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The Gamer and the Ethicist: The High Tech-High Touch of Chatroulette and Farmville   Leave a comment

Being Real Neighborly
Being Real Neighborly

Pilgrimages are all about seeing things …from a new perspective.

I’m in the Midwest for the summer, in a sleepy little town striving to survive with the remnants of it’s blue-collar economy.

As I sat outside my new home for the next few months I noticed several things. First of all I noticed the Fireflies.  These beautiful glowing creatures rising from the grass, some lower, some higher, living a short life to mate and live again through future DNA.  Then as the final days of school ended I noticed something else. Children groups of children, playing outside, with each other, riding bicycles down the street, playing baseball in front yards. I was amazed.  No, I’m not the woman in the above photo.  That woman is a grandmother hanging out with her grandson.  They had just finished playing ball and were waiting for a ride and laughing about the game they had just played. They let me take a photo. The grandmother asked me where I was from and what I was doing here. We talked about the town, the weather and then about themselves.  Soon a group of teenage-ish kids trotted across the street with a gold and cream Lhasa Apso proudly leading the way, distracting everyone.  We all chatted together about the dog and what was going to happen next. I had to go. I left with a subliminal feeling of happiness in my soul.

The same thing happened to Andrey Ternoviskiy. He had been working in his Uncle’s souvenir shop and loved chatting with all the people who came in. Though he hadn’t been the best salesperson, he was fired, Andrey enjoyed the tourists, the conversations, the connections. So here he was, living in the disenfranchised state of Russia and wondering in his immersive technological life, how he could recreate that environment and those feelings.

Chatroulette is a window with two boxes, one for your image, via your webcam and then the other for your “partner”, whoever you happen to end up with as you click NEXT. Andrey had thought of a BACK button, in case you changed your mind, but decided that might be too messy.  Even Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome has made itself famous on Chatroulette.  Of course you can end up seeing a naked person and quickly choosing to move on, well or stay depending on your predilection, or engage in a lively conversation.  Silicon Valley is excited about Andrey, while Russia didn’t quite know what to do about him, and Andrey wasn’t quite certain about Russia.

When I moved to my present abode, two things happened to me which I know the probability of occurrence in my former home was low.  As I was returning the rental truck, I went over a railroad track which popped the car trailer off the hitch. Immediately two men in their respective cars pulled over and assisted me, simply happy that they could help.  Soon I was on my way. Then at a stoplight, a man rolled down the window and told me my chains were dragging on the ground off the trailer and he jumped out and put them back for me. Happily we both waved at each other and sped off when the light turned green. In a phone call to my friend in West Seattle, she mentioned how helpful and neighborly people were where I was now.  She said: “That’s the same type of neighborly friendliness that I get when I play on Farmville.”


John Naisbitt, in his best selling book, Megatrends, 1982; predicted that in a world of technology, we long for personal contact. It only makes sense, it is the rule of unexpected results. While we crave technology, an equal and opposite reaction is that we also crave human touch.

Social Networking programs like Chatroulette and Farmville can momentarily give us the feeling of high touch, the neighborliness our human social side needs to survive, but then we shut off the computer and we’re alone again, inside our houses, too frightened to go outside.  That combination allows companies to create simulations based on technological “touch” and that sells in our worlds of interspersed isolation.

I’ll admit, my neighbors are nosy, and not quite used to my Pacific Northwest attitude of  “Please don’t try to get up in my business or I’ll politely bite your nose off”, but it’s also refreshing to know that I’m not really alone in my neighborhood.  My neighbors truly want to know if I’m well enough to trim the bushes in the backyard so that they don’t feel like they’re are living next to a jungle. And somehow I think they really want to know what I’m doing in my back yard, because they want to know about me. Perhaps in moderation, that isn’t really a bad thing.

I took a drive out in the Amish farmland to the south and east of me. It was evening. Teenagers, girls with girls and boys with boys walked in groups, chatting and laughing back to their farmhouses after a long day of chores.  I looked at the land around me, smooth rolling hills and white tall farm houses and large barns that housed dairy cattle.  I know that our everyday technology is scant in these homes, but here they are talking, laughing and getting ready to go to bed for the night, knowing the next morning they will see each other again. The boys jostled playfully with each other, and parted ways, the girls clasped each others hands and hugged.

