Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Game is theory is life

[The following text practically wrote itself; when I started, I wanted to write something about Star Trek Online and my motivation to get into it. Well, it became something completely different!]

My main motivation to buy and sink time into Elite: Dangerous is the prospect of virtual reality, a seamless world in which you have "presence", to avoid the over-used term of "immersion". This is achieved by not only having a limited stage to operate on, the cockpit, but you can actually leave your ship, walk around and mount another vehicles at your leasure, and you can walk anywhere where you could realisticly do so. "Second Life" was one of those attempts, and basically all modern MMORPGs try to give you this illusion.

Once you are "present", you can bring gameplay to a whole different level. You are not pushing pebbles on a board, you are not manipulating some colourful sprites on a screen anymore. You actually try to simulate, and thereby you come closer to what game theory is about than anything before. What is this? Games are for children and not for grown-ups! Dear old fashioned colleague, please arrive in the 21st, no, the 20th Century. Actually, according to wikipedia, game theory already started to appear in the 18th century.

Game theory is a study of strategic decision making. Decision making can be regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge. Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

 - a two-player generalization via a decision tree (courtesy from wikipedia)

Still follow me? Yes? So why on earth are computer games looked down upon? Can´t you see their potential still?

This is probably why I immerse myself so extremely into some particular games. This is probably also why most games start to bore me after some time; at a certain point there is no knowledge anymore to be gained. The system is fully explored and you learned everything to learn about in its limited simulative scope. So, you are looking for a new game, preferably one with a wider scope, because you want to learn more, you want to know and understand everything, not only rationally, but by feeling and experience. Every parent knows that children do not learn by listening; they learn by experience and by copying. And we know in the meanwhile that you actually never stop learning.

This yearning to learn, for experience, transcends any distinction between recreation and work, between "useful" skills for your job, your survival, and skills which help you experience and understand your place in the world. It transcends the difference between science and art, between a mathematic formula and poetry, between a diploma and satisfaction.

During all those years with computer games, I learned a lot. About achieving goals in a certain defined system. About the need to have a defined system in order to have and be able to achieve goals. About human behaviour in a defined system, applied game theory on human social behaviour. About how to deal with a lot of humans, how they come together for a common goal, how to deal with myriads of deviating motivations of each individual, how to stick to a cause in order to get what you want, even though it does not immedeately correspond to your motivation and many people around you annoy you without end. How to, in the end, come back to yourself and find out what you want for yourself and what makes you happy in this world.

There are some guys who invested over 5.000 bucks into Elite: Dangerous. Crazy, hm? What does this guy state about it:  "Just the sheer joy of exploration and expanding the boundaries of your mind. The door for an open-minded me was unlocked. I strongly believe that I became a successful business man because of it." He played Elite as an 8-year old; an age where many parents would consider computer games a devil´s tool, to be kept from children lest they become mentally dumb, socially incompetent and addicted.

There is only one mistake to be avoided, and this applies in general; do not stick to something when you actually realize that it is time to move on, be it the tool of a computer game or "real life". It is the same for every novel medium. If you play a game, have a good idea about what you want and a plan for it before you actually start playing. And if you do not do this, then use the game to learn to do it.

tl; dr
Playing computer games is directly linked, more than ever in any kind of game before, to an implicit understanding of the process of acquiring knowledge. Not only memorizing, say, dates in history, or a particular skill set, say, grammar. It is about familarity with the process of gaining knowledge and a tool for an instinctive analysis of your place in this world. Take it on, use it, assimilate it, and move onwards on your path to enlightenment.

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