A bit about the relationship between games and narratives.


I’m pondering a bit more about the relationship between games and narratives. I’m prompted to write about my pondering due to the Koster post here.

Koster’s argument is that a narrative can serve a game’s feedback function, but only, basically, once. His conclusion is that narratives are not a very good — not a very sustainable — game mechanic. I agree with him, mostly. I’ve written previously about how narratives and games are a bit like oil and water in several respects. (But I’m broadening my views more recently.)

And, though the Koster post makes sense as written, it’s based on a very simple model of both games and narratives.

Koster’s narrative model is focused on the sequencing of events.

And his game model is a concoction of stimulus-response mechanisms and pattern-matching. This model presents itself as more about the pattern-matching than the stimulus-response mechanisms, but we know it’s all the same because there is no clear indication in the model as to why pattern-matching is fun: pattern-matching is fun, this model says, because it is — and “fun is the process of discovering areas in a possibility space” (from Theory of Fun).

This is unsatisfying in that pattern-matching is not universally fun. Certainly, some pattern-matching is more fun than some other. And, in fact, some pattern-matching is no fun at all. Pattern-matching folk like Koster admit this, but what they admit about it is this: Some patterns are too difficult to match, and others are too easy; those patterns are no fun. The patterns that are the most fun to match are the ones in the middle of being too difficult and too easy.

That makes sense, as far as it goes. Indeed, the patterns that are most fun to match are sort of like Goldilock’s bed: a bed with dimensions and complexities similar to the dimensions and complexities of Goldilocks. So, likewise, the patterns that are the most fun to match are those patterns with dimensions and complexities most similar to the dimensions and complexities of pattern-matchers. But there’s a problem: The patterns that are really the most fun to match are not simply those patterns with dimensions and complexities most similar to the dimensions and complexities of pattern-matchers, but patterns with dimensions and complexities most similar to the dimensions and complexities of the human condition of pattern-matchers. These latter sorts of patterns might qualify as patterns, but they also qualify as something else: beauty and art.

Stimulus-response and pattern-matching models don’t say too much about these latter and special sorts of patterns: the beauty and art sort. Or, when they do say something, they say something like this: Games can’t deliver these sorts of patterns. Koster says something like this: “[G]ame systems,” he says, “have a very limited emotional palette.”

Some people — some of the same ones — would then further say that games are inferior to those things that can deliver the beauty and art sort of patterns: things like films, novels, and narratives. (Roger Ebert, for instance, has said something very similar to this.)

And then there are some other people entirely — Marie-Laure Ryan in Avatars of Story, for instance — who say that both narratives and games can deliver beauty and art. Games and narratives may even be able to deliver these sorts of patterns simultaneously and together — a claim based on a very different model of games and narratives than is Koster’s claim. In Ryan’s view, narrative is less critically about the sequencing of events than it is about the construction of a narrative world, including both world building and world manipulation (cf Herman’s Basic Elements of Narrative).

All told, this is a more engaging claim than is Koster’s in that if a narrative provides feedback in a game through world building and world manipulation, then you no longer have to worry about the diminishing feedback of a repetitive narrative sequence; you can start to benefit from the more interesting and compounding feedback of a recursive narrative function.

Unfortunately, because this realization is really a very good one, it has led many narratologists, including Ryan, astray. Because narrative (or, more circumspectly, narrativity) can be a game mechanic, say the narratologists, game and narrative are compatible. They are sympatico.

But no. They are not.

Christmas is over.


Christmas over, shunned by the avian population it was intended to serve, the bright red bird-feeder stocking hung alone in the backyard, thinking of what might lie beyond the wooden fence and, eventually, spring.

Thoughts on blind players playing.


Tommy, of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, is blind. Yet a pinball wizard.

Luke Skywalker, in the very first of the Star Wars movies, demonstrates his fledgling mastery of the Force by parrying attacks while blinded.

