Archive: May 8th, 2008

Critical Point

[Research] (05.08.08, 8:49 pm)

The time has come to ask an important question in regards to my research endeavour. Generally, I am not one to turn problems down or leave questions unpursued and unanswered. However, at this time, I need to actually pin down and begin thinking about what, specifically, I am going to write my dissertation on.

This issue is critical because there are seemingly two diverging paths that can be taken. One of these paths goes down a route of educational technology, looking at how games or software (simulation, more particularly) can be used to convey information about a domain, exposing methodology and its underlying ideas. This idea is arguably more fundable, and is grounded in the fine tradition of educational technology. I think that this approach would reveal important things about how knowledge might be viewed and communicated. Extended further, it might provide a method for exploring how to generally communicate models through software and simulation.

The second idea follows a more “games and narrative” direction. The idea underlying this is adaptation, specifically applied to fictional worlds. While there are many narrative to game adaptations in certain genres (notably action or fantasy), not very many games are adapted out of other kinds of narratives, for instance social dramas, romances, comedies, etcetera. We know that these narratives are systematic in their own right, so the idea behind this research would be to develop a method for adapting these kinds of narratives. This approach would require identifying, specifically, a domain to examine for adaptation, and identifying a few works to make adaptations. While this idea would be risky, (admittedly dangerous in that I don’t want to follow Chris Crawford’s path and be faced with an impossible task). At the same time, were it succcessful, the idea also has the potential to make a significant impact on game industry.

For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to distance myself from either idea, and ideally I’d like to do a bit of both. A common thread may be find in the idea that both are tied to representing and communicating models. The real question is whether any hybrid of these two ideas is possible, useful, or worthwhile. And that is what remains to be seen.

Media, Genre, Language, API

[Research] (05.08.08, 3:54 pm)

I would like to look at the idea of a mental model and extend that idea outward, pushing it until it encompasses and overlaps some other ideas. It would be good at some point to actually define models, so that they coalesce clearly. There is probably a good mathematical formulation of it, but I can’t think of one right yet. I think a good way of imagining it would be to see a model as an organized system of meaning, which structures its domain, and also provides a lens for interpreting other things.

In that light, I’d like to turn to other conceptions that organize meaning, relationships, and the like.

Media is generally used in two ways, one can view media as a conduit for meaning (or content of some kind), which in turn is shaped by the medium itself. A picture, viewed through a TV screen is not a picture, but it is a picture on TV. The power of the medium itself to affect its content is severe, and many authors, notably McLuhan, have explored the idea of a medium as something that is endlessly regressed. If the “content” of a medium is another medium, we can look at models as media, and note that the “content” of a model is always another model. Baudrillard writes of the regressive quality of simulation (and simulation is really an “enacted” model). Without making too many conceptual leaps, one could probably come to the conclusion that models are media, and a medium imposes its own model on whatever passes through it.

Genre is a similar term, and is used as a classifier. The term usually defines conventions and styles. Genres can typically be understood structurally and also in a number of other ways. A good example of this is Propp’s morphology of Russian folktales, which identifies the structural components of the stories. Other genres may be defined in terms of style or conventions, rather than structure, for instance film noir. Genres can be used to categorize works or texts, and as such, they represent a system of features which describe models that encompass the works that make up the genres. While the converse may not be true, models do not necessarily define genres, genres are necessarily models.

What is interesting about examining genres is that while a genre might make up a system that has a model, individual works falling under that genre are also inherently systematic as well. Any work is necessarily systematic in some sense or another. As a result of this, it will have its own model, but by belonging to a genre, it will also be described by the genre’s model as well. The model of the work can thus be seen as a sub-model of the genre.

As a programmer, I’m also very interested in languages and APIs, each of which define their own representation of things. A language, whether a programming language, or a terminology used by a domain, represents a particular view and understanding of the world. Usually languages will construct meaning and relationships through metaphor. Through analogy, domain specific languages model their domain, and reflect inter-domain knowledge in terms of relationships from the external world. Languages do not generally classify, but they are constructive. Similarly, APIs may be thought of as subsystems of meaning within a language or domain. Josh Bloch described the process of designing an API as defining a new language. The API is a quintessential example of a model in use, not just because it is procedurally and symbolically represented, but also because it may be fuzzy around the borders, despite being symbolic. Furthermore, an API also denotes the essential purpose of a model, which is not necessarily to describe everything, but rather explain a very specific part of it.

Like APIs, models are also tools. It is interesting to reflect on early theories of new media, which centered around the conflict between looking at the computer as a tool versus a medium. If we examine this idea from the perspective of models and simulation, we find that tools and media are not so dissimilar in nature.