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The Science Pope?

May contain nuts. 

Robot-pope Did life on Earth commence with the arrival of a biological material on a meteor (as in Spore), or around deep sea vents, or in “primordial soup”? Does the answer for the ‘missing’ matter in the universe point to dark matter, dark energy, or errors in our theories of gravitation? Did humanity develop upright posture to better dissipate heat, to free the arms for gathering food, to better wade through water, or simply because we’re lazy, and it uses less energy to walk upright? Does the Higgs boson really exist, or is it (as I contend) an awful kludge – and will the Large Hadron Collidor settle this dispute, or bring about one of a handful of exciting doomsday scenarios?

Science is packed full of such energetic debates between rival epistemic positions. (‘Epistemic’ is philosopher-speak for ‘stuff about knowledge’). Wouldn’t it be great if we could resolve all of these issues and know what is really true? We could appoint a board of scientists to weigh all the evidence and decide the real epistemology. Hey, why stop at a committee – they’ll just waste all that time arguing about it. We could appoint one individual to decide what’s true and what’s not true. We could appoint a Science Pope – an epistemic action hero to tell us what’s True and what’s False. An end to scientific argument! Scientific Truth forever! 

Cue the victory parade!

Now hang about, those of you who have not detected the scent of my sarcasm, isn’t one of the complaints that militant atheists like to level against the historical Catholic Church precisely that it tried to act as an epistemic legislator, thus blocking the True and Just advancement of the scientific method – the story of Galileo proves it! The Church was wrong and Galileo was right, yeah? Scientific Truth forever! Testify! 

Actually, as the maverick philosopher Paul Feyerabend demonstrated – Galileo was right, but for the wrong reasons (his conclusion would accord with future theory, but his method was flawed and insufficient as evidence), while the Church was wrong for various reasons, some absurd (Biblical inerrancy), but some bang on the money (observing the very pertinent flaws in Galileo’s research.) Not to mention Galileo shot himself in the foot by turning his staunchest ally, Pope Urban VIII, into his enemy by writing a book intended to examine both sides of the argument into a book that bigged up his own position (which, remembering that his evidence was insufficient, he was drawing solely from intuition), while implying that the Pope was a simpleton. In this regard, Galileo was a politically naïve fool.  

None of this denies Galileo’s brilliance – his later works were indeed the foundation of future scientific thinking, and he did correctly intuit that heliocentric models were accurate. But in the matter of his dispute with the Catholic Church, Galileo was a brash upstart, whose arrogance was as great a factor in his fate as the Vatican’s epistemic totalitarianism. None of which is to deny that there was an epistemic autocracy in sixteenth century Europe.

A Science Pope would mirror this old fashioned epistemic dictatorship, exhuming the corpse of a nasty practice the Catholic Church has gradually (and somewhat reluctantly) been giving up for more than a hundred years now. Contrary to popular perception, evolution has been on the Catholic syllabus for quite a while now, and let’s not forget that it was a Catholic monk, Gregor Mendel, who fathered modern genetics, and a Catholic priest, George Lemaître, who proposed the Big Bang theory in 1931. Representatives of Catholicism have actually contributed rather positively to the scientific endeavour. 

It’s not Christianity versus Science, much less Religion versus Science (has the Dalai Lama ever made an epistemic prescription?), the religious cold war, as I have dubbed it, is between militant atheists and militant Young Earth Creationists – whoops, sorry, I’m told they now prefer to be referenced as Biblical Authoritists, which should surely help weaken their position far more effectively than any argument their opponents might try to advance. By the way, while I’m here, the US is host to perhaps 30 million atheists (as quoted by American Atheists) and perhaps 140 million Young Earth… er… Biblical Authoritists (as calculated from the most recent evolution census data). That’s about 10% and about 46% of the population of the US – although what proportion of those are actually militant about their respective positions is less clear…

I suppose a few scientistic fanatics waiting in the wings might still want to mount a Science Pope defence (although undoubtedly not under that title!) on the grounds that Papal epistemology drew from the Bible (well, in part, yes, but in part, no) but the Science Pope would draw their epistemology from the pure white light of Reason and Science and thus would be able to synthesise Pure Scientific Truth. Never mind Kuhn’s widely accepted philosophy of science concerning the temporary stability of scientific paradigms, this kind of reasoning falls into the mistake so nicely captured by Mathew Cromer’s twist on Michael Shermer’s theme: science is a method, not a position. There is no permanent Scientific Truth – to believe there is would be to adopt a position of epistemic authority as bizarrely inconsistent with the scientific method as anything the Young Earth Creationists propose. (And they, at least, are upfront about the foundation – and thus limitation – of their epistemological position).

I doubt there is anyone who would want to propose a Science Pope - although there seems to be a few people who think they have appointed themselves to the role.

The thing about proposing a Science Pope is that this is a magnificent lightning rod for all sorts of absurd nonsense. I hope at this point it’s clear that a Science Pope – or any more innocently worded variation on the same theme (“Council of Scientific Truth”, “League of Accurate Scientific Pronouncement” etc.) would be a truly atrocious monstrosity. The very strength of our modern scientific method is that it supports many competing viewpoints, which engage in a kind of epistemic natural selection between all individuals – everyone is free to interpret scientific research through their own lens.

This is precisely the underpinning for science that Feyerabend felt was the only consistent position, something further pursued by John Dupré’s pluralistic metaphysics. Dupré denies the assumption of reductionism that all science is explicable in terms of the science “underneath” – thus everything will ultimately be explicable by physics – and justifiably so. It takes a gigantic leap of faith to jump over the fact that nothing of this kind has actually been demonstrated thus far, and it’s very unlikely (for instance) that psychology can be fully explicated by physics, nor even chemistry. I notice Dupré has his supporters, which is a very encouraging development.

Yet perhaps I have been too cavalier in dismissing the possibility of a Science Pope.

The Vatican has yielded its epistemic authority while maintaining its moral authority – accepting, of course, that this authority extends solely to Catholic Christians who choose to accept this authority, and have every right to do so in a society that values freedom of belief. Although a Science Pope with epistemic authority would be a resurgence of everything that was awful about the Papacy’s historical attempts to be the arbiter of knowledge, perhaps there might yet be a role for a Science Pope who was a genuine parallel of the Catholic Pope – a Science Pope with moral authority, someone who could tackle the increasingly urgent need for a coherent ethics of science before it’s too late. 

