Friday, 4 February 2011

Counter-factual Play

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpgI like to listen to the Philosophers Zone as a podcast and in a recent episode the topic was the Philosophical Baby. Slightly out of context was this comment by the guest (Alison Gopnik) about imagining counter-factual realities. Although this quote is about babies, it's worth reading it substituting "babies" with "gamers" or "story makers" to give it the context for this blog. I hope you see what grabbed my attention.

Well in fact, what we discovered is that babies and young children are extremely good at imagining counter-factual alternatives, other ways that the world could be, other than they way that they are now. That's what children do when they are involved in pretend play, which is one of the most characteristic things for 3 and 4 year olds to do. 3 and 4 year olds will spend 24/7 often as crazed world princesses and ninjas and who knows what else.

One of the great puzzles has always been why do they do that, why are they often in these alternative universes? And one thought is that if what babies and young children are doing is figuring out the causal structure of the world, an old philosophical idea is that understanding causation is a good idea because it lets you construct counter-factual, it lets you imagine other ways that the world could be. And what we think is that just as in their exploratory play, children are finding out all about the world around them in an uninhibited way. In their pretend way, children are exploring possibilities, but they're doing it in an uninhibited way.

(emphasis is mine)

I think this is a great way to think about our story games, as an exploration of other ways the world could be. Mind you, I wouldn't want to live in some of the worlds my games have created, but there are others that would be pure delight.
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