Archive: October 15th, 2008

Andy Clark: Being There

[Readings] (10.15.08, 9:35 pm)


Clark’s work serves several goals. The first of which is a review of contemporary Artificial Intelligence as applied to robotics and neuroscience. Clark’s second goal is a critique of traditional symbolic AI and the notion of disembodied reasoning that pervades it. The brain, body, and world all tie together in a densely connected network that is impossible to untangle. Thinking and learning are strongly rooted in the mechanics of the body and world. These systems are adaptive and pattern based, not symbolic. Clark specifically criticizes projects such as Cyc, which attempt to build a filing-cabinet model of the world by extensively cataloging each relation and bit of information.

One of Clark’s first examples of embodied reasoning is the cockroach, which is an efficient and well adapted creature, and has a bare minimum of computational reasoning in its tiny brain. This computation is directly tuned to the roach’s physical environment.


Clark critiques the use of symbolic reasoning in towards the application of embodied problems. In relation to a simulated world, where everything is symbolic, the situation gets rather hairy. Clark’s preferred approach may be to avoid simulation entirely, but that is not an option here. Nonetheless, he has several points of merit that are applicable in the simulation of systems.

Clark repeatedly emphasizes that creature behavior evolves in relation to the physical environment as well as its physical body. Brains are messy systems that leverage as much as they can off surroundings and affordances. They are not planned, but are highly adaptive and responsive systems.

With this in consideration, it should stand to reason that the most successful AI simulations of people are ones in which the characters leverage their environment as much as possible. The Sims leaps immediately to mind, since most real logic is represented in the objects in the environment as opposed to in the Sims themselves.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorClark, Andy
TitleBeing There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Back Together Again
Tagsembodiment, ai, specials
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Susan Bassnett: Translation Studies

[Readings] (10.15.08, 9:33 pm)


This book gives an overview of translation studies. According to Bassnett, it is a relatively new field which has received very little formal recognition (nor respect either) until fairly recently. The book attempts to introduce the reader very quickly into the scope of depth, nuance, and complexity caused by the dilemmas of translation. Bassnet is concerned primarily with developing a postcolonial understanding of translation, freed from notions of dependencies and hierarchy. Also discussed is the role of translation in history and varying theories of what is important in a translation, and whether translatability is possible at all. Little attention is paid to adaptation, but the theories of translation discussed are fairly applicable.


Translation studies serves to assemble a fragmentary world. It enables a nomadic navigation of sources, the translator connects language and ways of life. (p. 1) There is a joint portrayal (in the 1990s) of the translator as a force for good vs. a suspect. The image of the latter seeks to impose power relations through textual production and access. Postcolonial translation study encourages an equal relationship between the author and translator, greatly elevating the translator as a respected contributor to a text. (p. 4) Translation may be seen as a transaction between texts and cultures. This is between space; carrying the burden of meaning of a culture. Cited from Homi Bhabha. A set of studies called “polysystems theory” developed by Itamar Even-Zohar and Gideon Toury shifted to a process/system oriented understanding of texts and culture. Translation is not only a communication, but a continuation of a text through time. (p. 6) Sherry Simon claims that language does not merely mirror reality, but shapes it; and translation aids in that shaping. Translation studies must challenge ideas of what happens when a text is moved between languages. (p. 10)

Translation studies begins to differ in its interpretations as a product vs a process. The classic feudal metaphor (of the SL) is consistent with colonialism. “There are two positions, one establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the SL author acts as a feudal overloard exacting fealty from the translator, the other establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the translator is absolved of all responsibility of the SL text are both quite consistent with the growth of colonial imperialism in the nineteenth century.” (p. 13)

Bassnett discusses J.C. Catford’s 1965 study on untranslatability. He distinguishes translation and transference. Translation consists of substitution of SL meanings for TL meanings, where in transference, SL meanings are implanted into the TL text. This is a distinctly semiotic take on the situation. We can look at Jakobson and J. Levy for references on this?

