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Part 3, Putting into play - On narrative from a cognitive perspective II

by Katarina Gyllenback on 06/03/19 10:32:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

"Putting into play" originates from the site Narrative Construction and is part of more than a one-year-long project which goal is to explain from a cognitive and narrative perspective the mind and hands-on approach to the design of an engaging and dynamic game system. With help from cognition-based models, the focus is on the opportunity to explore how our thinking, learning and emotions work when setting out from scratch towards the desired goal.

Continuation of Part 2, Putting into play - On narrative from a cognitive perspective I

Realizing that our restraint to embrace the cognition-based method, Narrative bridging (Boman, Gyllenbäck, 2010) was a matter of control due to the lack of clear description of how our mind works, and where the familiar story structures and templates constituted a safety. The thorny issue I faced was how to make people aware of their thinking as to access our core cognitive activities. If you have tried talking to people about their thinking and how it works, you will then also know that it is the trickiest thing one can do. If not handled with care, people will, at the most, become aware of you by comparing your thinking with theirs: opinion and meaning-wise. The awareness I am talking about isn't about being smart or skilled. Instead, it is a matter of being conscious of the mind as a way to become conscious of how emotions, attention, desires, beliefs and intentions relate to our causal thinking and understanding.

When finding out that I had to make our thinking from a cognitive and narrative perspective accessible, I began to create visual models based on Narrative bridging. It was also these models I used when visualizing the design processes in the series Don't show, involve. Since the strength of Narrative bridging is how it assists the intuitive process of the arrangement, organization, control and detection of inconsistencies in a pattern of thinking. In the specific case taken from the online game Journey that called upon the readers' attention. It was the intuition of logic by how we are reading patterns that made the readers recognize the contrasting systems of having a linear structure applied to an interactive medium, which Narrative bridging pointed out.

How to discern our intuition of logic and gut feeling

To get an idea of how our intuition of logic and gut feeling work that makes us attend to inconsistencies concerning conceptions. If we look at the paradigm of the story, from which we know the many advantages it holds as having an impact on our engagement, emotions and memory. Knowing that we remember better if we have been able to process information longer in the working memory as to pass it over to the long-term memory. If giving our intuition of logic a moment to understand the conception of the story and the narrative to be a linear structure conveying fiction (fantasies). We all know that it isn't the duration of the story that determines if the information will be processed long enough as to make it to the long-term memory. We could as well get bored and fall asleep. If we continue listening to our intuition of logic and gut feeling, which signals give us quick access to the memories retained together with specific emotions. We also know that it isn't from seeing Superman that will make us feel safe when exposed to threats. Neither is it from a gut feeling we decide to assign someone to check if the office is built on holy ground when the screens start dazzling.

Among other, the conception from the 19th-century suspension of disbelief still maintains a belief that influences the way we look at fiction and reality as if we had two different minds that we context-wise swap in between when we differ between fiction (fantasies) and reality. Even if we know that a feeling unite and embody experiences and memories from fiction and reality, we are making ourselves a disservice when we are separating our cognitive activities into two contrasting systems.

Seeing how the beliefs and conceptions surrounding the story and the games make us create contrasting systems. I would say that if it weren’t for our intuition of logic and gut feeling we might not have seen any games being realized. Influenced by our beliefs and conceptions (among other things) from the 19th-century. Each time we are putting our thoughts and feelings into play towards the desired outcome, our intuition of logic and gut feeling are going a battle against two opposing belief systems:

 

 

Each time we manage to solve the conflicting systems by cognitively doing a merging as to make the story and the game become united. What we do when we merge is that we learn how to resolve a conflict as to then start the battle all over again in a new project - like a Hero's Journey but set in the reality of game design. Unaware of the profoundly rooted conceptions from the opposites we have created between fiction and reality, story and games. A production assigned by genres to be story-based the setting of the “intuitive battleground of systems” to reach the desired goal, system-wise it could be depicted like following from a cognition-based approach to the narrative:

 

Seen from the image above and imagine that the two opposing worlds (real and fictive) and each system inside each world consists of a belief. The cognitive exercise of an “intuitive battleground” in the real world as to reach the desired goal means that they who are expected (based on beliefs) to construct the narrative linearly in the fictive world needs to intuitively think in terms of systems. And they who are assigned to create the systems of gameplay needs to know how to meet they who are assigned to do the linear work according to the conceptions about the story. It is here our intuition of logic and approach to learning, which decides if we will manage to merge (learn) against the current beliefs and conceptions. Depending on the path to learning, it determines how we discern the signals from the gut feeling when detecting contrasting systems to be logic or illogic due to conceptions from the 19th-century.

