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Mar 08, 2005



I'd probably know this if I read Raph's book (which I will at some point, Raph, promise!), but...

I see things like this:
Fun is the feedback the brain gives while successfully absorbing a pattern
and this
Games are distillation of cognitive schemata. That's. What. They. Are.
and this
Games are training us to find underlying patterns. Games are teaching us to find patterns in a systemic way. The downside to learning is that you only get to do it once.

And I wonder how does Raph account for fun games like golf or soccer or rock-papers-scissors? Where's the pattern recognition in those?

I know from this: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20041203/koster_pfv.htm

...that Raph groks Csikszentmihalyi, and that he's really talking about something broader than puzzles -- he's talking about trying to control a process that requires effort to be controlled. And that maps well onto soccer and (to a lesser degree) RPS (though I don't find RPS much fun!) But it seems to me that the concept of unlocking puzzles and seeing patterns is obscuring some of the more interesting aspects of seeing gaming as an optimal state of engagement with experience.

p.s. And re Csikszentmihalyi, I think Torill makes an interesting stab at flow theory as falling short of a complete description of fun:



Cognitive games are distillations of cognitive processes.

But there are many kinds of games - physical/proprioreceptive, perceptual, cognitive, and social, perhaps others. Each aspect of "fun" applies to -- and is a distillation of -- different aspects of our experience as physical, psychological, and social beings. Other authors such as Lazzaro, Hunicke et al, and Yee have discussed various aspects of this in detail.

FWIW, "flow" is not a descriptor or indicator of fun. Some forms of fun have experiential aspects in common with flow-experiences, but many flow-experiences are not experienced as fun. These two types of experience are conflated too often.


I'm going to have to disagree with Cory on the response to "we get dumb as we age."

I see your remark as a valid point, but here is how I interpreted it:
If indeed the brain operates on patterns, and layers pattern upon pattern in order to accurately "predict," cope with, or understand reality, then doesn't it make sense that the "dumb"ness or confusion that results due to age would be because patterns become outdated and therefore incompatible?
As paradigms shift, so do patterns (almost by definition).
I hope that made sense.


Mike --

I've read the articles from Lazzaro and Hunicke you point to -- strangely I haven't read anything from Nick on "fun" pers se, do you something particular in mind?

I get your point about "fun is not flow," but if flow is about finding a state of optimal experience, it seems to be that when we're talking about flow, we're close enough to the conceptual zone of looking for happiness/fun/pleasure/entertainment that we can safely swap the concepts unless there's some real harm. Raph says in the Gamasutra thing cited above:

When there’s flow, players usually say afterward, “That was a lot of fun.” When there isn’t flow, they might say “that was fun” somewhat less emphatically. The absence of flow doesn’t preclude fun - it just means that instead of a steady drip-drip-drip of endorphins, you’re getting occasional bits. And in fact, there can be flow that isn’t fun - meditation induces similar brain waves, for example. So fun isn’t flow. You can find flow in countless activities, but they aren’t all fun. Most of the cases where we typically cite flow relate to exercising mastery, not learning.

Well, okay, let's go with Raph and say "fun isn't flow" -- but then again, we could just call mediation and work fun. In any event, we're talking about forms of pleasure.


Interesting. I personally worry about this. I wonder to myself if I will be obsolete in 25 years time. As I build layer upon layer of understanding, I wonder if the basics of what I am building on might change and leave me biting dust. I also watch grandparents struggling with the technology and concepts I deal with every day - Not that I'm some sort of wiz here, just aswering machines seem to stump them.

My only counter -thus far- to this uncertainty is to make sure I use ye'olde grey matter and never lose the ability to learn something radically different and new from scratch. I figure by the time my brain can't cope anymore, I won't be 'all here' to notice anyway.


I'm not sure where the idea that we get dumber as we get older came from. It doesn't seem to have any serious basis in fact (leaving aside from acute forms of dementia, Alzheimers, etc). It is a myth that people hit their intellectual or creative height in their twenties or thirties; for some it's much sooner, for others much later. And in every field, those who produce consistently and well are able to do so over a period of decades, not months or years. I don't see why it'd be any different here.

(And if you do buy in to the idea that you're getting dumber as you get older, well, good luck to you: there's always someone younger behind you, waiting for you and your tired ideas to shuffle out of the way.)


Perhaps dumber is simply a poor word choice, and now the debate has entered the realm of semantics (to no benefit).

Here: people become obsolete. Views change. As has been stated, people--in general--have difficulty adjusting to major social, technological, or environmental changes because it upsets their mental "patterns."