Categories of translation studies: 1) History of Translation; 2) Translation in TL culture; 3) Translation and Linguistics; 4) Translation and Poetics. Translation has the burden of evaluation carried with it. Value judgments are implicit in the desire to translate. “For if a translator perceives his or her role as partly that of ‘improving’ either the SL text or existing translations, and that is indeed often the reason why we undertake translations, an implicit value judgment underlies this position.” (p. 18)

Bassnett overviews some theorists. Sapir: Languages are different realities. Lotman: Language is a modeling system. Whorf: Language and culture are interdependent. Jakobson on translation: *rewording, *translation proper, *transmutation. To Jakobson, all poetic art is technically untranslatable. Nida describes a process diagram of decoding and recoding: 1) Source language text; 2) Analysis [parse, decoding]; 3) Transfer [meaning that lies inbetween, nonverbal]; 4) Restructuring [encoding, choice happens here]; 5) Receptor language translation. (p. 23)

Ludskanov: Semiotic translation is a matter of process and operations. Sassure: there are syntagmatic and associative relationships (horizontal and vertical): The signified value that represents a cultural object may be equivalent across cultures, but the role and significance of the object may not. Terms may denote the same physical objects, but the relevance and connotation of said objects may vary over cultures. (p. 26) In this vein, there are types of equivalence of meanings. Popovic has 4 types. 1) Linguistic equivalence; 2) Paradigmatic equivalence; 3) Stylistic equivalence; 4) Textual/Syntagmatic equivalence. Nida defines two types of equivalence, formal and dynamic. Dynamic equivalence aims for an equivalence of effect (***). Popovic understands there as being an invariant core between translations and a source text. This aspect is especially relevant for adaptation. (p. 33)

Translatability is deeply connected to human experience. Mounin claims that 1) Unique personal experience is untranslatable; 2) The base units of two languages are not always comparable; 3) Communication is possible when account is taken of the respective situations of the speaker and hearer / author and translator. So, communication is possible, but what is that? J. Levy: The translation process to attain the most effect (most equivalence of meaning) with the minimum of effort (or distortion or awkwardness) implies a minmax strategy. (p. 42)

Historically, translation begins to pick up prominence with the Romans, who were interested in incorporating culture from Greece and other conquered areas. Greek was the cultured language, and educated Romans knew the language. Thus, translations of Greek texts were expected to be read in context of the original sources. Translation became a matter of style as opposed to enabling comprehension. This is very similar to matters of adaptation, since adapted works are often viewed in context of each other. It also enables an extra subversive dimension to translation, to highlight or emphasize certain aspects of the original text. (p. 50)

With medieval translation, aspects of value began to emerge. Translations were horizontal if both the SL and TL had a similar value, these moved texts within “equivalent” cultural systems. Other translations could ve considered vertical: ones which brought elevated material (such as Latin texts) into a vulgar or common audience. These approaches brought to translation the dilemmas of loss and accessibility as studied by Bacon and Dante. (p. 57)

In the 1800s, translation and texts became an issue of property and ownership. The original was considered to have significantly more worth than the translation. The value of the translation was in the ability for the original to be marketed to a larger audience. This mirrors very closely the use of intellectual property in modern times. The approaches to translation developed here (at extremes are Longfellow, who is interested in content rather than style, versus Edward Fitzgerald, who is interested in liveliness) can be seen in adaptations of game IP. Both of these views carry elitism, one in which the source is infinitely superior to the translation, and the other in which the translations are haute exotic specimens of original texts. Some bullet points on colonial translation: 1) The SL text is de facto pre-eminent over any TL version; 2) Translation is a means of encouraging readers to return to the SL original; 3) Translation is a means of helping the reader become a better reader of the original; 4) Translation is a means for the translator to offer his own pragmatic choices to TL readers; 5) Translation is a means for upgrading SL texts because it is at a lower cultural level. (p. 74)

In approaching translation as a process, one must examine how texts are read. Reading a text necessitates taking a position on it, and the translator is necessarily a reader, so some position taking is necessary. There are several means of doing such: 1) The reader focuses on the content as matter, picking out the prose argument or the poetic paraphrase; 2) The reader grasps the complexity of the work and the way that the levels interact; 3) The reader deliberately extrapolates one level of a work for a specific purpose; 4) The reader discovers elements not basic to the genesis of the text and uses the text for his own purposes. (p. 80)

On period translation. Necessarily, human experience may extrapolate, but…. “The greatest problem when translating a text from a period remote in time is not only that the poet and his contemporaries are dead, but the significance of the poem in its context is dead too. Sometimes, as with the pastoral, for example, the genre is dead and no amount of fidelity to the original form, shape or tone will help the rebirth of a new line of communication, to use Maria Corti’s terms, unless the TL system is taken into account equally. With the classics, this first means overcoming the problem of translating along a vertical axis, where the SL text is seen as being of a higher status than the TL text.” (p. 85-86)