Mentioning in the series Don't show, involve, the signs from how we can see from advertisements how the game companies understand the story/narrative when searching for people with narrative competence. One can see how some narrative-systems have taken form as quests and branched dialogues trees, albeit within specific genres, while system-wise the actual game design is giving meaning to objects, behaviors, relations, motives and functions concerning the mechanics as a natural part of the process from the very start.

It was from detecting the antidote; formulated by the cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner (1996) to identify the “unconsciousness of the automatic” (also mentioned in Where I work there are no conflicts) I finally understood what it means to keep a positive direction on learning by being curious as to detect the contrasts. With the help of the antidote, I managed to attune the gut feeling to take on an evolutionary approach to the paradigm of thinking and the conception of the story. With a belief in our intuition of logic and the gut feeling would prevail, I created this site Narrative Construction. When receiving the request from readers, it was like an intuitive redemption from how the desire created a possibility to bridge between the familiar and unfamiliar…

…and a chance for me to get inside the box.

                             

 

How to get inside the box

When having an evolutionary approach to narration and cognition you learn after a while to not expect any news, or that your great-, great-, great-, grandchildren will receive something that seems like a sign of a movement.

Setting out in July 2018 to meet the curiosity from readers on how to use Narrative bridging in mind- and hands-on construction of meaningful and engaging experience in games. From being familiar with the scientist Peter Gärdenfors' research on human cognition and computing (robotics) from the years of mapping my own thinking. When I was writing the second part of Narrative bridging on testing an experience, which concerned our learning, it was from a signal from my gut feeling that I should check the latest publications from Gärdenfors. Despite my conceptions to not expect any news, it was then I should find the missing piece which could finally get the tricycle out of the mud and enable me to talk about cognition, narration and computing without sounding like I was talking about “he who must not be named”.

In the publication Tracking the evolution of causal cognition in humans (Gärdenfors, Lombard, 2017) there was a seven grades model of causal cognition (the 7-grade model) distinguishing on a scale of grades how our causal thinking and understanding works. But there was also a clear description of how our mind is "propelling" when processing information. Having mentioned one specific sentence from the publication in passing through the latest posts as to say: “Hey, look at what we can do without being aware”. It is in the light of the description below which shows what is unique to the human mind of today we can understand the sense- and meaning-making mechanism which brings forth beliefs, desires, emotions, expectations and builds our experiences:

“The ability to generate inter-domain causal networks, use network understanding to speculate about potential outcomes, test and re-adjust our imaginative hypotheses, and to shift attention from one target to another, while keeping in mind the ultimate goal (e.g., subsistence) over an extended period of time is unique to the human mind of today.”

Gärdenfors, Lombard, 2017

Though the results leading to the description of our thinking and the 7-grades model came from archaeological excavations of Stone Age weapons. If I were to make it back to the box I had to establish (make sense of) the findings of Stone Age weapons and how they connected to narration, computing and games. To do this, I decided to present the 7-grades model in Part 1, Putting into play by showing what it means to put the thoughts and feelings into play towards the desired goal from a cognitive perspective. By taking examples from familiar games and game designers that we conceive as having earned recognition from making something extraordinary “outside the box” (or in a fantasy world). The main point was to show that no matter who you are or how many titles you have. The description above shows what we all do when we are putting our thoughts into play towards a goal: players, partners, producers, programmers, designers of systems, content, games, experiences, and narrative, writers, filmmakers, grandmothers, Einstein, Jobs, Kojima, children, adults, and so on. The rest is narration by how we are making sense and creating meanings, which is what I am going to add in the next posts.

With the help of the description of our mind, which I will from now on call the core cognitive activities, it gets a bit clearer what it means to direct our learning in a positive direction. With the help from seeing what the core cognitive activities are doing when “propelling information” it is easier to understand how a curiosity to learn is opening up for our intuition of logic and gut feeling to perform at its best without risking to be overwritten by conceptions (which almost happened to me but where I despite my beliefs checked for news and found the publication). With the help of being aware of what our mind is doing, we will also be able to access how our attention, emotions, desires, beliefs connect to the vehicle of interactivity, spatiality, and causality in the creation of game systems. As well as we will be able to distinguish what it is, the narrative provides when we create logical, spatial and temporal links and how these are played towards the desired goal - like systems.

How Narrative bridging comes into play is that the method assists our core cognitive activities and allow for our intuition of logic and gut feeling to be put into play, which is also why the method is said to be non-intrusive. Built on trust to our intuition of logic and gut feeling, the method helps the practice of directing, planning and controlling the elements to reach the desired effect. In the same way, as our imagination has no limits, neither has Narrative bridging. It is entirely up to us what we desire to do but where the method will remind about the logic by keeping track on how the casual, spatial and interactive elements interplay with the desired goal (in reality as well as fiction).