Neo, in the culmination of the Matrix trilogy, negotiates his way into the Machine City while blind; without eyes, Neo sees what others cannot.

These are fictional characters and fictional accomplishments, but each is similar in representing human vision as a useful but optional component of human experience. Should our sight be deprived, these stories tell us, there is recourse. Our other senses — physical, mental, or ‘spiritual’– step up.

There is much fairy tale in this claim, of course. But this fairy tale is seductive and used in subtle ways to support a politically appealing view of human experience as an egalitarian feature of our species, equally available to all regardless of our physical differences.

In practice and fact, however, human blindness confers human disability and limitation.

Can a blind player be a pinball wizard? No.

But what about a more general question: Can a blind player play a game?

Certainly. Blind players are prevented from interacting with game tokens in the same fashion as fully visioned players, but, at least in traditional games, it is the relationship among game tokens — which token is ahead, which is behind; which is valuable, which is not — that constitutes the game. And accessing and manipulating this relationship among game tokens is an act of cognition, not vision.

In fact, there is a variant of chess — blindfold chess — built on this realization.

It must be noted, however, that in order to perform well at blindfold chess, it is much more important to be skilled at chess than to be skilled at blindness. Blind chess-players seem to have no particular advantage in playing blindfold chess; chess grandmasters, on the other hand, have a great advantage in playing blindfold chess.

And chess is not the only sort of game. For interactive digital games — first-person shooters, for instance — the relationship between game tokens is not the only variable defining the game. To access and manipulate relationships among game tokens, the digital game player must access and manipulate the game interface, which is then equally defining of game form and experience.

Most digital games depend on a visual and tactile interface; some games (e. g., Milton Bradley’s Simon) also depend on an audible interface. But for interactive digital games, to remove the ability to access and manipulate the game interface is much more crippling than to remove the sight of a chessboard.

Certainly a blind player can play chess. But can a blind player play Team Fortress 3?

And then there are a couple of further questions:

1. The possibilities of game design. Can Team Fortress 3 — and similarly real-time, interactive digital games — be translated into a medium that a blind player can play? For instance, the rules of golf have been modified to accommodate blind golfers, but to what extent do these modifications recreate the play of golf? For games like golf (and even more so for first-person shooters), it’s not clear that a blind player can access and manipulate the same play experience as the sighted player. But can games be designed in some alternative way — not to mimic but to evoke experience? For instance, perhaps this might be possible through synesthesia: the subjective interpretation of sensory data in terms of an alternative sensory process, e. g. “hearing” colors or “seeing” sounds.

2. The realities of human design. To what extent does human experience in general — play or otherwise — depend on the human senses? Obviously, human experience depends a great deal on the senses, but we tend to evaluate this dependency as a binary one: either the experience is accessible (in which case it is the same egalitarian experience for all) or it is accessible to some and wholly inaccessible to others (e. g., the blind).

Playing the audio — beeping sounds — version of Simon and playing the visual — blinking lights — version of Simon are normally considered, essentially, playing the same game. If so, then a blind player can be considered to be playing the same memory game of Simon ( i. e., having the same experience) as a deaf player. However, playing the conventional, graphically animated version of World of Warcraft and playing a text-only, MUD-like version of World of Warcraft seem (particularly during the combat portions of the game) very different experiences.

When and how does this difference occur?

If we play World of Warcraft in black-and-white, is it still the same game-playing experience? If we play the game with cataract-impaired vision, is it still the same experience? If we play the game with inferior hand-eye coordination, is it still the same experience? During which portion of turning off the sound and the light and the touch of an interactive digital game is that game rendered into a different experience? Is it during some single critical moment or is it during every moment?

Our most fundamental and universal human experience — our sense of self — suffers from gentle degradations. Between human life and human death are subtleties, sometimes caused by the impairment of our senses, sometimes caused by their augmentation. If we accept this of the human experience of self, why shouldn’t we also accept it of the human experience of play?

