Thoughts

Gamedev-themed game plays with the minds of “pirates”

Just beautiful – read the story. I might buy the game (although not my genre) just because of this.

What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?

Lethetic and Alethetic: two sides of Fantasy

Learned a new word today. Actually, two.

  • Lethetic: failing to mirror reality, therefore purely escapist or nonsensical.
  • Alethetic: non-lethetic, therefore mirroring reality, often indirectly (e.g., allegories).

These two terms are now very dear to me – this is because they map, in my opinion, two different types of Fantasy literature that I have encountered but didn’t have the right words to categorise (apart from crappy vs good – not very articulate, wouldn’t you agree).

Lethetic fantasy, for me, would be a shallow type of reading: maybe even well written and with a good story, but it’s unlikely it will stick in my mind, or warrant a re-read. The cycle of Landover from Terry Brooks would probably fit the bill, apart maybe from the first book, as well as quite a few bestsellers (that’s the sad part). Plus a huge amount of self- and traditionally- published books that don’t achieve any renown.

Alethetic fantasy would be a book that has something to say, that tries to uncover (through the mind of the author) an aspect of reality. We’d probably be better off reading an essay to get an academic sense of a political, sociological, anthropological aspect of humanity. But fiction reaches deeper within. Studying the Problem of Evil is all good, makes for a tedious (if intellectually challenging) effort. Reading a book that allegorically shows the different arguments within the Problem and their real-world consequences would hit much closer to the target – and it’s also, usually, much more memorable. It stimulates our emotional intelligence and only later our rationality – exactly the opposite of academic writing. A clear, well-known example of this type of fantasy is Tolkien’s LotR of course, but also LeGuin’s Earthsea and many, many others.

In this context, new fantasy readers would do well to focus their efforts on the second type – notwithstanding the need for a good story, or the read would only be boring (better an academic essay, at that point).

If you thing fantasy literature is shallow and childish, you probably have only read lethetic books. Please do some research and find something better in the alethetic category. It’s worth it.

What is “Fun” in a game?

I love the following definition of fun, as I find it matches perfectly my own game experiences. You can find the original reference here, with link to the MSc thesis of the person making this conjecture:

[…] enjoyment is based more on proximity to a performance “sweet spot” just past the win/loss threshold rather than on learning effects. Combining my results with Kevin Burns’ information-theoretic model for enjoyment , I conject that “fun” is based on goal-satisfaction under the conditions that the desired outcome is uncertain.

This is very important to know when designing a game. MUDs I use to play come to my mind: even though they were technically simple, they managed to hook generations of kids (and “less kids”) for years, hours over hours every day, just because they wanted to reach a final goal (being the most powerful, usually, but also social power in certain cases, or ascending to “Immortal-level”, ie becoming part of the MUD staff).

That was only one side of it of course: whenever the game administators decided to make certain goals more accessible (for example by probabilistically uniforming all combat styles, such that whatever style you choose would bring you, eventually, to perfect parity with any other opponent), usually many players stopped having fun and left. Same goes for promoting people to staff level too freely: they abandoned the game quickly after.

It’s a good lesson, one many game administrators know by heart maybe, but repetita iuvant doesn’t it?

Things every wanna-be game designer/developer should know

Game Design 101 by Tom Sloper

Very funny and thoughtful series of advice, divided in more than 80 “lessons”, on the common pitfalls of young chaps with a strong will to make their own game.. or so they think.

‘Cause the will, the determination, easily withers when faced with the reality of making a proper game. Read carefully!

An excerpt on why you won’t get other people (programmers, artists or whatever) do most of the work for you just because you had the Fantastic Idea:

Pretend for a moment that you have a great idea for a novel, not a game. How would you go about getting it written and published? Would you go to a bulletin board and advertise looking for an author to write it for you? No, you would have to get off your butt and write it yourself. I have heard that a friend of Frank Herbert (author of Dune) asked Herbert to author the friend’s idea and split the profits 50/50. Herbert refused, even though the guy was a good friend — Herbert’s reply was basically that ideas are easy; the writing is the hard part. Think about it for a minute — would YOU want to have a friend come up to you, tell you a few sentences, then have you spend months hunched over a keyboard turning his few sentences into the Great American Novel? I doubt it. If you did spend months writing that book, would you want to give half of the money to that guy? I don’t think so.

