Category: ‘Talks’

Mads Haahr on Ico and Ant Attack

[Talks] (04.28.09, 3:44 pm)

Visiting scholar Mads Haahr gave a talk on Monday entitled “Saving the Dead Girl: Emotion and Gender in Ant Attack and Ico.” This was a very useful talk, based on a paper that I believe is going to be published (but has not been yet). In the talk, Haahr explained some reasoning behind the emotional appeal of Ico (as well as Ant Attack), compared this to mainstream games, and anchored the emotional dimension within Jungian psychology. Here I will try to give a review of some of the salient points of the talk, and then try to articulate a question that I asked but was not able to express clearly at the time.

The opening part of the talk looks at the relationship between games and narrative. I think though, that here, narrative is not an end of itself, but is rather a means to produce an emotional response. While there is a dilemma regarding the relationship between narrative and interactivity, there is less of a problem between emotional communication and interactivity. After all, we rarely see problems with emotional communication in sculpture, architecture, or art installations. Many of these are explicitly designed to be (if not interacted with) engaged with and navigated, requiring an active particpant, as a player of a game might engage with the game world.

Mainstream games traditionally appeal to adolescent males, the narrative scope of these games is generally quite narrow (permeations of the monomyth), and the emotional spectrum of these is also extremely narrow as well. Beyond this, they tend to present very clear outlooks on the relationship between the player and the moral scope of the world, that is, well defined and delineated extremes of good and evil. The combined mythologies of thes is that “evil exists, and can be shot.”

However, if games can indeed communicate emotionally, they must broaden their spectrum. Haahr asked the question of “Where is the game equivalent of Casablanca?” In order to examine how games might produce a more rich spectrum of emotional responses, Haahr turns to the examples of Ico and Ant Attack, and the robust toolkit of Jungian psychology. Players of Ico generally reported a great variety of emotional experiences. Among the emotional experiences were such unusual (for games, anyway) responses such as sadness, despair, solitude, and loss. Haahr’s analysis of the game cuts across the game in dimensions of story, aesthetics, and gameplay.

It is also notable interjecting here that the analysis resembles the dimensions of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics. In Haahr’s lecture, aesthetics is meant to be the spatial design, colors, sounds, and so on. There deserves to be some exploration of how these dimensions might interweave and relate to each other, but that is beyond the scope here.

It is worth at this point giving a quick summary of the two games in question. Ico was published around 2001, and while being technically innovative and being very well received by critics and reviewers, was relatively unsuccessful commercially. It is about a young boy, Ico, with horns who is taken from his village and imprisoned in a remote castle, he manages to break free and explores the castle, finding a girl, Yorda, and they (ultimately) manage to escape together. The story itself is simple in its fairy tale nature, and is extremely minimal.

Ant Attack, by contrast, was published in 1983 for the XZ Spectrum and Commodore 64. It has a much more explicit story, though the story is given as a background and does not come to affect play that much. The player can choose whether to be “boy” or “girl” and must navigate the city of Antescher to find the other character and escape. Despite the ostensible differences, the games have several similar characteristics.

Both games have players exploring a huge labyrinthine and ancient environment. Both have two main characters about whom little is known, other than the fact that they are magical. There are only two characters and a number of nearly identical nostile NPCs, and otherwise no (or very few) supporting characters. Both require escape and companionship, where the player finds the companion inside the labyrinth and must escape with the companion in tow.

Visually, both games make use of a limited color palette. In Ico, most of the castle is in a grayscale, with neutral tones and soft lighting. Green is used in a few areas to evoke optimisim, while the areas in the despondent portions of the game contain dark blue-grays. The color red is used only in Ico’s shirt and in Yorda’s eyes at the end. While Ico clashes with the castle, Yorda’s colors also are in monochrome, making her seem of the castle. In Ant Attack, a grayscale palette is used for the characters and the environment. The menu contains bright colors, and is in dramatic contrast to the actual gameplay. In both, the use of gray evokes loneliness and emptiness.

Both games make use of ambient sounds, but do not use music. Ant Attack notably does not use music even though music was very popular in contemporary games.

In terms of gameplay, both games are about escape. The player’s activity involves spatial exploration, but it is a forced exploration. There is no treasure in either. In Ico, the player explores the whole castle through a single play through, while in Ant Attack, the play is repeated. Both involve a forced familiarity with the environment. Unlike many other games, the games include an element of dependency. Going it alone is not an option. Many mainstream games involve self-preservation rather than protection of another. In Ico, the characters of Ico and Yorda are complimentary, and the play involves puzzles that emphasize the difference in the characters’ abilities. While the two work together, theirs is “an awkward, clumsy union.” In Ant Attack, the gender is irrelevant, and the characters are completely symmetric. The only division is between rescuer and rescued. In both games, the companion is discovered within the space.

Haahr’s analysis looks specifically at Jungian archetypes and how these fit and can be used to analyze the games. Jung’s archetypes were meant to form a “psychological morphology,” so just as human physical morphology includes two arms and two legs, the psychological morphology includes a persona, ego, self, shadow self, and anima/animus. This is meant to be a foundation where any given individual can be expected to have these parts in their whole psychological being. Psychological development occurs through a process of “individuation,” where the self is realized through the agency of the ego. The ego is stable and clear, and in dream analysis is equated to a clear, known structure, such as a house. The shadow self is a collection of the parts of one’s being that is not associated with the conscious self. This exists within the subconscious, which is unknown. In dream analysis, the subconscious is manifested as a wandering labyrinth, which is unknown and expansive. The deep subconscious is often manifested as the ocean. The anima and animus represent the qualities of the self that are percieved as lacking. A central element to Jungian psychology is projection, the process by which elements of the subconscious (such as the anima and shadow self) are projected onto others. The shadow is projected onto others whom one dislikes, who posess characteristics that one has but dislikes, while the anima is generally projected onto the object of romantic desire.

In both of Ico and Ant Attack, the space can be seen as representing the unconscious. In Ico, the character of Ico himself is clearly an ego, who is explicit and well defined, while Yorda is “fascinatingly vague,” like Jung’s anima. The shadow archetypes are more or less explicitly manifested as the shadow demons. It bears noting that, like Ico, the shadows too have horns, and are implied to be the spirits of other children with horns (and that had Ico not esacped he would become one as well). Yorda belongs in the castle as the anima belongs in the unconscious, this is why she is of the castle. In the rescue sequence at the end, Yorda escapes from the castle, and is brought from the unconscious realm to the conscious, and this is manifested by the appearance of color in her. The sinking of the castle into the ocean can be seen to represent the unconscious domain of the castle merging with the deeper collective unconcious, much like the fading of a dream upon waking. The process by which subconscious elements are brought into the conscious is individuation, but this is not meant to be a single occurrence, but a repeated process, as part of one’s growth, and a phenomenon that occurs within Ant Attack. These games work not only because of the use of explicit emotional invocation, but because of their play on psychological identity.