I also think its strange to think of thought patterns as becoming more and more complex. It would follow, then, that a machine becomes more and more efficient as parts are added to it: this is usually not the case. I would argue that life begins complex (is a child's first class Calculus? For that matter, is his second or third even algebra?) and gradually becomes less so because we "figure it out." Patterns become evident, and when we find patterns, things become simplified, not complex. Mental schemata (i.e. patterns) must be continually updated or completely overhauled to suit the individual's needs. Returning to the example of mathematics, arithmetic gives way to algebra due to its inability to--within its limits--effectively/efficiently solve "complex" problems. Algebra suffices for a while, but then one must move to calculus, et cetera. Additionally, with each shift, things that were difficult, complicated, and drawn out processes before (such as finding areas using infinite cross-sections in algebra or pre-calculus) become incredibly simple (integrating equations in calculus).
The more I think about it, the more perplexing this notion of "patterns become more and more complicated" becomes.


A few things, briefly.

Perhaps more accurate to say "people get rigid." They stop learning, most of them. Learning is hard work, and people are lazy.

Thinking vs knowing--referring here to conscious logical thought versus what is now getting called "blinking" b/c of Gladwell's book. See Gary Klein's "Sources of Power."

Golf has TONS of patterns to try to apprehend--most of them physics problems and body control.

RPS has very few per match, but in an extended match has the toughest problem of all--outguessing someone.

Flow definitely != fun. For one, we can actually see different chemical processes happening(dopamine).

Fun != all forms of pleasure. To say so is to render the word useless. That may be the layman's term, but we're trying to establish a vocabulary here, let's get more precise. Fun in my context is the feedback specifically from pattern learning. The forms of pleasure from chocolate and cocaine, from vertigo, from aesthetic response, from physical exertion--they are different beasties, and do give measurably different endorphin cocktails. In Lazzaro's terms, I am discussing what she calls "hard fun."


The problem with getting old isn't that old people are dumb - it's that younger people form patterns more easily. This is a physiological fact, not speculation on old people getting "rigid" or such. By around age 20, it becomes more difficult for the brain to form new patterns. IQs don't go up a lot after this point; if you're going to be a genius, you'll hit it by then.

However, there are plenty of 'opportunities' for degredation. Brain cells regularly die, and they aren't being replaced. Over time, this results in breaking of patterns, which while can be relearned, are not as easy.

Of course, keep all of this in perspective. A newborn has MASSIVE brain growth, but is so lacking in patterns they have almost no muscle control. Being able to touch their hands together is actually a skill, and one that they don't learn for a while - forget trying to play a computer game. As we age, even with increasing difficulties in forming new patterns, there is still an advantage; a wealth of experience to draw upon. Learning ability may be going down, but total pool of what has been learned generally goes up with age. We're only talking diminishing returns here.


Some minor points:

1) My middle brother is a sensory-oriented "people" person. For him, "fun" is golf or negotiating a business deal. Trying to use the term fun to mean only pattern-learning when most people also use it to mean kinesthetic and other sensation-dependent enjoyment is just going to confuse people.

I recognize the marketing value of using the simple word "fun," but maybe a simple neologism would keep us hairsplitters from complaining. If what we really mean is mental fun, then maybe "mindfun" or perhaps just "mun"?

2) WRT getting "dumber" as we get older -- one source for this notion may be the standard IQ model. It's defined as mental age divided by chronological age, so if (as most of us do) your rate of learning things that IQ tests measure decreases, but your chronological age continues to increase, then your IQ will appear to drop. (Or at least stabilize at 100.)

That's a kind of math result that's easily oversimplified by journalists as "people get dumber as they get older."

3) If we're going to talk about pattern recognition and consciousness, I can't think of a better required text than Doug Hofstadter's virtuoso _Godel, Escher, Bach_. It's not only illuminating, it's... fun.



One explanation I’ve heard a number of times is that we spend our early lives learning patterns and our later lives matching them. Wrestling with new ideas becomes more difficult, but we become very good at matching very high level patterns and relating them to previous experience. Rather than solving problems the hard way we match them to solutions we've seen before.

I've seen this used to explain why young people make good programmers who become better software architects as they get older. Software architecture problems are much more difficult to sit down and solve up front and lend themselves to matching with previous solutions, something which can be seen in software design patterns.

I remember when I was younger losing interest in chess because I got to the point where I needed to study openings to improve. At the time I liked every game to be a problem to solve, rather than a pattern to match. These days I'm quite happy to match software problems with design pattern solutions to avoid the unexpected consequences that I used to savor in chess matches.


Oh, and MUPPETS roxxors! A Java scriptable CVE with a very nice architecture. Yummy!


