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A Sense of Fun: Anybody Could Be Your Player 1
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A Sense of Fun: Anybody Could Be Your Player 1

October 7, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Non-competitive Fun, AI, and You

I am interested in the innate process by which music attains shared ownership. In particular, in the case of children we often see examples of primitive group musical expressions. To create these shared expressions, simple, inherently explainable rules are necessary. These are gleaned through interaction and positive emergence, and this led me to think that there might be a hint here for discovering a new form of music.

Thinking of an example, I saw a dance performed by a group of children from the Republic of Chad in Central Africa. This kind of play can of course be seen in playgrounds all over the world, and leads to an idea of what constitutes "fun." It is hard to explain the rules clearly, but for some reason, even without victory as a goal, players find some kind of enjoyment that is related to their conduct in games.

So why do human beings engage in these seemingly meaningless actions? And furthermore, why are they fun? Keeping these thoughts in mind, I would like to discuss Desmond Morris, a zoologist who published a book called Man Watching in 1991. He talked about a theory called "Postural Echo."

Nowadays, I hear that there are a number of arguments against Morris' views, but I think that for the theme that I am interested in, the observations and results have sufficient value, so I would like to paraphrase his definition of Postural Echo: when two friends meet and talk informally they usually adopt similar body postures.

If they are particularly friendly and share like-minded attitudes to the subjects being discussed, then the positions in which they hold their bodies are liable to become even more alike, to the point where they virtually become carbon copies of each other.

This is not a deliberate imitative process - the friends in question are automatically indulging in what has been called Postural Echo, and they do this unconsciously as part of a natural body display of companionship.

Morris asserted that it is an unconscious act in general communication between adults. But in the case of children playing, I wonder - aren't these postural echoes more or less necessary for positive development? Coming to understand rules that you previously didn't know, matching your behaviors in real time-from the beginning we have no way of knowing if we will be successful or not, or even if it will be fun. This kind of behavioral risk-taking, or "positive emergence," is necessary.

Yet for children, their behaviors are not as motivated by judging potential merits. Rather, as Morris suggested, it seems to me that it's more a case of children adapting to the other humans in their surroundings, and behaving appropriately.

If children feel like they have some of this shared emergence, then surely their playing should become more enjoyable. Sharing experiences with a friend, or multiple friends-this "game"-based form of fun is quite enjoyable. It is considered that this phenomenon remains in the sub-conscious even into adulthood.

I heard about a very interesting editing technique by a Japanese film director. He says, for example, when editing commercials, at specific intervals he'll insert a single black frame. At that moment, the audience will blink, without fail. Despite the "partner" in this case not even being human, for some reason humans unconsciously pick up these mimicking behaviors. This is the same if your partner is a computer game.

On the subject of AI, text-based communication like the Turing test soon comes to mind, but I really do think that it is an important mission to try and develop emergent forms of non-verbal based communication such as postural echoing in our relations with computers. I believe that "Kismet," the robotic emotional AI at MIT, is an example that is getting good results.

Introducing Engagement

Video games are a very simple way to enjoy virtual experience. All you need is a TV, a console, a controller, and the software. This is an easy system for everyone compared with other forms of entertainment.

But like Hollywood, in order to keep the customers paying, the industry is using increasingly exaggerated content. Pressing buttons, moving sticks-these are small actions with grand effects. However, I think it is a slight error of judgment in our industry to believe that actions that in reality would carry great responsibility can be carried out in video games without thought for responsibility.

The Wii has come and put a cat amongst the pigeons of this unbalance. The harder you swing the remote, the faster the baseball bat moves. This more organic relation between imagination and reality is easily absorbed.

At the same time we understand that game designs that, for example, require the player to shake the Wii controller strongly to rotate a Tetris block, are unsuitable for input methods like this. The Wii requires a tighter connection between actual and virtual actions. But think! How can we improve on these kinds of obvious connections? That is the hint to make more advanced games.

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