Archive: September 2nd, 2008

Simulating Fictional Worlds

[General,Research] (09.02.08, 1:32 pm)

One of the problems of being a PhD student with an extremely broad and vaguely defined field is that it is hard to introduce yourself. Someone will ask me “what do you do? What are you studying?” and then have to wait through the pause and look of anguish on my face as I try to figure out the best way of explaining my work to the individual in question. No more! From now on, I will respond, boldly, immediately, with the following phrase “simulating fictional worlds”.

A long explanation is that I am interested in simulation, mental models, AI, games, and communication and expression through software. Computers can represent systems formally and simulate them, and this is a way to communicate ideas and models of how the world works: you build a model and simulate it. Some cognitive scientists might argue that meaning is inextricably bound to models, and what better way to share meaning than through demonstration? A lot of the work that I do from day to day is also tied in educational software, which operates to expose and communicate and teach very specific models for approaching a domain. However, I also think that games are a powerful tool for the demonstration and enactment of models. Games expose (or conceal) meaning through representing systems, and can do so intricately and playfully. The interest in fiction comes from a desire to expand the simulative capacity of games, and open up social worlds in addition to the worlds demonstrated by most games nowadays.

The expression “simulating fictional worlds” gets under that mess directly and quickly. The surface meaning is relatively easy to parse or explain, but if someone wants to know why I am interested in this stuff, then I can get into the background.