Translation may be used as a device to scaffold new moral/value/cultural systems onto an existing source text. This may be especially interesting when a source text is known and the product is viewed in this context. Such translations may be fairly subversive or revelatory about the nature of such texts. (p. 110) In translating prose, Bassnett emphasizes an importance on looking at prose as being part of a larger system of text, whereas naiive translators may attempt to plod along linearly. To combat this, Bassnett urges us to think of portions of prose as units. This sounds very reminiscent of unit operations. These originate from Hillaire Belloc, who describes units as means of blocking out translations. (p. 117)

Bassnett concludes with leaving a great deal of material uncovered, since the field is so great. One of the closing discussions concerns dramatic translations, which are especially interesting due to their cultural, physical, and spectacular nature. Bassnett suggests that it is assumable that there exists a structure of performability that is physical and independent of language. (p. 123)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBassnett, Susan
TitleTranslation Studies
Tagsspecials, translation
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David Herman: Story Logic

[Readings] (10.15.08, 9:30 pm)

This bridges the worlds of narratology and cognitive science (especially mental models) with crystal clarity. Narrative defines a world, and readers understand a story by understanding the underlying model. “This amounts to claiming, rather unspectacularly, that people try to understand a narrative by figuring out what particular interpretation of characters, circumstances, actions, and events informs the design of the story.” (p. 1) This is foundational! Herman’s investigation ties narratology to linguistics and cognitive science, but to him, it is cognitive science that underpins the study.

Existing narrative theory goes from structuralist movements (Todorov, Genette, Barthes, Prince) to more recent narratologists, who focus on generation and emergence (Ryan, Fludernik, Jahn). Here, the target of narrative analysis is the storyworld, which is similar to the concept of the discourse model in linguistics. The focus of these is to explore beyond what is stated in the text, but to extrapolate the knowledge that is implicit or inferred in the discourse or story.

The first part of the book discusses narrative microdesigns, while the latter half is on macrodesigns. Microdesigns are the features defining states, events, and characters, whereas the macrodesigns plot the mood or feel of the model in a broader sense. The features of macrodesigns are issues such as spatiality or temporality, especially with respect to how these map out onto how the story is read and understood.

Herman invokes the critique of story grammars from Wilensky and Johnson-Laird. However, the critique of story grammars requires more care than it is usually given. The real challenge comes from the complexity of language, which is rife with ambiguity and textual cues. “Thus the real task for narrative analysts–a task only begun in the present study–is to chart constraints on the variable patterning of textual cues with the mental representations that make up storyworlds.” (p. 12) A story cannot be fully specified by a structural grammar, because of the importance of cues. Understanding (and adaptation) come from deciphering those cues and using them to reconstruct the storyworld.

The storyworld captures the ecology of narrative interpretation. It is important to capture the environment of a story, not just the events themselves. This shift is further justified by research in narrative understanding.

Herman notes the role of adaptation within story worlds: “Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1993), for example, does not falsify Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1960) but rather supplements it; in this process, Lubomir Dolezel (1998: 199-226) has called ‘literary transduction,’ one fictional world extends the scope of another by sketching a ‘successor world’ that may precede the ‘protoworld’ in time, feature a different constellation of participants, and fill in otherwise irrecoverable gaps in the protoworld.” (p. 16) This treatment explores a storyworld as something open and shared, that may be extended and interpreted. The idea that a world may be extended highlights the plasticity of storyworlds. Other philosophers (Deleuze for example) might claim that disparate storyworlds may be woven together and connected to form broader conceptions of meaning.

Discourse models depend on Emmott’s contextual frames. These operate like Goffman’s frames for interaction. A guiding theme here is whether a storyworld is special in relation to other kinds of models.

States, Events, and Actions

Herman’s focus of story here is on states, events, and actions. Namely, the aspect of storyness that depends on statefulness and transitions. There is a reference here to Mark Turner, on the narrative basis for understanding the world. Turner argues for a kind of conceptual blending (called a “parabolic projection”) wherein one story is projected onto another to help make it more tractable. The theme guiding this chapter is understanding the relationship between the way that states change in stories, and how these are interpreted. One rule used in interpretation is “understand events as actions,” but this proves to be problematic as it does not address the complexity and gray area between events and actions.

The study here is primarily on microdesign, that is, the extra information that word choice and construction play in the meaning of sentences. But, Herman extends the conclusions more broadly. There are a number of things that exist between states and actions, for instance, activities and achievements. Sentences may be constructed to favor one over another, but over the course of a story, this forms a chain of choices, which informs the reading of the story on the whole. Genres have different preferential typologies for how events are presented.

