Monthly Archives: January 2011

Digital: A Love Story

>This looks like another good one to try: Digital: A Love Story, by Christine Love (serendipitous name! Or a playful pseudonym?). I love the idea of a love story told in 1988 online interactions — it reminds of of epistolary novels like de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I love that the reader has to work a little harder to decode what is happening. It’s a wonderful way to treat a romance because it makes it feel more organic and more embedded in actual actions. Can’t wait to try it.

Also, I’m curious to track down Christine Love. Seems that she’s in Toronto. Here’s an interview with her.

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Emily Short’s The Romance Problem

>Another great article from Emily Short’s column at GameSetWatch, Homer in Silicon. This one is about the romance problem.

In it, she points out that all too often romance is described in game mechanics as a stat-management exercise that, when they exist as one component of a game (such as Fable 2) often bears no relation to the world or to gameplay outside the romance. One grad student expressed the natural emotional response to this set-up to me in telling me a story about how her avatar, in Fable 2, had been gone for years (part of the narrative of the game) and yet when she returned to her husband and child they behaved as if she had simply trotted down to the grocery store for a pint of milk. We want our romantic investment to *mean* something to the other characters in the game, we want them to matter in the world. Similarly, she told me of another incident in the same game during which her spouse died in a random bandit attack. The game treated it as just another random villager death. But the player had an emotional connection with this particular villager — this one was special, and it seems the game ought to have somehow recognized and respected that.

There’s much more to think about in Emily’s essay (as usual) and but I’ll leave other ruminations for a later post! Suffice it to say her essay really made me want to play Plundered Hearts!

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Loving Robots

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There’s just so much to say about this article about Sherry Turkle and her research, I hardly know where to begin. First, I suppose, her 1995 book Life on the Screen made an impression on me when I first started thinking seriously about how videogames evoke emotions. It seems we humans are so hardwired to feel love that we develop a spontaneous affection for devices that mimic living lovable creatures. We blissfully ignore the knowledge that a circuit board and mess of wires can’t actually return our love. Our need to love, it appears, is so strong that it trumps rationality at a very deep level.

Japanese robotics engineers and designers have long understood this. They’ve created robots to look after the elderly and provide companionship. The Aibo simulated a real dog to the point where a friend relates that his girlfriend broke down and cried after their little robot dog fell down the stairs.

This fascinates me but I also understand why Turkle cautions us. As anyone who has been in a relationship of unrequited love understands, it’s dangerous and damaging when the love flows in only one direction. Because as strong as our need to love is, it’s balanced by our need to be loved, in turn, and a robot can’t provide that (yet…). The participants of the excellent documentary Guys and Dolls, about men who have relationships with RealDolls, seem to most people tragic figures who are unable to have relationships with actual living women. Perhaps their cases are examples of what happens when we go too far in developing affections for nonliving things?

Still, there is much to explore here and I’m especially interested not in simulation devices (like robots) but in simulation situations and environments (like games) that provoke similar romantic or affectionate responses.

To leave you with a more lighthearted take on the theme:

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