10.0381 play

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 19:41:53 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 381.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (66)
Subject: play and economics

[2] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (38)
Subject: video games &c.

[3] From: Hope Greenberg <hag@zoo.uvm.edu> (27)
Subject: Re: 10.0366 computers and play

Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 22:45:24 -0500 (EST)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: play and economics


The play-game distinction is one of the most difficult terms to
translate accurately. Its semantic field ressonates with a lot of
cultural specificity even across the Indo-European group. Try it in
Armenian, Latin, Greek, French, Italian and German and Irish.
The tension between freedom and rule following is articulated in very
many different ways on very many different occasions. Of course that
tension is translated in computing and humanities terms as that
between convention and creativity.


Games and children and computers -- the topic reminds me of the agony
of choosing teams or being chosen. It also reminds me of trading
hockey cards (I grew up in Canada) and marbles. What I recall is as
much actual trading of objects and forming of teams, as thinking
through or dreaming about possible arrangements. I claim a good dose
of modeling (play) in game behaviour be it of children or adults and
especially in games that were cross-generational.

Writing about agents in an economy, Deborah Vakas Duong writes in a
1995 a project report on "Computational Modeling of Social Learning"
The fuel behind this self organisation is not natural
selection but symbolic interactionism.

The report is available at

Her modeling of economic behaviour of traders describes
"emergent interplay of conformity and utility" In her discussion she
points to the work of Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores who challenge
the foundation of Artifical Intelligence in logic. She traces an
analogy with the way children acquire language skills.

Children invent the rules of lanuage for themselves, creating
their language through experience. The agents of my simulation
do the same: they make their world all together, not by an
entrepreneur that is copied. They are all entrepreneurs in a
changing world where utility and conformity are dynamically
intertwined. Only that which is ever being created can ever change.

She goes on to claim that the principles of the emergence of symbols
have much to offer social science simulation and AI. What I believe
may be of interest to Humanist readers is the conclusion she draws.

To translate from an evolutionary program to a rational one,
all that is needed is an observer. As fuzzy ideal types
linearize, crisp objects could be defined to document their
existence, if not to modify it. In the future, programming
could become a mixture of reasoning and evolution, with
simcity like environments to work with.

What I want to export from this specialized discourse on genetic
alogrithms is the role of the observer. This is the point where I
believe logic and rhetoric converge to enhance our understanding of not
only the processes of social organisation but also the interpretative
moves of symbol users that inform theses processes.

By the way a colleague in media studies reported that she and a high
school chum when called upon to act as team captains always chose
their teams starting with the poorest players. Easy to do with a
finite pool of players. I want to finesse your question especially
since there seems to be an assumption that child behaviour in games
and play can model adult behaviour in the face of novelty. What
happens in a play group when a stranger comes to play? Or in a less
I-thou formulation: what happens to the activity of play when the
number of players changes?

I think this takes up some threads related to intellectual property,
the nature of reading and modeling. What it weaves, I'm not sure. But
the very basic question comes back: who gets to play (work/trade/interact) with
whom and for how long. And then there is the question of who gets to
refuse to play (and be spared the judgement of being anti-social or
the play of name calling).

observantly obediant to the call to contribute,


[Editorial note: For related material, see the superordinate page, http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/Bionomics/ -- WM]

--[2]---------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 08:37:23 -0500 (EST) From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: video games &c.

Dr. Juan Carlos Garelli, in Humanist 10.373, comments that children who are deprived of a secure home will "resort to television or computer games where they avoid having to interact with another human being, one of the most fearful actions they sometimes have to suffer." His finding seems to confirm an early fear that computers would in general lead to increased social isolation. As I recall Sherry Turkle, in her popular book on the sociology of computer use, <cite>The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit</cite> (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), argues that computer-use often leads in precisely the opposite direction. (I am aware that at least some professional sociologists do not think much of this book, but it's all I have to hand or mind.) I observe that through Humanist and other such things we tend rather intensely to socialise, although arguably the interactions are safer than "real" ones. I say "arguably" because I know that these interactions can be as dangerous, or rewarding, as any in some senses.

My question is, are we once again talking about the manner in which computers are used, rather than some inherent property of mediated communication? In our own sphere, this becomes the question of where instruction by computer is safer than in a face-to-face classroom, and therefore better for some students, where it is but a pale imitation of the Real Thing. The jury is still out on that one, yes? It seems to me that the answer depends very much on the circumstance. In an intelligent essay I just finished reading (as referee, so I cannot say who wrote it, &c.) the authors begin by describing the situation university teachers now face in the typical commuter-institution, with students who have jobs, families, and other strong commitments. This, they point out, is what we face, not the cloistered ideal in which there is a real choice between sustained tutorial instruction and the glowing screen. Under these circumstances, "what can we do with what we've got?" seems the right question to me.

Answers? Comments?


------------------------------------------------ Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer King's College London / Strand / London WC2R 2LS +44 0171 873-2784 / Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kis/schools/hums/ruhc/wlm/

--[3]---------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 14:59:46 -0500 From: Hope Greenberg <hag@zoo.uvm.edu> Subject: Re: 10.0366 computers and play

>Two reflections: how difficult it is to face >problems squarely; what software truly adequate to a child's >inventive genius for play might look like. The first is, I'd guess, >an unsolvable problem coterminous with life, but the second is a >fascinating problem for research. Does anyone know what is happening >in that area, and how designers of scholarly software might benefit >from its findings?

Apple is betting that what adults want kids to learn is problem solving, and what kids want to do is create games. At least that seems to be the general idea behind their soon-to-be-released program named Cocoa. Cocoa lets kids (or anyone!) program, problem solve, play, or create systems (pick your favorite buzzword) without learning complex syntax, indeed, without reading at all. It lets kids create characters (here's Wacko), animate them (make Wacko run), give them tasks (make Wacko jump a wall), extrapolate and generalize "if-then" situations (make Wacko jump a wall that grows and shrinks), all by example. You can model dynamic systems, try out "what if" situations, or just "play." You can then share your games with other Cocoa creators across the Internet.

What has this got to do with humanities computing? Well, when I get my copy I'll let you know! But for right now it simply serves to reinforce the idea that computers are not television. We cannot assume that they will have the same impact (or lack of it) on the scholaraly world. That is, the joy of computing is not in the consuming, it's in the doing.

- Hope

----------- Hope Greenberg University of Vermont http://www.uvm.edu/~hag