Virtual affordances. Electronic Sports (and Computer Resistence).

I’ve grown up with computers since birth, in fact, one of the first generations to do so. The virtual world needs to be accounted for, but I accept the non-affordance of pictures, depictions, movies and thus screens overall (but see for very recent, in-depth, information) I believe it is enough to denote this with the word virtual. This is something I go to some length with in my thesis and the beneath is the preliminary version of that section. While there is some revision still to take place, the main content is there and should provide enough clarity as to what I mean by it.

The world of electronic sports (henceforth; e-sports) is a largely unexplored area even within traditional cognitive psychology. In rECS it is discounted, essentially, because it is performed on a screen and as such does not provide affordances per say. In agreement with this, you still cannot just ignore this massive field. It is not only entertainment, it is for some a way of life and it is for others their monthly income -both as creators as well as players. In an attempt to refrain from legitimising the field further, it stands for itself in the amount of hours played, the number of games produced, the amount of profit for gaming-companies and the prize-pools for e-sports players. One aspect however, that is unstated in the relevant literature, is that unbeknownst to producers and programmers of games, their absolute central aspects, follow exactly that of ecological psychology and rECS. Gibson (1986) made the same analogy, however with greater depth, for the fields of architecture and design.

A programmer creates the environment in which a player is to exist and, hopefully, immerse herself. The virtual environment is created in respect to contain virtual affordances for the player, or for the player to explore and act within. The evolution of computers, as well as the games played on these computers, have increasingly dealt with the fact that players expect more and more virtual affordances to be available to them. There is an expectation to be able to do more things, to increase the complexity of the virtual environment, virtual objects and other virtual agents. When expansions are released for already popular games, they account for this fact by not only adding new items, for example in MMORPGS (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), but also by creating new virtual affordances to players through new game modes (changing virtual affordances of the already known game), allowing completely new virtual behaviours and thus making the virtual environment increasingly complex. For games that insist on reflecting reality, the expectation is that virtual affordances should more and more closely resemble the environment. This is thus an essential area to account for when it comes to rECS and psychology in general. It is necessary however to introduce the term virtual affordances, because as stated, pictures, depictions and even movies do not present affordances (Gibson, 1986 and Wilson & Golonka, 2013). Nevertheless, computer gaming industry works with manipulation of virtual affordances, and thus, virtual affordances are defined as invariants programmed in environment, objects and agents, allowing, limiting or disallowing virtual behaviours, interactions and coupled systems between those environments, objects and agents.

The game of choice for exemplification, is League of Legends (launched 2009, by Riot Games, formed in 2006). It is played by 32 million unique players every month, 12 million of which play daily, racking up 1+ billion hours of play each month making it the most played computer game in the world (Riot Games, 2012). They have created a virtual environment in which there is an economic system; killing AI-agents and opponents grants money, from which you may buy items to further enhance your characters basic, level-dependent, properties. The virtual environment affords movement in two dimensions but also limits movement by walls and shrubbery. Each character, 110+ to choose from, is afforded five specific abilities (one passive, meaning it is not “usable” by pressing a button and four active abilities assigned to one key each) plus the choice of two out of thirteen that are common to all players. Some abilities modify movement capability of oneself, of other agents, amount of damage given, amount of damage taken and/or regeneration of vitals (health, mana or for a few characters, a specific other vital coupled to its offensive and/or defensive abilities). Two teams with five players on each team thus comprises (10*5*2) 100 agent-specific virtual affordances, coupled with the dynamic variety in which the virtual environment lends itself to each specific character. Needless to say, perceiving one’s own and other characters’ virtual affordances, in which sequence they are used, and in which situation, the dynamic relationship all these variables have in conjunction with where one is situated in the environment and your, and their, vitals, is what counts as skill in this game. It is a visual perception heavy game but auditory perception enables you to gain information on parts of the environment not currently in your virtual visual field but that may have an impact on your virtual behaviour. The mentioned variables are far from an exhaustive list; there are quite many more virtual affordances to be described, but these should be enough for even the most computer-illiterate to understand that it is far from a simple virtual environment to navigate through successfully. Thus, this complexity gives rise to a vast range of behaviours and emotions, one of the most extreme of which is called “rage-quitting”. It is when you are sufficiently angry, regardless of why, that you exit the game before completion and leave your team severely underpowered against the opponents. Similarly, it is what can be seen in real life interviews when interviewees physically leave the interview prematurely.

Computer-gaming, although not adhering to the strict definitions of rECS, needs to be accounted for and it is suggested that it is sufficient to discriminate between real life and gaming by the verbal notation virtual. When experimentally reporting on computer games or screen-dependent research, it is of great importance to include an exhaustive list of variables and virtual affordances in the previously mentioned task analysis. This leads on to the study at hand, where an attempt is made to follow this task analysis for rECS experimentation, in order to show its practical application; to try and create headway for computer-screen experimentation by refuting the unwillingness within the embodied perspective towards it; discriminate between predictive and prospective strategies in problem-solving to discriminate between computational and ecological strategies; and illuminate how lucrative future research can be on the basis of both the process under observation and, more generally, to produce knowledge about it through rECS.

