19 Oct 2009

Playing with Difference. Rasmus Leth Jørnø. The Reality of Games

presentation of Jørnø's work, by by Corry Shores
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Playing with Difference

Rasmus Leth Jørnø

The Reality of Games

The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, Oslo 2009

The follow cites short passages from Rasmus Leth Jørnø's conference paper. It is a very interesting discussion on difference. To get a preview of the mind-openningness of this presentation, consider reading this joke he tells.

An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician are challenged to calculate the shortest stretch of fence capable of containing a herd of sheep.
The engineer jumps at the challenge and makes a square fence, which narrowly contain the sheep, since a square has a smaller circumference in relation to total area, than a rectangle.
The physicist scoffs and makes a circle shaped fence, which narrowly contains the sheep, since a circle has the smallest circumference in relation to total area.
The mathematician smirks and makes a circle shaped fence, which narrowly contains himself and then he defines himself as being outside.

The rest as well is quotation.

“...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.” (Borges, A Universal History of Infamy, 1975) [from Jørnø, p.2-3]

“Interesting phenomena occur when two or more rhythmic patterns are combined…In the case of rhythmic patterns, the combination of two such patterns will generate a third. Therefore, it becomes possible to investigate an unfamiliar pattern by combining it with a known second patterns and inspecting the third pattern which they together generate.” (Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979, s. 91) [from Jørnø p.6]

changing state does not require observing a difference, but it does require crossing a difference. Consider a turtle which travels on a plane with marks on it. The turtle scans the color of the plane underneath it. Once it detects a change, it changes state, travelling from an unmarked state to a marked state or vice versa, i.e. by crossing a line, it changes state. This illustrates what Bateson calls 'news of a difference' (Bateson, Steps to an ecology of Mind, 1972, s. 458). Such a turtle would have no idea of whether or not being in a marked or unmarked state (or rather wouldn't have an idea which state was the marked one), it is simply interested in the news that there is a difference, which we can equate with a change of state. In other words as actors we are simply biased when acting, i.e. we are in one state or another. A given state has no borders or horizon. It is simply the world as it is. When we observe we differentiate, we do not 'see' the other side of the difference‟ – there is no figure, because there is no ground. [from Jørnø p.10]

“If we speculate about the evolution of communication, it is evident that a very important stage in this evolution occurs when the organism gradually ceases to respond quite „automatically‟ to the mood signs of another and becomes able to recognize that the other individual‟s and its own signals are only signals, which can be trusted, distrusted, falsified, denied, amplified, corrected, and so forth.” (Bateson, Steps to an ecology of Mind, 1972, s. 178) [from Jørnø p.11]

any difference will do as a starting point of a world. It is 'in' the world, because it cannot be anywhere else. The hard part is not to come up with differences. The world is teeming with them. The hard part is to account for how some differences become more important than others, i.e. they become differences that make a difference. [from Jørnø p.14]

“1. The parts of any member of Creatura are to be compared with other parts of the same individual to give first-order connections.
2. Crabs are to be compared with lobsters or men with horses to find similar relations between parts (i.e., to give second-order connections).
3. The comparison between crabs and lobsters is to be compared with the comparison between man and horse to provide third-order connections.” (Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979, s. 20)
1.order marks allows us to talk about the world. 2.order marks allows us to talk about the things we say about the world and 3.order marks allows us to talk about talking. [from Jørnø p.21]

“...this phenomenon, play, could only occur if the participant organisms were capable of some degree of metacommunication, i.e., of exchanging signals which would carry the message 'this is play.'” (Bateson, Steps to an ecology of Mind, 1972, s. 179)
I would rather suggest that games and play phenomena are called games and play, because they are not able to carry the metacommunicative message 'this is real.' [from Jørnø p.24]

Bo Kampman Walther (Kampmann Walther, 2003) has shown how a significant part of play is concerned with the play with reality. A child gleefully running from a parent desparately trying to make the child go to sleep, is playing with the the parent‟s breakdown of 'playtime' from a frame of 'sleep time.' In the famous cartoon „Calvin and Hobbes‟ when Calvins teacher appears in one of Calvins Sci-fi fantasies, he (spaceman Spiff) negotiates her as an alien. Most classroom teachers would manage to re-instate 'real' life by their simple presence. [from Jørnø p.25]

Any frame which isn‟t taken serious looses its appeal. It ceases to be able to differentiate and is by default broken down. It is no longer engaging. On the playing ground these negotiations take place every day. Who wants to play alone? Empires have fallen because priest haven‟t been able to procure rain, the people defecting no longer believers (they are no longer serious or rather something much more serious is taking place).
Games and play are real and they are being taken seriously as such as long as they are played, but they are no match for other more established frames. They are readily broken, giving way to something which is taken more serious and therefore considered more real, the 'realest' of which is IRL or 'life' as we know it. [from Jørnø p.26]

Jørnø, Rasmus Leth. "The Reality of Games." The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, Oslo, 2009. PDF available at: http://www.hf.uio.no/ifikk/forskning/forskningsprosjekter/3.place/Jorno.pdf

Texts cited in the above passages:

Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature. Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co.

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of Mind. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Borges, J. L. (1975). A Universal History of Infamy. London: Penguin Books.

Kampmann Walther, B. (May 2003). PLaying and Gaming, Reflections and Classifications. Hentet fra Game Studies: http://gamestudies.org/0301/walther/

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