At the end of the talk there was time for some questions. One point that I raised was that while most mainstream games are about self-preservation, many games involve a quest to save an other (as in Mario), but in these cases the other is an idealized figure, who plays a nearly insignificant part as a character within the game. This is an absent other, rather than a present other, as is the case with the psychological anima.

A question that I wanted to ask was about the matter of authorship. Early on, Haahr asked the question of the equivalent of Casablanca (which is a question in a long vein of criticism), but there is an interesting discrepancy between the analysis of games and the analysis of film and other media. Generally, in analysis of film or other forms of art, a great deal of attention is paid to the idea of intention and meaning. While auteur theory is problematic on many levels, film criticism is frequently tied up with the idea that the director is the primary author and creative agent behind a film. Analysis of the plot or scenes in Casablanca, Citizen Kane, or The Shining tend may invoke dimensions of psychology, but this analysis tends to be motivated toward deciphering and discovering the meaning and intention of the artist. I do not mean to endorse this as the proper form of film criticism or suggest that it should be applied to games, but it does raise an important issue. Jungian psychology may be invoked in analysis, but there is also a question of how it can be used by the authors of a game.

It is all well and good to analyze games and discover their emotional appeal, but it is also disconcerting that few contemporary games can communicate emotions so effectively as these two titles. It is also troubling that, despite its clear artistic merit, that Ico was so commercially unsuccessful. On one hand, this is hardly surprising, as the “artistic” examples of popular media tend to be less commercial (if Ernest Adams wants to find his Merchant Ivory, he should look here), but game publishers tend to primarily be interested in stability of sales. A final distressing element is the fact that despite its emotional strength and psychological depth, that Ico is still a young-adult monomythic fairy tale. I am not interested in telling more serious types of stories (game designers should not be caught up in thinking about linear stories), but I do think that games should be able to produce the same types of emotional effects that those stories do. We need to leverage psychological analysis to be able to do better psychological design.

Jason Rohrer visits LCC!

[Talks] (04.19.09, 4:13 pm)

On Wednesday, esteemed game artist, agrarian lifestylist, and generally tall person, Jason Rohrer, came to visit and give a talk at LCC. The talk was titled “Beyond Single Player: Hunting for an Artistic Niche,” and was generally about the potential for games as art, and the relationship between expressive capacity and complexity, in degrees of single player versus multiplayer games. The following represents my notes from the talk, as well as some general observations. Following the talk, Jay Bolter and our very own Brian Schrank came up to have a conversation with Rohrer, but this basically came in the form of them challenging his definition of art. This was extremely insightful, and I have tried to take detailed notes of the important points that were raised.

To start with, Rohrer gave us a little anecdote about Chris Crawford’s Dragon Speech. During the last GDC, evidently, he had the opportunity of spending some time with Crawford, and asked him about how he actually gave the speech. The Dragon Speech is a sizeable 50 minute (or so) speech, which Crawford gave without any slides, notes, or aids whatsoever. The natural concern is how does one prepare and practice a speech like that, so as to give the entire thing without a hitch. When Rohrer asked Crawford about it, Crawford said that he couldn’t learn it by writing it out, because it is a speech, and is meant to be spoken. Similarly, he can’t practice by reading it for the same reason. If a talk is based on something that is written, then the audience may simply be better served by reading the original document. So, what he does is to go out into the woods, pace around, and just start speaking. He repeats this process until he has the thing learned by heart. This anecdote is important because it is about the relationship between medium and practice. A talk is speech, and is meant to be spoken. The presence of slides, or if the talk is based on a written document, simply serves as a distraction from the natural properties of the medium or format. Considering this also demands the question of what are the properties of the format of a talk, what are they good for, and why should they be used? We can think of these questions as setting the tone for thinking about games.

Games have suffered for a long time a feeling of inadequacy and illegitimacy, as though there has been a line in the sand drawn between games and other forms of artistic expression. Other media have comfortably found their own points of artistic stability, without looking to other media to imagine what they should be. Literature, drama, film, painting, and rock and roll all stand on their own. Games have tended to look to other media to imagine what they should be. Most commonly, games have sought to emulate film, and develop technology to support this in terms of cinematography and graphics. Some games reject cut scenes (and are better for it), but these are still stuck with an author-narrative model. There are pockets of interactivity woven around an on-rails experience. Instead of the narrative delivery being through cut scenes, it is through architecture. Mainstream big budget games like Bioshock, despite their lack of cut scenes, still want to be film, just where the player is both protagonist and cameraman.

The desire of games to emulate other media hurts their search for artistic legitimacy more than it helps. Rohrer put forth the question of “how do we grow games into a unique expressive medium?”

To examine this question, he showed some examples of art games, which tend to forsake cut scenes and linear structures. These use only mechanics as the vehicle for artistic expression. These types of works can exist only as games, they are not better served through other media. Examples of these are Bogost’s Honorarium, Benmergui’s I wish I were the Moon, all of Rohrer’s own works, among others. However, there is still a problem, because there is still a cultural line in the sand, dividing these between other media.

Rohrer gave an example of a particular type of criticism of games, and this was through invoking the figure of Roger Ebert. Ebert has been involved in some rather snippy debate regarding the status of games as art. There are a lot of holes that can be punched in both Ebert’s arguments and the pro-games arguments, both of which (in my opinion) are hugely flawed. Rohrer advises, though, to not disregard the arguments, but instead work with them. One of the elements of the argument is the role of authorial control, which is complicated in an interactive medium (though, I would argue that there are many answers to this, most of which come from the art world itself). And despite his flaws in grasping the essence of games as a medium, Ebert makes a great straw man. He also presents a rather simple challenge: show me a game that is art. It is in attempting to address this challenge that much of the talk flows.

So, a question is what is a type of game that might be considered art. Rohrer explains that a friend of his suggested the game Go, which, despite its extreme simplicity of rules produces extremely complex phenomena, and is also often said to be revealing of the nature of the universe. The variability and depth of the game can give a unique experience on each round of play. Rohrer compares this depth with the quality of revisitation that one might experience with art works, where the art speaks with one perspective when viewed for the first time, but when one matures as an individual, the artwork may reveal a more significant depth, and speak with a new perspective that was not realized before.

