Interactive story beats

In my exploration of interactive storytelling I’ve concentrated on computer games, because I’m exploring the digital delivery of story. But I’ve already decided that for my experiment at Chawton next year, I’m going to “wizard of Oz” it – use actual people instead of trying to write a computer program to deliver the interactive narrative.

I’ve been thinking about the issues around that. People are natural storytellers, though some are better than others, so I have a double edge problem. As I recruit and train people to be my “wizards of Oz”, I need to train the poor story-tellers to be better, and weirdly, I need to train the great storytellers to be worse! My reasoning is this, I want to prototype what a computer might do, there’s little or no experimental value in simply enhancing a great storyteller’s natural ability with some environmental bells and whistles. So part of what I’m trying to learn is about how to systematize (is that a word? It’ll do) story.

I’ll explain about Kernels and Satellites of course, but I need (I think) some sort of simple system of identifying how different story elements might fit into the emotional journey the visitor is going to take.

So, I’m reading Robin D. LawsHamlet’s Hit Points. Laws is a game designer but mostly of tabletop, or “pen and paper” role-playing games (though he has written for some computer games too). This book attempts to systematize (I think it is a word) story, with an audience of role-playing gamers in mind. I think it may be useful for me, because it attempts to train the Game Master of such games (the “referee” who, together with the players, makes the story) to be aware of the emotional impact of each scene or action (which he calls, using a screen-writing term, “beats”) on the players, and better choose which element to serve up next to keep everyone emotionally engaged. Tabletop Roleplaying Games must be the most interactive, responsive, stories ever created. In a way, my “wizards of Oz” will be like a Game Master, not telling a story they prepared earlier, but working with their visitors to create a story on the fly, but keep it emotionally engaging.

In a handy short opening chapter called “How To Pretend You’ve Read This Book” Laws explains “With its system of beat analysis, you can track a narrative’s moment-to-moment shifts in emotional momentum. Beat analysis builds itself around the following very basic fact:

Stories engage our attention by constantly modulating our emotional responses.”

Sadly though, I can’t get away with reading just this chapter. It’s only later that he actually shares the classification of beats that he uses in his analysis.

Hamlet’s Hit Points Icons and Arrows by Gameplaywright LLP and Craig S. Grant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

He begins with two types that he says will make up the majority of beats in any story, Procedural and Dramatic beats. Procedural beats move the protagonist towards (forfilling the audience’s hopes) or away from (realizing the audience’s fears), his practical, external goal. Dramatic beats do the same for the protagonist’s inner goals. “We hope that the beat moves him closer to a positive inner transformation and fear that it might move him towards a negative transformation.”

Laws talks a lot about hope and fear. In fact he simplifies the audience’s emotional response to every beat (which he describes as its resolution) as being a movement towards one of these poles. I’ve got fear on my nascent emotional affect and affordances diagram, its one of Panksepp’s primal emotions, but I’m not yet sure where hope sits – I wonder, is it in care?

In both types of beat, Laws describes two parties, the petitioner, who wants the thing, and the granter, who must be negotiated with. Dramatic beats are mostly actual verbal negotiations, procedural beats might also be fights, tricks, races or other challenges.

From the way Laws describes them, I’d expect that most kernels in a story are likely to be one of these two types of beat. And the other types are more likely to be satellites. He lists:

Commentary – “in which the protagonist’s movement towards or away from his goal is momentarily suspended while the author underlines the story’s thematic elements.” Laws uses Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet as an example.

Anticipation – which “create[s] an expectation of coming procedural success, which we look forward to with pleasure.” The example here is “Popeye has eaten his spinach. (any given episode of Popeye)”

Gratification – “a positive emotional moment that floats free from the main narrative. They often appear as rest breaks between major sequences. A musical interlude often acts as a gratification beat (unless it also advances the story, as it frequently does in musical genre).”

Bringdown – the opposite of gratification. “Jerry Lundergaard’s car alone in a desolate parking lot, is completely iced over after his father-in-law bars him from a promising business deal. (Fargo)”

Then Laws offers us three “informational beats”:

Pipe – “A beat that surreptitiously provides us with information we’ll need later, without tipping the audience to its importance.”

Question – “introduces a point of curiosity we want to see satisfied […] a question usually resolves as a down beat.”

Reveal – “provides the information we were made to desire in a previous question beat, or surprises us with new information. In the latter case it might come out of the blue, or have been set up with one or more pipe beats laying the groundwork for the surprise.” The example he uses is the Revelation that Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense is dead. “We tend to be more engaged by exposition when it has been teased to us by a prior question, or can clearly see its impact on our hopes and fears.”

(Laws explains that literary fiction makes much use of question/reveal cycles to manipulate emotion, rather than the procedural / dramatic beats that fill genre fiction and thrillers.)

