Playfulness and truth.

Four recent blogs inspired me:

Starting with how to represent truth, moving to play, and then to belonging. The TL;DR:

The advances of structuring data in mapping unlocks potential for using physical world assets in games. Using physical world assets in emergent approaches to game design is well suited to allowing players to interact with their game worlds in varied ways. Exploring playing with the physical world – morphing and changing it – through games can allow us to learn about the world not through a top-down education, but through a curiosity that does not even have to involve the truth. Through these games we can build a new sense of belonging, that builds a common language across polarised opinions, because it’s just for fun, after all.

Structured abstraction

In Christopher’s blog, he discusses the data structuring that goes into mapping and digital twins. Mapmaking could be split into two streams: data collection and data visualization. The former is how we capture reality, and the latter is how we perceive reality. He notes that unstructured data often needs to become structured if it is to be reused, filtered, transformed, and then visualized.

It is this structured format that links with the metaverse, and the potential to incorporate these types of assets into games.

He also makes another point about the curation of this information. Vector maps typically have way too much information, since it is unfiltered for a specific use. For physical world, or “serious” applications the filters, or abstractions are theme specific. For curiosity, they could be arbitrary or even non-sensically fun.

Everything that goes into making the global map database behind Google Maps or OpenStreetMap involves the idea of capturing reality. In contrast, I want to be inspired by the physical reality but not confined to it. I want to change it, play with it, morph it.

Define the rules of your world, but let the player decide what game they’re playing within it.

In Alex’s post, he suggests a different, emergent, approach to game design, “shifting the focus to the player, and giving them richer options to interact with the world.” Allow players to “find their own fun and solutions to the problems presented.” In other words, “create an ecosystem where creativity can thrive”. I really like this. I like playing games where it is not too constrained and I can pick what challenges or story routes I want to follow

Don’t define what it means to ‘win’. Have a flexible definition of victory. Encourage players to define their own victory conditions, although providing systems to make such goals seem ‘official’ can go a long way to supporting this concept.

 Systems to let players define their own victories then share and celebrate on their own terms is the heart of systems-driven emergent game design.

One of the things that caught my eye is his mention to “Implement procedural generation sparingly”, because this is the largest area I want to depart from traditional games. Instead of procedural landscapes, I want features abstracted from the physical world. What this article refers to, I think, is to have a simple enough backdrop to allow players to be comfortable and provides experienced players room to improve their skills and knowledge over multiple sessions.” But it also points to easter eggs – custom content that can provide surprise and reward curiosity.

A map of hilarious stupidities

In Mike Sowden’s post he recalls how he entered the world of parody: through a side door marked “shameless parody.”

“Exploring the world is great and all that, but poking fun at exploring the world? Oh hell yes.”

For the record, and why I would like a paper-like feel to my game/platform, I agree with Mike in that “we need paper maps for their ability to not immediately tell us where we’re going and how to get there, so we have to search through them and learn how they work, stumbling across all sorts of interesting things along the way. Paper maps are curiosity engines

I think things that are obviously playful like this makes us 1) laugh and 2) fact-check things, not because we’re paranoid, but because it’s a game we can win, and we don’t want to be caught out. I think that’s worth working with.

Curiosity as a route to belonging

This brings me to the last post and the reason behind all the fun.

From Peter’s TED talk (is TED still a thing?), and as quoted in Alexandra’s article, the polarisation and retreating into echo chambers is not helping us. Peter used the “Birds aren’t Real” project as social commentary, to show that conspiracy theorists are not just joining these groups for no reason. They’re getting rewards out of these, things that we are all looking for, a sense of purpose, community. I’d argue most of us are in a crisis of belonging, and so we are closing in on smaller and smaller groups, getting lonelier and lonelier.

Paraphrased, What makes people vulnerable, or receptive, to information in the first place? And consider here science or pseudoscience. Fact or conspiracy. What do we get from our ideologies -from where we frequent on the internet – that we’re not getting in our everyday lives? How much does it have to do with a different *truth*, or how much does it have to do with the *community* that that truth brings?

We need to think about people’s reference points. What is fuelling the need for an alternate truth: The crisis of belonging.

Does this mean truth cannot co-exist with fun, with play, with belonging? I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, but there is a certain suspension of conviction needed to allow curiosity. And through that we can recreate belonging.

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