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Oct 29, 2006



Me>We have to compare the new (games) with the old (literature) in order for the critical theories of either to progress.

Andy Havens>Why?

Ah, I think I was somewhat overstating there. What I should have said (and which Cory, whose argument I was supporting, did say), is that we "would be foolish not to" rather than "have to".

You're right, we don't have to do it, but it's there, it makes a claim on what we do, and it may well have a great deal to say to help us. I don't think it entirely covers game design, but I do think we can get better games if we know about things like plot, story and characterisation for example.

>Games are not literature are not written traditions are not groups of books are not single books are not oral stories are not formal, dogmatic religion are not lore are not superstition are not shared suspicion are not hearsay and rumor are not wondering are not fear and ignorance.

Yes, but if you want to use any aspects of any of those theories then you're saying there is a relationship. It may or may not be an exact match, but if it's there then the two are connected. What Cory was saying (hopefully he'll correct me if I'm misrepresenting him) is that if something is connected enough that you want to use its theories, you can't then say that it's so disconnected that the normal means of verifying or progressing those theories don't apply.

>But an MMO is surely not, in any empirical sense, a story told by Cub Scouts around a campfire, is it? Nor a creation myth. What could one possible do to inform the other?

What you do in a virtual world results in a chronological series of episodes (a history). When you selectively report those episodes in a causal fashion, you have a plot. When you relate the episodes of the plot in a chronological series, you get a story.

If those cub scouts round a campfire are telling each other anecdotes from their time in EQ or RuneScape or whatever, then that means there a series of interesting, interlinked episodes occurred while they were playing the game. They had an interesting experience, and they're telling one another about it. If you, as a designer, want this kind of thing to happen, then you can engineer episodes such that players will be more easily able to tell stories about them. The more you know about narrative structure, the easier this is going to be.

>their set of equations for examining their universe *is* language, not physics. Why? Because language and metaphor are the sets of symbols by which man knows his own mind and each other.

All I know is that I exist; everything else could be a figment of my imagination (although I don't believe my imagination is actually that good). If I look on language as a construct for communicating with others, that admits the possibility that there are such "others", which automatically comes with the assertion that there must be a physics to regulate our interactions. You can't divorce communication from physics. There are differences, though: language allows for limitless, arbitrary new constructs that can shape or reshape other linguistic constructs; physics doesn't care what we think, it's going to work just the same as always whatever we do. Our understanding of how it works may change (the language we use to describe it) but the physics itself never changes (because if it did, that would just be part of the physics).



@Richard: Right. Exactly. And now you are arguing for a postmodern interpretation of games:

"...if you want to use any aspects of any of those theories then you're saying there is a relationship."


"The more you know about narrative structure, the easier this is going to be."

Perhaps. That's an argument you can certainly make to many people with some degree of reasonableness. To some scholars of literature, however, the idea that a participative (and particularly, massively participative) game is subject to most (or any) of the rules of narrative structure, though, will be as absurd as many of the freakiest lit-crit ideas seem to you. Because you are putting peanut-butter in their chocolate rather than the other way around.

And... the more you know about economics, the easier it will be to make money on games (perhaps), if that's your schtick. And the more you know about sexual fetishism, the easier making funky sex-balls will be (perhaps). And the more you know about the history of colonial politics, the easier setting up affiliate programs will be (perhaps...). Because none of these things are physics, which is the one thing that doesn't change, eh?

At some point, maybe we will understand all the physics. All the equations. And then... do you believe we will still want to play games? Want to listen to music and enjoy art and a good story? I hope so. I know I do. But if you believe that, then you must believe that there is something that is *not* reducible to physics. And if that is the case, then it is worthwhile to study it now. Partly for its own sake, and partly (I believe) because the creative functions help balance and (often) spur on the inquisitive functions that drive us to understand science.

Questioning beauty often means questioning physics. Questioning fun often means questioning chemistry or psychology. And vice versa. This is not a dichotomy. It is a balance. And forever tilting the board back-and-forth to keep folks from getting too comfortable on one side or the other of the line is the role that many postmodernists take.

Just as driving towards pure reason is the role that many scientists take, and aiming at pure faith is the role that many religious leaders take. "Put it all into perspective," might be said to be the mantra of deconstruction. "Even your definition of 'perspective.'"


This is so funny. Me and a few friends at major universities cooked up some data about the orbital periods of several binary stars out in the far reaches of the universe. Actually what we did was we strung together a bunch of data from other astronomer's papers, talking about completely different stars.

Then we presented the data, which was apparently at odds with notions of what we know about gravity, especially in the early universe (we aren't really astronomers, so it came as a complete shock to us!) We also got people from a few other universities to pretend that they had replicated the study, because apparently, they do that too.

Boy did we have a hoot, watching astronomers actually listen to the paper as if we knew what we were talking about. Idiots couldn't even tell we were cribbing from Voss and Tauris when were started in on the whole "bimodal duration of gamma-ray bursts" as measured in comparison to spectral hardness, fluence and temporal pulse properties.

So at this point we start taking data from two closer (and get this) much YOUNGER stars. And they think we are talking about older stars and they are listening and trying to make sense of it. They totally fell for it!

In a real field like the study of literature, you start quoting Proust and if it isn't Proust, people call you on it.

How can people take science seriously when you can just make up data and draw conclusions from it?

But I totally get what you are saying about those lit crit people. What kind of idiots trust that their colleagues aren't going to play childish pranks and try to make them look foolish. Good thing other fields are immune to falsification, forgery and mean spirited self-indulgent mental masturbation.


Cory writes:

Perhaps you could give me an example of a knowledge claim that isn't testable but that is still an assertion?

Any claim that doesn't reside in the intersubjective sphere. "I am happy." "That apple appears red."

These are claims about facts (emotional or perceptive states) that are not subject to any kind of validation by indepedent observers.

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