But of course, few if any scientists would accept an external source of authority, and indeed many seem to believe that the pursuit of knowledge is a perfectly reasonable higher moral authority to cleave to, while readily pursuing research that is dehumanising, threatening to the future survival of all species, or otherwise ethically questionable by the varying standards that most of humanity upholds. In this regard, I sometimes wish there was a Science Pope that the wider scientific community might listen to when considering the impact of their research, rather than just the commercial benefits.

Would it be so bad to have someone who could say every once in a while: please don’t research that, some of us are trying to live on this planet!


Frustration

Frustration We all experience frustrations, when our expectations or plans are disrupted, interrupted or wholly thwarted. This causes anger to well up within us - indeed, frustration is a name for a particular kind of anger. The greater our expectations, the more frustrated we will become.

According to anger management expert John Lee, "Expectations are unrealized resentments waiting to happen." The more we have ideas about how things should be, the more likely we are to be frustrated when those expectations are not fulfilled. Thus we go through life with ideas in our heads about what should happen, how such-and-such should work, what the socially accepted thing should be in a particular situation and so on and so forth - all of which is setting ourselves up for greater and greater frustration.

In my life, my history of interacting with Microsoft productivity software is precisely encapsulated by this observation: they are such a source of frustration for me because I have expectations about how an Office suite should function (some of which have been acquired from working with Microsoft's Office suite in the past, which has prepared me with certain expectations that later versions often thwart). I am thus prone to frustration when dealing with these, an outcome which helps no-one and certainly not myself.

What can we do about our frustrations? I cannot offer a panacea, but I can say what helps me.

I am often struck by people who seem to suffer less frustration in life than I do; many of them manage to be placid in the face of what would be enraging for me, and with this seems to come a greater tendency to be delighted by the unexpectedly pleasant. It is as if, by having fewer expectations, by being less bound to the self-made rules of should, they free themselves from frustration and open themselves up to finding delight in the positives, rather than burning up in the friction of the negatives.

As someone who finds wisdom in all the great religious traditions, I see in such people an expression of the spirit of the Buddha, whose four noble truths say that existence is suffering, and the origin of that suffering is desire - or in the terms we are discussing today, expectations. In Buddhist practice, one eliminates the desires (the expectations) in order to eliminate the suffering, which is traditionally achieved through meditation and a reorientation of one's world away from the selfish drive of Me and towards an attitude of love towards the world. In this way, Buddhist teaching accords with the ministry of Jesus, which also teaches love as an antidote for suffering (sin, in Christian terminology, although many do not interpret the term in this manner).

My wife gave me a small wooden Buddha statue to keep on my desk; I try to focus on that when my work drives me into a rage compounded from myriad software frustrations. It is difficult, in the heat of the moment, but I still try, and if I fail I do not let myself feel defeated but rather I draw satisfaction from the times when I am able to quell my growing anger and becalm my tempestuous temper. It is perhaps harder for those who have no link to spirituality - someone who has "no invisible means of support" (to coin Fulton Sheen's memorable phrase) - to still their demons, but perhaps even the most grounded materialist can find the logic in silencing the demanding voice of should in their psyche, a voice which lures us into frustration.


A Secular Age (3): Exclusive Humanism

Hume The transitions in the conditions of belief that culminated in the new idea of society constituted as individuals, and the growing sense of a “disenchanted” world, brought about a considerable shift in the both the practice and understanding of Christianity among the élites of the eighteenth century. The “buffered self”, which was a key requirement for disenchantment, gradually served to drive towards an idea of a “buffered world”. This lead to new ideas about God which marked a radical break from earlier theology, and the arrival of a new outlook often referred to as “Deism”.

The move towards Deism was in effect a narrowing of the purposes of divine providence. The basic idea in Deistic theology is that rather than God being constantly and actively intervening in the world, the natural order was created by God for our benefit, and our commitment in return was simply to flourish in order to fulfill God’s plan. This was an significant shift from earlier theology, which may also have recognised this facet, but which also expected more – God’s purposes were inscrutable, but they included our love and worship of him (for whatever reason), and thus immediately placed upon us a demand that went beyond human flourishing.

The theology that emerges in the eighteenth century shows a profound anthropomorphic shift: any sense of further purpose becomes eclipsed by the concept that what we owe to God is simply the realisation of his plan, which is to say, the achievement of our own good. With the shift in the social imaginary towards the notion of society constituted as individuals, this meant that by committing to a moral order of mutual benefit, we were doing what was asked of us by God. This was the rise of Providential Deism, a theology which believed that the natural order of things had been established for our benefit – even though it was up to us, as the inhabitants of the resulting world, to co-operate towards our own flourishing. 

The anthropocentric shift towards a belief in the primacy of the order of mutual benefit also brought with it a transformation in the view of the world towards an idea of impersonal order. Previously, the orthodox Christian conception was of “God as an agent interacting with humans and intervening in human history”. Via Deism, this was to change towards the notion of “God as architect of a universe operating by unchanging laws, which humans have to conform to or suffer the consequences”.

We can see the extent to which these new theological beliefs changed the attitude towards religious practice by looking at what were considered “dangerous” expressions of religion in the eighteenth century: 

Three kinds of dangerous religion were categorized as “superstition”, “fanaticism”, and “enthusiasm”. The first designated the enchanted dimension of religion, the rites and cults and practices which partook of magic in their understanding… ‘Fanaticism’ designated the kind of religious certainty that seemed to the agent concerned to licence going well beyond, and even committing gross violations against the order of mutual benefit. While ‘enthusiasm’ meant the certainty that one heard the voice of God, and could act on it, without having to rely on external authority, ecclesiastical or civil.

Now, the Deist theology was largely the domain of elites at this time, but it was still creating profound shifts within Christianity, including what Taylor terms “the decline of Hell”, which is to say a growing reluctance to accept traditional beliefs about God as an implacable source of punishment. The old juridical-penal doctrine – that by sinning we offended God’s honour and thus he was obligated to punish us – began to be seen as quite repulsive by the intellectuals of the Enlightenment.  

Indeed, this hostility towards the older, orthodox interpretations of Christianity allows for the creation of radical new ways of approaching both religion and morality, and this in turn created conflicting philosophical tensions. Thus we see philosophers such as David Hume (pictured above) pulling away from Christianity, which he was greatly hostile towards, and dismissing notions such as miracles on an a priori basis (a leap of faith away from orthodox religious thought). Hume in turn inspires Immanuel Kant, considered to be the greatest philosopher of the modern age, who remains a Christian but radically reformulates what this means and develops the idea of reason as the basis for morality. Kant sees this as founded in God – reason is God-given, if you will – but this new viewpoint still marks a significant step away from older notions of morality being prescribed by God. Now, what is moral can be derived intellectually.

