Nov 302012

How Games Think title slideI have finally gotten around to posting up the slides and the notes for my talk delivered in Shanghai just before Thanksgiving.

The notes are actually pretty representative of the actual speech as delivered — we had real-time translation going on, so I kept the pace very deliberate and avoided my usual rattle-stuff-off-a-mile-a-minute sort of delivery. If you go to this link you can see the slides as individual images with the notes interspersed.

If that isn’t to your taste, and you want just the slides, you can find a PDF of the slides here instead.

Afterwards, one of the Chinese attendees came up to me and told me it had been “a faith-building talk.” I can only presume that the folks working in the industry in China have the same crises of faith that we do here in the West. :)

There was some coverage in Chinese, I am sure, given that there were reporters there from a few sites. But the only article I’ve found from China is this one. However, Gamasutra was there, and wrote up an article.

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Game talkKeynoting GDC China

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Nov 132012

I’ve been sadly neglectful of this blog! In the last few weeks, particularly, because I have been fighting off some sort of nasty flu thing… still have a lingering cough, in fact, and it’s been more than two weeks!

So that meant that while I was flat out in bed, I missed the official announcement about the talk I am giving at GDC China this weekend. It’s been years since I was in Shanghai, so I am looking forward to this!

As far as what the talk is about… well, it’s sort of an extension of the lines of thought from the Project Horseshoe talk Influences and the GDC Online talk It’s All Games Now, and even a little bit from the Theory of Fun 10 Years Later talk. Basically, it’s about the patterns of thinking that games tend to encourage… and how these ways of thinking may be affecting us culturally. After all, if games do their work in large part via neuroplasticity, then that means that the cognitive habits we are picking up as gamers must be having an impact on how we think about, well, everything.

What might those cognitive habits be? And what impact might that have?

It’s a keynote, and supposed to be “inspirational,” so it’s in a lot of ways a rather light treatment of the subject… but I think there’s a lot to dig into there, and not all of it is unalloyed good… instead, it will be a picture of trade-offs. For example, just recently I read an article on how the neural pathways for empathy and the neural pathways of logical thinking seem to be mutually exclusive; you can’t do both at the same time. You have to emotionally detach yourself to be able to do true systems analysis, but if you are conditioned to approach the world analytically, does this mean that you are conditioned to avoid empathy? Pure speculation, and of course the answer will not be clear-cut.

Anyway, here’s the details on the talk:

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Sep 172012

On Saturday I met with the Omaha Game Developers Association in a Google Hangout for a couple of hours of interview-style questions. The whole thing was streamed live on YouTube and also captured afterwards, so here it is for those who have the patience.

Among the things we talked about:

And way more… vid after the break.

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Mar 152012

This is post #2,342 on this blog (not counting the dozens of articles, snippets, and presentations not in the blog database)… yet more of the over a quarter-million words written here since the site started in 1997 and the blog in 1998. And I have to admit, I tend to take for granted the idea that people have read all the stuff that matters, so they understand me when I throw around terms or assume that they know what my past writing on the topic is. Which is ludicrous, of course.

So I got asked on Twitter for a list of my juiciest game design posts, to serve as a central jumping-off point.

This was hard. But here’s a list of ones that I think are my best. Many of these are actually talks, rather than posts. These are usually in sort of rough reverse chronological order, but there’s plenty of places where they are just in the order I found them in, or random cut & paste order.

Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments. And if you haven’t seen some of these before, well, this is the best way to catch up on my overall beliefs and philosophies on games.

Theory of fun (cognition and games) and game grammar overview. This covers the very highest level structure of the thinking on these two interrelated subjects.

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Mar 092012

Here’s the PDF: Koster_Raph_GDC2012.pdf

Here’s the PPTX, which includes the speaker notes, which this time are extensive: Koster_Raph_GDC2012.pptx

And the closest I can get to the speech itself is this page here, which has an image of each slide, followed by the notes… so you can just read it like an article.

I imagine video will be up on the GDCVault eventually…


May 252011

I had a truly wonderful chat on the phone with Keith Stuart of The Guardian a while back, and recently an article surfaced that is the fruits of his interviewing labors: The seduction secrets of video game designers.

It’s a bit more of the cogsci thing applied to games, with myself, Margaret Robertson, Jesper Juul, and a bunch of other folks all talking about what makes games tick. A neat element is some analysis at the end of four big games and why they click. I mention signaling theory in the context of Farmville — something I have been reading about some lately, most recently in the entertaining book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

Jul 122010

Newsweek has an article on the fact that “CQ” is falling for American students. CQ is a measure developed by E. P. Torrance that seems to be a pretty good predictor for creative success in basically any field. In other words, since around 1990, American kids have been getting measurably less creative.

