Playing Games with the Sandbox

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“Those who fear the games often compare them to television.  Game players almost never make this analogy.  When they try to describe the games in terms of other things, the comparison is more likely to be with sports, sex, or meditation.  Television is something you watch.  Video games are something you do, something you do to your head, a world that you enter, and, to a certain extent, they are something you ‘become’.”  – Video Games and Computer Holding power, Turkle

When we embark upon a journey into the world of a video game or any game for that matter Turkle is right in saying that these games are something that we “become”.  We live in them for a time as we explore the world and rules of play associated with our game of choice.  As we live there we begin to close ourselves off from the possibilities of other worlds.  This can happen slowly or quickly depending on the intensity of our engagement, individual agency, and awareness of the possibilities outside of the game but even the most mild exploration means that at least a few of the 86400 seconds allotted to you in a given day will be spent in that world.  There is nothing wrong with this in fact it is the nature of deciding to do something or make a commitment that you will have to give up the chance to do something else.  Full engagement in the game of the moment is perhaps even necessary but it is important to in some way remain aware to the influence of factors beyond your games set of rules and be willing to engage with those uncomfortable moments when your games rule book seems to be torn up.

’You caught the glass before it hit the floor.  You teleported it back into your hand.’
‘Look, buster,’ she said grimly, ‘quit kidding yourself.  They’re watching all the time.  They play little tricks like that.  Anything for a laugh.’
She rose, laughing at him, but there was a strangeness in her laughing.
‘You don’t give yourself a chance,’ he told her.  ‘You are so horribly afraid of being laughed at.  You’ve got to be a wise guy.’
‘Thanks for the drink’ she said.
‘But, Maxine—‘
‘Come up and see me sometime.’
‘Maxine!  Wait!’
But she was gone.
-Immigrant, Simak

You can choose to ignore these moments of discomfort.  You can choose to disengage and retreat quickly to a place of comfort but if you’re ever interested in advancing to the next game or perhaps beginning to understand the larger set of rules that govern the next level of play our readings from this semester seem to indicate that you need to revel in those uncomfortable moments.  You need to stare that discomfort in the face.

“See it for what it is-as one picks up a strange object from one’s back yard and gazes directly at it” – The loss of the Creature, Percy

You need to do your best to soak up as much information as your limited senses can gather while it lasts.

“There was no describing it, no way to describe it—you felt as well as saw it.  It was a part of you and a part of the universe and a part of everything you’d ever known or dreamed.  It seemed to thrust extensions out into un-guessed time and space and it had a sense of life and the touch of comfort and the feel of home.  Yet, when he looked again, he sensed a simplicity that did not square with his first impressions.” – Immigrant, Simak

The moments of discomfort will pass.  They need to in order for you to recover and during those periods of recovery you may find yourself realizing that the world in which you thought you lived has a new twist on it now.  You have actually become aware of a new game at a new level with a new but eerily similar set of rules.

“And what does it take to advance along the evolutionary road beyond the high tide of my own race of Earth? Not mere intelligence alone, for that is not enough” – Immigrant, Simak

Isolated intelligence is a waste.  The OED defines the word Intelligence as “The faculty of understanding” which is only useful if coupled with drive, motivation, eagerness, curiosity, passion, or some similar faculty that encourages the individual to apply their intelligence to the confusing and contradictory signs that continuously surround us all.  It is the application of intelligence in your current world that might let you uncover something.

“I may have the answer—the answer that you’re awaiting back on Earth.  But I can’t tell it to you.  It’s something that can’t be told.  It’s a thing that each one must find out for himself.  And the pity of it is that Earth is not really equipped to find it out.  It is not a lesson that is often taught on Earth” – Immigrant, Simak

Perhaps Bishop is right and self-exploration of both the internal and external nature will never result in the evolutionary leaps we can’t even dream of until we are willing to lay down in our own backyards and explore with the passion and genuine curiosity of an infant until our exploration leads us to a clue about that next level we seem to be seeking.  At that point, if we can view that clue through truly new eyes as Walker Percy tries to explain we might, just might, be able to extract a bit of the real meaning from the experience and move a bit closer to a more holistic understand of that larger game we each play from start to finish in our own unique ways.

Getting it Right

An excerpt from the introduction to Tim Berners-Lee’s The World-Wide Web in “The New Media Reader:

“The ACM Hypertext conference was probably right to reject Tim Berners-Lee’s paper about the Web in 1991, reducing the announcement of this earth-shattering system to a poster session, just as it was probably right for the technologically inferior Web to eat alive those “superior” hypertext systems talked about at the ACM Hypertext conference”

A friend and coworker who is pursuing a PhD is Mechanical Engineering made a admission to me that what shocked him the most about the conference he just attended was the fact there was lots of nodding, agreeing, and smiling from the general audiences when it was wildly apparent to those who chose to look that 95% of the participants had no idea about how to even begin following the topics that were being presented.

Before hearing this anecdote I was wondering how any panel, conference, committee, or review panel could miss something that would have as large of an impact as the Web.  After reading Tim Berners-Lee’s paper I no longer fault the judges.