Rohrer suggests that we need to be making more games like Go, which have infinite replayability. Art games are often against replayability, they are often one-shot experiences that one plays once and then puts away. It is possible to quickly exhaust all the content and possibilities of the mechanics. Once the player completes a game, it is done. At this point, Rohrer’s concepts seem to become muddled, though. The idea of infinite replayability becomes exchanged for the concept of depth and revisitation, an exchange that I do not think is exactly warranted. Having depth of meaning is not the same as being infinitely playable or viewable, and is not the same thing as having a simple set of rules.

This is a point tying into something that I asked at the end, that depth of meaning and revisitation are different from replayability, and that the experience of replay is not necessarily the same as a shift in perspective.

Rohrer went on to explain that board games in general have a common trend of replayability. They also are different from almost all of the digital games discussed earlier because they are single player. There are very few pre-video single player games. The main example is solitaire, which is essentially a puzzle (or a puzzle generating system). Single player games tend to rely on three elements for replayability or variance: long multistep puzzles, randomization (hidden information), and reflex challenges. These lead to situations where it is possible to find optimal strategies, where the single player is acting as a rat pushing a lever.

In digital single player games, Rohrer explains that choice became a very popular desirable characteristic for enabling depth and replayability, but this was ultimately flawed as well. The idea with choice is that there are multiple ways of solving problems. Examples of advocates for this are Doug Church, Randy Smith, Harvey Smith, and Clint Hawking, (and, of course Peter Molyneux). Rohrer explains that choices are not as satisfying because 1) if there is an optimal choice, the players will gravitate to it, or 2) if all choices are equal, then the choice doesn’t really matter.

Some, suggest that it is helpful to layer mechanics on top of each other (as often happens in german board games), but, ultimately, these are often unsatisfying because players can find local maximal optimizations. Go does not use multiple layers, and does just fine.

This is actually another point where I disagree. The idea of success, failure, and outcomes are pervasive in Rohrer’s model. Optimality is only a concern when the outcome of a play is some sort of numeric value. Some art games do use scores, but often this is done in a sort of metaphorical sense, to explain what is valued within the particular game’s model of the world. But it seems that a much more troubling observation is the role of numeric outcome in the space of revisitation and replayability.

Rohrer’s conclusion is that multiplayer is “like a fertile soil where mechanics can blossom to their full potential.” Rules are a genotype, but play is a phenotype. Exactly what multiplayer means though involves a little analysis. He explains that it is not necessarily the human dimension that makes multiplayer interesting. A game of Chess or Go with an AI opponent still has a degree of variance and is interesting, much like a normal multiplayer game is. However, many other multiplayer games are not “really” multiplayer, as in, they do not provide the level of depth that board games tend to. So, for instance, as Rohrer explains, mechanics in multiplayer FPS games with other players are still generally single player mechanics, and similarly with most MMOGs. I can partially understand this criticism, but much of the multiplayer dimensions in these closely resemble sports, which are about skilled coordination and performing one’s part very well. While these may not provide a depth of experience, sports games as well as dungeon raids are subject to similar levels of combinatorial variety that board games are, so the argument seems flawed.

Taking a look though, at the works of art described earlier (film, sculpture, books, and so on), these are “single reader” or “single viewer,” they are generally works produced by an author, and viewers interact with the artifacts more or less individually. One can watch a film in a theatre surrounded by people, but the experience does not require the other audience members. However, there is a dimension to this that I take issue with, and that is that works exist within a cultural setting, and are interpreted socially. Supposing that one has a video of a great film, or has a great novel on a desert island, these works still require a cultural situation to be made sense of, and the core value of the experience usually comes in discussion. Even despite this, it is personal development that takes place within the social arena that enables one to change perspectives. This change of perspective is necessary to understand the work as something that has depth. Thus, at the very least, a social dimension is necessary for a work to have (or be understood to have) depth, at least indirectly.

Rohrer concluded by imagining the possibility of a multiplayer art game, which would involve a more complex relationship between play with multiple players and artistic intent. If the space of rules and play is deep and emergent, then it may be impossible to control all the emergent possibilities. If enough is emergent, then it may be possible for situations to occur that are against the original artistic intent.


Jay Bolter began the discussion phase, and started by looking at some recent art history and the dimensions of art criticism. The types of criticisms applied to art and games, where art is divided into different mediums has a particular history. In particular, this attitude, which also asserts that the “purpose” of art is to realize the medium, derives from Clement Greenberg. Greenberg is particularly notable for appreciating and defending Jackson Pollock when his work was originally disregarded or disparaged by other art critics at the time. There are other movements in art, and art criticism, especially that come from dada, which aimed for exploring, intermixing, and destroying the essence of media. Dadaists often performed in events, which were essentially “multiplayer” experiences. Bolter concluded by asking why Rohrer only uses the tradition of exploring the medium to look at games and art.

Rohrer reacted by explaining that the study of games as art needs to start somewhere, and that games have not really been even established as a medium to begin with. Dada only works because there was an existing history and theory of art to challenge and break down. Games have not yet had the opportunity to express the human condition or exploring sophisticated meaning in the first place. We may find things that are meaningful within games, but these are often simply immature, and tend to be unsatisfying in terms of expressing deeper artistic meaning and value.

Brian Schrank joined in and explained that the branch of art criticism that Rohrer is using, as well as the notion of art that comes from Ebert’s original criticisms of games, generally breaks art down into high/middle/and low brows. The idea of pure artistic intent tends to be a very romantic 19th century idealization. Conventionally “mature” topics, such as the death of a loved one, fall clearly into the middle-brow range. In terms of high-brow works, in a relatively recent academic survey (I have no idea what Brian was referring to here), many art historians described Duchamp’s fountain as the most important art object of all time. The idea with this is that by attempting to destroy or clash with art (as was the stated intent of the dadaists), this will ultimately lead to a revolutionizing and reinvention of the medium. Thus, if the definition and constraint of the medium of games is blinding, it may be necessay to move past it.

I don’t remember at all what Rohrer’s response was to this! Afterwards there was a general question session.

Michael Nistche asked about simulation games, which was actually a really important question for me, because my work is all about simulation games. Simulation games are single player, but tend to have a degree of depth and emergent phenomena that can be fairly rich. Rohrer countered by suggesting that these games get their depth from a dimension of randomness, but I disagree. Frequently, simulations are entirely deterministic, but there is simply a depth of complexity that enables diverse behavior. Conway’s Game of Life is a simulation, (not really a “game” in the traditional sense), but is deep and complex.