The play of a skilled player with superior senses and faculties is not merely quantitatively different from that of an unskilled player in hours played, levels cleared, and scores achieved. It is a qualitatively different experience.

We might even say, politically unappealing though it may be, that the play of a skilled player is a more complete experience.

The winning condition of Tetris.


The notion of Tetris having no winning condition seems to have progressed from annoying to presumptuous, so let me briefly explain.

If properly arranged blocks did not disappear from the Tetris screen, then perhaps Tetris would have no winning condition.  But they do disappear.

The winning condition in Tetris is to properly arrange falling blocks and cause them to disappear, thereby enabling a new game of Tetris.

These successive games of Tetris can be made easier or harder to win by manipulating a number of factors — most commonly the speed at which the Tetris blocks fall.  (And here, I should note, making a game so difficult to win that it is very unlikely to be won does not, of itself, preclude that game from having a winning condition.)

In analogy, a chess match of infinite chess games is not a game without a winning condition.  It is an arbitrary extension of the game of chess, wherein each game of chess has precisely the same winning condition as the ones before and after it.

In the case of Tetris, we can clearly see that this sort of extension is arbitrary by the common interposition of “levels” to restore the (most enjoyable) integrity of the game form.


And further, just to be clear in reference to McGonigal’s claims in Reality is Broken, Bernard Suits (in The Grasshopper) directly addresses games that are not arbitrarily extended in his discussion of “open games.”

I would define an open game generically as a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose is the continued operation of the system. p. 124

With this definition, Suits does not admit games within which game players have no “state of affairs they are trying to achieve” (i. e., winning conditions), only that some take an “unnecessarily narrow view of what constitutes a state of affairs” (p. 124).

Regardless of this definition, however, in the specific case of Tetris, it seems clear that the objective of the Tetris game player is not to clear blocks in consort and cooperation with the continued operation of the system, but rather to clear blocks in opposition to and in competition with the continued operation of the system.  If so, then Tetris is quite a conventional game and has quite a conventional winning condition.  And, even if not, even if Tetris need be construed as an open game, then it would still have a winning condition:  the continued operation of the system.

I see no intermediate position available to those who claim Tetris has no winning condition.

Occupy Wall Street: The aesthetics of unorganization.


There are calls for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests to become better organized. Here in New Orleans, for instance, at the (somewhat) alternative news organization The Lens, the reporter (@mattdavis999) assigned to the OWS beat has made lack of organization the main theme of his coverage. But this is common elsewhere as well.

These calls for OWS to become better organized view the movement from a singular and somewhat repressive perspective: one that would subdue and interpret individual behavior within collective action. Sometimes this collective action is called community or compromise or reformation. But it is all the same in that each of these assumes a particular sociology of art.

And why is it suddenly important to refer to news media aesthetics?


  • The OWS movement is fundamentally an aesthetic protest, and
  • An aesthetic protest presents contradictions to conventional culture, institutions, and their organizing principles.

As an aesthetic protest, the OWS has its own form, apart from any social organization or control. The news media, burdened by their allegiance to the benefits of collective action, struggle to conceptualize such an event, much less explain it.

And what, exactly, is an aesthetic protest?

It is a protest that, like a work of art, is not bound by the sociological context of its origin.

Unfortunately, with such a claim, I move beyond the ability to explicate matters news-media-style, in stories and packages. I can only here reference Adorno’s notion of the formal autonomy of art and, equally briefly, reproduce that which Adorno’s aesthetics would argue most strongly against (as described by Edgar,1990) :

In sum, any work that cannot be attributed a role as entertainment or as of ritual significance within a consensus of values common to significant consumer groups is dismissed as socially irrelevant….The sociology of art thereby becomes an instrument to facilitate the administration of art, and so a form of market research that enables the more efficient coordination of the production and consumption of cultural artefacts.

I am struck by how well this quote describes news coverage of the OWS movement. Those calling for more organization seem clearly to be doing so from a position in parallel with what Edgar above calls a sociology of art: “an instrument to facilitate the administration of art.”

