jeudi 20 juillet 2017

As if: modern enchantment and the literary pre-history of virtual reality [book]

Saler, Michael T. As if: modern enchantment and the literary pre-history of virtual reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth are early examples of “empirically detailed” fantasy world-making. Their readers engages primarily with the made-up world instead of a character. They explore it, experiment it, interact with it and map it. They add or modify new elements through interactive immersion. And they build fandom communities around it (“public sphere of the imagination”).

It reveals a modern thinking conceptualized as “ironic imagination”:
  •  "As If" imagining (open-minded & receptive) instead of "Just So" believing (constraining & essentialist)
  • willing adoption of pretense instead of suspension of disbelief 
  • being delighted instead of being deluded (or escapism or regression)
  • just the positive/rational side of enchantment (“animistic reason”)
  • emotional engagement, playfulness and ironic detachment
These early virtual realities are precursors of today's avatar-based virtual worlds. They are reactions against the Weberian "disenchantment of the world" (the loss of meaning created by the forces of modernity: rationalization and bureaucracy). They are “Disenchanted enchantments”.

 * * *

A citation of Arjun Appadurai (anthropologist) :
« Until recently... fantasy and imagination were residual practices, confined to special moments or places. In general, imagination and fantasy were antidotes to the finitude of social experience ... As the deterritorialization of persons, images, and ideas has taken on a new force, this weight has imperceptibly shifted. More persons throughout the world see their lives through the prisms of possible lives offered by the mass media in all their forms. That is, fantasy is now a social practice ... »
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 53–54 .

mardi 18 juillet 2017

The Paladin Ethic and the Spirit of Dungeoneering [peer-reviewed]

Mizer, Nicholas J. 2014. “The Paladin Ethic and the Spirit of Dungeoneering.The Journal of Popular Culture 47 (6): 1296–1313.
D&D is a paradoxical mix of "free narrative imagination and complex rule-based limitations".

D&D follows the development curve of wargame designs. It becomes more and more rationalized and, when it's are too dull or unplayable, an innovation is introduced to re-enchant it. Wargame rules for Middle Ages were dull, too complex and not satisfying, so Arneson "re-infuse [them] with a play spirit".

D&D game designs reflect the values
  • of America: imagination, flexibility, limitless possibilities
  • of puritanism : character advancement, accumulation of XP and treasure (wealth and divine favor)
  • of actuarial science (Gygax profession): scores, ratings, charts,...
  • of modern standardization (ex: McDonaldization: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control): "prepackaged fantasy characters and sending them into ready-to-explore adventures".

jeudi 13 juillet 2017

The "Batman Effect": perseverance can be taught through role play

White, R. E., Prager, E. O., Schaefer, C., Kross, E., Duckworth, A. L., & Carlson, S. M. (2016). The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children. Child Development, n/a-n/a.

Children who play a role, identifying with a known character (ex. Batman) with positive qualities, could increase their perseverance. Perseverance is the ability to self-regulate, avoid distraction and stick to one’s goals and intentions.
How does it work ? Playing a role means self-distancing, which means shifting to a 3rd-person point of view and thinking of yourself from an outsider perspective. It especially distances us emotionally from our experience of the moment (temptations, distractions or negative emotions), which means better self-regulation and better perseverance.

So : «Kid, dress like Batman [or Elsa] when doing your homework!» (via PsychologyToday)

mercredi 28 juin 2017

FBI unclassified: Gygax looks like a badass

Via PaxSims and ReasonH&R

Criminal justice reporter CJ Ciaramella filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the FBI's files on TSR, Inc.
  • Typical wargaming enthousiasts are reported to be extremely intelligent individuals, live frugally to support their hobby, overweight and not neat in appearance.
  • Gary Gygax is reported to be eccentric and frightening, carrying a weapon, answering letters coming from a prison, hold a company in Liberia to avoid taxes, be a member of the Libertarian Party and would be extremely uncooperative with the FBI [about a fellow gamer?].

mercredi 21 juin 2017

Role-playing game groups as hunter-gatherer bands

Hunter-gatherers (HG) were...

  • our basic human social organizations until agricultural revolution (c.-10.000)
  • highly mobile
  • playful

HG Values were...