Celia Pearce brought up another art movement which was also focused around games, the Fluxus movement in the 1960s. This was a movement that revolved around the mingling of games and art. These were not video games, as they are understood, but it is still vitally important to understand that the movement was about games. The fact that the types of games were different, in the sense that they were often about poetry or music, and did not have tightly defined rules, should not be taken to mean that they are not relevant, so much as that they should be used to expand the understanding of what games are and what they are about.

Finally, I got the chance to ask a question, and I used this as an opportunity to aska bout the idea of revisitation. What follows is partially my question, but also my thinking through the idea as well.

Revisitation, I think, is all about perspective. So, for instance, in coming to an artifact once, I might have one perspective, but returning to it later, my perspective will have changed (because I have changed), and thus will get depth of meaning. This is multiplayer in a sense because it involves personal change. However, it does not necessarily have anything to do with authorial intent, nor does it necessarily have anything to do with infinite replayability. So, for instance, I can replay Tetris, and maybe reflect on my first experiences, but this does not give me a new dimension in terms of perspective. Furthermore, in the case of a game like Go, my change in perspective over time will have more to do with my cognitive learning and mastery over the rules of the system, rather than a depth of cultural experience. (Though, there could be some intersection.)

The most interesting quality about changing perspective, is actually that it involves the viewer (or player) bringing new things back to the artifact. Meaning and value is thus co created, and for meaning to exist at all requries participation and investment.

Scanned notes

[Games,General,Research,Talks] (02.16.09, 11:12 pm)

I’m in the habit of writing up pages of notes that are often difficult to transcribe into pure text form. Usually I keep these around with me as references until my thinking or work on whatever project has matured enough that the notes aren’t relevant anymore. I have a bunch of pages like this in my notebook. Right now with the simulating fictional worlds project, I am trying to come up with a preliminary system of classes and work out what their relationships to each other will be programmatically. Also I want to know what the major processes , interactions, and flowcharts are going to look like. Posted here is an early step.

How a situation is composed

How a situation is composed

Situation Cycle

Situation cycle. It looks like we might need more general classification of frame that encompasses both situations and other social codes.

Conversation cycle and context

Conversation cycle and context

N. Katherine Hayles visits LCC

[General,Talks] (01.19.09, 12:02 am)

Notable scholar of literature and new media, Katherine Hayles visited us in LCC last Thursday. Her presentation was about electronic literature, and about the practice of academic study of the humanities. The presentation was posed as a conflict between traditional and digital humanities. The traditional humanities are slow to understand the digital, but the digital must be able to build from the foundation of traditional. There are tacit and implicit differences between the two disciplines, indicating shifts and differences in modes of thinking. The primary differences occur along the lines of scale, visualization, collaboration, database structures, language and codes, as well as a few others. Hayles’ research was conducted by interviewing several new digital humanities scholars.

The most notable difference is the idea of scale. This relates to the sheer physical limitations in the capacity of the researcher to read the domain of study. Digital technology enables a broad, but shallow, analysis of a broad corpus of text. The example is of 19th century fiction. A scholar will have read around 300 to 500 texts, but these texts are atypical, notable works, which are read because they are outstanding, the ones that stand out. The nature of research, the questions, and conclusions change when a quantative analysis is possible. When it is possible to look at thousands of texts at a distance.

Franco Moretti poses reading texts at the greatest distance possible. Hayles described this as “throwing down the gauntlet to traditional humanities,” whose approach has been to do deep reading, looking within texts to understand psychology, allusions, and connections. Moretti attempts to read texts as assemblies, breaking them into pieces, without ever reading a whole text. This is a dramatic change in method, and comes across as wildly controversial. It is notable that Moretti does have experience of practice, and is well read and familiar with the corpus. He is able to employ this approach precisely because of this familiarity. Moretti focuses on analyzing texts in terms of devices, themes, tropes, genres, or systems. The practice of analysis amounts to a kind of distant statistical profiling. Moretti analyzes how genres are born and die, tracing genres which have passed, such as epistolary and gothic novels. Moretti’s conclusion is that genres die because their readers die (not necessarily literally, but in the sense that they move on to other material).

Another question is how do you tell when technology platforms emerge. Hayles’ example is Tim Lenoir. He makes the claim that algorithmic processing of text counts as a form of reading. Lenoir’s project traces citations among a set of scientific papers. This network develops and defines a relationship of connections. This is interesting because the analysis is of material entirely contained within the texts themselves, and does not actually analyze works in terms of some external system of values. The claim that this analysis is reading is inflammatory in the traditional humanities, where reading is a hermeneutic activitiy focused on interpretation. The problem is that the traditional understanding of reading is wedded to comprehension. Lenoir argues that, at a wide scale, textual meaning is less important, but what is really interesting are the data streams.

In common with Moretti, Lenoir is interested in finding patterns. Patterns do not require primary investment in meaning. The traditional humanities is instead intereested in hermeneutic interpreatation, which is bound tightly to meaning. These two perspectives are mutually opposed, but Hayles is interested in linking patterns with hermeneutic reading, finding some form of common ground from which these may build from each other.

One such example of a work which uses both strategies is Tanya Clement‘s analysis of Gertrude Stein’s “The Making of Americans.” This text is a traditional narrative through half of the text, but at some point in the middle, the narrative breaks down and becomes virtually unreadable. The text at that point is composed of frequently repeated phrases, content which is essentially an anti-narrative. A deep reading of such a text is difficult or impossible because of the very structure of the text itself. An analysis of pattern is necessary to deduce meaningful conclusions. Clement’s analysis finds that texts contains repeated 490 word sequences, where only a few words within these sequences vary. The analogy is made to the notion of character, as character is repitition with only slight variation. This is a way  of understanding the text which is arguably very valuable, but would be impossible without pattern analysis.

The traditional humanities is usually solitary, involving a deep communion between the reader and the text. Networked culture is interested in collaborative approaches to study, and when applied to study of texts and narrative, comes with a shift of assumptions in how to approach a text. One way of looking at this is in scale of participation, but another approach is to break up a text and treat it as a database. David Lloyd’s project “Irish Mobility” which chops up prose to remove references of subordination and cooperation. Then the resulting material is embedded into a database. This allows the user to “refactor” the content. The resulting piece becomes harder to read, but arguably the content is more meaningful. The resulting form is fragmentary hypertext, and enables the user control over the narrative.