Next morning, they would see each other again, eat together perhaps, work and play. It’s in our DNA, we need community, though at times we need to have solitude. But as technology isolates us in it’s ability to individuate us, we yearn for neighborliness. It’s this need that keeps social programs and other simulations popular and keeps us participating and buying them, but does it really, holistically satisfy us? Like Marshall McLuhan’s example with the electric light-bulb, we will only know after we have embraced the technology for awhile whether staying up after dark is a good thing.  Or in the case of social networking programs, that the technology which simulates neighborliness, while making us strangers in our own real geography will bear strange fruit.

Amish Sunset

Community in Isolation, or Isolation in Community

While I don’t promote certain products, etc on this site, I want to give kudos out to Pamela Thompson of Boise, Idaho who tried very hard to get together with me as I crossed the vast expanses of the United States. Give her a complimentary check out at:
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
The 911 Recruiter
Career Coach
read my online column “The Career Coach” at
Linkedin profile at


Posted June 17, 2010 by prosperospen in Culture, Game Theory, Games, Relationships, Society

Women and Men of Gears of War:What are we playing for?   2 comments

Predicting the Path of Play

A simple game

is like a card game. At the beginning of the game, each Player, 1 and 2 respectively put in a dollar. Player 1 looks at their cards without showing them to Player 2, and Player 2 does the same thing. Half the cards are black and half the cards are red. If Player 1 looks at their card then folds, they show their card to the other player and the game is over. If Player 1 has a black card, then player 2 takes the money in the pot. If Player 1 raises the money in the pot, then Player 2 must decide whether to raise or fold. If Player 2 passes the game ends and Player1 takes the money pot. The above illustration is a tree diagram with a set of nodes. Every sequence of events begins at the root (starting at the left), then moving to right, branching off to the terminal nodes.

This is one single layer of a simple game, illustrating The Path of Play.

Someone may want to enhance the game, making some cards worth more. The tree branches out and more nodes form. Another player might make a story up out of the cards, something from his or her tribe’s past.

This adds another layer of branches and nodes and decision points. The card game then tells a story of heroes and of the vanquished, of the beautiful and the good, or the not so beautiful and the good. The heroes are fighting for something, or against something or both.

Every game has a story, has a telling, and includes a hero, whether or not you want to believe it. I will tell you it is true, even when the hero seems lost.

Then the question arises: “What are we Playing for?”Ashen woman with child

In the upcoming Gears of War: Ashes to Ashes, there is excitement over the appearance of the first woman soldier.

I wonder what United States Army Major, Marie Therese (Rosse) Cayton, 32 from Oradell, NJ, would think of that. She was the first female aviator to fly into combat. She died March 1, 1991 in Desert Storm, when her helicopter hit a unlighted microwave tower in a storm.

Many women have fought beside men. Stories reach as far back into American history, as Molly Pitcher, who took over the cannons in battle during the American Revolution.

Gears of War weaves into the path of play a women soldier, but oddly in the trailer’s finale, it says “Brothers to the End”

The relationship in this trailer sews the horror of Hiroshima, with ashen statues of men, yes women and children and women holding children, seemingly cremated in what one could only think was a nuclear blast. You see one of the heroes running from the enemy through the ashen ghosts, as he hits them, the bodies float away in grayish snowflakes. He trips and falls on the ground, too tired to continue.

There is something different here. The warrior in the video looks at the statue with a second or two longing, of something lost. His lost childhood, his wife, his lover, his children… As the monster comes up on him, he resigns himself to fate, his life at the end.

Resigned to fate

As luck is on his side, the soldier’s comrades find him and dispatches the monster. A strong, battle shielded arm and hand lays a new weapon over his body. He looks up and to his tired eyes is a surprise, a woman warrior hovers over him.

Woman Soldier

The pathos and subliminal context of the cycle of life and a man’s mate becoming a soldier, is from the perspective of the downed male warrior. He watches her, and in his eyes is the heart wrenching look of a time of life lost, especially with the backdrop of sad, melancholy music.

What are we playing for? Why does Gears of War have a woman soldier in it now, when it is the end? What story are we telling? What story are we teaching?

The final scene of the trailer shows a heroic battlefield situation, reminiscent of Custer’s Last Stand. The heroes, including the battle maiden are defending their turf, in the midst of an apocalypse. The men are all on one side of the bunker while the woman is turned away defending another side.

Still, as the battlefield fades, the words appear on the screen,” Brothers to the End”.