Alas, early in the article, we see games getting blamed:

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children. [emphasis mine]

Is this in fact the case? After all, the rest of the article (and the rest of the research in the field) seems to suggest that handing students problems and obliging them to think about possible solutions, is a much better way to go than rote memorization. And that is what the best games do.

But it is also definitely true that many games these days “come with the answers” — there’s only one way to solve the puzzles they present — a “through line” that was created by the designers. Could games like this, as opposed to ones that provide truly emergent answers, be an issue in terms of creative development?

One interesting point that is mentioned in the article is that the creation of paracosms during childhood; apparently the creation of detailed imaginary worlds when you’re 10 has a  high correlation with eventually winning a MacArthur “Genius” grant! This of course is a common activity for anyone who got into roleplaying at that age. But does immersing yourself in someone else’s paracosm provide the same, or lesser, or no benefits in terms of developing your own creative juices? Should I be less concerned with my daughter’s seemingly endless sessions of what she terms “LARPing” with her friends (not really formal LARPing as such, more like collaborative unstructured roleplay sessions), and more concerned with my son’s total immersion in the Pokemon universe?

Personally, I have always found creativity to be all about juxtaposing concepts and ideas from different fields and places, making unexpected connections. But many of the markers that are described in the article certainly fit my childhood. I also played a lot of games — and I used them as an outlet for creativity. Games have changed a lot since then, though.

It does seem like it behooves us as game developers to at least attempt to make games that encourage creative thinking, if not out of some sense of civic or moral obligation, then as a way of “paying it forward” — something made us creative enough to make the games in the first place, so we shouldn’t hog all the fun. :)

Game talkCool event at Harvard tonight

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Jun 022010

I am flying off to Austin tonight, but I kind of wish I could attend this event in Boston! if you happen to live there, stop by and then post a comment here telling us all about it, please!

Who Plays Games and Why: Evolutionary Biology Looks at Videogames

A discussion with Harvard Human Evolutionary Biology Professor Richard Wrangham, Emmanuel College Psychology Professor Joyce Benenson, and game developers Noah Falstein and Kent Quirk.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010.   5:30 -7:30 p.m. (registration begins at 5:00 p.m.)

Location: Harvard Science Center, One Oxford Street, Cambridge

Full description after the break:

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Jul 172009

Just yesterday my new editor at OReilly asked me “is there anything that has made the content of A Theory of Fun in need of updating?” And my response was “no, not really…”

That’s because articles like this one keep coming out:

Further experiments on their brains revealed that that the same neurons were signaling the expectation of both water and knowledge, and they were linked to the release of dopamine–a neurotransmitter chemical that’s connected to making you feel rewarded when you achieve a goal.

And that’s incredibly revealing. Because it implies that the primal urge mechanisms that drive us to eat when hungry and drink when thirsty are also directly allied with seeking out new knowledge–it seems we’re actually programmed to gather information.

– Reading Fast Company as Rewarding as Sex, Study Suggests | Technomix | Fast Company.

Digging deeper to the source article shows that the key quote is this one:

…information about a reward is rewarding in itself.

MiscEven our brain is a small world network

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Jul 132009

I still follow stuff about small world networks and power laws… and look, here they pop up again. Your neurons have 13 degrees of separation!

That isn’t really what the article is about, of course; it’s more about the way in which this sort of organizational structure allows the brain to live at the very edge of chaos, tipping between stability and chaos as we think — and that in fact, the chaos maybe what drives the classic definition of intelligence.

The balance between phase-locking and instability within the brain has also been linked to intelligence – at least, to IQ. Last year, Robert Thatcher from the University of South Florida in Tampa made EEG measurements of 17 children, aged between 5 and 17 years, who also performed an IQ test.

He found that the length of time the children’s brains spent in both the stable phase-locked states and the unstable phase-shifting states correlated with their IQ scores. For example, phase shifts typically last 55 milliseconds, but an additional 1 millisecond seemed to add as many as 20 points to the child’s IQ. A shorter time in the stable phase-locked state also corresponded with greater intelligence – with a difference of 1 millisecond adding 4.6 IQ points to a child’s score.

– Disorderly genius: How chaos drives the brain – life – 29 June 2009 – New Scientist.

Now, of course we know this isn’t the only sort of intelligence. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating result, and the article also ties it to research on autism and schizophrenia.