Thursday, March 16, 2006

Magic for the imagination

Christopher Ireland had a fascinating reaction to my recent post asking Why are Virtual Worlds so real? She writes (emphasis added):

“On the topic of games and magic, I just bought the latest version of Civilization (IV). This is a game I've played since it was created. […]

“Part of why it can hold my attention so long is its magic elements. In my case, the magic is a combination of perspective and narrative. The perspective magic is being able to see and impact an entire world. In no other situation can I have that vast of a view and that complex of an interaction. The narrative magic is a little harder to explain but it's probably the bulk of the appeal. As the player, I’m trying to see if my philosophical beliefs can "win," and in the game I have the ability to do "what ifs" that are not possible anywhere else. I can try out numerous different scenarios and approaches, all held together by the narrative of cultural growth and expansion. The fact that i can try this over and over in any number of different permutations with full resolution of cultural elements is magic to me. […]

“I think what makes some games seem "magic" to me (and maybe many others) is that they require an integration of that which the software directly creates and that which the software allows me to create. If it was just a product of the software, i would feel more like a spectator and the magic would not be any different from what i see on TV or in a movie.”

Christopher’s distinction complements the taxonomy I was exploring in the earlier post. I was trying to match cognition, physical reality, and the kinds of games that make sense to users. Her examples fit in my Category 2 (magic we can imagine, and that is found in games), but go well beyond the simple physical cases I listed. I think she’s describing two kinds of way in which the software extends our imaginative reach:

  1. Perspective magic allows one to have a “sensory” view which one can’t attain physically.
  2. Narrative magic allows an “emotional” view which one couldn’t have had otherwise.

Her two cases align with the distinction philosophers and cognitive scientists make between “sensory experiences” (seeing a flower or hearing a piano sonata), and “propositional attitudes” (psychological states like belief or desire). Perspective magic enables a new kind of sensory experience, and narrative magic allows new propositional attitudes.

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