Perhaps this is a story about reconciliation. Reconciling a world when women have gone from sister, to wife, to mother, to soldier. Is this the real story? This story has been told over and over again in our societies.

The real story is about a man’s relationship with a woman, with all that she had been, and what she is now. How his heart yearns for the mother, the sister, the lover, the wife, while being presented with woman the soldier, the defender. His need for love and the return of a loving society is represented by her, yet seems so far away.

He lives in a world twisted by war, by competition, by societies that value anything but what he truly wants. Still, she is so unlike what he expects, that “Ashes to Ashes” includes her only in the spirit sense, a momentary evocation of what is life, because she is like them, but not like them.

Truly, what are we playing for? The trees and paths of play of this game has many layers from good versus evil, to man redeeming his life and loves, to woman defending what she loves. What is there to learn from this story?

Perhaps, “The End” of “Ashes to Ashes” is about the end of roles and the opening of the heart to a new way of seeing and being in the world.

We can only hope.;

Posted May 5, 2010 by prosperospen in Uncategorized

The Gamer and The Ethicist: Little Evils Part II   Leave a comment

Games are what people play when they’re figuring out what to do with their lives.

No, really.  I promise this is real. Why?

Because we intensely play games when there is space in our lives.  Sometimes the space in our lives is caused by something occurring which is not so positive. Snakes and Ladders, up the morality scale

Admit it, you’ve played a MMORPG  (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) when you’ve just had it with the world, your boss or your spouse, partner, whatever.  You play a digital game when you’ve lost someone you’ve loved.

There is a certain intimacy with a digital game that is hard to find in Real Life.

The rules are simpler in a digital game whether it’s a MMORPG or not. The simplicity takes us away from the complexity of real life.

When Dante, remember Dante who I talked about last time, who loved his people so much, that he rewrote the rules of his faith and experience into what is now known as Dante’s Inferno. This also provided a way to ease his pain, the pain from a lost war.

Yesterday after taking my two mile hike to the shore of the bay near where I live in the cold rocky Pacific Northwest, I walked fast through the mist becoming hard rain to the halfway point, our tiny little espresso shop, formerly gas station. They actually let your dog come in with you, which is why the name of this place will always  remain anonymous.

I sat down with my book of the week and ordered my hazelnut latte.  My intrepid four-legged laid down next to me. About 10 minutes into my reading two soldiers in their Army Combat Uniforms (ACU’s) with digitized camouflage walked in and sat down at the large table where I had seated myself.   I said hello and nodded my head and they returned the favor. After their sandwiches and drinks arrived, the young sergeant of the two, starting talking to me. He started off by commenting how he liked the shop and he had been there several days before and rather than going to the tavern down the road, where it was crowded with military and nonmilitary at lunch, he decided to come here. Then suddenly a shift happened. He started talking about his marriage, in not positive terms. No, he wasn’t hitting on me. He was performing a catharsis, an emotional venting mixed with humor to try and make believe that it really wasn’t all that bad.

But in my life, I’ve been a divorce mediator before becoming burned out. I’ve heard all these words before. A wife who drinks too much, a husband who just wants a quiet home, children unattended and whose mom won’t put them to bed, a wife unemployed and unhappy about it, with a husband who has just returned from Iraq.

He sat there across from me, there were only the three of us in the shop. I listened, I nodding, sympathized, but couldn’t say much because, he just wanted to be listened to. The most amazing thing was that as I watched him, he was in his late twenties or early thirties, his hands shook, trembling the entire time that he talked and I could see the stress in his bright, clear blue eyes.  His friend looked uncomfortable, but unscathed.

I kept listening, wondering what had happened to him, how it impacted his family, and how it will impact the rest of his life. Finally, he slowed down and I told him that I understood what he said and I, being who I am, someone who taught courses on interpersonal communication, could recommend a good, quick book for him to read. But, I mentioned, I didn’t have a pen or paper with which to write it all down.

Being the good soldier that he is, he smiled and I heard the Velcro tear as he opened the flap on the ACU arm, took out a black pen and an Army green tablet and proudly handed them to me, hands still trembling. I wrote down my contact information, in case he wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t in his game, someone who lived by different rules, and could see life differently from the hell he was trying to contain in his own life where the combination of Army rules, spouse rules and father rules were beginning to wear him down. This man who wore a combat badge, who had just returned from Iraq, had to live by rules that I could only imagine. Who felt he needed to remain calm outside while his insides were screaming at the pain in his life. The only way someone would know, is by the trembling of his hands.