  • Epic : Accomplishments > achievements > activities > states
  • News reports : Achievements > accomplishments > activities > states
  • Psychological novels : States > activities > accomplishments > achievements
  • Ghost stories : Activities > states > accomplishments > achievements

This analysis is important because it exposes the way that certain types of genres are fundamentally different. It bears a comparison to the construction of different types of games: a sim game has a different event typology than an action game, for example. It is also remarkable because it skewers Aristotle’s poetics. The hierarchy used by one genre is that genre’s own, and this must be cast as a difference in genre, rather than an issue of superiority or inferiority.

Herman gives an analysis of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. There is a relation of narrative traditions, but also important is how certain genre encoding strategies construct and define the tacit logic of the storyworld. The analysis of The Metamorphosis illustrates how it uses genre conventions (of realist fiction) to communicate its message. This logic or model depends on its representation. As an extrapolation: A News report reading of the Odyssey would not have the same model. In order for an adaptation to work, it must be able to preserve the entire model, that includes the model from the genre.

Action Representations

This section is on further distinguishing the gray area between events and actions. Actions are generally attributed as depending on intention and agency. However, the nature of intention in an event is not always clear. Eventness and actionness is also dependent on the observer’s perspective. The narration in a story can make an occurrence seem more like an event or more like an action depending on the representation. For example, in Pride and Prejudice: Darcy and Bingley’s arrival at Netherfield is an event from the perspective of the Bennett family, but is certainly an action on the part of the characters themselves.

In an effort to further explain actions, Herman explores some parameters and categories of actions. The following types are borrowed from Von Wright (1983). These types relate to the intentional and effectual qualities of actions. (p.61):

  1. Producing a given state of affairs
  2. Leaving the state to continue absent
  3. sustaining the state
  4. letting the state cease to obtain
  5. destroying the state
  6. leaving the state to continue present
  7. suppressing the state
  8. letting the state come to obtain

Another system of parameters is borrowed from Rescher (1966; p. 215), and described on the next page (p. 62):

  1. Agent (who did it)
  2. Act-type (what did he do)
  3. Modality of action (how did he or she do it?)
    a. Modality of manner (in what manner did he or she do it?)
    b. Modality of means (by what means did he or she do it?)
  4. Setting of the action (in what context did he or she do it?)
    a. Temporal aspect (when did he or she do it?)
    b. Spatial aspect (where did he or she do it?)
    c. Circumstantial aspect (under what circumstances did he or she do it?)
  5. Rationale of action (why did he or she do it?)
    a. Causality (what caused him or her to do it?)
    b. Finality (with what aim did he or she do it?)
    c. Intentionality (in what state of mind did he or she do it?)

This categorization and parameterization is useful as an analytic tool for reading actions in narratives, and also as a constructive tool for planning how actions should be composed and executed.

Scripts, Sequences, and Stories

Herman is attempting to discern here the difference between narrative and non-narrative forms. The difference seems to be in knowledge structures: schemata, scripts, and frames. These emerge from cognitive science, AI, and (I would argue) sociology. Storyness relates to expectations. Ultimately, this must be grounded in an experiential repertoire. Part of a story will trigger something that is activated, which will enable the rest of the story to make sense.

On one hand, this could be considered an instance of classical dramatic structure, but it also makes sense being more broadly understood as an artifact of cognition. The mind functions associatively, and constructs models. Together, these facts suggest that observed information (discourse or story elements) are actively assembled and make meaning when they form a model that is consistent with subsequent information.

Herman is arguing for a more narrow conception of narrative, though. Recipes or syllogisms are not exactly stories, but they do operate as models that make sense when assembled. He realizes this fuzzyness, and argues for a scalar range of narratives. The quality of narrativity depends primarily on a work’s recognition as narrative, but some works (for example Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) cannot be interpreted or recognized easily. This I would argue returns to the experiential basis of recognition. I would say that the capacity to identify a work as narrative is secondary to the capacity to recognize and understand the work in the first place.

Herman ties together elements of storyness, recognition, and originality. Stories are understood by familiarity with models and concepts. There is a conflict between the value of the form versus the content of a story. Herman argues that people use a number of processing strategies to make meaning from a story. These strategies are not elaborated, but I would guess that these strategies could be argued to make significant use of conceptual blending (of form, content, with prior experience and familiarity with other works).

Participant Roles and Relations

This section is on the relation between storyworld and participants. Herman generalizes participants from characters, because the term “participant” broadens the study, and focuses on involvementt and actions. The idea of participants (or actants) is borrowed from Greimas. Herman’s concern in this chapter is to differentiate between the participant/actant and circumstances. My intention here is to compare storyworld participants with the idea of the player. In the light that a storry is a representation of a storyworld populated by participants, the narrative to game comparison seems less stark and surprisingly natural.