Hayles gives a few examples of database projects used in education, wehre students build from each others’ work, and is published. Thus, their work continues to live beyond the class, and is valuable for sharing and feedback. These projects are less interested in representation, and more interested in communication and distribution.

Regarding language and code, Hayles gives a few examples. A succinct quote comes from Tanya Clement: “Software is an exterioralization of desire.” The writer of software must have an exact  articulation of what the computer must do, without tacit knowledge. Modifying code is generally easier than modifying tacit knowledge, and once created, it is also easier to observe because it is actually written and visible. Tacit assumptions are by their very nature concealed. This is not to say that digital systems are always explicit about their values, but they more clearly formulate their models, and thus the values are more concretely established within the system.

Disciplines are formed by the violence of exclusion, according to Weber. Disciplines achieve legitimacy by constructing boundaries. On one side of this boundary is placed the material which “belongs” in the discipline, and the other side is that which is excluded. This process occurs with astronomy and astrology: One side is given legitimacy while the other is denied it. The legitimacy of traditional humanities is threatened by digital humanities which is outside of the boundaries of the traditional in many senses.

We were not able to extensively discuss the relationship between language and code because the presentation was beginning to run out of time. The relationship between digital and traditional humanities is construed as a conflict. Hayles’ goal is to find a reconciliation between these two. However, the examples described are primarily data oriented approaches to texts and literature. The approaches of pattern analysis and interpretive hermeneutics presuppose a inherent content related difference in the reading of texts. I think that it would be useful to have a more process oriented approach, that focuses on the system rather than the structure of narrative. A common ground might be found in considering that both hermeneutics and the digital are dependent on process.

Henry Jenkins visits LCC

[General,Talks] (11.09.08, 7:09 pm)

Renowned media and culture scholar (and blogger) Henry Jenkins visited us this past week. He gave a lively presentation on media technology as used in the election campaign, and later met up with several of the research groups. I stuck around the group meeting with Janet’s narrative schema group where we looked at some of Sergio Goldenberg‘s eTV projects, as well as Hartmut Koenitz’s Advanced Stories Group. I was at this last meeting, but was not especially conversational, as one, I don’t have a huge amount to say about the projects, and two, I did not have much completed work of my own to show. Nonetheless, there were a few very interesting bits that I picked up from both events, and I’ll try to convey them here.

Politics and Media

I’ve studiously avoided discussing politics here. This is not to say that I don’t have my own strong beliefs, but I find nearly all political discussions to be exhausting and ultimately futile. Nonetheless, there are a number of very interesting and noteworthy things discussed in Jenkins’ talk about media in the election, and in political communication in general. So, I’ll try to review what I can.

The talk opened with a review of how media has been used in previous elections. The Lincoln-Douglas debate is an example which is frequently used as a non-mediated political event. The historical debate was dry, logical, and textual. However, the situation of the debate was still at a carnival. Bands played, there were sideshow performances and greased pig chasing contests. Spectacle was still very much an issue. Neil Postman claimed that the spectacular nature of television could never match the rationality of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, but this claim misses a complex relationship between politics and media.

Media has been used by all candidates in recent past, and the skilled use of media has tended to make for successful elections. Examples are FDR and radio, Nixon and Kennedy over television, Reagan and dramatic iconography, Clinton with cable, and finally Obama and the internet. This election is marked by a convergence of media. Obama’s skilled use at weaving many kinds of media together to create a coherent and consistent message is in part responsible for his overwhelming success.

The pivotal moment to Jenkins is the CNN-YouTube debate. This is revolutionary and pivotal because it marks a return of control from an institutionalized system (television or town-hall debates) to popular control. The clash between participatory (meaning user/popular controlled) culture with the authority of mass media. There were two sets of controversies that came out of this. The first was the reaction against the legitimacy of the YouTube questions, and the second was a reaction against the authority of CNN to filter and screen the questions in the first place.

The issue of legitimacy takes a complex spin when examined carefully. one of Jenkins’ examples is a snowman, asking about global warming. The example was decried somewhat as illegitimate, because it is ostensibly not serious. Literally, the snowman is fictional, and it is at odds for a candidate to be faced with a question from a fictional character. However, a snowman asking about global warming is still apt metaphorically. Furthermore, there is a deeper thread: The snowman speaks with a squeaky voice that is reminiscent of Mr Bill from Saturday Night Live. Mr Bill was, in turn, a “user-created” tape sent to SNL. This example thus taps into a somewhat deeper set of meanings than may first appear. User created questions work beyond the questions themselves, but also pull the weight of a larger set of cultural meanings.

The YouTube debates are one example in which users were able to “talk back” to the candidates and the media, but there are also other cases. One example is the “3-AM girl” who was in some stock footage used in an advertisement by the Clinton campaign, but then was able to post a response saying that she supported Obama. All of these cases are ways in which users have taken control of media and used the internet to talk back, taking control away from the usual media authorities.

In turn, existing media still does not go away, but rather takes on a new relationship to the internet and other media sources. Television broadcasts something, and this is reacted to on the internet, and is in turn broadcast out by television. There is a feedback cycle between blogs, YouTube, cable television, and national news and television.

Other Tidbits

On reality television: This has always had to do with ethics. While reality TV always focuses on conflict, or strives to create conflict, the conflict is ultimately about ethics. Characters have different ethics, and observers project their own values onto them. Jenkins explains that this is how some theorists have come to understand gossip: people project values onto characters, and talk about those characters to communicate their ethical values. In a sense, reality television is used by audiences to discuss their own ethics indirectly.

We were still discussing the eTV projects, in terms of exploring fictional worlds, specifically as relates to convergence, and an interesting point came up. Convergence is the process of revealing a fictional world through many different kinds of media. An example of how this works is when a franchise (for example, The Matrix) splits off into several media forms (beyond films: an animated series and some games), and while watching or consuming one form of media, there is a reference to something that occurs in the others. This sort of connecting process is an active function of the viewer, and helps build a better sense and knowledge of the fictional world. Jenkins called the sort of pleasure that results from this “epistemophilia,” which is a pleasure of knowing and connecting. Epistemophilia is associated with puzzles and transmedia works.

