Thursday, October 06, 2005

Invisible Code, Twinking, and The Eyes of a Child

"...I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead..."
~Cypher, The Matrix

In an MMO, the entirety of the game universe boils down to the rules contained within the game's code and the calculations performed by the game provider's server. The results of the calculations are sent to my computer in cute little data packets to be unwrapped, interpreted, and then the results show up on my screen as what my toon sees.

At first, this barrage of sense data can be a bit overwhelming to a player, and it's not always easy to filter it into something comprehensible right away. However, given time to acclimate, it's pretty easy to scan the screen briefly and respond to game stimuli. What was once a maze of windows, icons, maps, chat bubbles, and avatars representing other players' toons becomes a sea of clarity for a gamer who is experienced in their environment.

Games are intellectual patterns, according to Raph Koster in his book A Theory of Fun in Game Design. Our brains are attracted to them because we sense a pattern and make an attempt to figure it out. We are constantly powergaming, trying to optimize our pattern recognition for the particular game of our choice until the pattern becomes predictable, at which point the game becomes dull and boring. Conversely, patterns which we do not immediately recognize as such get dismissed and are not usually sources of entertainment for us.

Interestingly enough, longtime powergamers often 'help' newer players out by presenting optimal play strategies to them immediately instead of letting them discover it for themselves, and in the spirit of charity, twink a new character to more quickly immerse them into the world of the veteran gamer.....essentially depriving them of their MMO childhood, if you will.

Much of this can be likened to the eyes of a child exploring his/her world, and the maturation and indoctrination process which eventually trains them (hopefully) to function as a socially acceptable adult.

In "Life: The MMO", the entirety of our game universe still boils down to the various quantum calculations which are performed by particles with particular rules. The results of these calculations, when they manifest themselves at a sufficiently large-scale enough product so as to be interpreted by my sensory organs, the information gets sent via cute little nerve impulses to my brain, which unwraps, interprets, and then tells me what I am perceiving.

As children, this barrage of sense data can be overwhelming: pictures, people, images, sensations, emotions, smells, tastes, desires, and more. Add to that the constant flux of growth in childhood, in which the parameters of all of the calculations which make up a particular child are in a continued process of change, so much so that it's not all that surprising that some children trip over their own feet (thanks Data) and find themselves scatterbrained, attempting to process all of the raw information. However, given time for maturation and education, our filters have been developed to the point where so human beings can even eat a sandwich, converse on a cell phone, change a CD, and drive a car a the same time! (Okay, so maybe we haven't developed them quite that far, but it's still pretty impressive.)

What's happened? Well, we've been twinked through the process of our educational indoctrination to be able to evaluate patterns which we perceive and filter/focus on them specifically. Part of this is intentional twinking so that each generation of human beings doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, but it's still twinking nonetheless.

Our pattern recognition has grown to the point where we filter out many simple and nonsensical patterns and focus on the interesting ones - patterns which seem to have a pattern, but we can't explain it yet. We don't really look for the 'code' either; we just powergame and attempt to see how it fits within patterns which we already know and recognize. The familiar is attractive to us, and it's evident in the types of games that we gravitate towards, as well as the routines and people whom we elect to associate with. They're familiar, but different enough to be interesting. We don't even bother to consider the code - it's invisible to us - we just focus on the pattern and optimizing our response to that pattern.

Blonde, brunette, redhead....all patterns which I haven't quite figured out, grown tired of seeing, or respond to with optimal performance quite yet.

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