Thus a massive shift in horizon occurs: humanity is now seen as forming societies under the modern moral order of mutual benefit, fulfilling their purposes by using what Nature provides by exploring the impersonal order with the aid of disengaged reason. This is wholly new epistemic predicament. And we can see how this shift opened the door for what Taylor terms “exclusive humanism”, which is to say, the acceptance of the kind of view of the world closely related to that espoused by Providential Deism, in which human flourishing is the highest good which we co-operate towards, but without reference to God or any kind of higher reality. (It can be argued that calling this “atheism” places the emphasis in the wrong place: it implies a necessary opposition that obscures what is actually of value about this kind of belief system).  

This was no trivial change in perspective! As Taylor notes:

A standard subtractionist story would convince us that once the old religious and metaphysical beliefs withered away, room was finally made for the existing, purely human moral motivation. But this was not the case. It may seem to be, because the locus now of the highest moral capacities was identified as in “human nature”. And that links up with centuries of non-exclusive humanism, and in particular with the moral theories that came down to us from the ancients… But it is already evident that, in one sense, this modern humanism is different from most ancient ethics of human nature, in that it is exclusive, that is, its notion of human flourishing makes no reference to something higher which humans should reverence or love or acknowledge. And this clearly distinguishes it from, say, Plato, or the Stoics.

Furthermore, the emergence of exclusive humanism wasn’t something that was inevitably going to come about – we have no reason (beyond a leap of faith) to believe that under different circumstances this would have occurred. The new system of belief abandons all notions of transcendence (of a reality beyond that of everyday experience) in preference for a view of the world as entirely immanent. Taylor stresses that this development of exclusive humanism should be surprising:

So exclusive humanism wasn’t just something we fell into, once the old myths dissolved, or the “infamous” ancien régime church was crushed. It opened up new human potentialities, viz. to live in these modes of moral life in which the sources are radically immanentized. The substraction story doesn’t allow us to be as surprised as we ought to be at this achievement – or as admiring of it; because it is after all one of the great realizations in the history of human development, whatever our ultimate views about its scope or limitations.

And this amazing achievement originated from religious motives, it grew out of Providential Deism, which drove a process between (say) 1650 and 1800 which allowed freedom to emerge as a value in itself – something which came to be seen as a crucial feature of any acceptable political system. That religion was intimately connected with this process can be seen from the fact that one of the primary forms of freedom that was valued during this transition was in fact freedom of belief. This can be clearly discerned in the early days of the American Republic, particularly in Thomas Jefferson’s push for “a wall of separation between Church and State” – not to protect the citizens from religion, but to prevent the government from interfering with the citizenry’s right to determine their own manner of worship.

Thus, while emergence of this new perspective is open to interpretation in many different ways, one of the most common ideas concerning the origin of exclusive humanism is demonstrably false: it did not originate out of a conflict between religion and science. Although Galileo's story in the 17th century had  already foreshadowed it, this battle had yet to begin in earnest.

Next week: “Religion” versus “Science”


From Film, to Game, to Bargain Bin

This post is part of the September Round Table on the transition from film to game.

Cds I have worked on a number of film-to-game adaptations, although not as many as I have TV-to-game or even toy-to-game adaptations. I’m not going to name any names, but on the whole I would have to say that film-to-game is the hardest adaptation proposition in the whole of the videogame world, and there are sound developmental and commercial forces which contribute to the excremental quality of the finished product in most cases. Yet, and this cannot be overlooked, these games still sell in reasonably large numbers.

As Denis has noted in his Round Table post, part of the problem is scheduling. Film-to-game adaptations are a merchandising proposition – the whole basis of the commercial viability of the form is to get the game on the shelves when it can share in the hype of the movie (thus saving on marketing costs). Consequently, the damned souls condemned to work on a film-to-game adaptation are immediately up against the clock. The famed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game (which David Lee knees in the proverbial groin in his Round Table post) had to be made in six weeks – when this is taken into account, its poor quality is perhaps more forgiveable.

That’s just the beginning of the problem though. Not only do you have insufficient time to work on these kinds of projects, but you are usually working solely from the screenplay (because you have to start work before principal photography has begun) and so if the goal of the project is to have the game represent the film, you can look forward to a panoply of crises later in the project as you discover your game doesn’t match the film at all. Not to mention that as well as having a publisher interfering with the development process, you also have the licensors from the movie studio interfering – and this usually means even more disastrously ill-conceived feedback than usual.

So in some respects, I have great respect for the people who persevere with such projects, because I know that ultimately the many things that will go wrong are not really the fault of the developer (except in so much as the developer chose to sign the game in the first place).

And let’s not forget, many of these games do sell rather well. Sales figures below half a million are quite rare for a big film-to-game license, and figures around a million are common. These aren’t exactly a high watermark figure (five, ten and fifteen million unit sales exist for the best titles in the current market) but they probably bespeak of a project in profit. Remember that E.T. game that everyone likes to knock? It still sold 1.5 million units. The game is only considered a failure because Atari paid too much for the license and thus manufactured too many units trying to hit the break point; if their bid had been reasonably judged, they would still have made a profit on this title, irrespective of the quality of the game.

The ghastly truth of the matter is that many perfectly well-made games do not sell in unit numbers on a par with the film-to-game adaptations, which underscores the reason for the adaptations in the first place: the commercial reality is that you’re going to sell more copies of a mediocre game with a strong brand license (especially with simultaneous release) than of a well-designed original game at least nine times out of ten, if not more. If you’re an investor (instead of, say, a gamer), which proposition do you think you’re going to prefer?

But before we paint a picture of the film-to-game adaptation business that is too bitter, let’s not forget that it is possible to do a good job. The most successful film-to-game adaptation is GoldenEye 007 on the N64, the game that brought first person shooter play to the mass market for the first time and sold a cool 8 million units, leaps and bounds ahead of most rival FPS games (excluding only the first Halo, which benefited from exceptionally high marketing spend and a long period of being the only title on the Xbox people considered worth playing). The recent Godfather and Scarface games also seem to have been better received than most film-to-game adaptations – but then, we’re dealing here with titles which were not up against the usual time pressures inherent in the form.

GoldenEye, for instance, was not released to coincide with the 1995 Bond film of the same name, and was in fact released to coincide with the following Bond movie (Tomorrow Never Dies) in 1997. The team had the time they needed to get the game as good as it could be, and it benefited from superior review scores, word-of-mouth and all the other advantages of a quality game title that didn’t have to be rushed to master. The delay in release did not, in this case, seem to negatively affect sales, although it might well have sold faster if a game of the same quality could have been prepared in time for the original release (putting aside the impossibility of this state of affairs).

