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Games as Cybernetic Systems systems theory + information theory thinking about feedback Cybernetics - wikipedia Cybernetics is a theory of the communication and control of regulatory feedback.

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games as cybernetic systems

Games as Cybernetic Systems

systems theory + information theory thinking about feedback

cybernetics wikipedia
Cybernetics - wikipedia
  • Cybernetics is a theory of the communication and control of regulatory feedback.
  • The term cybernetics stems from the Greek Κυβερνήτης (meaning steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder).
  • Cybernetics is the discipline that studies communication and control in living beings and in the machines built by humans.

COSC 4126 cybernetics

homeostasis
Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the property of an open system to regulate its internal environment to maintain a stable condition, not rigidly fixed but maintained within a bounded acceptable range.

e.g., eating, drinking, breathing enough to sustain life

- simulated in characters in many games

- Sim games are based on homeostatic models

COSC 4126 cybernetics

feedback loop
Feedback loop
  • an activator produces an effect
  • feedback allows the effect to influence future action

externaleffect

result

acts to produce effect/result

activator

activates or not

comparator

sensor

goal

COSC 4126 cybernetics

feedback for homeostatis
Feedback for homeostatis
  • Negative feedback: how a system reacts to maintain stable condition

coldoutside

temperatureof room

generate heat

furnace

activates or not

thermostat

thermometer

temperaturesetting

COSC 4126 cybernetics

temperature control
Temperature control

furnaceoperating

goaltemperature

actualtemperature

time

COSC 4126 cybernetics

negative feedback stability
Negative feedback - stability
  • The term cybernetics stems from the Greek Κυβερνήτης (meaning steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder).
    • maintains course close to desired direction
  • other examples
    • funnel, sloped wings of aircraft
    • predator / prey ecologies
    • driving a car

COSC 4126 cybernetics

automation and high level control

result

acts to produce effect/result

activator

activates or not

comparator

sensor

goal

Automation and high level control

higher level (containing system)

set goal

COSC 4126 cybernetics

automated control by goal setting
Automated control by goal setting
  • e.g., thermostat plus air-conditioner and furnace
    • high level control – set goal temperature
    • thermostat activates furnace and air-conditioner as required to keep temperature in range
    • reacts to external heat and cold

COSC 4126 cybernetics

negative and positive feedback
Negative and positive feedback
  • negative feedback modulates an action
  • positive feedback catalyzes an action

COSC 4126 cybernetics

leblanc 1999
LeBlanc,1999:
  • Negative feedback basketball
    • for every N points of difference in the score, the losing team can put another player on the court
  • Positive feedback basketball
    • for every N points of difference in the score, the winning teams can put another player on the court

COSC 4126 cybernetics

positive feedback

result

acts to produce effect/result

activator

activates or not

comparator

sensor

goal

Positive feedback
  • amplifies effect of action
  • threatens a homeostatic system

opposite conditionproduces positivefeedback

COSC 4126 cybernetics

positive feedback13
Positive feedback
  • e.g., climate change in Arctic
    • atmospheric warming melts ice
    • bare soil, open water do not reflect as much radiation
    • warming accelerates

COSC 4126 cybernetics

feedback and control in homeostatic systems
Feedback and control in homeostatic systems

equilibriumrange

breakdown

breakdown

stress

stress

hypothermia shivering normal sweating hyperthermiaexample: body temperature

COSC 4126 cybernetics

cybernetics in games
Cybernetics in games
  • many feedback loops are embedded in games
  • comparators decide action
    • in some loops, the comparator is the player

COSC 4126 cybernetics

core mechanic the basic action cycles of a game

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

“Core mechanic”the basic action cycles of a game
  • exclude peripheral actions like set-up
  • focus on core activity of game
    • can often be analyzed as feedback loops with player as ‘comparator’

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

core mechanic
“Core mechanic”
  • purpose
    • low level skill to be mastered and automatic as quickly as possible
      • tool for higher level play – Sims
    • “inefficient” activity in the magic circle?
      • learning it is key to fun and meaning
      • typically real-time
      • e.g., driving game

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop
  • 1. game dynamics
    • a) state evolves independent of player
    • b) game reacts to player
    • c) only player causes state change

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop19

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop

2. timing of feedback loop - delay

player sees display of state change of inputnbefore deciding action n+k

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop20

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop

3. input is discrete, “continuous”

player explicitly generates each input; how difficult is the input action?

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop21

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop

4. effect of input

state change is deterministic, risky or uncertain?

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop22

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop

5. discernability

display shows all effect on state of player input?

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

analysis of the feedback loop23

statechange

acts to produce effect/result

input

activates or not

player

displayoutput

goal

Analysis of the feedback loop

6. comparator decision complexity

high level control: is goal fixed or changing?how many input alternatives?

gamedynamics

COSC 4126 cybernetics

summary of feedback loop factors
Summary of feedback loop factors
  • game dynamics
  • timing of feedback loop – delay
  • input is discrete, “continuous”
  • effect of input
  • discernability
  • comparator decision complexity

COSC 4126 cybernetics

example driving a vehicle homeostatic system
Example: driving a vehicle homeostatic system

controlledtravel

crashright

crashleft

veer orskidright

veer orskidleft

focus ongoal

focus oncontrol

focus oncontrol

COSC 4126 cybernetics

example driving a vehicle feedback loop
Example: driving a vehicle feedback loop

1

2

4

3

6

5

COSC 4126 cybernetics

designing the core mechanic feedback loop

1

2

4

3

6

5

Designing the core mechanic feedback loop
  • game dynamics
  • timing of feedback loop – delay
  • input is discrete, “continuous”
  • effect of input
  • discernability
  • comparator decision complexity
  • Two ‘tool’ examples
  • SnagIt
  • Office Draw

COSC 4126 cybernetics

feedback at higher levels
Feedback at higher levels

Adjusting level to match player skill

  • Negative feedback
    • adjust AI player skills – e.g., racing games
    • adjust random probabilities
    • “Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment”

–Naughty Dog Entertainment

    • dilemma of the magic circle – is adjustment fair?
    • shown to be counterproductive in educational software

COSC 4126 cybernetics

feedback at higher levels29
Feedback at higher levels

Increase action and variety

  • Positive feedback
    • introduces instability – e.g., oscillation
      • Monopoly cash flow
    • reinforces differences
      • playoff scheduling
      • tennis seeding
    • homeostatis – produces new equilibrium

COSC 4126 cybernetics