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“Learning” and Videogames

September 14, 2011

Now, I’ve been taking a class on American Pragmatism, so bear with me here. Charles Peirce is not the most engaging writer, but his head was FULL of ideas, so allow me to summarize one that has struck me.

Charles Peirce, one of the first of the American Pragmatists, has a particular conception of how logical reasoning works. We don’t have self-consciousness in the sense of the Cartesian ideal; instead, our cognitions (anything that occurs in the brain, really) are caused by outside stimuli, the constant flow of information arising from the real world. Any thoughts from us arise out of our beliefs, or habits as he calls them. We are inclined to live in a particular way from habits formed over time. Think about the way you walk; those habits of walking with one foot in front of the other, basically were instilled over a long period of time. You don’t think about it because that habit was established long ago. However, think about what happens when you trip while walking – suddenly, you’re out of order, you have to think about walking (which you haven’t been doing consciously), and thus solve the problem somehow. Thought, for Peirce, is much like that. It arises when our habits no longer correspond to the situation or the real world – we must think, and think, and think, until that belief has been resolved, altered, or removed, and then the human being inserts a new habit to replace the old one…until something new comes along.

In fact, this process continues near infinitely in the entire community of civilization – we continually reform our opinions and beliefs as we find they do not correspond to reality, and in theory human society will reach a point where all knowledge in human beings correspond to reality. Again, this part is speculative, but the idea is clear enough. While I don’t agree that the real world is just simply “the real world”, I’m not inclined to disagree, either. Perhaps I’ve just grown up in the state of doubt.

What struck me, though, is just how relevant this is to the process of learning a video game. It is the very essence of this concept, whatever kind of game you’re playing. Take an action game, for example – it will present certain rules to you, and the game reality is structured in a way that these rules will always (barrings bugs and errors in the game code) hold for the player. In a first person shooter, aiming, shooting, taking cover, etc., are all rules the game expects you to follow – if you don’t, you will fail. If you keep failing, it is because you have not learned the game’s rules.

However, the very basics of control don’t lead us to mastery. The game will, in fact, present additional obstacles that test your knowledge and capacity of the game system. Bayonetta, for example, just begs you to explore its combat system in its Alfheim events – one challenge involves going 100 yds in the air, or something to that effect. This is something that doesn’t make sense, at first glance – why would I want to do that, after all, if the game is about combat – but a specific weapon, the Kulshedra, bounces you into the air if you whip and hold the enemies. The challenge is easy, but only if you are creative within the rules and systems the game presents.

I can go even further, here, by showing a role-playing game. Dragon Quest, for example, trains you to talk to every townsperson – they might provide hints or clues, but at least one person in the town tells you where to go, whether or not you realize it. The game, literally, trains you to do this in every town, repeatedly – this is how the world works, you realize, and either I get stuck in the first town area or I try to figure out what sequence of events the games wants me to go in. Furthermore, battles train you to actually check the numbers of the enemies. At a point, you’re trying for efficiency in every random battle, as well as resource management, a constant tension (especially in dungeons). Shall I use a spell that hits all enemies, or use physical attacks for single targets? Which enemy is the most dangerous? Which enemies are simply pushovers? If multiples enemies have dangerous attacks, which one should I take out first? You’re not actively thinking about this most of the time, so much as your habits in the game are being challenged, repeatedly, by the game itself. Eventually, you master the game and finish it.

This doesn’t occur in fighting games, however, as each new opponent brings a different set of challenges. The rule set can be mastered, but you now have to discern the habits of an entirely different person that clashes with your own. This takes time and dedication to master these games, and even then, you can have a bad day and perform horribly.

But, again, videogames are all about habits, training habits in the game’s world. In that way, it’s a microcosm of our own personal worlds, and that’s why we like playing games. We enter new worlds, learn about them, and then try to master them. We encounter new experiences, mold our habits accordingly, then resolve our tension through learning the rules. As there are so many videogames, there are a limitless amount of new habits, and many habits transfer straight over to new games. These same skills carry over to life, only we don’t examine it in that way. So, are a lot of people who play videogames really just goal-oriented and looking for fun? Or are they unknowingly training themselves in habits befitting a scientific, post-Enlightenment world?

Fascinating stuff, huh?

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From → Life, Video Games

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