Ultimately, this suggests two things to me about the film-to-game marketplace. Firstly, if you have a film that could make a great game for the gamer hobbyist audience, you would do better not to worry about timing a simultaneous release with the film – especially if you’re confident that people will still like the movie after they’ve seen it. (Obviously if you know your movie is going to stink, it might be better to sell the game before people catch on). If you spend the time to make the game of sufficient quality, and always assuming you’ve picked a developer who can deliver on this promise, delaying production to get the game quality where it needs to be could be the optimal commercial proposition.

Secondly, and quite conversely, if the film doesn’t suggest a game that could have gamer hobbyist appeal, perhaps it would be better all around to make a different kind of film-to-game product entirely (something Deirdra hints at in the context of her experience working on a CSI adaptation). Most videogames are too difficult for the mass market audience – many adaptations shouldn’t be making a game for the hobbyists at all, they should be making it for the actual audience such a licensed game will receive. It seems like a no-brainer, and yet developers get this wrong time and time again.

Case in point, Traveller’s Tales 2003 Finding Nemo game was monstrously old school in its design sensibilities; it’s hard to believe that the audience for the film who were then interested in the game could possibly have their play needs met by this sequence of unceasing pain. Yet the game sold in good numbers (about 1.12 million units in the US on the PS2) – on the back of the popularity of the brand. I do not think it is much of a stretch to suggest a more forgiving, more casual-friendly game design could have been delivered on the same resources but have better met the needs of the audience for a Finding Nemo branded game, and benefited from better sales on the back of better word-of-mouth and fewer returns.

Adapting from film to game is a perfectly reasonable commercial endeavour, and as GoldenEye and other titles demonstrate, it need not result in a train-wreck of a videogame. But we need to get smarter about how we approach the process of adapting to games in this way. The marketing sweet spot may be when the film releases, but if the film delivers the goods you can ship your game a little later and still benefit from the brand value. And if the game isn’t for the gamer hobbyists at all, then make a game for the audience you have – don’t ship something that no-one is going to want to play. If we don’t get this right, it hurts the whole industry, as consumers become wary of a games industry that is constantly selling them games they don’t want to play.

And yet, of course, the film-to-game adaptations keep selling... because even though we don’t like to admit it, marketing is still vastly more important to commercial success in the videogames market than game design or development skills. We may not like it, but it’s human nature to buy something familiar over something original and unknown – and no amount of bitching is going to change that.


Redefining Hardcore & Casual

The persistence of the terms “Hardcore” and “Casual” can perhaps be credited to the simplicity of the audience model implied: people find it easier to grasp an idea that divides people into two boxes than to comprehend what is implied by a more complete audience model. 

Furthermore, many people working in videogame design are resistant to audience modelling as a driver for the game design process. Usually this is because the game designer in question wants to trust their instincts as to what is fun rather than a model; there’s merit to this approach, but surely one’s instincts can be better refined by learning the available models? Earlier this year, football game expert Dino Dini contended to me that game design could be driven by intuition rather than theory; I agreed with him – it is certainly possible to design this way, and I often do rely upon my intuition – but also pointed out that whether you used theory or intuition to guide the design process, you didn’t really know what you have until you try it with players who have never seen it before. Whatever assumptions you’re making, the players are the ultimate test.

If transitioning to the widespread use of more detailed audience models (Lazzaro’s Four Keys, Bartle Types, DGD1 etc.) is hindered by a barrier caused by the relative complexity of such models, perhaps we can at least improve upon what we mean by the paper-thin model we do have in common use – the Hardcore/Casual split.
 

Game Literacy 

In August last year, I submitted a post to the Round Table which attempted to look at Hardcore and Casual from the point of view of how much experience of games the player had – in terms of game literacy. There is a lot of merit in what was proposed here, and I believe the key points still stand: the market for videogames does indeed consist of a “head” of game literate players – which I refer to as gamer hobbyists – who buy the most number of videogames, and rack up the greatest number of hours playing. And it also consists of a “tail” of less game literate players – the mass market – who are gradually in the process of replacing the gamer hobbyists as the primary source of cash flow in the games space. Nintendo’s ongoing success with their mass market friendly Wii and DS platforms emphasises this shift in the marketplace.

Despite the saliency of this viewpoint, there are flaws to the substitution of Hardcore for gamer hobbyist, and Casual for mass market. We are coming to the end of our analysis of the DGD2 survey data of 1,040 gamers (both Hardcore and Casual): as with DGD1 one way we divided players was according to whether they self-assessed as Hardcore gamers, Casual gamers, or didn’t know. This allowed us to examine the differences between the two (strictly, three) groupings. 

Most of the findings in this regard are trivial. Hardcore gamers rated themselves higher for the importance of all the emotions we inquired about (and all these findings were highly statistically significant) – which is to say, Hardcore gamers were more emotionally invested in their play, or at least more likely to rate the importance of any emotional factor in their play higher. Hardcore gamers also rated themselves higher on every aspect of game literacy or player skills in the survey (and these results were even more statistically significant). Finally, Hardcore gamers were more interested in games of challenge, structured play (Caillois’ ludus) and games of escapism (acting out in a virtual world) – all of which broadly validated the findings from the earlier DGD1 survey.

But these results obscure something interesting about the players who self-identified as Casual. Firstly, Casual players still play games very often. 81% of those who self-identified as Hardcore said they played videogames everyday, but 49% of Casual players also said they played everyday. Hardcore players gave themselves high marks in game literacy (more than 95% of Hardcore respondents claiming the top two marks, and about three quarters the very top mark), but Casual players didn’t exactly rate themselves low on this (around 85% of Casual respondents claimed the top two marks, and roughly half the very top mark). So while some of these Casual players might be mass market players, many of them are highly game literate players who play videogames every day. (Incidentally, those who were unable to choose between Hardcore and Casual looked remarkably similar to those who self-identified as Casual).

What other factors might be in play?
 

Punishing versus Forgiving

In January of this year, Corvus (our inimitable host for the Round Table discussions) shared his thoughts about what characterised Casual games (as opposed to Casual players). He characterised these games as forgiving, as shown in this extract:

Casual games are typically very forgiving games. They don’t harshly penalize failure, they have gradual increases in difficulty, they don’t demand you spend large blocks of time in one sitting. They don’t have complicated control schemes or complex mechanics. Typically, you don’t even have to read to be able to play (excepting Bookworm and its ilk, obviously). 

