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Faithfulness in Games

How we play a game is an essential part of what game we are playing.

When playing any sort of game, there are all kinds of ways to play. There’s win-at-all-costs, which includes all sorts of dishonorable methods including cheating, things less than honorable but short of cheating, and still other things that aren’t necessarily dishonorable but perhaps outside of general strategies (e.g., gimmicks). There’s also faithfully playing the game, regardless of how badly the game is made or the consequences on things such as time or sanity.

There are other forms still. When playing with young children, non-evil people will adopt something like a lose-at-all-costs strategy. We let kids win. As they get older, we adopt some sort of lazy-try strategy, where we will win sometimes, but we aren’t cutthroat.

When playing against adult beginners, or perhaps against older children beginners of sufficient determination or natural ability, we tend to adopt a faithful gameplay strategy with an opportunistic lose-to-teach caveat.

We can vary our gameplay quite a lot. It can change moment to moment, based on all sorts of factors. If we’re playing and drinking, for example, our impulses might get the better of us and we become ruthless. Nieces and nephews soon learn the real meaning of fish in Go Fish. Or if our opponent is drunk, we may go easy on them (assuming no stakes and a friendly, not-annoying-when-drunk adversary).

We see the variation used in the tactics of a pool shark—going soft until the stakes are high enough to justify playing at-skill.

But we also see the variations arise in single player games. If you want a lazy game of solitaire, software allows for endlessly going through the stock. If you’re frustrated in a platformer, you might seek out cheese—a way to get past a difficult portion without doing the insanely precise set of moves it usually requires.

Speedrunners adopt their own rules depending on the community and the game. They allow or bar the use of glitches, they have any% (any percentage complete) runs and full runs. Some games have categories piled atop categories. The goals of variety in speedrun rules is to build gameplay styles that suits the runner community interests. If the runs get too easy, too fast, the challenge is gone. If the runs are too long and too hard, nobody will want to attempt the feat.

Speedrunners also throw certain aspects of game faith out the window entirely. Enemies are not tough or scary to runners. They are often avoided entirely, raced past or jumped over without a thought. The runner treats the game much more like a program, looking for the set of conditions that allow progression regardless of the internal experience.

Multiplayer video games have their own variations as well, even within the same game. This depends on the players, on the community norms, on server modifications, and so on. But you might have moments when the game devolves into silliness, only to turn competitive again. You might have whole eras of a game take place in the span of minutes. A dynasty of one gameplay strategy can erupt and decay as players switch their focus from one objective to another.

All of these variations are forms of faith in gaming. There’s the rigid way-it’s-meant-to-be-played form which some would say is most faithful, but others would argue that play-for-fun or play-to-maximum-skill are more faithful to games and sports in general.

But we can also look through the looking glass the other way. There is a whole inverted set of game design that follows the same course. There are games designed to maximize revenue of the publisher or developer. There are games that feature the kinds of variations in design that jump from silly to scary to cutthroat to lose-at-all-costs (i.e., let the player win).

For multiplayer games, some game makers make some effort to let players pick the type of game they want. They offer casual modes and competitive modes, and custom servers have their own flavors of the games.

The same is true for games that allow user created levels. Some make really hard levels, others make easy ones. Some make art with the tools they are given, levels meant to be enjoyed for their design rather than their gameplay.

As with rules of dining, faith in gaming is a side dish. The goal of games is to nourish the brain’s capacity to understand systems. While wine-pairing and proper course compositions may enhance a meal, the goal is to suppress the appetite, to be fed.

Smarter than Human Intelligence

A look at what it will take for an AI to be smarter than a human.

When speaking of AI, we should do well to look at what is needed to actually be smarter than a human.

With an AI, we assume it has dedicated hardware and power. Given it can operate continuously, it may not have to be smarter than a human to be smarter than a human. That is, if I’m half as smart as you per cycle, but can operate for thrice as many cycles, can I be said to be smarter?

As smart as humans are, we have memory recall problems, we have worries and stresses (that go beyond just having to eat, sleep). We have split attentions and interests. An AI can focus and not worry or get distracted. If it can be three times as consistent in its work than a human is, how dumb can an AI be and still be smarter than one of us?

