Archive for May 2010

A History of Social Games

May 26, 2010

Over on his blog, Jon Radoff provides a terrific map Jon Radoff's History of Social Games - http://radoff.comof the history of social games.  Really worth looking over.  He starts with ancient times and wends his way down to the present (leaving out many games, even some seminal ones, but still catching the main currents).

What I’m most interested in is where we are now and (of course) what’s next.  Jon’s brief taxonomy separates current social games into Strategy, Sim, RPG, and “experiences” (music, pets, etc.). Not a bad set of categories.   I’m particularly interested in the potentially convergent growth of RPGs (Mafia Wars, etc.) and Sim games (Farmtown, Social City), and whether both can interweave well with some kinds of strategy games.  Are these kinds of games sufficiently social that as they evolve they can support hybrids and cross-overs, or are we more or less stuck with these genres?

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This Isn’t the Social AI You’re Looking For

May 26, 2010

I’m a huge proponent of what I call “social AI;” I’ve written and spoken about this before.  Social AI is in some ways a subset of“Artificial General Intelligence” in that it implies AI that acts in socially plausible ways (a phrase we use to avoid problematic terms like “realistic”) without having to include the complete range of human knowledge and nuance.

My vision for social AI is that it enables computer-driven agents (aka NPCs) to interact with each other and with human participants in socially plausible and satisfying ways.  This, I believe, is necessary for the “very long form story” and non-static worlds that I wrote about earlier, among other uses.

But there are also disturbing examples of what social AI isn’t, at least to my way of thinking.  I’m going to look at a few of these, and then come back to talk more about what social AI can do for us in more positive ways. (more…)

“LOST” and the Very Long Form Story

May 24, 2010

So yes, I was among the many people avidly watching the “Lost” finale last night.  I thought it was well done: good writing, pacing, additional character development, and summing things up in a way that was satisfying narratively and emotionally.

We’ve also been watching the series from the start (DVD and Hulu) and I’ve been impressed by how much of the story was in fact present from the very beginning: seeds of characterization, theme, and even plot points were carefully included from the first episode on.  Also how layers of explanation worked to the show’s advantage: polar bears and a smoke monster on a tropical island seem equally improbable, but it turns out only the latter was actually mysterious.  As the layers peeled away with time, we gained much more understanding of the island and of the main characters (who thankfully avoided becoming caricatures).

This six-year run of Lost with its successful conclusion brings me back to how such long story arcs are missing in games.  Most games (especially online/MMO games) present static worlds or have a single arc often with an unsatisfying end.    Can we learn from the success of “very long story forms” like Lost to increase the long-term world and narrative structure in online games? (more…)