Most tellingly, this particular sociology demands organization from protests in order for those protests to have more effect. But, in the case of the OWS movement, the effect has already been had. As an aesthetic protest, the effect is the expressiveness of OWS, not any supposed (or imposed) rhetorical goal.

For instance, in analogy, we do not fall in love in order to organize our emotions. Nor do we feel anger, or sadness, or dissatisfaction because it would be more effective to do so (even if it later turns out that it would).  We fall in love because we must.  And there it is.

Of course, this is not to say that pragmatic, even calculating, human behavior cannot or does not occur within the OWS movement. It can and does occur. But this sort of calculated planning and organization — e. g., in order to achieve a particular effect — is the planning and organization of the actor: it is the practice of mimesis and representation. And, as such, it is, at some level, the practice of the political and the disingenuous.

The core of the OWS movement, unlike (and despite) other protests to which it is often compared, does not at all appear mimetic. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, and the like represent a particular point of view, usually expressed in their choice of a particular iconic representation: a “candidate.”

The OWS movement has no candidate, nor needs one — nor any other superficiality to appease cultural morals. It is enough to point out the most important victory of the OWS movement:  revelation of the failure of news media to recognize and explain the human condition without reference to those structures and materials — those organizations — with which they are aligned and by which they are sustained.

For individualism, symbolic resistance is not enough.


One reason individualism has fallen out of favor, a major one, is that individualism is understood in conflict with community and culture. In this conflict, individualism is interpreted as anarchy. And individualism may well be a form of anarchy, though not necessarily a form of anarchy in conflict with community and culture.

Remember that, during America’s westward ho, individualism was a primal and positive force, a pioneering spirit that drove us towards what was right as rain, supported in equal parts by the naive enthusiasm of Pecos Bill and the pseudo-sexual violence of John Wayne’s McClintock.

Subsequently, all such instinctive justification for American individualism has been subverted. Instead of natural and good, individualism is mystical and mechanical. No longer swept from her feet, the American heroine’s head is swept from her neck. And instead of riding west to protect the schoolmarm, American heroes simply ride on, into the distance of High Plains Drifters and Terminators.

And yet still, after all this, community and culture would recapture individualism, dead or alive. Brando’s Wild One and Fonda’s Easy Rider are the DOA variety. Still alive are those rugged individualists who, against all odds and much to their own dismay, survive: the lone and the lonely, the Freddy Kruegers and the Jason Bournes.

Pitting the individualism of the Wild West against vested interests of community and culture has come about, strangely and somewhat perversely, with the steady rise of community and culture. The ascension of society brings with it a curious revelation: individualism is not individualism at all. Individualism is but a disguise adopted to serve the social, and the drama of that social has now moved from off-Broadway to on, where actors playing individuals can either speak their lines as written or not speak them at all.

This is essentially the position taken by Markus & Kitayama (1991) (with, according to Google scholar, a staggering 7292 citations!). This analysis elaborately describes the difference between “construals of the self” in Western (prototypically American) and non-Western (prototypically Japanese) culture. The implication throughout is that Western construals of the self — particularly those promoting a philosophical individualism — are more likely the fabrications of Goldwyn than Nietzsche.

Toward the end of their analysis, Markus & Kitayama clarify:

…a persistent issue is how deep or pervasive are these cultural differences?…In other words, is it the case, as we suggest here, that these norms can sometimes be internalized to the extent that they determine the nature of one’s experience? (p. 247)

From this point of view, individualism may play an important role in community and culture, but only if community and culture permit it to do so.

This argument is currently the most critical argument raised against individualism. It is an argument that would retain the function and occasional value of individualism but destroy its core in the natural and biological origin of the human species.

I find this argument, despite offering a vast rhetorical repertory, problematic. It assumes individualism is subordinate to community and culture because everything is. Based on this assumption, individualism has no unique properties; individualism is an instrument of the collective.