How to proceed with the bridging from scratch

Since I will from now on continue from scratch to explore a mind- and hands-on approach to the design of an engaging and dynamic game system by leaving the familiar canonical structures (but not to forget them) and replace them with cognitive models. To avoid making it feel like riding a bike with no hands before getting the grip. To get an idea what it means "to leave the familiar structures" I recommend reading Part 1 Putting into play where I among others depict Fumito Ueda's approach to the design process from a cognitive perspective. I also recommend reading the series Don´t show, involve that gave rise to the curiosity to learn Narrative bridging and where I show what it means to put thoughts and feelings into play and how to form a premise. The thoughts and feeling I used were from the writer Vince Gilligan who created the series Breaking Bad and the game designer Jenova Chen's online game Journey, which similarities in the way they proceeded from absolute scratch are now easier to understand with the help of the description of our core cognitive activities.

Since we are changing the lens to a cognition-based approach to narration to be seen as systems, I recommend reading the series Narrative bridging on testing an experience. In the series, you can see from the perspective of quality assurance how learning, emotions, pacing and control come into play. You can also get an idea of what it means from the constructor's perspective in relation to the perceiver's perception and conception of how experiences (beliefs) form our expectations from a cognitive and narrative perspective. As a bonus, you can also have some fun when reading the series to know how I tried to keep control over the excitement I felt when getting the 7-grade model in my hands. It wasn't an easy task to balance in regards to my desire to "get inside the box". As if Ueda ends up in a fantasy world, imagine where I could have ended up (who knows, perhaps I already have)?

A model for communication

To get the most out of the mind and hands-on exploration of our core cognitive activities from scratch and how the method supports our intuition of logic and gut feeling. I suggest starting to think about an thought or feeling that you would like to put into play towards the desired outcome. Since I am also bringing along an idea as a mean to show different examples. Though my goal is on showing a process, which will make yours and my desires to the differ. The reason why having an idea that corresponds to your desires is that it will become easier to evaluate and compare your process with what I show. Just remember, the comparison is all about becoming aware of how our core cognitive activities work. When getting the grip, your gut feeling will become the best guide you can get.

Depending on the interest and how this evolves, I will keep it open as to see where it leads and which form the series will take and if sub-categories will develop while we go. Minding that this is a non-commercial site and where it takes time to write the posts due to the topic but also due to a reality, which I need to attend to as to make a living. My evolutionary approach to the paradigm, which we are dealing with, is the guarantee that I won't stop but if it takes another ten years to build a bridge and get inside the box, it is okay. What matters, though, is your interest and response. Therefore I created a communication model.

From knowing how cumbersome it could be to talk about the cognitive and narrative processes. If you would like to ask questions, now or later on, I thought we could try the model of communication below and see how it works. By assigning a number from one of the pictures (below) together with the text you refer to, it will be enough for me to understand and respond:

 

1. I am with you.
2. I am curious and want to learn more.
3. Now you lost me.

Regarding my approach to the project as a whole, I will try to keep the balance by having one foot in the box and the other outside as to create a positive direction on learning. Driven by my gut feeling, which keeps reminding me about the goal I had when entering the world of computing as a storyteller, I am curious to see where this project leads.

                                

 

Finally, I would like to give a special thanks to Linnea Österberg who created the fantastic illustrations, which I don't know what I would do without when setting out to make sense of what we can't see but feel.

Until next time, stay curious!

Katarina

Continue to:

Part 4, Putting into play - How to trigger the narrative vehicle of meaning-making
 

Return to:

Part 1 Putting into play - A model of causal cognition on game design (link goes to Gamasutra).
Part 2, Putting into play - On narrative from a cognitive perspective I (link goes to the site Narrative Construction).

Contact:

References (part 2 and 3):

Boman, M., Gyllenbäck, K. (2010). Narrative bridging. Design Computing and Cognition ’10. Edited by John S Gero. SpringerLink. pp 525-544

Bordwell David (1985) Narration in the fiction film. Methuen.

Bruner, J (1996). The culture of education. By the President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1996.

Gärdenfors, P., Lombard, M., (2017). Tracking the evolution of causal cognition in humans. In the Journal of Anthropological Sciences 95. p.219-234

Recommended readings to follow the series:

Don't show, involve (series in three parts, links on Gamasutra can be found here).

Narrative bridging on testing an experience (series in three parts, links on Gamasutra can be found here).

Additional readings:

A short guide to the 7 grade model of reasoning.
Narrative patterns of thinking (posted before the 7-grade model)
Where I work there are no conflicts (posted before the 7-grade model)


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