Some people play Halo to blow off steam, some people play digital combat games, some play social networking games, all these games are constructed so that the player may lose once in awhile but there is never an ongoing sense of futility.

I don’t know if I will ever hear from the young sergeant. I hope I do, I hope I’ve helped.

Perhaps too, people play games because they need healing.

We can change the rules in Real Life (RL) to let healing take place. It’s a choice.

We can also develop games to promote healing, I’m working on one now.

I’m certain this sergeant loves his family and his country and he’s doing the best he can working within all the rules. He’s trying to be rational in all these crazy games.

It’s when we assume that the status quo, will always be the status quo. That’s when the unexpected happens.

I hope the sergeant, I now think of him as Sgt. Dante, can write about his life and change the rules inside, while the rest of us, take a little effort and start to change the rules on the outside, to end our each own little evil.

ACU games(as an allegory read this article:

1. Click Start.

2. Type Services in the Start Search.

3. In the Services Windows search for Volume Shadow Copy in the list.

4. Right click on the Service.

5. Click on Properties.

6. Select the Startup Type to Manual.

7. Click OK.

8. Now repeat the same for Windows Backup service.

Posted April 7, 2010 by prosperospen in Culture, Game Theory, Games, Relationships, Society

The Gamer and The Ethicist: Little Evils   Leave a comment

Needless to say, Dante was pissed.

The Divine Comedy or Dante’s Inferno is the result of his observations and anger. He picked sides, Pope over the Emperor of Rome. After the war, he returned home, and became angry over the backbiting politics of his people and government. Sound familiar?

But he did so much in such an epic poetic way that today the words ring true.

“Yet an experiment, were you to try it, could free you from your cavil and the source of your arts’ course springs from experiment.” (Lines 94-96, Canto II)

Humans can practically be split into two types, those who want to experiment and try something new and those who want things to stay the same, because regardless of how dysfunctional the system might be, because what you know seems less risky then what you don’t know.

Hence the creation of “Little Evils”.

Talking about such a thing as Little Evils pushes certain questions and answers. I am going to avoid the general and go for a different angle here.

Dante’s Divine Comedy pokes fun at everyone. More importantly he brought to light the injustices, yes, the “Little Evils” which can create fertile ground for “Greater Evils”.

Before I go on, however, let’s go back to game theory refresher for a moment.

First of all a game is defined as any social situation involving two or more individuals. The individuals are called players. Here’s an interesting twist, a player is considered a rational decision maker if she/he makes decisions in pursuit of their own objectives.

Now, let’s hearken back, but not too far back to your microeconomics class. A player is expected to maximize their own payoff, measured in some utility scale. Because of this maximization of payoff, the result of this decision is called the expected-utility maximization theorem.

Whew, talk about another concept of the “Selfish Gene”. Here we have it. Each individual player in a social environment is expected to act in such a way as to maximize the payoff or the utility to their own benefit. Selfish? Maybe. A trait leftover from evolution, definitely. Which brings in entropy.

Ah, entropy, hmm… do you hear it, swirling about the evolutionary DNA drain-star pool? If you thought American Idol was rough, try ensuring actions that keep species procreating and creating replicas of themselves for survival. Just talk to the dinosaurs on that one. Which begs the question, are there usually more than two decision makers in any situation (and unpredictable events)?

What happens when we have two or more decision makers? Let’s look at Sally and Harry.

Sally and Harry are in a relationship. They have several choices, or factors. One factor, let’s say, is unknown to Harry, but is known to Sally. Harry wants to keep the relationship going, but he must be able to assess the probability of Sally’s possible choices. So Harry, in order to understand Sally’s decision-making behavior tries to imagine himself in her position. Harry suddenly realizes that while he is trying to imagine himself in Sally’s position, he realizes that Sally may also be trying to assess his behavior and imagine herself in his position. So, that the rational solution in Harry and Sally’s individual decision/problem depends on the solution to the other’s problem.

You can stop running and take a breath now.

Now here’s another twist. Game Theorists say that a player in a game is intelligent if he/she knows everything that we know about the game and they can make any inferences about the situation that we can make.

What is interesting here is we assume that all individuals are perfectly rational and intelligent, and we may never be able to perfect that in a real life situation. We would be suspicious of theories that wouldn’t predict this. However, if we believe that Harry would always be duped by Sally in their relationship, then that theory would lose it’s validity, because Harry would eventually learn from experience or read a published article on Sally found in a tabloid magazine and better understand the situation and change his decision making behavior to maximize his behavioral utility.