Epistemophilia is also conflicted with a different pleasure, the pleasure of immersion, even though the two are often confused. Immersion is the sense of being in a world and experiencing it viscerally. (Maybe I should call it “ontophilia”). Immersion is at odds with epistemophilia, which can be seen as a type of “spoiler” that undermines the sense of being. Immersion is normally associated with transparency and immediacy. To be in a fictional world, the media that exists between the user and the world must be overcome. On the other hand, with epistemophilia, the media is necessary. An epistemophilic desire is to take advantage of a medium in order to understand and piece together the world as an external observer. This can be done for instance with freeze frames in DVDs (to catch some subtle and impossible clue). Both of these desires relate to the relationship between the user, the medium, and the world.

Later, while discussing the advanced stories system, Jenkins warned us about the mechanics of fan fiction and interactive story systems. Character drives fan fiction. In this case, characters are used projectively: to explore values and idealizations. Branching narratives do not deal well with the complex matter of character motivation, which is what drives fan fiction. There could be branching narration (not narrative), which explores different perspectives. The culture of writing is compelled by character psychology. In rich environments and settings, the world is a character.

This last bit was somewhat troubling to me, though. My work is focused on adaptation of fiction, and is looking at Jane Austen specifically. Austen has a huge culture of recreation, and adaptation, much of which reads very much like fan fiction. However: my approach and focus has been on recreating the social world and model, rather than capturing the characters exactly. I could make the argument that real motivation is impossible without some social or cultural model (that expresses values), but I do not attempt to express the deep complexity of character. At least not yet, the essences and complexities of character are extremely hard to formalize.

Nonetheless, I did speak to him for a few minutes afterwards, in which I hurriedly (and possibly incoherently) explained my ideas, and he seemed to give me an endorsement, so that is a positive sign. Hooray!

Barbara Stafford comes to LCC!

[General,Talks] (10.26.08, 4:03 pm)

Last Thursday, Barbara Stafford came to visit LCC as part of our distinguished speaker series. I read her book Visual Analogy last year, although whether I understood it or not is a different matter entirely. Stafford’s background is in art history, although recently she has expanded into the study of the cognitive dimensions and neuroscience of images. Her talk had the quality of weaving in and out among a number of conceptual domains, putting together a complex web that related to a few specific themes.

Because I am boring and no fun, one of the things I am going to try to to is unravel Stafford’s carefully woven tapestry, and isolate her exploration into more explicit bullets and categories. My drive to do things like this may strike the more poetic minded as undercutting her message, but without finding a graspable end of the woven yarn, it is hard to get the message at all.

Stafford’s central theme in her talk is the notion of attentiveness. One of her goals is to devise a taxonomy of attentiveness. In the process of exploring the kinds of attentiveness, there are a few binary conflicts: Speed versus slowness, automaticity versus spontaneity, and focus versus attention. Her exploration weaves through each of these conflicts, valuing the virtues of slowness, spontaneity, and attentiveness. The last of these conflcits is perhaps the easiest to explain.

Attentiveness is not focus. It is related: a chiefly visual practice, but takes a different aim in mind. Attentiveness is embodied, whereas focus is disembodied. An observer is focused when engaged with something at a distance, and with a specific objective in mind. Attentiveness is aware of the subject in its surroundings. Attentiveness is has many channels, and makes use of emotion and the body. Attention encompases affectiveness and affection. Focus narrows both the observer and the object observed down to a single channel: The observer is a detached eye, and the observed is reduced into components and parts. The rhetoric of focus comes from many sources, and is found in a sort of postmodern criticism. Pathological focus is voyeuristic in nature: it is the subjugation of the heat of affective life to icy scrutiny.

Automaticity relates to focus. The rhetoric and language of automaticity emerged from cybernetics and computation. The converse of this is sponteneity, whose language comes from art and the life sciences, especially biology. Both automaticity and spontaneity are about reactions and behavior. The difference between the two reflects the difference between focus and attention. Automaticity is disembodied where sponteneity is embodied. Automaticity is about precision and correctness, where sponteneity is about naturalness and freedom. Automaticity is rational where sponeneity is emotional. Automaticity has infiltrated our lives through computation. Stafford explained, hearkening back to an argument that has been made since Heidegger, that while we transfer data to computers, computers transfer their way of thinking back to us. Cognitive science has been infiltrated with the language of automaticity, especially that which comes from economics: We talk about “cognitive productivity.” Parts of the brain or mind have been deregulated or privatized. Automaticity is a language of parts, sponteneity is a language of wholes.

The final binary separation is between speed and slowness. Computation and automaticity aims to reduce things in a way that make them more easily systematized and more efficiently computed. Movements in art have moved toward slowness. Slowness demands a certain hesitation, something which Stafford considers a lost concept. Slowness also encourages reflection, and awareness of circumstance. Much postmodern architecture encourages the aesthetic of speed: glass is used to reduce the time that is necessary to look at things. Stafford gave several examples of artists who used slowness as an aesthetic, but I was only able to capture two of them. One is a documentary by Steve McQueen, called Gravesend. The other artist is Andy Goldsworthy. Both of these artists encourage the viewer to slow down and reflect. Instead of emphasizing the degree of information that can be observed, more can be learned and understood through careful observation and attention.

Slowness, sponteneity, and attention are all the same kind of thing. The virtues are wholeness, affection, and living in the moment.

Stafford’s goal is to develop a taxonomy of attention. She explores these by examining several kinds of looks, all reminisent of certain kinds of attention. Stafford’s presentation made use of paintings, photographs, and some digitally edited photographs. The kinds of attention are represented both in the subjects of the images, but also are evidenced by our own reading of the images. Becaue I am a dork, I’m actually bulletizing these:

  1. What is a critical/diagnostic look?
    Critical observation and decision making have been studied in great detail in cognitive science. How we plan and select actions relates to a critical and spontaneous moment where the decision is actually made. This is about a moment, extending beyond focus.
  2. What is a comparative look?
    Comparision is beyond impulse or reflex, but about a slow consideration of alternatives.
  3. What is a sorrowful look?
    In studying affect, it is easy to cognitively understand simple emotions like pain and pleasure. However, these means of study are ineffective at comprehending deeper, more complex emotions. Stafford showed us Caravaggio’s Penitent Magdalene as an example. The emotions of the girl are more than simple categories can explain. Like other kinds of slow art, we understand more of it the more we observe.
  4. What is a ponderous look?
    Pondering relates to weight in the etymology of the word itself. A ponderous look reflects the weight of the subject being considered.
  5. What is a sweet look?
    One of the more interesting categories used Correggio’s Jupiter and Io. Stafford asked the interesting question: What makes us want to be in the moment? What makes us want to remain awake? This issue goes back to the deeper issue of desire. Sweetness relates to desire, touch, and longing. This is different from the lengthy focus of the voyeur, but is a different eroticized yearning, which is another mixed and complex emotion.
  6. What is an inattentive/distracted look?
    In contrast to some of the above, these are not complete. Inattentive or distracted looks have their own complexity. An inattentive look is about fading and drifting consciousness. It is not about identity or self, but how we inhabit or dwell in the self. Similarly, distraction is not about multitasking, but about dispersal. These looks reflect where our consciousness resides.

