Do depictions afford us anything?

First and foremost to be able to argue for the framework below, restructuring of the language use surrounding depictions may be needed. It is argued here that the overarching term should be alternative objects and alternative environments including the two (or four) subcategories depicted objects/environments and virtual objects/environments.

The main division bears on the ongoing discussion if depictions afford us anything (Wilson, 2013). This is an attempt to further this discussion.

Virtual objects (such as those used in screen-based research) are able to be interacted with –however, only in the virtual environment. Virtual objects, then, relies on a virtual environment. They do not afford the agent anything, unless the virtual objects are connected to the environment (for example controlling movement of an object in the environment by virtue of a Human Computer Interface). They do afford the virtual agent whatever the virtual environment and virtual objects are programmed to afford. Depicted objects then, do not afford an agent anything, but can provide (accurate or inaccurate) information about what the depicted object represents. They can inform us of possible affordances in the environment just like objects afforded to others, perceived by us, inform us that this affordance may be possible. The point of divergence then is that depicted objects do not afford us anything because we cannot become part of the depicted environment as depicted agents. Also, we cannot become agents in a depicted environment, we can only ever be agents in the environment. If we can become part of the depicted environment, it is not a depicted environment but a virtual environment -and we only become part of it as a virtual agent. Virtual objects do not afford agents anything if we strictly speak of the environment, however, as a virtual agent in the virtual environment the depictions afford the virtual agent, while it still only informs the agent because hie [ie:] is only ever in the environment. This is also to say that although an agent interacts with a virtual environment it necessarily has to be done through some form of apparatus/machinery, without it, the virtual environment would merely be a depiction.

An agent is thus not afforded anything, by neither depicted nor virtual objects/environments. Depicted objects can provide information that may or may not be useful in the environment, just like perceiving objects in the environment can provide such information. Virtual objects can afford virtual agents, just like objects can afford agents. They can also provide information, just like depicted objects. They can only afford agents by virtue of being connected back to the environment. This is however an oxymoron, because agents are still only in the environment, and only afforded something in the environment.

Retraction of exemplification of ‘virtual affordances’ in “Cognitive Psychology in Crisis” (2/2)

This reminded me of something that I have been struggling with in psychology in general for a very long time.

The issue I have is that, in my previous blog post, the exemplification by League of Legends (LoL) specifics (p. 37-38), can be used as conceptually equal to the definition of virtual affordances. This is why I didn’t spot the fallacy to begin with.

On a conceptual level, LoL does indeed contain virtual affordances, but, ontologically, the programming is too weak for it to be anything else -it is not ontologically equal. Another distinction is needed here; of course virtual affordances will not be defined exactly the same as affordances ontologically, they consist of different matter. However, in the realm of virtual environments -the ontological definition comes down to programming, 010101011s and eventually computer chips and electricity. As an abundance of philosophers argue, it is not down to the hardware (and I will refrain from getting into this argument here, worthy of books and hours of deliberating). This may sound representationalist also by the way. I assure you it is not. The point is; the programming code, the 010111s and so on is the environment in the sense that it is what it reduces down to, but, it is not when considering virtual agents/objects/environments interactivity (the epistemological stuffs). This is so for the exact same reason Gibson defines the ecological level for most organisms, and not the physics or astronomical levels.

That said, should each programmed virtual environment be treated as a “full” virtual environment, and that, virtual affordances are to be defined depending on the perspective from each virtual environment? Or should the virtual environments all be defined as “weaker” or “stronger” programmed when compared to the environment, essentially, defining the environment as the strict criteria to which virtual environments are to be judged?

As for psychology in general, it seems to me that they lack a connection between epistemology and ontology, but EcoPsy doesn’t. As usual, correct me if I am wrong.

Retraction of exemplification of ‘virtual affordances’ in “Cognitive Psychology in Crisis” (1/2)

I must admit a mistake. Virtual affordances, as defined in “Cognitive Psychology in Crisis: Ameliorating the Shortcomings of Representationalism” reads “invariants programmed in environment, objects and agents, allowing, limiting or disallowing virtual behaviours, interactions and coupled systems between those environments, objects and agents” (p. 37). By this definition, the examples used; League of Legends specifics, do not strictly hold up to this definition.

As one example, abilities usable by buttons lack one, very important, aspect of the traditional definition of affordances. Reciprocality. Abilities in LoL do not essentially display virtual agent interaction with virtual object/environment such as throwing corresponds to organism interaction with object/environment. An example of one that would count belongs to two characters named Volibear and Singed, who can run up to an enemy and toss over their shoulders. But even then, it is a stretch to count this as a virtual affordance. Since there are no universal laws of physics programmed into the game, even this activity does not strictly live up to the definition; it is simply a virtual behaviour visualised to mimic what would be an affordance had it been enacted in the environment.

There are better examples from even the earliest FPS-games such as Quake, where you can aim your rocket launcher towards the floor and fire (called rocketjumping) to overcome gravity and reach high altitude plateaus not otherwise reachable. Here, however, there would be debate about how much the virtual agent actually is a virtual agent or not, details, details…

In sum, Human Computer Interface type stuff, still involves human organisms and what they are able and not depending on what is depicted on a screen (which is what my thesis experiment would come closer to). Virtual agents in virtual environments however, requires more from programming than is currently displayed (in general) for me to feel comfortable calling them virtual affordances.

Ecological Strategy Favoured Over Computational

I am in the process of writing up my master thesis experiment but can reveal that in this specific task, participants use ecological strategy 53% of trials, computational strategy 26%, a second ecological type strategy 13% and other/non-distinguishable 8%. Also, accuracy is higher when using ecological strategy (63%) compared to computational (32%) and the other two. Inter-rater reliability ~.85. Exciting! It may support the ideas that screen-based research can indeed yield empirical results in Ecological Psychology (and add to that, in favour of Ecological Psychology). I have however yet to analyze the data statistically, to be continued!

Unofficial lecture on representations, intro to rECS and Master Thesis

So I’m writing my thesis on abandoning representations and replacing it with ecological psychology, and this is bits and pieces of what I’m writing. To fit one lecture I obviously had to leave out a whole lot of information. Even information that would change some of the subject matter. The idea I had was to introduce, not even all of, the basic stuff I have in my thesis and was hoping to get some critique and comments on it.

Link to video;

Most sources used in the video;

Blogs and blogposts
Scandinavia And The World (illustrations);
Eric Charles blog post;
Wilson and Golonka’s blog;

James Gibson – The ecological approach to visual perception
Anthony Chemero – Radical embodied cognitive science
Pfeifer and Bongard – How the body shapes the way we think
Gerd Gigerenzer – Rationality for mortals
Bem and de Jong – Theoretical issues in psychology

Tim van Gelder – What might cognition be if not computation
Fodor and Pylyshyn – Connectionism and cognitive architecture: A critical analysis

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.