Corvus’ formulation of Casual games as forgiving is, I believe, a major step forward in understanding Casual players. Because without a doubt, on the basis of case studies at the very least, Casual players are looking for games that are more forgiving – and along the same lines, more welcoming. They don’t necessarily want a big time commitment (but may still spend a lot of time playing a particular game), and they certainly don’t want to be punished for their failures – they want failure to be forgiven.

This was part of the genius behind the design of PopCap’s evergreen favourite Bejewelled. It not only allowed you to excuse yourself from additional stress (by opting out of a timer – a major source of excitement in play, but also a source of unpleasant panic for certain players), but it doesn’t penalise you for making a mistake. Swap two jewels that don’t make a line and you’ll just be warned that you made a mistake – no score penalty, no penalty of any kind. This was a break from a tradition of punishment that runs throughout the history of videogames, and it found an eager audience waiting for it.

Conversely, the gamer hobbyists contain a great many players for whom the “old school” sensibilities of the arcade game and the early home videogame are more desired – games in which you are up against impossible odds, where you will fail often, and be punished for the slightest misstep. Why are these games enjoyed? Presumably because punishing for failure makes success all the more vital to strive towards and so the threat of punishment adds not only excitement to the play of the game, but it intensifies the reward in fiero (the emotion of triumph over adversity) that is received when success if finally attained. 

This, then, is the other side of the Hardcore/Casual split – not the division of the market based upon game literacy, but the division of the players according to whether they are looking for a forgiving game (one that will welcome them, and behave in a civil and friendly manner) or a punishing game (one that will raise the degree of challenge and dare the player to rise to the level of difficulty that it demands, in order to earn the maximal payout of fiero when victory is eventually attained).

There will probably be a gender influence at work here, in that the majority of female players would probably prefer a forgiving game, but it is a gross simplification to assume that this is an adequate and complete explanation. There are female players looking for punishing games, and there are plenty of male players who want a forgiving game – Animal Crossing is a quintessentially forgiving game, and its audience appears to show no obvious gender bias. The DS version has sold more than 9.5 million units, almost twice the audience that a punishing first person shooter can even hope to attract.
 

Conclusion 

The Hardcore/Casual split doesn’t work any more. It’s an incomplete description because as games have pushed deeper and wider into the demographic landscape the old assumptions don’t work any more. Hardcore might mean game literate, and it might mean seeking punishing games, but there are players who self-identify as Hardcore and yet detest any game that will make them feel angry (a feeling that enhances fiero, and can be associated with punishing games). We have no way of distinguishing between those two state of affairs in our current language.

Similarly, Casual might mean less game literate, but there are a great many players who self-identify as Casual but who are clearly well versed in the language of gameplay. And Casual might mean desiring more forgiving games, but about one in five players who self-identify as Casual still say they looking for (or willing to tolerate) anger in their play – roughly the same proportion as in Hardcore players. Once again, the term describes multiple different kinds of players, between which we cannot distinguish in our current language. 

If we want to better understand the marketplace for games, perhaps we should start thinking in terms of two very different splits. The split between game literate gamer hobbyists, and less experienced mass market players on the one hand, and players seeking punishing play (challenge-oriented, fiero-seeking players – perhaps we might call them punishers, or punishing players, that is, players seeking punishing games) and players seeking forgiving play (forgivers, or forgiving players, that is, players seeking forgiving games) on the other. Hardcore and Casual is a compromised terminology – it means too many different things, and it no longer reflects the state of the marketplace. The time has come to move forward into a new language for describing the basic splits in the audience for videogames.

Can we redefine the way we talk about the basic splits in the audience for games? Or will we be stuck with Hardcore and Casual as our only widespread terms for decades to come? Share your thoughts in the comments!


New Poll: Public Spaces

This is a little different from the typical poll here... if we discount the market, which we are all inextricably embedded within, which of the public spaces in our world has the greatest influence on your life?

Perhaps your weekly rhythms are dictated by the football schedule, or the demands of following your baseball team. Or you might play in a local sports team, or have some other connection to the sporting world. If so, Sports might be the public space with the greatest influence on your life.

Or perhaps you go to a church every Sunday, or a synagogue on Sabbath, or a mosque to offer salat, or a temple of some other kind. Or you might be influenced by religion but never attend any public space - either way, Religion might be the public space with the greatest influence on your life.

Or maybe you are someone for whom the machinations of the political world hold your interest better than sports or religion. Or you might be a political activist - a campaigner for this-or-that cause. In which case, it might be that Politics are the greatest influence on your life.

And of course, there is always the possibility that none of these public spaces has a significant influence upon you, in which case there is always "none of the above" to fall back upon.

Which public space has been the biggest influence in your life?


A Secular Age (2): Social Imaginaries

Max-weber-1917 Taylor begins his exploration of the change in the conditions of belief over the past five centuries by a detailed exploration of the nature of society and religion in Europe at the beginning of what can be termed the early modern period. I cannot do justice to the wealth of detail that he provides, but I will attempt to synthesise the key themes.

The dominant beliefs at the beginning of the time in question were those that had persisted throughout the Middle Ages, but new circumstances – such as European colonialism, and the invention of the printing press, brought about fresh changes. One crucial aspect of the changes that began at this time was a profound shift in what Taylor terms “the social imaginaries”. He describes this idea as follows:

What I’m trying to get at with this term is something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking rather of the ways in which they imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations which are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images which underlie these expectations.

For example, our modern social imaginaries include ideas such as the economy, which is seen as an exchange of services, and the concept of the people as the source of the law, that is, democratic self-rule. But these would have been very alien ideas in the early modern period! The social imaginary at that time was dominated by the idea of the Great Chain of Being, which implied a hierarchical order beginning at God, and descending through royalty, to nobility and the clergy and finally down to the peasantry. This served as the unchallenged background of society for centuries.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Max Weber (pictured above) described a key element of the social imaginary of that time by saying “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’”. But in the early modern era, this “disenchantment” was a very distant possibility. Drawing on Weber’s infamous term,  Taylor talks of the “enchanted world”, to emphasise that for the people who lived prior to the modern era, the influence of spirits and magic was very real indeed. Many of the formal rituals of the Christian Church at this time were concerned with offering protection to villagers from the perceived threat of evil spirits, as can be seen in practices such as “the beating of the bounds”, in which the whole village would walk the edge of their land to participate in a blessing that would protect their harvest.

