The Flash Game
THE FLASH GAME; A NEW SKILL FOR A NEW AGE
Leane Roffey Line, c. 2008
What’s in a game? Quite a bit actually, if you’re a game fanatic.
My fascination with games and game theory goes way back to the 1960s, where we played paper and pencil games in the earliest versions of D&D and War games. World-builders and simulators, somehow they seemed to go hand-in-hand with the Science Fiction novels I got from the library. It beat Candyland and Monopoly, and other board games (I called them “bored games”) designed to foster social interactions. Back then, gaming, even paper and pencil, was my primary form of entertainment. I preferred it to television, which was quickly finding its way into homes across America.
Wff’n Proof, a dice game, obsessed me in high school. In college, I majored in Mathematics, Algebra mostly, but touched on game theory, networks, and touring theory in the process. How I envied the professors at Wayne State, who sat in the teacher’s lounge, playing Go. Such venues weren’t open to women students, of course, at that time, so I contented myself with playing with problems, or reading Chinese philosophy in the library. Anything different, anything to break the monotony of the social unrest of the 1970s, which eventually was glazed over in the humorless humor of shows featuring flower power backdrops and orange, green and yellow stage sets.
I climbed my way out of teletype input on paper tape, punch-card rooms, data verification, green bar paper, Cobol and Fortran IV, not to mention assembler throughout the 1970s, working as an engineer in Ann Arbor. In the 1980s something new arrived. A desktop computer. Heavy, small screened, but “portable”. And, in the 1980s, the inevitable question, “what games can we play now?” was at the forefront of the collective mind I worked with in the insurance industry down in Little Rock, AR and later in San Antonio, TX. I designed annuity systems on the new boxes, using languages like Basic, for salespeople to sell insurance, menu driven, but gamelike in the sense that they had to deal with menu options and entering data into fields. Back in the age of legacy computers, many of us found relief from work-related tedium in the old Adventure Game. It was text-based, ponderous, and really hard to play on a green screen, still, we persisted. The new portables changed all that. Then, with the advent of GUI, things changed even more. The history of Pac-Man, for example, is elucidated many other places, no need to go into it here. We passed games on huge plastic disks, and with the advent of the 3 ¼” diskette, things got even easier. My first version of Jeopardy! Oh, this was wonderful indeed. In both my beginning career as an IE and later career as an Actuarial Insurance Programmer, the game was never far from my desk, being the one relaxing thread throughout fighting with mainframes and early PC configurations.
I got away from gaming and more into working with computers at that point in the late 1980s, being a serious young woman with a career to build, but games were never far away once I started using AOL for my emailer in the early 1990s. The world of the internet had entered my life, and there was no going back. The internet was wonderful (although earlier net software wasn’t). AOL made it easy, and though it was expensive by the hour literally, and wasn’t the “real” internet, at least I could do some research on stuff like, say, stocks and bonds. It was easy to feel very grown up at that point, and I realized somehow I’d left behind the true spirit of fun in all that work.
I first began my romance with online gaming in the late 1990s, when I happened on a role-playing group in America Online, called the RDI. That was short for Red Dragon Inn, where you adopted a character and acted with other real people. No one knew your name, rank or serial number, and often you’d wind up in private chat with someone, completely incognito. It dawned on me then that I had no clue to whom I was speaking. What age, what area of the world, what sex. All it took to play on AOL was money. AOL went down to the $20 range in the late 1990s, and from that point forward, the gloves were off. No one knew who you were, true, but you didn’t know anyone either. Too many pictures of virtual body parts showing up in my email – my boredom threshold was more than reached.
From there I migrated into online teaching, in their Academic Assistance Center. Here, I went under the alias of DrElArius, and supervised an online room of students in various subjects. I wrote for their data base, and answered emails as well, from students about various topics. All well and good, I thought, I was helping people, some kids in particular, for whom “the computer” (that was me) helped them with their homework. When it got to the point that I was being asked to DO their homework, I knew it was time to leave.
I migrated into other arenas in the late 1990s, got off AOL and onto Mindspring. Struggling with modem speeds and telephone lines that were anything but cooperative I found my way into the world of mail lists, bulletin boards, and MUDs. From there it was a short leap into the role-playing universe. Individual games, virtual living stories in which I was a part through my avatar, consumed my free time. My hardware could not keep up with the game advances however, and eventually the money just would not stretch far enough to support the latest and greatest versions of these games.
The new century dawned, and what used to be a $3,000 plus investment suddenly became affordable. I had married by then, someone who has the same interest in gaming that I do, and so we upgraded our machines. We played EverQuest, we played Ultima Online until we finally bored of it just last year (2007). In search of the way to fill our free time with cheap entertainment, we have discovered the flash & shockwave programmed games. While this might not seem like a great accomplishment, as I have played through now well over 1,000 games, I’ve come to some realizations about this kind of gaming I’d like to share -- in terms of how these games have superceded other training tools for social interaction, like reading books, writing letters, having conversations, etc.
The game industry has been tending toward these kinds of strategy games quite a while now, since 1997 at the least. Adobe’s FLASH platform is now ten years old, for example. These games are designed to punctuate the workday and to entertain, and while not terribly involved, can pose some challenges. What I notice about them is that they help build new skill sets that people who work in the modern world need to have…things like dexterity with the mouse or quick reflexes with the keyboard. The degree of spatial organization and orientation a person will develop playing a set of arcade games called match-3 games really needs to be studied. The Japanese are complete masters of the genre called “escape games”. These don’t even need written cues, you point and click until you find what you need to escape from a room, a car, a phone booth, etc. The skills being tested there, of observation, puzzle-solving, putting things together mentally, against the clock, are really ways for improving mental dexterity and problem-solving, taking us beyond the need for language. Other sorts of games are more banal, such as “hack and slash” or “battle” games, but they are a great way to relieve the stress that builds up from attempting to communicate with “Zombies”. Oh, of course, there are “Zombie” games for dealing directly with the uniformed or annoying non-virtually oriented people one runs into in life. Very satisfying. Puzzle games, such as Sudoko or sudoko-based games, have their own uses. On some game sites, “chat” runs alongside the game…generally, gamers take the idea of speaking in short text bursts to new levels. We are communicating in new ways today. It is no longer the case that people take (or even have) the time to think ponderous thoughts, or even abstract ones. We are evolving into an almost telepathic-like awareness of the obvious, superceding the need to reiterate it. Some might interpret this as a tendency toward shallowness on the part of young people, but I see it differently. They just have a different frame of reference, one that I helped create for them, in fact.