Non-(?)necessary discrimination between actualisation and realisation

In Gibson’s perspective, are they not really the same thing? Perception in Gibson’s terms seem to imply that “acting on” is implied by perception. I am confused with how this unfolds in practice. Take the definition I outlined in a previous post, that realisation is the perception of a possible interaction as opposed to actualisation which is the instantiation of an interaction. Perception is interaction?!

I think of studies on mirror neurons (if they exist, if it is assumed they do not do what trad. cog. sci. say they do and instead are simple sensory modality + movement overlap/association -happenstancily, not predeterminally- neurons/cluster of neurons/areas) in that, ‘visual perception of’ and ‘engaging in’ is the same thing physiologically -since, as I suppose Gibson would have it, perception (regardless of which kind) includes oneself always. If one is not separated from the environment, then one perceives what others and oneself do as the same thing (obviously, humans distinguish between self and others, but, even then, not innately -which in itself doesn’t have to decide in the matter, but may inform). Maybe this could be seen as the process behind empathy or sympathy for example. I feel disgust if I perceive rotting meat, because perception is that of systems and parallel modalities and not separate “input pathways”.

They may however have a practical, communicationally, significant aspect to them since it makes it easier to explain perspective or experience of a situation in those terms. Though I also get the feeling that they refer to the false dichotomy of conscious/unconscious perception. Something superfluous to the ecological model. Indeed, it perpetuates the false assumption of consciousness per se. Note here however that “how we consciously experience” situations, is central to psychiatry, for example, and can be useful to navigate within in therapy. Experimental psychology however, should refrain from allowing this massive source of frame-of-reference error to guide theory too heavily.

On the definition of affordances. (1/5)

This is most definitely a work under progress. These thoughts came from criticising Anthony Chemero’s “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, ch. 7 “Affordances etc.” and concludes with the (in)famously ambiguous quote from Gibson on what affordances are defined as.

If affordances are defined as the relation between (or, the relation between is a part of the definition). Then an object need not exist if an agent is not perceiving it. It can, but it needn’t. This will incorporate idealism in full or in part and this is unsatisfactory.

If affordances are defined as the individual ability of an agent and the property of an object, then neither are necessarily coupled. Also unsatisfactory.

However, if abilities and properties are given a compatibility value (a, metaphorical, mathematical/numerical range), which, if in perception of each other are [also] within each others’ range and can thus be combined/actualised/realised. Then, if this is what we wish to call an affordance, is inherent individually in the object and the agent (and thus exist without the presence of each other) but can only be actualised in presence of each other (or by other agents/objects within the same range). Thus, an affordance is neither solely subjective, nor objective, at the same point in time. Or both, if you will. (I hope I got at least a chuckle from this rephrasing of Gibson.)

This view is compatible with evolutionary aspects, ecological aspects but is not selectionist [things Chemero makes a good point of what we should want]. In short and simple, there are many, albeit finite, number of affordances and those that have been directly linked to survival and reproduction (which are temporally and situationally dependent, although this specific aspect falls under biology to explore/have explored) have thus determined our phylogenetic development.

I suggest following terminology (although I have to admit that I am slightly confused by all the existing definitions and so reserve myself for the mistake of reifying someone else’s definition. Should this be the case, I apologize and will credit you accordingly)

Actualised: object/agent in a physically coupled, mutual, dynamic relationship that is temporally bound. (Temporally bound refers to that actualizations of affordances do not last forever, in the most extreme case, we die, but, the temporal aspect is necessary, for development, evolution and dynamicism more generally. Although it can be argued that someone else can keep actualizing what I did before death, this is still another instance, another coupling, that can be simultaneous to my coupling. This thus also holds for collective behaviour.)

Realised: object/agent in a perceptually coupled, mutual, dynamic relationship. (Perceptually bound, spatially bound, geographically bound. Referring to the necessary perception of the object and its affordances and (but not necessarily) the agents affordances and the compatibility range of both. Basically, we need direct perception, and perception at all to be able to realise that there are objects at all etc..)

Both these terms are necessarily physically bound, both by their individual physical properties (body of the agent and shape, density etc. of the object) and the physical constraints of the environment (gravity, exemplifying a more so global constraint, and situationally specific things for example social norms, etc.).
This, allows us realisations in absence of the relevant object but actualizations only in presence. It also allows us to avoid Evil Philosopher arguments, examples of cases when we don’t actualise although we can and failing an attempted actualization.

Arriving at the terribly mundane conclusion that we can interact with things when they are there and they are retained when we are not. To be continued… …probably in my master thesis…