The sense of the self that people had at this time was “porous”; open to influence from threats that could not be seen but which were nonetheless part of the background of belief. These influences could be positive (holy relics) or negative (evil spirits), but they were a crucial element in the social and cosmic imaginary of the time. Thus the transition to disenchantment involved a substantial change in the social imaginary, namely the establishment of what Taylor terms “the Buffered self”:

A crucial condition for [disenchantment] was a new sense of the self and its place in the cosmos: not open and porous and vulnerable to a world of spirits and powers, but what I want to call “buffered”…As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don’t need to “get to me”, to use the contemporary expression. That’s the sense to my use of the term “buffered” here. This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it.

There was more to the emergence of an idea of the buffered self than simple disenchantment, however – indeed, to transition from a social imaginary where one was constantly threatened by spirits and forces to one in which these imagined dangers ceased to exist would have been profoundly difficult, perhaps impossible, for most people. The emergence of the buffered self also required “confidence in our own powers of moral ordering”, and this was another profound shift in the social imaginary, one that we will explore later. But in 1500, the moral order was anchored in religious beliefs and practice – the idea of a morality without God would have been difficult for most people to conceptualise, especially since God (via the Church) was at the time the guarantee of protection against evil spirits.

A key step towards the coming transformations came with a new focus on the autonomy of nature – not as distinct from God, but as an aspect of God; the order of nature speaks of God’s goodness, hence Aquinas’ claim “to detract from the creature’s perfection is to detract from the perfection of the divine power”. There is a temptation to view the growing interest in nature as a step away from religion, a view which Taylor finds unsubstantiated in the historical facts:

The new interest in nature was not a step outside of a religious outlook, even partially; it was a mutation within this outlook…. That the autonomy of nature eventually… came to serve as grist to the mill of exclusive humanism is clearly true. That establishing it was already a step in that direction is profoundly false. This move had a quite different meaning at the time, and in other circumstances might never have come to have the meaning that it bears for unbelievers today.

This shift in perspective was to drive a profound transformation of the social imaginary. If the old viewpoint can be described as admiring the order of the world as an expression of God, the new viewpoint holds that we inhabit the world as agents of instrumental reason, and thus our duty is to bring about God’s purpose on Earth, namely human wellbeing. This is the birth (or rather, rediscovery) of a religious humanism, whose first expression can be detected in the rise of a disciplinary society – an attempt by cultural élites to condition the populace at large to a higher ethical standard, to reform not just personal conduct, but to remake societies to render them more peaceful, ordered and industrious.

The origin of this transition, however, came through earlier religious traditions, and dated back more than a millennia before the drive to reform began to manifest. Karl Jaspers referred to the final B.C. millennium (Taylor uses B.C.E.) as the “Axial Age” – a time when various “higher” forms of religion emerged independently in different civilizations, as a result of founding figures such as Confucius, Gautama, and the Hebrew prophets. Taylor comments in regard of these new belief systems:

The surprising feature of the Axial religions, compared with what went before, what would in other words have made them hard to predict beforehand, is that they initiate a break in all three dimensions of embeddedness: social order, cosmos, human good. Not in all cases and all at once: perhaps in some ways Buddhism is the most far-reaching, because it radically undercuts the second dimension: the order of the world itself is called into question…

The Axial religions pushed for a disembedding from the established social order, but they were to some extent prevented from doing so because they were “hemmed in by the force of the majority of religious life which remained firmly in the old mould.” The lives of élite minorities may have been transformed to religious individualism, but something more was required to bring this change to society as a whole. So the appearance of religious humanism was to complete the disembedding that had begun in the Axial age:

We could say that both the buffered identity and the project of Reform contributed to the disembedding. Embeddedness… is both a matter of identity – the contextual limits to the imagination of the self – and of the social imaginary: the ways we are able to think or imagine the whole of society. But the new buffered identity, with its insistence on personal devotion and discipline, increased the distance, the disidentification, even the hostility to the older forms of collective ritual and belonging; while the drive to Reform came to envisage their abolition. Both in their sense of self, and in their project for society, the disciplined élites moved towards a conception of the social world as constituted by individuals… This final phase of the Great Disembedding was largely powered by Christianity. But it was also in a sense a “corruption” of it, in Ivan Illich’s memorable phrase.

We will return to the idea of the corruption of Christianity later; for now, our focus is this disembedding process – a profound transformation of the social imaginary which brought about not only the disenchantment of the world, but a new concept of society as constituted by individuals. It is perhaps hard for those of us who live within a social imaginary which takes as axiomatic this individuality to fully appreciate what a profound transformation this was. Its culmination was to come centuries later, in events such as the French and American revolutions with their notions of a Republic born of the will of the people, able to see themselves as the source of the law. But first, it was necessary for the religious humanism that motivated this change to undergo its own profound mutation.

Next week: Exclusive Humanism


Player Skills

One of the many things we were testing in the DGD2 survey data was the validity of the skill set model from Temperament Theory. We arranged the data in order that, whether or not this was validated, we would still have some useful data about player skills from which we could derive some correlations. However, to my surprise, the Temperament Theory skill sets (Logistical, Tactical, Strategic, Diplomatic) were validated – although owing to a bug in the data gathering program, we lost most of the data on Diplomatic skills and were unable to reach any conclusions about this. 

We also gathered data about basic game literacy (things like understand how a game works without looking at a manual and moving around a 3D world using mouse and keyboard or two joysticks). 90% of the 1,040 respondents gave themselves one of the top two grades in these skills, despite the fact only 50% self-identified as a Hardcore gamer (40% self-identifying as Casual, and the remainder being unsure). This brings into doubt our system of using self-identification to separate Hardcore and Casual players, or suggests that Casual gamers are more game literate than perhaps is usually assumed.

We used exploratory factor analysis with principal component analysis as the extraction method, and varimax with Kaiser normalization as the rotation method, and a rotation converged in 3 iterations. Logistical, Tactical and Strategic groupings all held together under this analysis, as did basic game literacy, although there were signs that this could be further reduced – that Tactical and basic game literacy formed a set (possibly a bias because the 3D world controls are essentially Tactical in terms of Temperament Theory), and Logistical and Strategic also formed a set (which supports some of the claims of DGD1, in which the Conqueror archetype was shown to possess this combination of skills in varying degrees). There is probably more work that can be done here. 

Cross-tabulation confirmed that there were overlaps in the composition of these sets – which is to say, some people might always respond high, and some always respond low, but this was not the case in the data gathered.