Janet Murray: How to Write a Book

[General,Talks] (10.09.08, 10:16 am)

Last Tuesday, Janet gave a good spiel on bookwriting. It is intended for us upcoming PhD students, and blends work on dissertations with actually writing a real honest to goodness book. I took pretty detailed notes, and, with her permission, figured I would put them online for safe keeping and for the world to see. Here is what I’ve got:

You should think of your PhD thesis as your first book. In humanities, you usually publish your dissertation, generally as a book, but sometimes through articles. You can think of chapters as papers. But, the worst thing to do is to publish other papers while working on your dissertation, because you should be investing your full time into writing the thesis itself.

When you think about your thesis as a book, the first thing to consider is: what other books are out there that are like the one you are writing? This should be easy because you’ve probably been reading tons of them. This is a good way to find a publisher. Also, when you read the books, make a note of who the author thanks in the preface. The author might thank an agent, but probably will thank an editor.

You should look for an agent or an editor. When you first publish, you will generally do so with an academic press, but when you have tenure, you should publish more generally.

In terms of contracts and proposals, for your first book, the publisher will expect you to have the book written. But, later, the process is a little different. After your first book, you will want to sign a contract to write the book. You will want to send a book proposal and one to three chapters. Explain in the proposal: what is new about what you are doing, who is your audience, and what other books are in this category.  When you articulate an audience, explain what categories of people might be interested in this book, for example: digital media students, people developing digital tabletops, people teaching and studying game design. The proposal should have some example chapters, but also an overview of the table of contents and a couple of sentences to describe each chapter.

It is important to look at what books have been published, and consider the editor who is responsible for those. You do not need to look at sales figures.

The first hurdle for publishing a book is to see the book as a business decision. The decision to accept something is different in the academic press than, for instance, the popular press or Hollywood. You should look at your book in terms of its value and who is likely to buy it. For example, libraries might buy it, school courses might buy it, it may be appropriate for certain conferences. Demographics are different intellectual groups: people who might teach courses or attend conferences. Some books in digital media have an interdisciplinary dimension, so they might be important for both an art schol and MIT.

Conferences are a great place to chat up publishers. Often times, the editor may actually be there personally. If someone from marketing is there, you should ask what is selling and make contacts.

You want to be fresh and new, but also grounded in an intellectual tradition. You want to appeal to the editor, and have the editor fight for you. You should show yourself as someone who can lay out a multi-chapter product. The book is a way for you to show your credentials as both a writer and an academic. Usually you will not make money from your first book. You should not have any expectation that book writing will be lucrative. You are doing this for the advancement of knowledge and to show yourself as a distinguished scholar.

There is a difference between academic and popular styles of writing. When you write more readably, the book will be more popular, but this invites criticism as an academic product. There is a recent trend among academics that has rewarded poor writing, but I think the fashion of obscurity and unreadability is going out of style. Similarly, you don’t want to write ham-handedly in an imitation of French playfulness. You don’t want to write like Marshall McLuhan in sound bytes.

Usually dissertations are written defensively, to show that you have read everything and thought of every possible objection imaginable. It is a credentializing ritual. This style of writing is far too paranoid and defensive for a book.  Publishers will usually reject a book proposal if it is a dissertation. Definitely do not tell the academic press that your book is your dissertation!! Or, if you do, say that it has been thoroughly rewritten!

Think about scope. What is a book sized chunk, versus what is a dissertation sized chunk, versus what is 10 years worth of work. For a book, you need to answer the question: why is this important for the world to know? For a dissertation, the question is more personal: what would I like to obsess about for four or five years? Your dissertation must be a contribution to knowledge that will not go out of date. The book is a work of scholarship, but asks a question meaningful to a wiser circle and it should be relevant beyond the degree.

You should not worry about someone else publishing the same research topic ahead of you. Your topic should not be so narrow or answerable that someone could beat you to it. If someone does publish ahead of you, you can build off their work, and use them as an example of why this field is so important. But it is unlikely that you will be working in the same way with the same approaches or conclusions.

A rough size metric for a book is 100,000 words, although there has been a trend recently to publish shorter and shorter books. Size really does not matter for books. Your book should have an integrity of argumentation. It should have a balance. The first chapter should be foundational (that is, the rest of your argument builds from it). Chapter titles should be precise. A common mistake is to make the chapter titles catchy and appealing, but this makes it seem like your argument is not well though out.

Writing is about design. Especially, work in our field is about clarifying design values. You should justify and contextualize elements of design. Be clear about what your values are. Understand that others will value things in your writing that you do not anticipate, or people from other backgrounds might get different meaning out of your work. Keep in mind your use of values and how you express those values. You are participating in a discourse of value.

Acknowledge the way a term is used in another discourse if you appropriate that term. When you use terms, you should define them. For instance, what do you mean by game or narrative? You should explain what gives you the authority to assign a definition to a term. You should acknowledge the definitions that others have given to the terms you use. A lot of academic terms have been monitized or abused to the point where they become meaningless. For example, emergence means “good,” given the way that it has been used recently. Carefully define terms if they are important for your work.

Steven Johnson is a good example of a writer who is popular, but also suitably academic. His writing is not tenurable, but it is academically sophisticated. Another example is the articles in the New Yorker, which is an educated and sophisticated discourse. For example, their article on John Stuart Mill.

Regarding the process of writing the thing: For a book, you can’t do an all nighter, or an all weeker. You need a sustained process. A writer’s group would help. You can meet to mark progress, or just to unwind. Writing is a lonely activity, so a social goup helps. What is best is to write every day. Research shows that success is more likely if you write every day than in long isolated periods over each month. You should write in short periods over time to sustain continuity. Write no more than four hours at maximum. Keep a journal to keep track of yourself. Self tracking is important.

But the most crucial bit is this: When you stop writing for the day, write down notes for where you are and what you are going to do next. This will help you from getting lost when you start back up again.

The best writing comes from throwing out your most cherished phrases. If you cut something, you can paste it into a new file, and just save everything that has been cut so that it is not lost. This dull the pain from having to throw out your ideas. This way, you might be able to refer back to the things that you cut, but in practice you probably won’t after a couple of days.

