In my article “Emergence and Chaos in Games”, I suggested that emergence is not recognised by the universe, only by humans. I stand by that assertion, but I would like to add an interesting footnote. As stated, that assertion implies that there is nothing which is irreducible, aside from the fundamental laws that govern the universe. Again, from the perspective of the universe itself, this is true. From the perspective of a human, however, there may be things which are irreducible. Take a concept like beauty, for example. We can break it down and look at its constituents, but it only functions in its entirety, because of its level of complexity and our own level of complexity. No single part of a beautiful object possesses the beauty of the whole, and we recognise and appreciate the wholeness of things.
In my previous article “Systemic Information in Games”, I put forward the idea that the key feature of games is that they are systems and that they therefore provide opportunities for systemic learning. Systemic learning refers to the acquisition of information about a system, and the use of this information in creating mental models with predictive power, upon which we can base decisions. Our decisions within a game are simply predictions about which actions are most likely to lead to victory. This is true regardless of our level of certainty and the method we have used to arrive at that decision. All non-random systems are perfectly predictable in theory, but the properties of a given system will affect how predictable it is in practice and which kinds of methods are best suited to predicting it.
Our goal as players is to understand a game so well that it ceases to be fun or surprising. The goal of the game is to resist our thoughts in such a way that this does not happen, while also not being completely incomprehensible.
Surprise comes from that which we did not predict, the perfect player has no such lapses in predictive power. The player seeks ever more predictive power, he builds ever more nuanced models of the game in his mind and refines them through his experience.
Just as with neurology, where impairments due to injury can tell us a lot about the structural layout of the brain, dysfunction in games can tell us something about their properties. One such dysfunctional state occurs when a game is solved, or mastered, or “dead”. When we have mastered a game completely it ceases to hold our interest, and so for the master it ceases to serve any function. From this we can determine that there are two vital elements in games, at least one of which must be a source of pleasure and a motivator; the sensation of improving or gaining mastery, and the acquisition of new information – learning.