Game/Mental State pt.1

How much of our mental state can be extrapolated from observing the game state? I intend on finding out. Part 1.

Consider the problem of complexities, which I've defined as the rules, parameters, stats, and data of a system. Each complexity describes a specific element of a system, which cannot necessarily be compressed, or conveyed more quickly than one at a time. In other words, every rule must be learned individually. Unlike timing challenges that can be understood visually or expressed on a timeline; unlike dexterity requirements that are greatly limited by the game and controller type; and unlike reflexes and adaptation skills that tend to be stressed in a natural way, complexities are more varied.

In a game, there are generally far more knowledge stressing complexities than challenges that stress the other 4 facets of DKART skills combined. Controls can be mastered. Your reflexes can be sharpened. You can get used to the range of timings in a game and the style of adaptation needed. But you'll likely never come close to learning most of a game's complexities. Even if you design and program a game yourself, the more dynamic it is, the number of emergent possibilities skyrockets. It took super computers years to work out every possible emergent possibility in the relatively simple (turn basesd) game Checkers. And now, the knowledge base is so strong, that the player with such knowledge can never lose. Even against an equally skilled opponent at least a draw game is guaranteed. Read more about it here. Never forget that knowledge is power.

The rules of a game down to the most minute detail (like frame data) helps players refine all their skills across the skill spectrum. This only makes sense when you think about it. Video games are systems of arbitrary rules. When attempting to reach the goal, the better you understand all the rules the better you can strategize and interact. Understanding involves comprehension. Comprehension involves analyzing or processing data. And these steps inherently involve remembering or memorization. 


Donkey Ko(n)gs?


If you've ever tried to memorize anything in your life, you know how difficult it can be. We tend not to have the computer like ability to store information directly into our long term memories at will. Whether for work or play, memorization is commonly a long process filled with repetition. So if learning the rules/complexities of a video game is essential for reaching the goal, then winning is closely tied to our knowledge skills. You can begin to see the dilemma. 

But what if we got rid of complexities in a video game, or at least kept them to a minimum? Well, without complexities all video game gameplay would be reduced to simple, raw, and/or shallow skill based exercises. The 4 DKART games I designed with my brother (KNOWLEDGEDEXTERITYTIMINGREFLEX) are examples of games designed to test one's raw skills. And though these games are fun and instructive, the video game medium needs so much more.

It is through the arbitrary complexities of a game that life is abstracted and personalized through the lens of the creator(s). By creating the rules and defining the interactions, we get to see and feel the JUMP that Miyamoto thinks best defines Mario. It's the complexities that shape the interaction which creates the experiences that make Zelda different from Mario and from Halo and every other video game. Complexities are what make games more than just a series of button presses, or a series of skill based challenges. Complexities set the foundation for the range and type of expression possible in a game.

So we must have at least some complexities in our games. Some games do well with a few. Others do comparatively little with tons. Regardless, to deal with the wealth of information in games we gather information through the senses and store that data in our STM. From here we analyze the information and determine whether or not it should be discarded or stored into muscle memory (MM) or long term memory (LTM). For MM, repetition is required. For LTM we use repetition and code the information via emotion, pictures, categories, etc.  Though our mental process is mysterious even to scientists today, what if we could learn more about our minds by observing the games we play?

What if we could tell when a player has filed his/her STM, is coding/decoding information, and when he/she has stored it into LTM just by looking at the game screen? How much of our mental state can be extrapolated from observing the game state? I intend on finding out. Explaining and testing this idea will take, without a doubt, my entire understanding of game designed outlined on this blog to date. 

Here's my reasoning process explained using sub categories of knowledge skills:

  • If we, humans, can only story 7+ 2 bits of information in our STM at any given time, we can use this number as threshold for defining information in our STM versus our LTM. For example, if you play a game in such a way that requires knowing 15 bits of information at once, we can assume that about 8 of those bits are stored in LTM. 
  • For any given gaming challenge (or series of challenges), we can breakdown the challenge based on component gameplay elements and by how many complexities are required to succeed. When a new/learning player makes a mistake, if the other 4 facets of DKART skills are minimized we can assume that the number of complexities in the challenge have exceeded his/her STM capacity. 
  • When the challenge is completed, we can measure the amount of data in the player's LTM based on the design of the level.

The final piece of my reasoning requires a new theory I devised. Before, I thought that memories/data was either stored in our STM or LTM (exclude MM and the subconscious from the discussion). But after observing my own mind and thoughts as I pushed myself to earn gold medals in Donkey Kong Country Returns's time attack mode, I now think that as we convert data from STM to LTM it exists in neither place. In other words, coding/decoding information is not like transferring a file from one folder on your computer to another. It's more like emailing a file, deleting it, switching computers, and downloading it. In the interim while you switch computers, you have no direct access to the information.

In part 2, I'll present several gaming examples and drive the the topic home by explaining several phenomenon you're highly likely to have experienced. 

Keep those Ko(n)gs turning. 

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