I have dealt with this argument before. In a previous century, I delivered a rebuttal to Craig’s (1999) proffer of a “constitutive metamodel” that would do for all non-constitutive metamodels what Markus & Kitayama would do for individualism: absorb it into the collective. This rebuttal made the same point I would like to make now: paradigmatic differences cannot be resolved through social discourse.

It must be said that there are arguments of note that any model attempting to accomplish what Craig would like his model to do must fail. If the differences among communication theories are truly based on unique paradigmatic assumptions… then it is unlikely any superficial appeal to rhetorical similarities among these theories will mediate their differences. It is rather more likely, as Kuhn (1970) notes, that any attempt at serious theoretical debate between distinctive paradigmatic camps would simple not be effective: “Communication across the revolutionary divide is inevitably partial” (p. 149).

…in Myers, D. (2001). A pox on all compromises: Reply to Craig (1999). Communication Theory, 11, 231-240.

In this, Marxists and individualists agree:

Either workers and their allies [here, for “workers,” the naturalist might simply say “body”; and, for “allies,” simply “mind”] claim the real agency that they possess and take the chance of making a world in which they are free in body as well as mind; or they resign themselves to generation after generation of grinding exploitation, settling for the meaningful but insufficient consolations of sporadic, creative, ungrounded, and symbolic resistance.

…in Cloud, D. L., Macek, S. & Aune, J. A. (2006). “The Limbo of Ethical Simulacra”: A Reply to Ron Greene. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 39(1), 72-84.

Equally, for individualism, symbolic resistance is not enough.

Badges and the falsely true.


I’m currently trying to devote some thinking, reading, and, hopefully, writing to matters of individualism (as my last fledgling post indicates). However, I’m having a hard time letting this newly hatched HASTAC badge thing go. I challenge you to read this, for instance, and be anything other than stupefied.

Now I read, courtesy of @ibogost, of those who have signed on board the badge hunt. Such endorsements smell less of science or knowledge than they do political expediency. If Al Gore can keynote a gaming conference, then the Secretary of Education can pin on a badge. If Jane McGonigal can vibrate goodliness on the Colbert Report, then O’Reilly Media can publish a faddishly populist policy of gamification.

There really are so many issues afloat here that it’s hard to pick just one. But I want to focus on the badge thing.

Let’s go back a bit.

From the nineteenth century onward, social philosophers (Marx, Engels, and the like) have discussed a “false consciousness” pervading (then) modern society that, in brief, transforms individual perception (particularly of the self) in service of the state. The big problem with this false consciousness, however, isn’t necessarily that it serves the state, but that it is false: what the individual perceives (and, through perception, comes to believe) is something other than what really is. (Subsequently, of course, there have been lots and lots of questions about what really is, but I’m not going there at the moment; I’m just talking about badges.)

Badges are, in truth, false. That is, when you accomplish the goal of tilling the soil and feeding your family, it is true that your family (and you) get fed. When you do that in Farmville, you get a badge (figuratively speaking) indicating that you (and perhaps your family) have been fed. This is false.

When you read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, you get (at worst) some knowledge of narrative, plot, character, and language. When you read Game of Thorns in Sims 3 Ambitions, you get (at best) a badge (again, figuratively speaking) that indicates you have improved your writing skill. This, too, is false.

The HASTAC idea, as I understand it, is that you will be more likely to feed your family and gain knowledge and whatnot if you get a badge for doing these things. Yet to accomplish a task in order to receive a badge is very often in games to accomplish that task falsely.

In making this claim, I note that the falseness of badges — prominently including the falseness of the accomplishments for which they are awarded — is perfectly acceptable within games. In fact, it is required.

Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper (1978):

To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by the rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity. (pp. 48-49)

From this point of view (one I share), if games require achieving game goals with “less efficient means,” then these goals are “falsely” accomplished in the sense that, if these goals were not game goals, they would be accomplished with more efficient (and therein more “truthful”) means. Realizing this, Suits also admits a sort of false consciousness for game players: a lusory attitude.

the lusory attitude is the element which unifies the other elements into a single formula which successfully states the necessary and sufficient conditions for any activity to be an instance of game playing. (p. 50)

Without a lusory attitude — i. e., a false consciousness in service of the game — game accomplishments are revealed to be false accomplishments. With a lusory attitude, however, game accomplishments — and all accompanying game rewards, including badges — seem truthful (or, at the very least, truthful enough).

This means that game rewards (e. g., badges) — just like Suits’s game goals and game attitudes — are appropriately and justifiably “falsely true” in a game context. And they are justifiably falsely true for a good reason: so that game players can, among other things, experience the unique aesthetics of the falsely true and all the (still somewhat mysterious) benefits that entails.

Outside of games, however, game rewards (e. g., badges) are another sort of false entirely. In order to be motivated by badges outside of games, instead of adopting a lusory attitude, as games require, that allows for false things to be represented as true, we must adopt an attitude that allows for true things to be represented as false. And, in forcing us to do so, those who promote the use of badges outside of games — especially in educational contexts — promote a dangerous sort of false consciousness.

This consciousness would have us either demean and devalue learning and knowledge and therein make these unworthy of accomplishment without the incentive of the badge, or else indiscriminately link the value of learning and knowledge to the value of the badge, so neither can be valued without the other. The HASTAC leadership does not appear to wish the first consequence of promoting a badge-based education, but seems comfortable with the second.

“What we do not grade…are most of the things employers most want in future employees. At present, education, including higher education, doesn’t have a system for measuring or counting those things. That’s why a number of us have begun to investigate badging” | Cathy Davidson, again from here

Thus, rather than represent the peculiar aesthetic quality of “falsely true” accomplishments (as they do in games), the HASTAC badges would represent the more common qualifications of social authority. Those who learn would not merely learn to comply (which might be, upon occasion, useful), they would learn in order to comply and, more ominously still, they might, according to the rule of the badge, learn only in order to comply with what “employers most want.”

This rule of the badge is not unprecedented, by the way. A scarlet letter is a badge of this compliance sort (indicating non-compliance in this case), as is the police officer’s badge of authority and, simultaneously, compliance with that authority.

From this point forward, then, I am more or less in agreement with Reid’s analysis: Badges are about “making things count, commodifying life and passion in the context of a marketplace of education and expertise.”

Not positive about being positive.


I want to write about two things:

  • Friedrich von Schiller’s notion of play here, and
  • the notion that being positive — e. g., making people feel good about themselves — is necessarily a good thing.

I am reminded of Schiller’s version of play by Gill’s (quite good) explication here.  And I am, almost simultaneously, exposed to a more common and, unfortunately, superficial version of play and games as (seemingly indistinguishable) popular activities — championed in this instance by Kelly here.

Briefly, Schiller’s notion of play claims that play originates from a natural (we might today say “biological”)  “play-impluse,” mediating a relationship between the sensual and the formal.  We needn’t spend much time on Schiller’s definition of the sensual and the formal (which may well be dated); the important thing to note is that, for Schiller, these two are fundamental, dialectical, and combinatorial components of human experience.  We might, in blunt terms, think of these two as mind and body (or, perhaps, theory and practice); and we might think of play as the proper (i. e., the only available) means of their reconciliation.  This reconciliation — impartial and paradoxical, due to the fundamentally dialectical nature of these two — is, for Schiller, “beauty.”  “Graceful” beauty tends towards the formal; “energetic” beauty tends towards the sensual.  In between is the “beau-ideal” towards which, in play, we as humans strive.

For example, the intellectual man has the idea of virtue, of truth, and of happiness; but the active man will only practise virtues, will only grasp truths, and enjoy happy days. The business of physical and moral education is to bring back this multiplicity to unity, to put morality in the place of manners, science in the place of knowledge; the business of aesthetic education is to make out of beauties the beautiful.