As I said before, Dante was pissed.

At the age of 35 or so in the wild and wacky 1300’s, Dante began the poem on Good Friday. In the real world, Dante is feeling at a loss to craziness around him. Besides the hatred between and in the various political groups and no one seemed to be thinking about the welfare of the country or his fellow compatriots.

To relieve his tension, anger and sadness, he began to write, because he felt, he was losing his way. In his imaginary world, Virgil, a Roman poet, finds him and they both enter into Hell, where hangs a sign: “Abandon all Hope Ye who Enter Here.” From here Dante dissects the personages of society into different groups. Yet it is in this novel, this exegeses of his life and his observations around him, that you know Dante has hope, or he wouldn’t be writing the Inferno at all.

A friend of mine, couldn’t understand why he and his girlfriend would go through this yin and yang of anger and eventual forgiveness. At times it was tiring to him and exacted a pound or two of his psychic flesh. I looked at him, and said: “If she didn’t love you, you wouldn’t get a reaction at all.” Because in truth, he and I both agreed that hatred isn’t the opposite of love, apathy is the true opposite.

So we have two people, who are reacting to the games created in their own world. They could choose to take a risk, with each other and create new rules to work out problems. But in this, their small world, they would have to approach each other through the evolution of their individual self-interest, and work to care about each other’s welfare.

Is it possible? Sure it is. Is it probable, and it’s up to the individual and their friends to try and get through and understand the many layers of factors that can bias our decisions. Every decision we make, is based upon our previous experiences, the influence of society around us.

Digital games are popular, not because it’s a game, but that it offers rules that we know will be the same all the time, that we can pick and chose our roles and that offers some comfort to us while we are living an encapsulated adventure.

Even in those encapsulated adventures, self-interest can turn into concern for the welfare of another.

In that is the real game. Getting past the Little Evils, of sole self interest, thinking about and anticipating the possibilities to make another person and yourself happy.

You see, the reason Dante was pissed, was because he loved his people so much.

To be Continued… for real… see you in two weeks..

The Games We Play at Christmas   1 comment

Oh, it’s holiday time!  I’m out in a little town in Washington State near Mount Rainier. It has just started snowing, the live choir at the Gazebo across the street are in the middle of their Christmas concert.  Everyone around me is trying to get into, maintain or handle this holiday season in a nation where we are all concerned and worried about what will happen next.

We want normal.  In game theory we would need to set a level of “normal” and work from there. The problem is, we all have different expectations of “normal”.  I’m going to take a departure here from our journey into game theory and talk to you about the intended and unintended effects of game theory in everyone’s lives during one of the most odd and yet beautiful seasons of our culture.

This time of year we celebrate, Christmas, Ashura, Hannukah, Yule, Bodhi Day… and the New Year in various ways. Families gather or try to and we are all in one house, with different memories, experiences and backgrounds and the dice begins to roll. The thing is… our dice, our personal and family and interpersonal relationship dice are all weighted in someway.  What I mean by that is perhaps, you don’t get along with Aunt Betty.  When Aunt Betty shows up at the holiday party, the dice starts rolling, but if you allow the dice to be weighted, it will only roll the same few actions it has always come up with in regard to whatever Aunt Betty says. The Game is rigged so to speak. It is rigged with your former memories and expectations of what has gone on with Aunt Betty before. Perhaps Aunt Betty did some heinous things to you in the past. Aunt Betty may have felt justified in doing so, now her dice are weighted.  The Game goes on and usually not in a pleasant way and more importantly it goes on the same way again and again.

Sometimes we need weighted dice when we need to protect ourselves. This is when I think of Kun Tu, my Zen Buddhist four paws friend. He lives in the present, but he knows danger when he sees it. He’s so forgiving of me, and when he rolls the dice to interact with me, he loves me, even though I may have left him at home for six hours. Well, yes, he does kvetch at me, but when the ritual is over we’re happy buddies like nothing has happened.  On the other hand, when I am walking with him down a street at night and someone is walking toward us that he senses something in not quite right, his dice will roll and his choices are different. But they are honest choices. You know exactly where Kun Tu is coming from.