How difficult is it to convey the potential of your black box to an audience and panel of biased judges who all bring their own agendas to the table?  Can you ever hope to convey the potential importance of what you have discovered under a time constraint to people whose time is limited?  It’s hard and it seems that the most effective way to tell them is to show them and simply “make” the web the “superior” hypertext system.  It makes you question the ability for the Panel of Judges to actually judge.  Is it possible for them to peer into the potential and accurately assign the awards to the deserving party or does the badge of honor in academia simply go to the student who best fit the criteria.

When you are graded for compliance with the rubric your scope is limited and you are penalized for extraneous exploration.  Can you create a rubric for real innovation?  Some are trying.  Is creating the rubric counter-productive for encouraging innovation?  Can we really quantify innovation or just the steps that have seemed to historically lead to innovation and will the next big leap follow those steps?

Tunnel Vision

Is it our vision of the future that shapes what the future becomes?

The Cell phone is common Place.  The Tricorder is underdevelopment and according some quick Google search results Scotty might (conceptually) be able to beam us up in the foreseeable future.

A great question that Bret Victor raises however is: Are we limited by these visions of the future?  He wants to know why all (current) visions of the future depict technology as reliant on “behind the glass pictures”.  Why are we having difficulty re-imagining a future communication/interaction platform that takes complete advantage of our bodies capabilities instead of limiting us to the tips of our fingers detaching our interactions from the rich feedback environment of the tactile?

Rules: the TWO Sets

This world in which we lived is governed by a set of rules.  Or perhaps more accurately two different set of rules.  The first set of rules is a set of facts that we have come to understand about the physical world in which we exist.  These are often called the Laws of Nature and they include: “Newton’s law of gravitation, his three laws of motion, the ideal gas laws, and the four laws of thermodynamics to name a few.  The second set of the rules are the ones that we have structured to govern society.  This second set of rules, I would like to believe, have been created in an attempt to help us live more harmoniously with one another.

There is a difference between the two.  The first set has been discovered, and our attempts to more deeply understand this set while occasionally transforming our understanding of how the world works ultimately bring us to a more complete image of how the universe works.  These rules are hard and un-yielding (unless we are pushing our understanding of them).  For example if don’t respect the power of a river you might try to cross a swift deep river on foot.  If you aren’t aware of foot entrapment and get snagged by an undercut rock or hole you might be quickly pushed under the surface.  The river doesn’t care who you are, what you have done, or what you plan to do.  She doesn’t care that you might have a family at home who depends on you to bring food back to the table.  You didn’t respect her power and now you are in a deadly situation that will resolve itself in minutes without some type of outside help.

The second set of rules have been created in an attempt to govern, control, direct, manage, organize, simplify, and administrate  for the convenience of all those involved in the system.  As our understanding of the world evolves our second set of laws seem to expand, intertwine, and transform into an ever more complicated set of “Laws” that are enforced by humans.  These rules can be broken by some but not by others, are enforced at times and not at others.  This is essential because our attempt to develop an inclusive set of rules is always limiting and there are exceptions.  When you but up against these laws a genuine smile and honest interest in the person across the counter may determine whether your parking ticket is enforced or waved.  Never forget that the person on the other side of the counter is just that a “person” yet they have the power in that situation.

In Simak’s “Immigrant” earth finds itself encountering another race that is just a bit ahead of us humans and a lucky few are invited to join them on their home planet where a human quickly finds their understanding of how the world works unraveling at the edges.  The Kimonians seem to have gained a much deeper understanding of the first set of rules and in doing so have been able to eliminate many of the second set, or at least on a level that people interacting with our current understanding can grasp.  In this world the human is required to live by the physical laws of nature but this time another tangible being can occasionally hold the strings on when to enforce our limited understanding of those laws and when to intervene in an attempt to maintain a more harmonious Kimonity.

It leaves a human wondering how he could gain an understanding at that level.  It could be learned, perhaps it’s a current limit on our ability to perceive.

“But it wouldn’t be a school—at least not the kind of school he’d ever known before”

“You’ll want to get up early” said the cabinet “so you aren’t late to school”

The Sandbox

Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer have some great insights into how the design on an online environment should be structured, organized, and managed.

“Detailed central Planning is impossible; don’t even try”

The suggestion is to build a framework and then simply let others operate within those walls.  Screw together the 2×6’s and then truck in the sand and turn the kids loose.  You mission to build the castle may never be realized but thousands of grander and more meaningful adventures will be had without the castle.  I might go so far as to say that the creation of the castle may limit the adventures that will be had afterwards.

Got a few minutes?…..Why not try playing a bit closer to the walls of the sandbox than your used to.  Thanks to Google and Kas Thomas I can share with you this beautiful trick.

Copy and paste the following line in to your address bar right now and hit enter:


If you’re using Firefox right click on the page and select Inspect Element (Q) option and there you have it.  You have uncovered a shovel in the sand.  Have fun digging and let me know what you uncover in the comment bar.