Laws goes on to analyse three scripted narratives in full, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the films Dr No and Casablanca, but that’s not what I’m discussing now, though having recently rewatched Casablanca as part of my children’s continuing cinema education, I was  interested to read his analysis of that. It is worth pointing out, however, that the “curve” of a story like Casablanca is inexorably downward. Laws compares the maps his analysis creates with “the classic chart you may recall from secondary school literature classes” (which I’ve touched on before) and notes that the lines his analysis creates are “flatter overall. It tends to resemble a stock tracker measuring the progress over time of a slowly deflating security […] Even stories that end happily […] tend to move downward over time.” He explains that narratives build up fear with numerous incremental steps, before sudden uplifting moments of hope. So in most stories, there are simply more down beats than up beats, given that the up beats are more intense. I think there is also a point that Laws misses, in many of those narrative curves the absolute value of emotional intensity is being measured, with no thought as to whether the emotion is hopeful or fearful.

So, is all this useful to me? Well I think at the very least I think I can get my “wizards of Oz” to think about up beats and down beats, and make sure not to pile on too many down beats in a row without the occasional up beat. Whether or not heritage interpretation lends itself to procedural and dramatic beats, there is definitely room for question/reveal beats, and it could be argued that too much interpretation goes straight for the revelations without asking the questions or laying the pipes first. So I think it is something that may prove useful.

The powers of people

I was at Chawton again yesterday (before going to Petworth for yesterday’s mobile fun) to meet with Jane, one of the house’s most experienced volunteers. I’d challenged her to give me a 45 minute tour of her choice. She really wanted me to tell her what I was most interested to hear, but I wouldn’t. I wanted her unbiased perception of what were the most “important” bits of her her encyclopedic knowledge of Chawton and the surrounding area to share, given the 45 minute time limit.

(I always recommend that 45 minutes is the absolute maximum for a guided tour. In fact I suggest that half an hour is what people should work to. People who want more will stay behind to chat, but there is some evidence from the National Trust’s monitoring of visitors for conservation, that the average dwell time in a house, whatever it’s size is about 45 minutes.)

In the end she gave me what I’d call an architectural tour of the house, pointing out how the thick exterior walls of the the original manor had become interior walls after Richard Knight’s extensions. It was great, and reminded me about some of the things I’d forgotten about being a tour guide that make guided tours (with the right guide) so entertaining.

I’ve always said that guided tours often offer the best historic house experience. A good paid or volunteer guide can weave a compelling story as s/he escorts you around the house. He or she can reveal things you might otherwise have have missed. They can respond to your interests, and level of expertise, to give you a tailored experience. But Jane reminded me how they can transform the place, by pointing out those thick walls, or turning over a framed note hanging on the wall to reveal the ancient deeds from which the paper had been recycled. A good guide turns their audience into detectives – rather than simply telling them how Montague Knight installed a safe into what once had been an old garderobe chute, they help their audience work it out for themselves – a moment of insight, that emotional trigger where everything that has come before “clicks into place and reveals the shape of the whole” as Tynan Sylvester puts it.

Of course, Jane’s tour also demonstrated that the VERY best historic house experience would be to have the guide all to yourself. Not everyone on a larger tour (and there were a couple running yesterday that we bumped into) could have lifted the framed note from the wall to read the reverse. As I hung it back on the hook, I had conservation alarm bells ringing in my head. Every handling, every movement of this glass framed note (which Montague Knight had hidden beneath the floor for future generations to find) put it at risk. The more people given the opportunity I had, the greater the chance that it might be damaged.

Not everyone can do what I did, arrange a personal tour at a time of my convenience after an email introduction from the Director. For those other tour groups we met, the guided tour experience gets diluted, less personal, less tailored to each individual’s interests.

The technological approach I’m investigating might be able to address some of the personalisation challenges, but can it ever offer the magical moments of insight that Jane offered me?

Representing affect and affordancies

Game Affects stripped

Just a short post today, to share what I spent too much of yesterday doing. You may recall a previous post wherein I was struggling to represent all the different emotional models I’d been reading about in my literature review.

A presentation I’m writing for a conference in a couple of weeks gave me the opportunity to have another go, and (importantly for me) make it look a good deal prettier. By about 11.30 last night, I felt that at last I was getting somewhere. So this post simply shares my work in progress, in the picture above.

The central donut represents Panskepp’s work, then moving out from that Lazarro’s adaptation of Ekman, Sylvester’s “triggers”, and then floating around the outside, the motovational affordancies listed by Hamari et al.

It’s not “finished”. I want to return to Lazarro’s work and reassess that, because I found myself editing out a lot of her emotional responses when I was putting this together. I’m also painfully aware that a trigger like “Music” may elicit all sorts of emotional responses, and it sits possibly uncomfortably linked to Panskepp’s PLAY core emotion (though I justified my decision by saying to myself that surely that music IS play).