To explore the influence of player skills, we divided the sample into pairs of groups based upon how high respondents rated themselves in the given skill sets, using an average value of 4 or higher as the split. These splits did not wholly reflect the expected proportions predicted by Temperament Theory, but the skewing effect is likely to be a result of the biases in videogame players we have already observed. Nonetheless, high Logistical skills were still more common than high Tactical, which was more common than high Strategic, all of which fits the general predictions of Temperament Theory. 

A t-test of the groups also showed that the different groupings based on skill set were statistically significant when compared to the other skill sets (and also with basic game literacy).

 

Player Skills and Game Types

A first set of data explorations compared the skill sets against measures composed to match game types, on a system inspired by Caillois’ patterns of play, but constructed to work independently of this model. Several of the measures do not correspond directly to Caillois’ patterns, and thus it should be seen as an inspiration for the construction of this part of the analysis, and not a rigidly applied formula. 

For Logistical skills, 40.1% of respondents fell into the high group. The general pattern for this high group was that they showed greater interest in all but one game type, and greater emotional response across all the emotional measures. The greatest significance values were attained for interest in challenge (Caillois’ agon), structured play (Caillois’ ludus) and escapism (interest in world-based play, playing such games just to mess around, and enjoying acting out in ways that they would never even consider in real life). This somewhat validates some of the results of DGD1, which associates Logistical skills with challenge-oriented play, but it is hard to push this conclusion too far.

There was one measure in which Logistical skills did not seem to be a factor – namely sandbox play. It seems that having high or low Logistical skills had no influence in a player’s interest in games such as The Sims or the sandbox modes of the various sim games on offer. Of course, this might be a skew in the sample of players, but the lack of statistically significant findings on this measure was interesting since every other measure was affected by Logistical skill ratings. 

For Tactical skills, 38.7% of respondents fell into the high group. The same general pattern was repeated with these groups – the only measure which did not produce a statistically significant finding was sandbox play. However, the strongest correlations were in different places – both challenge and escapism were once again two of the strongest significance values, but excitement (Caillois ilinx) and role-playing were also in this highest correlated group. This links in with predictions I have made concerning the relationship between Tactical skills, real time play, and excitement.

Finally, for Strategic skills, 30.2% of respondents fell into the high group. There was considerably more definition here – and in precisely the predicted areas. The two correlated measures were challenge, and structured play (Caillois’ ludus). This seems to validate the results of the DGD1 which links Strategic skills with precisely these two elements of play.

 

Player Skills & Emotions 

Another set of correlations that were explored were the player skills versus emotional patterns. In this part of the data, certain assumptions were used in constructing the measures which perhaps lacked strong prior experimental evidence, but in all cases the measures were not used unless they were shown to hang together convincingly.

For Logistical skills, all but one of the emotional measures were shown to be statistically significant, with the higher skill group rating higher the value of emotions to their play in every category but negative emotions, for which there was no statistical pattern. Unusually, it was fiero which came out “worst”, pulling in a statistical significance of 0.06 while all others were statistically significant at a degree which showed up as a flat 0 in the results (i.e. highly significant). 

For Tactical skills, the pattern was very similar, except in this case even negative emotions were shown to correlate (higher skills showed a higher rating of negative emotions at a 0.05 significance level). It’s very hard to know what to make of such a finding. All emotional measures had a statistical significance which showed up as 0 for the Tactical skill groups comparison, including fiero.

Finally, for Strategic skills there was one major difference: anger was not a statistically significant correlation in the comparison between the two groups (which it was for both Logistical and Tactical) – which is to say, players who rate high on Strategic skills had no greater interest in anger than those who rate lowly. Since anger serves to heighten fiero, this suggests that players with strong Strategic skills are less interested in being driven to frustration prior to victory. Although differences in the fiero measure were statistically significant between the high and low Strategic skill groups, the significance was 0.025 – like the Logistical groupings, this was the “worst” performing measure, and like the Logistical group negative emotions did not correlate at a statistically significant degree.

 

Conclusion 

The major result in this part of the DGD2 data analysis was that the skill sets described by Temperament Theory formed valid patterns in our data – a validation of Temperament Theory, which also serves as a validation of aspects of the DGD1 results.

Although players strong in Logistical skills were shown to be more obsessive than those who were weaker in this skill set (which was a predicted result), players high in Tactical and Strategic skills were also shown to produce the same pattern (which was not predicted). On the whole, it seems the higher someone rates their game abilities, the more likely they are to be an obsessive player. The same kind of pattern is found with positive emotions, social emotions, curiosity and amusement: it seems whatever a player is good at, the higher they rate themselves on those particular skills, the more they will value these kinds of emotions and behaviours. This might be an artefact of this kind of self-assessment study, rather than any kind of deeper conclusion. 

The study produces faint evidence of a connection between Tactical skills (which includes and implies competence in real time activities) and enjoyment of excitement – this was another predicted result, and perhaps warrants further exploration. The odd thing about the Tactical results is this correlation with negative emotions – suggesting that players strong in Tactical skills are consistently better at shrugging off negative feelings than those players strong in other skills. (The mean value was closer in this case to “I don’t care” than “I don’t like feeling this way”). This fits with the idea of Tactical competence being “of the moment” – focused upon the present.

Both Tactical and Logistical skills (which share in common the Sensing trait in Myers-Briggs typology) correlated with an interest in escapism, that is, acting out in a world-based environment – something that did not correlate with Strategic skills. This is another predicted result, although we might have expected this to correlate more strongly with Tactical than Logistical, which was not found.

The results in respect of players strong in Strategic skills were more or less as predicted: these are players looking for challenge in a strongly ludic game (a game with complex and detailed rules, such as a strategy game). It is interesting to note the decreased interest in anger, however – the Strategic player archetype is perhaps more dispassionate about their play; they want to win, but are perhaps less interested in having a fight to achieve this goal. A sign of a desire to dominate rather than overcome? We can only speculate. 

On the whole, the results of the DGD2 survey analysis in terms of player skills were interesting, but lacked definition. The most general conclusion we can draw concerning these results is that players who rate themselves highly on any aspect of player skills are more likely to rate highly their interest in particularly game types and emotions of play. But what is clear is that there are distinctions between Logistical, Tactical and Strategic skills – it would be interesting to discover if the same validation can be achieved for Diplomatic skills, about which we are still quite uncertain how they connect to play.

Coming soon - the remaining DGD2 analysis: Hardcore vs Casual, Single player vs Multiplayer and a mystery finale!