Not an easy task, however.  And the difficulty associated with achieving the beautiful arises, in large part, from how we represent beauty, in a semblance of beauty, which we might take for something other than what it is:  a reference made possible through play.

It is self-evident that I am speaking of aesthetical evidence different from reality and truth, and not of logical appearance identical with them. Therefore if it is liked it is because it is an appearance, and not because it is held to be something better than it is: the first principle alone is a play whilst the second is a deception.

This task of achieving the beautiful is made much easier by adopting the point of view of Kelly, wherein beauty from Schiller’s p.o.v. is defined as popularity from Kelly’s p.o.v. (or, perhaps, if put more crudely in commercial terms, profitability from a game designer’s p.o.v.).

Kelly — in reaction to Bogost’s claim that ‘gamifiction is bullshit‘ (a view antithetical to his own) — objects to ‘rage’ specifically (and discord more generally) as a means of achieving aesthetic value.  I interpret this objection as assuming that a practical and successful consequence of (seemingly indistinguishable) play and games is achieved not, as Schiller would claim, through any sort of synthesis of thesis and antithesis, but rather through the elimination of all but thesis:  that thesis being whatever is most pleasant and popular.  For instance, Kelly touts Jane McGonigal’s games’ aesthetic value as emanating from her being “positive” enough to have a best-selling book, and he criticizes academic “memes” as lacking in value when they fail to gain popular support (most likely due to, one can only assume, “positivity” deficiencies).

In brief, Kelly’s position is that aesthetic value is determined by the popularity of that value.  And, unlike Schiller, Kelly sees no contradiction or conflict between more than one sort of “popularity.”  The justification for Kelly’s position is much underdeveloped in comparison to Schiller’s, of course, though Kelly does make oblique reference to “memetic evolution” as a mechanism for determining aesthetic value:  a survival of the fittest idea within an “audience.”


My reaction.

  • I am unsympathetic to positions that, like Kelly’s, assign an unquestioning and indefatigable wisdom to crowds.  Regardless of whatever evolutionary principle causes this or that idea to be “popular,” it is wholly uncertain whether this principle works equally well in contemporary as evolutionary contexts.  Insofar as humans still tend to elect political leaders better suited to leading small tribes of bipedal mammals across savannas than setting bond rates according to the second derivative of their price function, I am little convinced that a “best-selling book” is necessarily a more valuable “meme” than Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man.
  • I am very concerned by the elevation of “being positive” as a means of assigning and/or producing aesthetic value.  I find this claim, at best, unsophisticated and, at worse, self-serving and deceptive.  It is self-serving as a form of cultural bullyism, akin to “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all” and/or “Love it or leave it.”   And it is deceptive in that it fails to elevate, as Schiller’s position does, the semiotic function of play in the production of a unique (and otherwise unobtainable) representation of beauty; if so, then claims such as Kelly’s ultimately misrepresent beauty, associating beauty and play less with art and the values of aesthetics than with artifice and the politics of popularity.

What happens in play, stays in play.


Two issues not yet satisfactorily addressed concerning games in education:

1.  Motivation.

Yes, games motivate play.  And, during that play, learning can and does take place.

The question is then what are the consequences of co-opting intrinsic (game/play) motivation to achieve extrinsic (educational) goals.

And, aside from the practical question of whether this (e. g., “stealth learning”) is effective, there are ethical questions:   To what extent do educational ends justify playful means?

2.  Representation.

Do games accurately represent the real world?

This is a less of matter of how learning takes place than a matter of what is being learned.

Do games and simulations function equivalently?  And, even if so, precisely what sort of territory is mapped by simulations/games — particularly digital simulations/games?

Social gaming reality.

1.  Randomly generate infinite items. Players select finite items to construct reality. Post all reality. Count times each reality experienced. Players with realities experienced X% of time receive food+water.

2.  food+water = food+water – 1.

3.  If no famine/hurricane/earthquake, go to 1.