Nowhere is that more evident than in today’s web environment. One of the most important facilities of the web is the progressive download. Adobe’s FLASH, for example, takes advantage of this almost seamless functionality. Quick visual feedback is imperative once someone clicks on something. As broadband becomes the standard, seeing things happen and be able to interact with them is paramount. We see the same social driving force motivating phenomena like YouTube, or using vid clips to report real events as news. People are no longer tolerating the idea that it is okay to keep them waiting in queues; they want and need instantaneous control of information, and of their time. That is the single biggest factor in the movement away from the old “android meme” of the late 1950s to the new cultural memes developing today. Enriched content. Short transmissions of information. The use of metaphor. Most importantly, the mental acuity needed to abstract and synthesize the enormous amounts of information which are input to our immediate senses. These games can and do go a long way toward helping integrate what I call higher functionality in the human mind, functionality which often is misinterpreted by those of us with our noses still in books as gross ignorance. People, especially younger people, communicate at a greater rate of transmission over phones and mobiles. Their network is not due to filling a need for social lonliness so much as playing tribal drums. It keeps everyone on the same page, more or less, without them having to be in physical proximity. As one young twenty-something explained to me, “you would not believe how fast I can get this news out” when something noteworthy happened in the workplace. “Your generation does not need this facility,” she said, “but for us, it is unthinkable that we cannot connect.” I’m not sure exactly when we switched gears as a culture, I just know the track’s been switched. She’s right. For the rest of us left in the dust here, there are some ways we can help reintegrate ourselves with what’s “out there”.
Certainly not every game will meet the standard of “excellent” when looked at by a formal teacher or professor in the arts and humanities. Still, within their stripped down cultural frameworks (most are low context) they afford a very clear picture of what is going on in the heads and minds of their young creators. Basically, they confront the user with a series of constraints that must be beaten to “level up” and often provide a jarring, if not mind-bending, picture of a person’s own limitations in the process. By the time a person hits my age bracket (I’ll be 60 next year) their mindset may as well be set in stone. Playing these games keeps the wetware lubricated, of that I have no doubt. Besides, they are fun. The games I particularly like involve spatial skills. I also like word games, like good ol’ Hangman.
A great commentary on the ten year old FLASH industry is given by some top programmers at
It’s worth a read.
More importantly, I’d like to direct you all to my favorite game, called “Magic Pen”, featured up at www.onemorelevel.com. This site is a good one for beginners because the games there are all “screened” for quality. In this industry (and the associated Shockwave game industry) there are all levels of games, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Something can be learned from each and every one of them. In our household we’ve reviewed some fifty sites at this point, all of which have games in the hundreds to play.
I believe what we are looking at here is a new way of communicating. A way that uses DO-ing as well as cognition. It truly represents an integration of media, art and science, philosophy, forensics, or what have you. Try some, you’ll like it.
[This comment unrelated to above story - Ed]
"Therefore, if we don't think that we are currently
living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled
to believe that we will have descendants who will run
lots of such simulations of their forebears. That is
the basic idea. The rest of this paper will spell it
out more carefully."
He lost me already! I don't follow that logic one
jot. Maybe if he'd said "entertain the notion
that..." but he didn't, he said "think". Besides, if
we were currently living in a computer simulation,
could we "think" that we were at all? I mean, really
"think" it? Really, really, cogito ergo sum think it?
But then this really made me laugh:
"Moreover, we need not assume that in order to create
a mind on a computer it would be sufficient to program
it in such a way that it behaves like a human in all
situations, including passing the Turing test etc. We
need only the weaker assumption that it would suffice
for the generation of subjective experiences that the
computational processes of a human brain are
structurally replicated in suitably fine-grained
detail, such as on the level of individual synapses.
This attenuated version of substrate-independence is
quite widely accepted."
Yeah, widely accepted by the materialists who honestly
believe what he said above. It's like faith in God
but in Tron land. But here's a question - if that
were true, if that were the case, if the weaker
assumption is sufficient, then why doesn't the
simulation allow itself in the same vein? In other
words, all the work in the AI underground in this
direction and no increase of computing power has
changed the fact that it's not true simulation to
consciousness. And I don't mean - if we only had more
computing power maybe we'd see more than shades - I
mean, no advancement made on the computing end has
demonstrated any indication that it's ever going to
work. Let me reiterate this in other words - if we're
in a computer simulation based on his weaker
assumption, why can't the simulation simulate itself?
Were we lousy programmers?
Honestly, I think people just read this drivel - I
mean, it's not even spiced up like a good Dick novel,
this is dry, unentertaining tripe - just for the head
trip. It's virtual cocaine, and that's about the only
proper simulation that's shown in this paper.
we will not even begin to see the slightest glimmer of
true AI until we perfect quantum computing - and even
then it's iffy. Some people think we've already seen
it, and that's not counting the ones that buy into
this presented scenario. It's not ironic that most in
both schools of thought are avid video game players.
See? Idiocracy's become the legacy of the pseudo-underground.