People may stubbornly hold to old patterns, yes. But that isn't true for everyone and isn't necessarily bad.

Some intellectual functions (mostly related to speed) do peak very early and even begin to decline in our 20s. But they are not really necessary to be productive or creative or recognize new patterns. Old people are (generally) worse at "twitch" games, though.

And more complex patterns aren't necessarily better or easier to spot. Much progress has been made via simplicity, and the most fundamental patterns are often the hardest to identify. I.e. gravity vs. epicycles.


RAPH: Fun in my context is the feedback specifically from pattern learning.


I enjoy seeing discussions of computer games trend toward discussions of player experiences and aesthetics. I've always considered game play more fundamental and more relevant to an understanding of human behavior than game design.

Two things bother me about the pattern-learning thing, however.

1. Sometimes pattern-learning is not fun.
2. Sometimes things other than pattern-learning are fun.

And strictly limiting pattern-learning to "hard fun" seems to miss much of the appeal of the play experience and/or relegate games to puzzles.

Now, admittedly, when I consider patterns, I first think of mental models [http://www.tcd.ie/Psychology/Ruth_Byrne/mental_models/] or "patterns" of play that lead to subsequent pattern-learning (or pattern-matching) during play. And then I would think about what qualities of the *experience* (rather than the *function*) of pattern-learning makes that experience fun.

Because pattern-learning is, after all, a function. It can be accomplished outside of game or play or even human. Birds can do it, bees can do it, even educated machines can do it. Therefore, I would be more concerned with why we find such a thing fun rather than why, where, and when we do so much of such a thing.

Indeed, maybe you can just say, well, this thing is fun because this thing produces a bunch of those fun chemicals. But if so, then let's pass round the chemicals and be done with it.


Dave -- I had the same reaction to the endorphins. Soma? Listening to Fun?

The fact that we're talking about a medium of entertainment -- and the medium of *games* at that, for me makes it harder to explain exactly what's wrong with substituting the biochemical effect of the play experience for the play experience itself. It's not like we're trying to be productive with games and somehow we need to preserve the play independent of the pleasure. I suppose if you're with the "serious games" agenda, though, you're actually more concerned with the potential productivity of play that with the pursuit of play as its own end.

Anyway, I have not read the book and it is getting rave reviews everywhere, including here. Looking around, it seems that I've been replaying the same challenges to "fun as pattern solving" that numerous people have had. Nate has a thread here, that Raph participated in and that elicited many comments. The major debate was over visual "delight" vs. gameplay. And Nate pointed out an earlier thread on GTxA that also had a critical back and forth with Raph. Nick (pre-reading) gave the example of a footrace, and Raph said it's an example in the book. Nick's post-reading review here.


I'm not sure where the idea that we get dumber as we get older came from. It doesn't seem to have any serious basis in fact (leaving aside from acute forms of dementia, Alzheimers, etc). It is a myth that people hit their intellectual or creative height in their twenties or thirties; for some it's much sooner, for others much later. And in every field, those who produce consistently and well are able to do so over a period of decades, not months or years. I don't see why it'd be any different here.



For me, fun is creating new things. Don't know how people judge intelligence in creating things -- it's a vastly larger space than playing most typical puzzle-type games, and fundamentally important creations alter the way human knowledge is organized as well, so I'm not sure one could "measure" the improvement in knowledge from advances say in physics or chemistry or philosophy or whatever. Programming and creative writing are also similar in that when we have more powerful abstractions to build upon we can say more interesting things. Painting is also somewhat like writing in that one can refer to cultural history, mythology, and all the things that have been painted so far when creating a new painting. So to some extent, doing all of these activities is like working in a high-dimensional space whose dimensionality keeps getting higher (but we can handle it because we don't have to know of all of cultural history...we can just look at parts of it). As for whether older people can discover new patterns, I think that would depend on the person, as some people are happy to get a "process that works" and settle down into a comfortable routine and some people are always trying to start with clean canvases and throw paint angrily around the room and push boundaries. I mean it all depends on what's fun to you, but as for people getting obsolete because their patterns are no longer valid, I'd have to disagree with that because my father in law (when he was alive a year ago) is a very strong counterexample to this -- he liked the music teenagers like today when he was in his fifties, was learning various computer programming languages, running Linux, a hacker in both senses of the word, learning how to trade stocks, playing new computer games, etc. I think the question in some ways boils down to: what do you value? Do you value unlearning things that you've been taught, learning new things, challenging yourself? Do you value simplicity and a calm lifestyle? Do you like to relate to people your own age, or people younger, or older? Do you like to have few friends, or lots of friends? I guess my hypothesis would be that people turn into what they value.

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