There is a concern here over what sorts of roles and positions participants have. An example here is the distinction between processes and roles. Another genre typology compares some preferences: (p. 147)

  1. Epic : Actor > Behaver > Sayer > Experiencer
  2. Allegory : Identified > Actor > Sayer > Experiencer
  3. 19th century realistic novel : Actor > Carrier > Sayer > Behaver
  4. Psychological novel : Experiencer > Behaver > Carrier > Sayer
  5. Detective novel : Experiencer > Actor
  6. Ghost story : Experiencer > Sayer

In a game adaptation of a narrative, the player must be a participant, and be put into these roles, as appropriate for the particular genre or story.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorHerman, David
TitleStory Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative
Tagsdigital media, narrative, specials
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Reflections on The Sims

[Readings] (10.15.08, 12:16 am)

This is liable to be a multi-part post, because it seems like there is a lot of ground to cover. I have a lot to say about The Sims. It bears noting first that the game I am most familiar with is not the original, but rather its sequel The Sims 2, which is also broadened by a variety of expansion packs. Generally, when I talk about The Sims, I am thinking of the whole franchise. As a game it is extremely notable, but also relevant to my research because of several factors:

  1. It is a people simulator. Its subject matter is mundane and domestic, about people going about their lives in a day to day manner.
  2. The AI that controls the Sims is ferociously dumb. The Sims act according to a hill climbing algorithm in relation to the world around them. The technical implementation of this is called “smart terrain” and all the logic is encoded within the objects with which the Sims interact.
  3. The game is exceptionally evocative. The setting and characters are believable in a way that makes them engaging and fun to play with.
  4. It broke the gender barrier: More than half the players of the Sims are female. This is especially true of the machinima community. (A citation would be helpful here)
  5. The Sims has a powerful modular architecture that enables it to be modded easily, and is supplementable through expansion packs.
  6. The Sims is the best selling PC game of all time.

All of these factors make the game extremely significant in the landscape of PC games everywhere, especially given the immense popularity and uniqueness of The Sims franchise. I want to explain here why it is so relevant to the work I am doing now.

The first and foremost reason why The Sims is relevant is because of the AI. The Sims themselves are believable, but not realistic. Characters have a state that is built around specific domain models (relationships, needs, “skills”, etc) rather than propositional models. What is fascinating about this is the sheer lack of material that could have been encoded into the model, what is more, the game works better because of this absence. Consider some of the things normally important to AI that have been left out. Beliefs and world knowledge is one example. Sims are totally autonomous. They can behave fine in one space just as well as another. Instead, all of the real intelligence is representational. The Sims are not believable because of an accurate or realistic model, but rather because of an evocative representational model.

There is an intricate balance in the game between simulation and representation. But, before it is possible to explore that in more detail, it is necessary to examine what is actually being simulated. The Sims is a people simulator. It represents domestic life, but as is the case with all Maxis games, it is a specific flavor of domestic life. The original game of the Sims presented a model of a materialistic suburban life. However, this model has been expanded in subsequent expansion packs. These expansions expand the complexity of the underlying model by introducing new logical elements. The Sims 2: Seasons is about how weather affects people’s moods and lives. The Sims 2: Free Time explores the social and personal dimensions of interests and hobbies. It will require a careful analysis to examine exactly what is being modeled, but some insight can be gained by looking into how the modeling works.

The original game of The Sims was heavily influenced by the logic of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. The implementation in The Sims places each element: needs, relationships, skills in terms of sliding numeric values. This approach of representing things numerically can be considered The Sims modeling strategy. This approach is effective but also leaves out a great amount of detail. The strategy can convey simple relationships (between entities and concepts) in a domain. Notably, this representation strategy cannot represent complex relationships where there is a formal structure between entities. An example of this sort of complexity is in human relationships when there is internal complexity and occasional self contradictions. Another example of this flaw can be seen in the single/dual axis representations of morality in games (Fable, D&D).

The work that I am doing uses a very different modeling strategy. My strategy is much more symbolically oriented and structural, because my goal is to represent the sorts of relationships that are impossible with numerical sliders. Specifically, human behavior and relationships are modeled using Goffman’s framework revolving around roles and performance, which are fuzzy and complex. The real issue at steak is how to increase logical complexity without undermining representational power.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorWright, Will
TitleThe Sims (and sequels, expansion packs)
Tagsspecials, digital media, ai, games, simulation, social simulation
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