Anomalous Behavior

This post is about how real life stories amaze us and how games (or more specifically interactive stories) can learn from this.

Amazement is a form of surprise. When we are amazed, we are witnessing something that contradicts our current understanding. So when a real life story amazes us, it is because the anecdote breaks our system. What sets it aside from regular surprise is that the feeling compels us to not only figure out what is going on, but to also explain and comprehend it.

Real life anecdotes break our system, because our simplistic subjective interpretations of the universe can’t explain the phenomena. For example, A Maze’N Things have optical illusions that contradict depth perception and spatial awareness. There are probably some people that manage to perceive space by unconventional means, but everybody else would be amazed by these kinds of illusions.

As I noted before, fictional stories heavily utilize our current understanding of the real world. If a fictional story fails to temporarily change our understanding of the fictional universe, then anomalous behavior will be met with disbelief and the narrative will be met with criticism. The story-teller has to make sure that the audience is fully aware of any differences in the fictional world relative to reality and it would also be wise for the story-teller to cater for different interpretations of the real world. An example of a story taking these measures before beginning, would be The Hurt Locker. In the prelude to The Hurt Locker, the film introduces a character as the protagonist and gives him the same sort of treatment that a protagonist would receive in other stories. The main difference though is that, the “false protagonist” dies in the first scene. This prepares the viewer to accept an atmosphere that lacks safety.

Now, for the part that interactive stories can draw off of. The reason why real life stories are amazing and believable is because, we know(consciously or not) that behavior in our world is governed by rules, not by the arbitrary creations of story-tellers. Observe this quote;

“Einstein argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary. No such faith comforts the software engineer.” -Fred Brooks

If a games storyline is dictated by low-level rules that abstract into higher-level order, than they can evoke amazement and possibly change the player’s understanding of the world. If the rules defined, establish emergent order similiar to real life, but not quite the same, than anomalous behavior can occur. The player will not question the realism of the story, because it is not of the artist’s arbitrary creation, but rather the artist’s design. So long as the story that emerges is somewhat comparable to reality. If the fictional world isn’t mechanically similiar enough, than the amount of involvement required from the audience will outweigh the emotional involvement that the story can evoke.

Simulation-based story-telling is not only a way of creating compelling and/or amazing experiences, but is also story-telling that is most parallel to what games are as an art form. The painter defines a piece by how he/she places brushstrokes on a canvas, a musician defines a piece by sequential patterns and a game designer defines an artwork by rules.

I’m not saying that this is the definitive future of video-games, but it is a mighty fine possibility.

What defines something as Alive?

This article would be easier to understand if you have knowledge and understanding of object oriented programing and basic physics.

This is my overall and universal definition of a living object (trying to avoid bias towards humans);

“An abstraction of complex systems to establish high-level motivational interfacing and processing for one’s own perpetuation or something more meaningful than the practical processes that perpetuate the existence of one’s self.”

Actually, this is more like the definition of sentience, but in order for something to be considered living anyway it needs this (apparently). What we experience as consciousness, sentience, free will or owning a soul (whatever you wish to call it) is just a series of electro-chemical calculations in the brain, responding to input from external influence. When I say external influence I’m also referring to the body, because it is an extension to the brain.

So how can we tell if something is alive? Most people would only consider something alive if it interacts with other people or other animals. Less people would consider plants to be alive, because most plants almost never respond physically to agitation. Even less people would consider an atom to be alive, because it’s too low-level. But if our own sentience is merely existent because of the complexities of our own mind being abstracted into something that can be interacted with and understood on a different level, then all these others can be considered alive as well.

The human brain is merely an electrochemical calculator responding to inputs and giving out outputs. Some ones personality, knowledge, intellect and imagination are results from their past experiences. Mood is a bit more dependent on hormones like cortisol (negative emotions) and oxytocin (positive emotions). What makes a human alive is that the complexities are abstracted to the point where an object defends it’s current set-up and/or improves it’s current set-up. An unstable object will keep evolving until it is stable, this is the same with nuclei, animals, planets and organic cells.

Law of Demeter

A conscious object is not fully aware of its own thought processes, because consciousness and awareness itself are the processes. An atom in it’s own regard is a living object, it intercepts inputs such as; photons, nearby ions, heat, electrical charge and bits of radiation and outputs results such as; heat, radiation, photons and electrical charge. The process is simple, but the forces and processes behind these high-level functions are abstracted. An atom is still motivated to defend its own existence, despite it’s low intellectual pallet and simplistic functionality.

Anyway, a function that doesn’t rely on another function in order to operate isn’t (or shouldn’t be) aware of that function. This is the Law of Demeter. Of course this isn’t a runtime law, this is just a design guideline, but evolution has a way of automatically following this design guide. When a link in the brain isn’t used, it will be obsolete and makes it harder to resurrect that link in order to use it again. Like a memory that you didn’t need for a while and when you need it again, it takes a while to conjure up that memory again.

How alive is it?

If it’s structure and functionality is focused towards perpetuating it’s existence, then it is alive, every other structure tends to disintegrate. Intellect is measurable by runtime functionality. How alive something is, is measurable by how abstracted it is.

You cannot judge how alive something is by how it interacts or responds, because it shouldn’t have to respond or interact on the same level as yourself in order to be alive (that’s just being bias).

More than self perpetuation

Living objects also have the tendency to reproduce themselves given proper nutrition and a mate if necessary. Even atoms have a will to reproduce, not a very strong will to do so though. When an atom has an increase or decrease in sub-atomic particles it might become unstable and discharge some radiation, which might hit another atom and ionize. So it has the will not only to perpetuate itself but others like it. Similarly, plants spread seeds in order to reproduce.


An abstraction of complex systems to establish high-level motivational interfacing and processing for one’s own perpetuation or something more meaningful than the practical processes that perpetuate the existence of one’s self.”

If my contention didn’t come out clear or if there are any flaws you’d like to point out, please don’t hesitate to comment. Next philosophy post I’ll go through the second clause of this definition.