Now I better get back to my to-do list.

What I meant to say was…

Back at the University for the second day of PGRAS, the post-graduate archaeology symposium which I spoke at yesterday. My talk didn’t go brilliantly well. Despite my preparation last weekend, producing a script as well as my slide deck, I went off-script about a third of the way through, and didn’t get back on it, so I feel a lot of what I had meant to say went unsaid. I often find this when I a script myself, it’s seems I stick more to what I plan to say when I only use bullet points and ad-lib around those. When it’s a full script something in my mind rebels and I end up saying nothing in the script.

So, here’s what I meant to say:

  1. This is a session about storytelling. So I’m going to tell you a story, and like all good stories, its going to have a beginning, middle and an end. Given the audience I feel I must warn you – I can’t promise that this will have much archaeology in it. But I have included one piece, so keep an eye out for it
  2. Last time I was speaking in front of this forum, I explained that I was researching what cultural heritage interpretation might learn from digital games. Those of you that were here may remember that I’d was interested in eight “emotional triggers” (adapted from (Sylvester, 2013)) that engage players in games. You can ask me about these four afterwards. Right now I’m interested in these four, where I think cultural heritage may have more to learn from games.
    1. Generally we don’t like people Acquiring stuff from cultural heritage sites. But actually the “Can you spot ?” type sheets that heritage sites have for decades given to bored children, are using the acquisition trigger.
    2. Challenge is an interesting one, many games are at the best when the degree of challenge matches the player’s ability and they get into “flow”, but seriously how much challenge are cultural heritage visitors looking for, on a day out? We’ll briefly return to this in a while.
    3. Here’s a tip from me, of you have any musically minded mates looking for a PhD subject, then the world of music and cultural heritage interpretation is an open field. There is nothing published. Zero, Nada. Having done my literature review, its what I’d be studying, if I could play, or … er … tell the difference between notes, or even keep a rythym.
    4. But I can’t, so storytelling is the focus of my study.
  3. Before me move on to that, I’d like to pause for a small digression. Those of you who are still listening to me – take a moment to look around the audience. No I don’t want you to point anybody out. I don’t want to shame anybody. But just put your hand up if you can see anyone who isn’t looking at me, but rather looking at their mobile device.
    That’s OK. I know I can be boring. But it’s a demonstration of the secret power of mobile devices. They are teleportation machines, which can transport you away from the place you are physically in.
    And most cultural heritage visitors don’t want that. They have come to our places (they may even have used their phones to help transport them to this place – with on-line bookings or GPS route-finding) to be in the place.
    Of course, that doesn’t stop all sorts of people using mobile devices to “gamify” cultural heritage interpretation. This game at the National Maritime museum, is an example of one that adds new technology to the classic acquisition trigger. You co round the world, collecting crew and cargo from various ports. It adds the challenge trigger to the mix, because you can only SEE the ports if you look at the giant map through the screen’s interface.
  4. There’s a lot of research currently looking at interfaces for cultural heritage (Reunanen et al., 2015) considered for example, getting visitors to make swimming motions in front of a Kinect to navigate a simulated wreck site. But the more I read, and the longer I considered it, I’m more and more of the opinion that there is an interface for cultural heritage that technologists are ignoring: (click) Walking around, looking at stuff.
  5. Now, when it comes to storytelling, “walking around looking at stuff” is not without its problems. People like to choose their own routes around cultural heritage venues, avoid crowds, and look only at some of the objects.
  6. What that means, is that sites often tell their most emotionally engaging story, the beginning, (click)middle (click) and end ( click) towards the beginning of the visit, with a multimedia experience in the visitor centre, or if they can’t afford that, an introductory talk. Then, everything else (click). Which is what game designers call a branching narrative. And what Aylett (Aylett, 2000, Louchart, 2003) calls the “Narrative Paradox … how to reconcile the needs of the user who is now potentially a participant rather than a spectator with the idea of narrative coherence — that for an experience to count as a story it must have some kind of satisfying structure.” (Aylett, 2000). We can learn from our games address with paradox.
  7. Imagine then, a site where the visitor’s movements will be tracked around the site, and the interpretation will adapt to what they have experienced already. Museum and heritage sites consist of both physical and ephemeral narrative atoms (“natoms” after (Hargood, 2011)). Persistent natoms include the objects and the collection but also the spaces themselves, either because of their historic nature, or their configuration in relation to other spaces (Hillier, 1996). Ephemeral natoms are media that can be delivered to the visitor responsively including, but not exclusive to, lighting effects, sound and music, audiovisual material, and text.
    All of these natoms comprise the “curated content” of any exhibition or presentation. The physical natoms are “always on,” but the others need not be (hence the “ephemeral” designation). The idea of the responsive environment would be to eventually replace text panels and labels with e-Ink panels which can deliver text natoms specific to needs of the visitor. Similarly, loudspeakers need not play music or sound effects on a loop, but rather deliver the most appropriate piece of music for the majority of visitors within range.
    To reduce the impact of the narrative paradox (Louchart, 2003), the natoms will be tagged as either Satellites (which can be accessed in any order) or Kernels, which must be presented in a particular order (Shires and Cohan, 1988). Defining which natoms are satellites or kernels becomes the authorial role of the curator.
    Here’s comes the gratuitous piece of archaeology – does this diagram remind you of anything? (click) But in fact it seems somehow appropriate. Because, this is the Apotheosis moment. I want to make the visitor the “God” of his or her own story. Not quite putting them in the place of the protagonist, whose choices were made years ago, but both watching and controlling the story as it develops.
  8. I’m no technologist, so my plan is to “wizard of Oz” a trail run, using people following visitor groups around, rather than a fancy computer program. My intention is to test how people respond to being followed, and how such a responsive environment would negotiate the conflicting story needs of different visitor groups sharing the same space. I have a venue, the Director Chawton House has promised me a couple of weeks worth of visitors to play with, next year. This is where I am at so far, having spent a couple of weeks breaking down the place’s stories into Natoms.
    There’s a lot more to do, but next year I hope to tell you how Chawton’s visitors were able to explore the place entirely freely, (click) and still manage to be told an engaging story from (click) beginning, though (click click) middle (click) and end.

