Computer Game (Alien Phenomenology?)

(Bear in mind that I hold myself utterly unaccountable for the random philosophical and idiotic ramblings I write here. It’s the only way to keep going.)

I’ve been reading Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology the last couple of days, but even before this I’ve been wondering about a game for your computer rather than for you. (Probably this has been done a million times? I’ve of course read Juul’s Zero-Player Games and looked at some approaches to this like 4’33” of Uniqueness.) I like the idea of a game that your computer plays entirely without you.

But what that “means” is a pretty big question. What does it mean for a computer to “play” a game in the first place? It seems an odd thing to say. For instance, how would the computer “guess” an answer to a trivia question, say (just a random number?). How would a computer move its paddle to the “right” place in PONG? Perhaps we can appeal to Bernard Suits’ idea of “inefficient means” to claim it’s fair to (in code) hobble the computer’s ability to play perfectly?

So can we have a computer playing PONG without you? I guess we can. But will that be “interesting” for the computer? The game is deterministic, and the computer would just be “playing with itself” which sounds boring (well I mean in the most direct reading of that phrase – and as to the other reading, what the hell is that?). But if we don’t involve a human player, who could the computer play with? Or can we say that a computer can have a “split personality” and thus successfully play itself? Threaded play?

Could we involve processing time as a kind of limiting factor on the computer’s performance to make the game “more interesting” for the computer to play? Could we make it related, for instance, to the time the game loop takes to complete, rather than tying it to a framerate, for instance? Would that be “more fun” for the computer to play at if it involved the computer’s “ability” to process the game loop as fast as possible? (Or at least as fast as the declared framerate?)

Could we use the webcam or keypresses or some other input device to allow the human to provide “non-deterministic input” into the computer’s play, so that it might be “surprised” by what happens in the game?

I have no idea. The end.

(I had a pretty major gin and tonic before I wrote this. Can you tell?)

21 January 2015
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