Story-Based Games as Transformational Media
In John Stewart’s posting, “Flow Engineering using computer games,” he begins to “sketch some ways in which computer game frameworks can be used to promote the positive development of humanity, both as individuals and collectively.” The general subject of transformative media is directly relevant to another conference venue, Social Approaches to Consciousness, and together they become a mandate for meaningful media.
The term media covers a lot of ground, and it is by virtue of an infinite array of mediation that humans learn about their environment, themselves, their cultural values, and the meaning underlying the patterns of their lives. I think that the discovery of relative meaning (personal or collective) is the essence of the “Flow” experience in its many forms. Among the variants, I would include insightful learning, biofeedback, Maslow’s “peak” experience, epiphany, the healing experience of patients under Jungian psychiatric treatment, or mythic transcendence—what Joseph Campbell called atonement (at-one-ment) with the Father that is achieved by the Hero at the end of the Hero’s Journey.
A mythic marker of such experiences is the loss of time sense that can be associated with many “profound” human experiences, and the loss of time sense is a significant aspect of what is experienced as “immersion” in a video game (or transcendental meditation). However, in video games, such immersion is enhanced by interactivity—the manipulation of a “joystick” that registers player choices and provides her/him with sequenced, direct, positive feedback. As John points out, the degree of motivation and skill-matching associated with any activity greatly enhances the potential for meaningful control and the experience of Flow.
As to the question of whether a Flow path to an important goal can be engineered, I would advocate for the employment of story-based games (SBGs) as narrative architecture that enhances the experience of Flow. Furthermore, if the narrative architecture in SBGs were programmed according to parameters of Jungian amplification theory, it would tend to a “comprehensive capacity to engineer strong motivational paths to longer-term goals that would fundamentally change human potential.” If successful, such architecture would have a multi-leveled mereological impact.
Why story-based games? SBGs have all the elements of Flow: interactivity, immersion, and dramatic structure. Narrative/dramatic structure is a common denominator among all cognitive research models including Global Workspace, cognitive framing, the functions of Jungian psyche, and neurobiological mapping. So, research on the creation of sophisticated psychological Flow paths in SBGs would be instructive from both the perspective of consciousness research and the effective applications of that research to education and meaningful media policy at cultural levels. Such meaningful media research and application would result in a fundamental change in human potential. That potential would incorporate Jungian dimensions of “Heart” (feeling and intuition) as well as sensing (perception) and thinking.
Carl Jung understood that dreams have all the elements of good Greek drama and that this dramatic structure provides a framework for analysis. SBGs engineered according to the principles of this dramatic structure could have the same “healing” potentials as dreams.
This is a subject that can only be touched in a blog, but here are some general examples of how SBGs might be engineered according to Jungian principles:
· Myers-Briggs personality profiles could be incorporated in order to insure that game challenges are reasonably matched to player skills and interests. This would enhance player motivation and predispose to the experience of Flow.
· Narrative principles of the mythic Hero’s Journey could be incorporated in a myriad ways to provide a clear sequence of challenges, nuanced player choices leading to positive feedback, motivational pathways that predispose the player to new insights, complex characterization based on Jungian archetypes (as energy patterns in a unified field), personalized and meaningful goals leading to character development (premise) and player self-realization, and a more practical appreciation of a living media-sphere or unified field (dramatic unities) of psyche-physics.
· Of particular interest is the subject of mirror-neuron circuitry or systems (MNS). Research using fMRI or EEG to map the brain and neural processes of SBG players could contribute substantially to our understanding of Jungian functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, intuiting) as they participate in mostly unconscious player choices. In other words, we might begin to track brain function according to Jungian holistic principles of psyche in order to divulge information about such manifestations of “Heart” as empathy. Such information would contribute to furthering our knowledge about Flow and what constitutes transformational or meaningful media.
· Mirror neuron systems are important factors in Theory of Mind (ToM). Theory of Mind posits the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, intents, desires, etc.) to oneself and others, and recent research (undertaken by Vittorio Gallese and others) on MNS underlines potentials of MNS that seem to be related to the ability of a person to recognize and anticipate goal-directed movements. If such movements were simulated in the programming of supporting characters (known as artificial intelligence or AI) and avatars in story-based games, characters would be more sophisticated and drama more nuanced. Interactivity would be more intuitively fluid and more meaningful for the player. Perhaps more important, such increased authenticity in game play would provide a steady stream of data captured by way of biofeedback, fMRI, or EEG technology relative to the patterns of mirror system activity in the brain. Such knowledge might lead to a better understanding of Flow.
· The graphics or narrative architecture of SBGs could as well be programmed according to authentic principles of symbolic interpretation as they have been discovered and recorded in case studies where Jungian amplification (metaphorical extension akin to metaphorical framing) has been employed in dream analysis. Knowledge gleaned from such data accumulated with a variety of research designs might be used in subsequent game programs to reinforce “positive” neural patterns that arise relative to the Flow phenomenon.
I eagerly anticipate John’s next installment discussing existing games relative to Flow paths and meaningful goals.