The Inverted Introvert

Introvert2005 By this phrase, the inverted introvert, I seek to sketch an impression of a particular behavioural space in which many freaks, geeks and associated outcasts find themselves living. I myself have been an inverted introvert, and I expect many of my visitors here will recognise themselves in this description (or perhaps, their friends would…) I do not intend this account as science, nor as philosophy, but simply as personal observation, although I will be drawing on a few scientific props to construct this mental doodle. 

It is a common feature of many psychological models to distinguish between people whose focus is the external (human) world of people and relationships, and those whose focus is the interior landscape of their experience. The former are referred to as extroverts, and the latter as introverts, although it would be fairer to say that the extrovert is one who prefers to spend their time among the external world of people and relationships, since we all express introversion and extroversion in different situations and to varying degrees.

The introvert is happiest within their own head, hence the typical love of books, and often of videogames, which gloriously light up the internal landscape of the introvert’s mind. Some introverts, however, find their interest in the external world, just not in the human world – this aspect of me can be found in my love of nature, and the tremendous time I can fritter away in the company of squirrels and other wildlife. One can confidently bound the domain of the introvert at the interaction with other people, which for most introverts (including myself as a child) is a source of anxiety. 

Yet we all have to deal with the external world of humans – we all have to develop an extrovert mask or persona, even if it is not our preferred state. Some introverted children find they fit neatly into an extroverted space as they grow up – some, in fact, transition from introvert to extrovert at the dawn of adulthood; whether this is a transformation or the unlocking of previously buried potential is a matter of speculation.

But many introverts do not make this transition easily or comfortable. For such a person, rather than learning to be extroverted (which is too terrifying to contemplate), they learn to interact with the human world by a kind of inversion of their mental space – they become an inverted introvert, who deals with the world of people by flipping their interior landscape onto the outside. 

This can manifest in many ways. There are inverted introverts whose internal dialogue is rendered externally, and thus they say all manner of strange things to those around them (usually to their detriment). There are inverted introverts who build detailed models of the world in their heads, and so substitute these models of other people for real human communication (usually with disastrously anti-social results). There are inverted introverts who seek to control their personal space tightly, and when they try to apply this externally they inadvertently become bossy and overbearing (usually driving away those that they would like to have as friends).

Many inverted introverts have an over-inflated impression of their own judgment. It seems to them that they have exquisite insight and taste, and that everyone else is thus deeply flawed by comparison. This comes from the fact that the whole of their world is drawn solely from their internal impressions – so of course, whatever pushes their buttons is magnificent, and whatever does not push their buttons is rubbish. Other people’s reactions are seldom considered, except perhaps to selectively notice when other people’s views accord with their own as a means of reinforcing their personal prejudices. Occasions when such a person is in error are rarely remembered, creating an overly inflated confidence in one’s perceptions that comes across to other people as an unjustified arrogance. 

Or the inverted introvert can fall the other way, and lose faith in their judgment entirely and so tumble into a world of apparently inescapable depression where taking any action is a Herculean effort. Some give up hope, and succumb to suicide. Many linger in melancholy isolation for years not knowing how they might possibly escape from the Stygian hole they have entombed themselves within. And it is not uncommon for the inverted introvert to flip between these two states – overconfidence and desolate self-doubt – trapped in these two desperate worlds, because they can find no way out of their situation.

The pathology of this condition is such that one cannot fail to get into trouble by attempting to use the introverted experience as a substitute for extroversion. True extroversion relies upon either learning the social games that people play in order to join in effortlessly, or communicating genuinely with other people in order to understand their uniqueness. The inverted introvert often thinks that they are getting by at these things, but usually has utterly misjudged the situation and is blind to the social realities of their behaviour. 

A common result of this is that the packs of humans the inverted introvert interact with reject them, want no dealing with such a strange human being. The story the inverted introvert then constructs in their head is one of anger, or of depression (which the psychologist Fritz Perls has called “anger turned inwards”).

“How dare you reject magnificent me!” (goes a typical angry narrative), “you must be deeply flawed and I reject you too.” 

“I must be truly awful for people to reject me like this” (goes a typical depressed narrative), “I will withdraw to the safety of my books, my games, my private world.”

There is a deep irony to this failure to connect to the world, in that in terms of Temperament Theory, the inverted introvert is very likely to be gifted with Strategic skills, which of the four skill sets in this model are those which can lead to the highest salaries, and which are most often envied by those who lack them. Furthermore, many such people have potential access to the Leader interaction style (if they could develop their extrovert persona), which of all the innate skills we can have is the one which commands the greatest earnings potential and respect. The inverted introvert is in a sense blessed – yet they frequently manage to turn their advantages into a curse.

While they remain an inverted introvert, and not a person with access to their extroverted persona, they suffer greatly, both because of their social difficulties, and also the anger and anxiety that springs from this. The inverted introvert is likely to blame other people for their failures, without ever quite realising that the very key to success in this world is the extroverted world of people, and little of significance can be achieved without genuinely connecting with this world.

Perhaps because I was in this space as a younger man, inverted introverts can be found in every corner of my life, wherever I go. The fact that I work as a game designer intensifies this problem, since so many inverted introverts substitute the hollow success of videogame victory for real progress in life, or else hide from the terrifying world of humanity in virtual worlds where they alone have agency, or where the collective activity is so simplistic that little communication is required to make it happen.

If you recognise yourself in this sketch, please heed this warning: you will always struggle to find happiness when you project your internal world onto the people around you. Your models and assumptions will frequently be flawed because they are based on vastly incomplete information, and you can only resolve this problem by learning to communicate. The gateway from inverted introversion to functioning as a human being in society is learning to listen – really listen – to other people. Try having a conversation with someone in which you only ask questions about them, and supply nothing of your own information unless expressly asked. This is a good way to learn basic communication, and until you can do this, you will always be miserable, or angry, or both. 

The inverted introvert is stuck midway between their childhood experience of comfortable isolation in introversion, and the need to develop the extroverted skills required to interact with the world at large and thus get on with life. If, by dint of resolve or the kindness of their friends, they can take this step, many of their most troubling problems will evaporate, or at least decline, but it takes a capacity for trust in other people that can be difficult to attain when one is licking one’s wounds from myriad social nightmares, the memory of which still burns brightly.

Escaping from an oubliette of one’s own construction can seem an insurmountable obstacle, especially when the walls of that prison have been rendered invisible by the accretion of so many assumptions and expectations, so often leading to disappointment. Yet you can do it. You will do it. The process has already begun, or you would not be in the state of inverted introversion in the first place. All you need do is follow through, and for this, you will need the help, love and support of your friends, and the willingness to change.

The opening image is Introvert by Chilean artist Jorge Catoni, which I found here at his MySpace page. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.