Why Not Games




City: Communication Through Systems

Written: 2017-01-30

The past couple of weeks have been all about fleshing out the second story a little. This is work that needs to be done, and is fun and satisfying to do, but not particularly interesting to read or write about. So, I'm going to take the moment to write some more about something that I've talked about before and am certainly going to talk about again, communication through systems.

Communication Through Systems

Traditional media of communication, such as writing or television, inherently force their message into a linear narrative as their consumption is inherently linear. This makes it hard for them to express certain kinds of nuance.

A good entry point to the argument that I want to make here is to look at math textbooks. Mathematics is not a narrative, it's a system. It's not enough to simply know that 5*5=25, you need to understand why that is in order to extrapolate that knowledge to other problems. It's not enough to know the answer to any individual problem, you need to know how to derive the answer to problems that you have not seen before. Ideally, it's not even enough to know how to derive the solution to one class of problems, you should learn how to derive solutions to classes of problems that you have not seen before.

To do this, textbooks give you problems that you have to work out yourself. Solving these problems changes the manner of the narrative from linear to systemic. By working through the steps of a math problem, I'm able to understand the workings of that particular system and so solve new problems trivially.

Essentially, I am trying to say that a textbook is a fundamentally different medium from a novel. The existence of problems and their associated interactivity fundamentally change the reading experience so as to make understanding the underlying system easier. This doesn't mean that you cannot express a system through a linear narrative though, it just states that it is more natural for interactive media. It's easier for a story to state that you should never give up than that there are cases where you should stick to something that isn't working out and cases where you should just cut your losses.

An interesting way to look at this argument is to note that a flat statement is actually a system. I will define a system here as something that takes in a bunch of parameters and returns a result. So, the statement "Never give up" is a system built to answer the question "Should I give up?", takes no parameters and always returns the answer no. The statement "Give up if you think that the potential reward is not commensurate with the expected effort." is another system that can answer the question, but is one with more nuance and higher complexity.

Part of that complexity comes from the follow up questions that the statement begs. The questions of how one is supposed to quantify potential rewards and expected effort are difficult to answer as is determining a conversion rate between these quantities. A system to describe the latter statement requires subsystems to answer these questions if it is to be meaningful at all.

The Quiet Sleep

The Quiet Sleep is about giving you a system to think about how you think. It's about building out a system to represent the decision making around taking the actions that you take in a given day. Hopefully, having a framework to think about this will help people actually think about this and so, again hopefully, this will build acceptance both from other people and from yourself.

In particular, this game emphasizes the impact of emotions on your ability to function and speaks on the importance of working with them and giving them time.

It's worth noting however, that this is a system written by an individual and that individual is me. Just because I believe something to be true, that doesn't mean that it is true or that it is helpful for other people to believe. One of the key parts of this game is that people can lose control due to happiness just as much as they can from anger or sadness. This is a thing that I believe in, I've personally made mistakes due to getting carried away with a positive feeling and I think that's an important thing to communicate. However, is the idea that you should be wary of your own happiness something that you personally want to believe in? I can't answer that question for you.

Homework

It feels necessary to end this article with a couple of questions as an exercise for the reader. So:

  • What is this article trying to convey?
  • Would it have been better conveyed with a different medium?

- @murthynikhil

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