This is not a Markov Chain where a future state is only determined by the present state. It is a set of states, like a Bayes Net where the past could determine the future and many times we aren’t even aware of it.  It is a chain, like one we find with Scrooge and his former posse, Bob Marley and friends.

We do make the chains that bind us in life and others forge those chains upon us with or without our permission. It’s only when we become aware of those chains, and choose to react with unweighted or appropriately weighted dice that the changes occur.

This Season, wherever you are and whomever you are, I wish for you the brightest of Games, of Love, Forgiveness, Light and New Ways of Interacting and Health, both emotional and physical.

You can choose to make new rules. The Light we figuratively talk about this time of year, whether in Christendom or Solstice, is about the darkness coming to an end and having the Light come back into our lives.

May the Light’s beauty flood your life and reach all the dark crevasses and lead you forth in the New Year to a better life.

Being at peace where you're at

The Ethicist and the Gamer III: Snakes and Ladders   1 comment

It has been….

Which way will your soul go?

a while since last time and for that I apologize.  I have had several things occur one of which is completely related to our discussion on the rule of reciprocity and gaming.

Number 1: My transmission tanked on my car.

Number 2: I had the flu.

This is not a combination I would recommend for anyone. Yet, I had an opportunity to experience the ethic of reciprocity.  It was with my mechanic. Limping in with my car to a man I had only spoken with a few times before –I cringed as I handed over the keys, while I watched the transmission fluid drip from under the car.  Bill said he would call me. I just sighed.  Still living on a graduate student budget made me fear his future words.

The phone call came.  It was happy news at first.  The gasket was gone on the transmission pan.  But my left CV boot and axle needed replacing, but happily all under $300.00.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then the second phone call came.  No, the seals were blown and repairing the seals would cost as much as putting in a rebuilt transmission.  My heart sank.

I said okay, and that I would scrabble the funds together.  It took a week.  Long enough for me to contract and live through the flu.  Horrors.

I went to pick up my car and noticed that he didn’t charge me for the CV boot and left axle.

I asked: “Did you repair them?”

He looked at me shyly and said: “Yeah, but don’t worry about it.”

I paid the bill and walked out.  I came back the next day because of a noise which turned out to be a misplaced sway bar on the axle and the new transmission pan gasket wasn’t working.  He repaired both for free, even paying for a better gasket out of his own pocket.

I asked for a few of his business cards to spread out to friends. Well, it turns out he just had one left.  I smiled and said, I’ll make up a new one for you. Surprised, Bill smiled back.  “Sure”, he said.

One person set up the rules of the game, and I followed. The rule of  reciprocity, or the Golden Rule, or whatever you call it, changed things. You see that’s what we keep forgetting we can set up the rules. We can change the rules of the game.  People lose when we’re working with mismatched game rules.  One person chooses rules of honesty and the other person chooses less than honest rules. The person who is honest inevitably loses with those mismatched rules, or they withdraw from the game ( I will discuss this further in the next installment).

One of the oldest games in existence is Snakes and Ladders.  It originated in India as a morality board game for children.  It is interesting because of the manner in which the game is designed is representative of a Markov chain. A Markov chain, named after Andrey Markov, is a random process where all information about the future is contained in the present state and independent of past states.

Well, what does that mean in real life? A mathematician by the name of Claude Shannon, 1948, came up with a mathematical theory of communication, in fact he and Warren Weaver, published a book by the title in 1963.  Basically the idea goes like this:

1. An informational source produces a message.

2. A transmitter which operates on the message creates a signal to carry the message through a channel.

3. The channel is the medium that the signal is sent, carrying the information that composes the message.

4. A receiver transforms the signal back into the message for delivery.

5. A destination, whether it is a machine, a person receives the message.

So the message depends on the present state which the message is sent (More on this next installment.  I know, I know be patient).

This leads us to something mathematicians and computer programmers call Reinforcement Learning. So, a reinforcement learning mathematical equation for a computer will try to find a “policy” that maps the state of the world to the actions the computer agent should take in that state to maximize reward.

Stay with me a moment here. Let’s go back to Snakes and Ladders. In Snakes and Ladders, the player starts in one state, one given square.  From that one square are fixed odds to moving to another square or other states.  Snakes and Ladders, or it’s current variation Chutes and Ladders, is played on a 10X10 board with die or a spinner.  At the top of the ladder there are usually images of a child doing a good deed and receiving a reward, at the top of the Chutes or the Snake, is an image of a child engaging in bad behavior, and the images on the bottom show the consequences.