Often, when you’re writing, you come up with a great idea that you want to come back to. What you should do is to put in an asterisk which you can search for later. Start a new document, or write separately as another project. When you are writing it is much more important to continue and finish rather than generating new ideas. So, you should keep track of your new ideas, but you do not want to explore those ideas within the book you are already writing. Sometimes it is useful to have multiple projects going at once, so when you are blocked on one, you can move on to another. Sometimes when you write, you will encounter some question that makes it seem like you cannot continue until that question is resolved. When you get blocked, you should put the blocking forces into their own space. Then turn back and continue on what you need to finish.

Mark Turner on Conceptual Blending

[General,Talks] (10.04.08, 8:29 pm)

On Thursday, distinguished cognitive scientist Mark Turner visited campus and gave a great lecture on conceptual blending. I was a little familiar with this from Fox Harell’s work, but Turner’s lecture was very revealing on the cognitive roots of conceptual blending.

The gist of it works like this: Human cultural development only really began recently in our evolutionary development. For 800,000 years on earth, biological humans used the same stone tools in the same way without variation. It is only extremely recently, in the past 50,000 years, that our range of potential behaviors began to expand. But: it began to expand dramatically. Turner’s point of interest is that humans began to develop culture and language, but it is bewildering to understand how and why they exist.

So, the real question is how we form new concepts, and create new behaviors. Turner’s solution to this is conceptual blending, specifically double-scope blending, which can combine two conceptual domains (which are in conflict), and produce a new and unique conceptual domain, where new meanings can be made. This idea is great, but it is necessary to pull back to a couple of interesting ideas that are touched on.

One is that a conceptual domain, or a frame, can be much more broad and general. Turner gave examples of memories, structured expressions in language, and also physical engagement. These have the properties of conceptual models. The other thing about models is that the types of models represented here are not abstract and propositional, but they are embodied (generally) and procedural. Thought involves running a model, or simulating it. Mammals have the capacity to simulate models: think of playing fetch with a dog. A dog can catch all manner of objects flying through the air. Some sort of mental calculation is taking place, and it is easily argued that this is an execution of an embodied model. so this modeling is a very basic and intrinsic ability.

A conceptual blend occurs when there are two conflicting conceptual frames or models at work in a situation. Turner noted that there is a capacity for humans to hold two different frames of thought in mind simultaneously. When he did this, I immediately thought back to AI and cognitive architectures focused around planning. Generally, these only define one sort of cognitive frame, and have difficulty when modeling two thoughts at once. Examples of multiple thoughts are thinking of memories and going about everyday tasks. Some work has been done regarding this recently, but I’ll get into that later. The point is that it is a complete departure from the models of commonly used AI.

What is interesting about conflicts in models is that they are not mentally discouraged, they instead trigger thought. This is especially the case in children, who learn concepts and combine them very rapidly during development. In a double-scope blend, the two domains must be in conflict. For instance, a good example that Turner mentioned is Harold and the Purple Crayon. The story combines two domains: drawing with a crayon, and the physical world. The trick is that anything Harold draws becomes real. So, these domains are immediately in conflict, because, we know (and kids know too) that things that are drawn do not become real. That is the blend that occurs in this domain, though. Elements from the domain of drawing, and from the domain the physical world are selectively combined. New meanings and properties emerge that are totally new, for example: Harold wants to get home, and sees the moon in the sky, and remembers that he can see the moon from his window. When he draws a window around the moon, suddenly he is home. This logic is magical, but it is absolutely consistent with the model formed by the blend.

The topic of conceptual blending is of limited use in the simulation work that I am trying to do, but it is very useful from the perspective of understand how real people might make sense of models represented within a simulation game, and apply those to the external world. It also does something to explain the value of adaptations in general. You can think of a fictional artifact as defined by a model, which is a blend of two things: the model of the medium, and the underlying model that defines the work. An adaptation should take that underlying model, and combine it with a new model that is the new medium. An individual’s interpretation of a work is going to form a new blend, though, which will be between the individual’s experience, and the perceived work. When we account for the idea of individual and cultural interpretations, we can have a new model, which is a blend of the interpretations of a community. This idea is running away with the idea of conceptual frames that Turner originally defined, which are all internal, much smaller and more precise, but it is a reasonable direction for thought.

It would be good to think more about formal and computational models for conceptual blending. I kept wanting to ask Mark Turner about computational models when he was taking questions, and then realized that is exactly what Fox Harrell‘s dissertation is all about. That would be good reading material. Relating blending to AI, is a major topic in Jichen Zhu‘s dissertation as well.

Michael Mateas visit

[General,Talks] (08.20.08, 7:27 pm)

Michael Mateas visited today, and gave a presentation about his Expressive Intelligence Studio at USC. The project is about automated game design, which is interesting, since that was one of the original goals of my MS research, before I turned it into a space generation thing. Basically, this idea is something that would support formal game studies by exposing and finding new ways to put together mechanics. It also encourages thought about design at a meta level, reasoning about types of mechanics and how they can be put together. The existing work doesn’t do much yet, but it looks like it might yield some interesting results.

The work involves four layers of work:

  1. Game mechanics: State and state evolution. The actual mechanisms by which state is represented and can advance are part of a larger meta-model.
  2. Concrete representation: Audio, visual elements that represent the mechanics to the player.
  3. Thematic content: Real world references, common sense associations. This makes the game meaningful outside of a purely symbolic context.
  4. Control mappings: User interaction and verbs.

The starting point for the EIS lab was to look at the thematic content, which is arguably the hardest part of the problem. This bit has to make meaningful associations between game mechanics and the underlying concepts. For instance, if the game is about chasing, the player can either chase or be chased, and whatever is being chased must be something that someone would have reason to chase. The associations here were defined via Open Min, ConceptNet, or WordNet. I forget exactly which combination of these was used. The goal was to enforce consistency in game mechanics with the thematic concepts. The result of this was unfortunately rather messy and somewhat absurd in a lot of cases, due to conceptual slippage.

The more interesting area of work I found was in the reasoning about the mechanics themselves. This was done via event calculus, which has been described very effectively by Eric Mueller. The event calculus can reason about events, states, and can be used under the hood to restrict the types of states that can be reached by a given set of game mechanics. Essentially, the calculus can be used to define a suite of invariants, almost like unit tests, and test these on a given set of mechanics, allowing a designer or an automated tool to modify the mechanics quickly and find out whether the invariants are met.

Food for further investigation.