  • Strongly egalitarian (not like hierarchical chimpanzees)
    • follow the rules willingly and freely
    • freedom to quit the band
  • Cooperation
    • extensive discussions and debates until consensus 
    • relations and exchanges with others bands
    • keep the band together = more stable band = better survival
    • role separation and role interchangeable (not like Neanderthals)
  • Sharing
    • few properties (just "carry-on")

HG Playfulness enforces these values

  • Play is mostly non-competitive
  • Unlike most non-human mammals, play :
    • continues in adulthood
    • is not separated from productive behavior (true hunt/ hunt play,...)
    • is framing a lot of (all?) daily activities
      (ex: monkeys seek for social status, except when playing. HG didn't search for social status at all, because play was framing all their daily life)

HG Playfulness Outcomes

  • Play and humor :
    • reduce arrogance and dominance
    • suppress aggressive behavior
    • promote equality
  • Play helps :
    • passing of culture (knowledges, values, ...) from generation to generation
    • learning and praticing skills
  • Play boosts empathy :
    • share fun with others
    • discover what others like or dislike
    • please others and keep them from leaving

... and RPG gaming groups ?

Our societies and daily lifes are now too complex to be organized like HG bands. BUT when we play in small groups, we use what our brain was trained for millenia :
  • having a fun free shared collective empathic experience of personal freedom with [few/less/no] hierarchy and no unwilling constraints. If negociated skillfully, it enables us to grow temporary or permanent communities.
Nota Bene: even if its now summertime, there is no need to walk naked with a stick to your next tabletop game...

Gray, P. (2009). Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence. American Journal of Play, 1(4), 476–522. 
Gray, P. (2014). Play Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism. In D. Narvaez, K. Valentino, A. Fuentes, J. J. McKenna, & P. Gray (Éd.), Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution (p. 192‑215). New York: Oxford University Press.

jeudi 15 juin 2017

The first game masters & an opportunity for scholarly rant

Who are the first game masters ? 

  • Agonothetes were referees and organizers of Greek sacred games [Wikipédia]. More specifically, Hellanodikai were ancient Olympics games judges from Elis in charge of rules, standards and traditions [Wikipédia]
  • Aediles were elected romans officials. Plebeian aediles were probably in charge of the Plebeian games (Ludi plebeii). Curulian aediles (nobles) were in charge of the Roman games (Ludi Romani) [360, Lex Furia de aedilibus].
  • ...
  • von Reisswitz (father) introduced a wargame referee for the first time. Known as Vertrauter (ie. confidant) he was helped by assistants. He displayed informations to players and made decisions based on complex rules [1811, Anleitung zu einer mechanischen Vorrichtung um taktische Manoevers sinnlich darzustellen].
  • von Reisswitz (son) improved his father designs and also made the referees as meaningful scenario designers [1824, Anleitung zur Darstellung militaerischer Manoever mit dem Apparat des Kriegs-spiels]. 
  • von Meckel introduced personal judgement instead of static rules for deciding the outcomes of actions taken by the players [1876, Freie Kriegsspiel].
  • Michael F. Korns designed a one-person wargame with game master [1966, Modern War in Miniature]. 
  • Major David Wesely designed a one-person wargame adjudicated by himself [1967, Braunstein].
  • Dave Arneson, a Braunstein player, designed the first role-playing game as we know it today [1970, Blackmoor]. In 1972, he presented it to Gary Gygax who edited and marketed it as Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.
To investigate: the official use of umpires/ referees in sport contests reappeared around 1830-1840. Were there examples before 1811?

Comparing two types of sources

This paragraph is taken from the book War Gaming, written by reporter Andrew Wilson in 1968 for Pelican Book. The quality of writing is extremely poor: no source, short-cuts in the discourse, abusive generalizations and mistakes. I saw other unsourced informations displayed in this book that reused elsewhere as solid facts. Grr!

This paragraph is taken from the article "German War Gaming", written by Milan Vego in 2012 in the Naval War College Review, a peer-reviewed journal (anonymous experts are carefully evaluating the content). The intensive use of citations allows the reader to go check out the informations by themselves. It has also more facts based informations, less short-cuts and the claims are more cautious.