We have to assume it can be duplicated. If I am half as smart as you, but can make two more copies of myself that can cooperate with me, can I be said to be smarter?

Compounding continuous operation, focus, and duplication, how much intelligence does an AI need to be smarter than a human?

I’ve read a few books. Some people have read many more than I have. At the tip of the long tail, someone has maybe read, what, 100,000 books? And let’s say, comprehended most of them. An AI can access all of that data and more. It still has to work out contradicting information, but what hurdles does it have that we lack? If it can grab information in a few ticks, when it takes one of us at least seconds, if not minutes or hours, how smart does it have to be when it can get the answer from stored knowledge?

If you had the perfect library of knowledge, if you could spend a lifetime curating it, then be reborn, to live with that perfect library, how much more productive would you be, finding each mote of knowledge at the right place? An AI could rewrite every document it scans through in a way that makes its next pass that much faster and more useful. And it doesn’t have to be too smart to do that. Probably not even as smart as one of us.

I’m starting to think that an AI doesn’t have to be very smart in the small to be smarter than a human in the large.

Evolution versus Tower of Hanoi

Look at a common misunderstanding likely caused by the phrasing, “survival of the fittest.”

The Tower of Hanoi (Wikipedia: Tower of Hanoi) is a neat little stacking game. The rules are simple:

  1. There are a number disks of varying sizes.
  2. There are (typically) three slots the disks can sit on.
  3. Only one disk may be moved at a time.
  4. Only the top disk of a stack may be moved.
  5. No larger disk may be placed atop a smaller disk.

The goal is to get the entire stack of disks from one slot to another.

In this arrangement, it would be sensible enough to call out a natural ordering of the disks, from largest (bottom) to smallest (top). You could create a sensible narrative where the smaller disks are more fragile, or more exalted, or whatever.

The problem with many laypersons’ accounts of evolution (particularly those portrayed as deniers, e.g., in documentaries) is that they attempt to impose this sort of narrative where one doesn’t belong. In large part this may be due to the phrase, “survival of the fittest.” But regardless it is demonstrably false and it undermines any attempt to actually understand evolution.

Let’s start with that phrase. You have many animals or creatures in an environment, and suddenly food becomes scarce. The pressure on these animals causes some to starve, others to fight, &c.

What fitness means, and all it means, in that context is that those animals who happen to be best able to cope with the pressure will survive. That may be due to them hiding, running away, being lazybones that happened to sleep through a catastrophe, &c.

Fitness is being used very loosely in that phrase. It doesn’t mean the one that can run the 100 meter dash the fastest, nor the one that can bench-press n times its own body weight. It lends no credence to eugenics, for example, unless your idea of eugenics is letting random chance determine the gene pool.

They happened to survive, and that’s all that was required for them to be called fit. If you repeated the event 1,000 times, and some subset of the population portrayed a similar tendency to avoid the catastrophe in a large set of those trials, that would be a measure of fitness. But even once, even a fluke, still imbues them with some level of fitness.

When creatures or animals change from one species to another, it means there has been enough genetic change that they can no longer reproduce with their ancestors’ other species (be they the old species or other derived ones). That doesn’t mean the other species are extinct, nor does it mark them as inferior. It’s just a statement of biological fact.

The notion that we, as humans, are superior to all the other species is a common human belief. It may bear out in certain contexts, but it fails in many as well. For example, we cannot survive by swimming around in antarctic waters, eating krill. No, we are adapted to particular environments even if we may possess the intellect to adapt to a wider range of environments than other species.

Do us a favor, documentarians. When you wish to produce a documentary about those who deny evolution, please make sure they first take a class that dispels such fallacies, both ubiquitous and idiosyncratic.

If they still choose to disbelieve the science based on an understanding of it, fine. But calling them disbelievers when they don’t even have the correct picture to disbelieve reads as disingenuous. More akin to telling a joke poorly, and then when they don’t laugh writing it off to their poor sense of humor.