Evolution of humans: random thoughts

In reply to a question on the discussion forums of this Coursera course: Introduction to Genetics and Evolution. Check it out.

Evolution is just change over time. It can be good or bad, it can also make the individuals unfit to the environment they live in.

This is because the driving force of evolution (the main one, in Nature) is natural selection (survival of the fittest). This makes us think that “Evolution makes species better”, because in our point of view (we are animals, after all) surviving as long and as healthy as possible is a “good thing”. We put morality over the evolutionary process.

Think about dog breeding. There is another force, stronger than natural selection: human intervention. We let reproduce only dogs that have the feature (or a part of the feature) we want the final breed to have. This regardless of how fit the final dog will be in his environment, ie regardless of how many years he will live and how many illnesses he’ll be catching.

The final result might be the dog we wanted (eg, pink-colored, with pointy ears and small as a mug), that will maybe leave 5-6 years with plenty of tumors, heart problems and the such.

Now, back to the humans. In our case it’s exactly the opposite of dog breeding. We are reducing, over time, the power of natural selection (even the “unfit” survive, and we all fight daily to make this happen), we luckly do not have artificial selection (some bad guys in the past had this idea though, I guess you know who am I talking about).

If you want, you can still talk about “human evolution”, in the sense that humans change over the generations (for example, there might be temporary “unintentional artificial selections”, where only super-nerds get to marry and make children and the super-muscled are left alone because of a TV series…but that’s not going to last long enough to actually make a difference And it differs from country to country, anyway).

The truth is that we are just “accumulating mutations”, because the selective pressures are all flattened out. Where this will lead us, we can only guess.

My bet is that we’ll soon be able to modify most of our genomes, making us fitter than ever (I’d like to live a couple of thousand years, for example, being able to run a marathon the month before I die). But it’s only my hope.

If only humans were as good-natured as animals..

..what a wonderful world would it be!

  • we would often be commiting infanticide for the sake of our lineage
  • we would be defining strict hierarchies where only two individuals are allowed to reproduce, or where the male has a harem of several females and fights hard any competitors
  • we would have males poisoning their female “soul mate”, but since she’d do the same with a stronger poison these males would inevitably die
  • we would have males beating their females and going with little armies to kill nearby groups of the same species or of other species, you know, the one that only thinks about sex
  • we would be committing suicide, either alone or “kamikaze style”

and plenty of other funny and lovely things!

On a more serious note

I know the common objection to this. “They cannot choose”, “It’s their nature” and so on. What really does bug me is that people aren’t able to see that we humans are actually an improvement, because we can choose and we can define our own “nature”, which becomes culture- and ratio-based instead of strictly genetic/impulsive.

Ethics can be defined, followed, enforced by law. All the bad things I listed, that indeed have been proudly performed by many humans and still cause suffering to a lot of people in the world, can be made forbidden or depicted as despicable, thus reducing them statistically.

In some of the cited articles, you may read explanations of why animals do such bad things. Sometimes had been indeed proved that those behaviours increase their probability, as a species, to survive.

I don’t know if you noticed, but the important thing seems to be the “species” when talking about animals. Not the “individual”.

Would you really like that? We have been constructing abstract wrappings around pain and suffering (as well as good feelings) for thousands of years, but you know: also animals suffers. When a male lion kills a pup, his mother (maybe, I don’t know) suffers but the pup suffers more, before dying. It’s physical suffering, which is really bad.

I guess it’s also worse when they starve to death or are plagued by different kind of damn diseases.

Would you like that to happen to you, your family, your friends? Don’t you see how humans, yet despicable on many areas, are actually an improvement for the individual, regardless of the species?

For me the individual is important, what I feel, what I want, and the same for the people near me: the more “far away” they are, the less I care. And that’s pretty normal: we’d die in a minute if we cared about all problems affecting people worldwide.

A lot still has to be done, on the ethical and technological side, to build a really safe and enjoyable world for us and our beloved.

For sure, the wrong way is that of be willing to go back to tribal societies, reviving our animal instincts, because animals are soooo cute and they are full of love while we are just reckless filthy humans.

Go down from the trees, ethical-driven humans! Your modern society needs you. Well educated, conscious and rational.