Feb 022018

Today, at the kind invitation of Joe Osborn, I gave a talk for one of the workshops at AAAI-18, one on Knowledge Extraction from Games. I was pretty intimidated about talking at all; any time I stand up in front of people who really know algorithms, systems, or math, I feel like an utter dilettante who is bound to say foolish things. I had been noodling around with some notes around the broad topics of depth and indeterminacy, centered around the idea of games as ternary output machines, so I sent them to him, and he talked me into getting in front of an audience with them.

Along the way, I stumbled into formalizing many of the “game grammar” ideas into an actual Backus-Naur Form grammar. This is something that was mentioned to me casually on Facebook, and which I was aware of from long ago classes on programming, in the context of parsers… but which I hadn’t ever seriously considered as an approach to the more humanities-driven process i was going through with game grammar work. Grammar was just a metaphor!

But as I worked on the talk, I ended up noodling about a fair amount with the idea, and was surprised to see that more of it fell out quite naturally than I ever would have expected!

A large part of the talk is about the question of depth, in particular some critiques of an approach to the idea of “what is depth anyway?” that was kicked off by Frank Lantz and a bunch of other folks during the workshop I attended in Banff a couple of years ago and formalized into a paper a year later. Another big chunk of it (and in fact the “moral” of it all) is about the difference between computation and human experience, and how even our understandings of games are different if we’re a human or a computer.

There is also discussion of Moment #37 and of the game Set.

In the end, I think this may be one of the crunchiest and most in-depth talks I’ve ever given on really nitty-gritty details of the larger game grammar project. I’m in the midst of writing what I hope will be the book describing it all in a way that is hopefully as accessible as Theory of Fun was. In the meantime, this talk gives you the very not-accessible version of a small portion of it, citing Sirlin and Cook and Burgun and more.

You can read the notes I originally sent Joe, the slides themselves, and also watch a video of the actual presentation on this page here. Apologies for the technical glitches! Many thanks to Joe and Matt Guzdial for virtually “hosting” me, to the attendees for listening to my ramblings, and of course, fellow formalist travelers whose ideas I mangled therein.

And if you actually know BNF, feel free to fix this:

  • game → result
  • game → game + result
  • result → system( action ) = ( ( Θ, [ 0,] 1 ) | 1 )
  • system → side + side { [, side] }
  • side → player + mechanic + statistic { , statistic }
  • player → ( ( mind + experience + body ) | AI ) + perception
  • mechanic → rule { , rule } + statistic { , statistic }
  • rule → token { , token } expression { , expression } statistic { , statistic }
  • action → verb [ { + action } ] ( data )
  • verb → intent + input
  • input → affordance + action [ + game ]
  • affordance → player ( data )

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