To play, you place your token on the “1” square. Then a die is rolled or a spinner is spun and the token is moved along the winding path where you either land at a ladder or a snake/chute.  If you land at the ladder you can move your token up to a higher numbered square. If you land on a higher numbered square of a snake or chute, you must move your token down to the lower numbered square. Interestingly, if the player rolls three 6’s in a roll they must go back to square “1” and wait until they roll another “6”.  The game is won when a token reaches the last square of the track.

In it’s origin the game was created to teach Hindu values.  About obtaining salvation through good deeds, while evil deeds has one reborn into a lower life form.  The number of ladders is less than the number of snakes representing the idea that walking the path of good is difficult compared to the path of sin. Or long term rewards versus short term rewards.

Let’s look at my interaction with Bill my mechanic.  Bill could have tried to cheat me.  He could of took me for the $250.00 then when that didn’t work, I would have to come back and have the transmission replaced anyway.  He would have made more money.  But he took his state, went with the good rule and rolled the die that by helping me out and being honest, I would treat him the same in return. Long term reward.  As it is, I heartily recommend him to anyone, and I will be designing his business cards and I will continue to do business with him.  We both chose the ladders and not the snakes.

Next time: How rules build people and people build rules.

Thank you and have a good state of a week.

Posted October 26, 2009 by prosperospen in Culture, Game Theory, Games, Relationships, Society

The Ethicist and the Gamer Part II   4 comments

And when you thought a story was just a story

And when you thought a story was just a story

Welcome to the adventure! Last week there was:

“…culture arises in the form of play, that it is played from the very beginning…”

That brings another needed task, breaking down the story of Tiku and the One and the Other-One.  This created myth is an amalgam of older myths, but with a twist-a modern element thrown in.  Let’s break it down.

In the pristine, pure beginning we had two people who cared for each other and loved each other regardless of differences.  Then a third character comes in and introduces doubt into the world.  Rather than choosing to ignore the bird and it’s offer, the man thinks they could have more happiness or could be missing something.  This is not necessarily a negative thought, but what is the crux of the story is why this bird out of the blue is offering the Ultimate Life to them.

We find out later that the bird is doing so, because someone did it to them, so of course others must suffer.  But why must others suffer?

In a modern twist (to be discussed in Part III), the man and woman must suffer because of course the Tiku bird must have a reason to rationalize it’s pain and dislike of others.  The rule is:

“If I have suffered, you must suffer too.”

Sound familiar?  Or in the Judeo Christian concept, it is a takeoff of the orignal sin, so the rule is: 

“One person made a mistake, so all must suffer for it”

A Buddhist might think:

“Life is hard, so we must learn to let go of our ego and detach from the suffering, but it is unavoidable”

And we could go on,  the important thing to remember is that these rules evolved from stories, or at least the stories were created to understand the rules.

The hidden rule in this story is that when one person suffers and chooses not to let go of that suffering, then others must suffer to make them feel justified, guilty or not.   The other rule that rose from that rule is that all men for ever and ever will in some way be a slave to women.  Of course in our world the opposite occurred.

Rules, you say?  But these are great epic stories, some the foundation of our religions and societies.  And to that, I say:  “EXACTLY!”

Read the first quote at the beginning of part II.

It is true that some stories have atonement, giving the ability for persons in the story to redeem themselves in someway.   That is another rule. Atonement, by the way, is actually meant as “At onement”. To be at one with Christ’s suffering and to be redeemed.  That’s as close to a religious discussion as we will have here.  Remember we’re looking at the construct of games, society, relationship and rules.

Does society have rules?  Yes and there are hidden as well as unhidden rules.  Rules change according to the culture, but most rules find commonality.  The most common is:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

In game theory this is called the Ethic of Reciprocity.  You have the right to just treatment and you must ensure justice for others.  It is the basic element of all human rights.

Confucianism states:

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself”


“Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you”

and so forth.

Watch how children play, or adults, or if you want to really observe another culture, watch dogs play.  A dog will go into a butt-up/head down play position to attract another companion to play.  If the invitation is not accepted they will perhaps try with a bump to the other dog, and that may work, or the other dog will just saunter off.  If one dog unjustly attacks another dog, that dog will not be played with.

Listen to how children construct their play or remember your friends behavior from playing Monopoly.  What are the rules? How do humans behave?

Next week, a focus on rules and stories.

To be continued . . .

Thank you.