After much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, I have submitted an application to Carnegie-Mellon’s Ph.D. Program in Computation Organization and Society. (Why is it that I can manage to multiply octonions, but filling out forms gives me conniptions?) My statement of purpose is below. (I removed the bit where I discuss how my UC Berkeley GPA from 1994-1996 reflects some “games research” in Twisted Metal 2):
I intend to work in Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS), with Professor Kathleen Carley, Professor Cleotilde González, or Professor James Herbsleb as possible advisors.
I became interested in this area when I discovered the work of Dr. Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future (IFTF). Dr. McGonigal creates games designed to “create large-scale collaborative communities, to improve players’ real quality of life, and to solve real-world problems, by overlaying game systems and game content on top of everyday reality.” (from her website: http://avantgame.com/bio.htm#GAMES).
I want to explore the area between these game design principles and the mathematical theory of games. Mathematically, a game is defined by a set of players, a set of strategies, and a set of payoffs. To a massively multiplayer game designer, a game seems instead to consist of a community of sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing players, a set of subgames (i.e., not every player in the community always appears to be playing the same game), and a set of rewards (which may be monetary, virtually monetary in a game with a virtual economy, pseudo-monetary as in a points or grading system, a public list of achievements describing the prowess of a player, or the positive psychological rewards of accomplishment, amusement, excitement, opportunity to display skill, etc.). Where the game theorist is most concerned about how a player might maximize his or her utility, the game designer is concerned with creating an immersive and engaging experience to people at play. In exploring the region in between these two conceptions of what a game is (through theory, simulation, and playable experiments), I aim to develop an understanding of the various ways one can motivate and engage people through play.
I am applying to Carnegie-Mellon because I have found no other program exploring the space between the theoretical-computational results of game theory and social network analysis, and the social-cultural aspects of how people socialize, share information, and play in and around the modern world’s rapidly evolving information ecology. My end goal is to apply what I learn in my doctoral research to design new forms of massively collaborative projects, be they educational, civic, scientific, economic, environmental, or humanitarian. The social problems of the 21st century demand collaboration on a massive scale, of a kind that 20th century institutions are not always directly suited for, and the cognitive investment the world spends in immersive games is an untapped resource that might be channeled into solutions.
In my education at Portland State University, I took one year each of game theory and quantum game theory. The latter is still early in its development, but has been used by Hanauske, Kunz, Bernius, and König (http://arxiv.org/abs/0904.2113) to analyze the 2008 economic crash, using the metaphor of quantum entanglement to account for the influence of socio-economic context factors, leading me to believe it may have utility in understanding the behaviors of communities at play. I also took one year each of elementary graph theory and algebraic graph theory; I am interested in learning to apply graph-theoretical concepts to the dynamics of socially networked gamers.
In the realm of large-scale collaborative games, I was one of the roughly 7,000 people who played Superstruct, the IFTF’s massively multiplayer future forecasting game. The IFTF chose me as one of the SEHI ‘19, the 20 Superstruct players who “turned the superstruct community [into] a true, working engine of ideas”. I also received the Pandora Award (Bronze) from Chris DiBona, Open Source Program Manager for Google, for my in-game efforts to harness the power of disaffected and angry hackers for good.
Since completing my master’s degree this summer, I have been self-educating myself in Unix, shell-scripting, and data visualization (using Processing). Primed by my experience in Superstruct, I have been monitoring trends in open development, attention management and information filtering, and the legal complexities engendered by the internet’s role as world-spanning copy machine.