2001).

The scale is a measure of how you feel about hierarchy vs. equality among groups in society.

The idea behind the scale is a theory called Social Dominance Theory, by the same authors. The theory says that societies tend to be stratified by age, sex, race, and other group differences. People vary in how legitimate they think such stratification is. Males (and other groups with more power) tend to be more in favor of such differences, and to enforce them more actively. Sex hormones may also play a role: Men with high testosterone levels tend to have higher SDO scores. Political conservatives generally score higher on SDO than do liberals, but SDO and conservatism are not the same thing.

Your Score:
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Well, just posting those has been an exhausting and time-wasting wrestling match with blooger.com (typo intended!), so no post-match analysis will be forthcoming...for now. Still, like those (undoubtedly wildly inaccurate) online IQ tests that always seem to rate everyone as a genius, its a worthwhile little diversion if you've never done it before - who knows, you might even learn something!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Man Bytes Blog: May Roundtable P.II

So, it took a little while to get back to it, but...
Well I thought a little more about how goals can bleed backwards into the process that achieves them, in the domain of gameplay. I think that anyone who has studied the relationship between means and ends in production systems would have a lot to say here. Essentially, the path along which one approaches the goal of an activity can begin to dominate one's perspective within the activity. A metaphor which just popped into my head is the hill-climbing false horizon. Most hills have concave sides, thus when climbing to the top one's shortened line of sight results in seeing a horizon that isn't actually the peak.
As with large, >1 man, software projects (which I'm sure we've all been involved in), playing a game is a matter of achieving many short term objectives along a definite path towards a given goal. But fortunately for game players, they almost never have to plot the path themselves, nor update it in a change control process, nor adapt to reductions in their agency*. I suspect if they did, the number of game completions would drop through the floor.

The point being, management of goals isn't a prioritised skill-set of game playing, which is one reason narrative is so important to games. The natural human tendency is to deal with what's in front of us and put the rest off. Too much complexity can completely shut a person down, render them incapable of action. I think there is a hierarchy of player goals, atomic actions forming the easy-to-process bottom layer, above that situated actions/reactions, then tactical, strategic and finally narrative layers.
So I contend that the gameplay process is actually a process of transference in this hierarchy, the player's attention forming a wave moving through the medium of the possible foci for her attention - that is, the medium of goals. And the transference occurs continuously, as players complete atomic actions, that lead them through situations, each of these requiring tactics that serve a strategy. Since narratives are mostly linear and pre-designed (so far: even GTA just allows you to ignore the narrative at will), these are out of the player's control and thus form the anchor points of the wave, keeping it from becoming too chaotic and unraveling. Not that game devs could provide that much content anyway!
The goals in each layer are aggregates of those in the layer below. From this perspective, we see that players embark on an activity for which they know there is a goal, though they don't quite know what it is, and they follow a process in order to get there, although they haven't specified the process since they don't know where it's supposed to lead them. Instead, they work toward the nearest specifiable achievement, using the means given to them by the game mechanics, seeing it as a reliable method of finding new achievements to aim toward. You climb the hill in order to climb the hill. And (hopefully) finding this experience to be an optimal one (i.e. they enjoy themselves), the player memorises the pattern of cognition and/or kinesthesia involved in the activity. This reinforces the pleasure derived by the brain from experiencing it again, so long as enough variety remains to permit a level of novelty that matches the individual's taste (correlating to their capacity for processing complexity).

A game doesn't end when you produce something, it ends when there's none of it left to do. Maybe, there are no goals to games! *(I wonder what kind of game that would make - where progress is measured by power-downs, kind of like aging backwards. If you start off as the Destroyer of Worlds and progress down to Imp#5276, would you be bothered playing?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Man Bytes Blog: May Roundtable

I think an unreconstructed ramble on the specification bleed between goals and processes in gameplay will serve as my round-table entry. So I will pick up straight from onlyagame's contention that "to make the process the goal, [is] to undermine the meaningfulness of the term goal".

Surely by divorcing the term goal from the process which achieves it is to distance it from the commonly accepted idea of the nature of game playing. Games are undertaken primarily for reasons other than production, in that achieving any end outside the game is necessarily defined as a system of activity which includes the game only as a subset. Consider the rare cases of games-within-games: in PGR, one could have an arcade machine in ones garage which ran the instant classic XBLA game Geometry Wars. The goals achieved in playing Geometry Wars had no influence on the superset of activities offered by PGR, just as the goals of playing PGR have no affect on the superset of real life.
Unless one considers the goal of playing to be the passing of time. But surely this implies the process of play is the goal.
Which leads us to the position that game play is a self-actualising goal, for a game must be played, and play is a process, and if a process is a goal - you see where this is going.
But then how can it be detrimental to enjoyable gaming to have games with too little structure and guidance? If just being there was enough, designing a game would be just a matter of providing the tools.
Hmm...this seems incomplete - perhaps a little more depth of examination is required...