Chawton

I dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!
A dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!

Just a quick note today to reflect on the meeting I had this morning with Gillian Dow, Executive Director of Chawton House Library. This place has been preying on my thoughts since I visited for the last Sound Heritage workshop. In fact, somebody (my friend Jane and her colleague Hilary) had suggested last year that it might be the perfect place to try out my Responsive Environment ideas. But my visit for Sound Heritage made me think more and more that they were right.

  • The place has many interesting stories but ones that can conflict with each other. Do people what to know about it’s centuries as a residence for the Knight family, its connections with Austen, and/or its modern day research into early female writers?
  • It’s a place that hasn’t been open to the public long (this year its its first full season welcoming days out visitors) and is still finding it’s voice.
  • Its relatively free of “stuff” and has modern display systems (vitrines and hanging rails), which means that creating the experience should not be too disruptive.
  • It has pervasive wi-fi (the library’s founding patron Sandy Lerner, co-founded Cisco systems) which will make the experiment a lot easier and cheaper to run, even though I’ve decided to Wizard of Oz it.

So today I explained my ideas to Gillian and, I’m pleased to say, she liked them. We’ve provisionally agreed to do something in the early part of 2017, before that year’s major exhibition is installed. I brought away a floor plan of the house, and I have just this moment received a copy of the draft guidebook, so I can start breaking the story into “natoms”. It looks very much like its all systems go!

I have to say I’m very excited.

(But right now, I’m meant to be taking the boy camping so, I’ll leave it there…

On gamification

The Walk, which uses game mechanics such as the acquisition of badges and and interactive story, in a (failed) attempt to get me to take more walking exercise.

It’s about time I addressed the issue of Gamification. It’s a word that gets bandied about a great deal, and one which has inspiring proponents like Jane McGonigal. But what does it actually mean?

Nick Pelling lays claim (in this 2011 blog post) to coining the word in 2002 when he “began to wonder whether the kind of games user-interface I had been developing for so long could be used to turbo-charge all manner of transactions and activities on commercial electronic devices [his emphasis]– in-flight video, ATM machines, vending machines, mobile phones, etc.  Unsurprisingly, this was the point when I coined the deliberately ugly word “gamification“, by which I meant applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast.” (I’m glad he calls it “deliberately ugly” – I was ready to rant on about it being a linguistically unnecessary Americanism when I first heard it. I’m over that now). Of passing interest is his 2003 consultancy web page (looking VERY Web 1.0) which announces gamification to the world. That consultancy shut up shop three years later because, broadly, no-one was interested.

Its interesting to note that what he was interested in doing was bringing game-like interfaces to electronic devices. Which, though I’m not sure he would agree, is not what gamification has come to mean. Towards the end of his post, he insists that “the underlying idea of gamification [is] making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” Games (and computer games in particular, since this is what Pelling is talking about) may offer interfaces that are apparently easy to pick up and start playing, but they are (mostly) designed to get more difficult, that is part of the challenge of games, the challenge that contributes to (successful) games becoming intrinsically motivating.

And its motivation that is at the centre of the current use of the word. In their 2014 literature review Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa say “gamification can be seen to have three main parts: 1) the implemented motivational affordances, 2) the resulting psychological outcomes, and 3) the further behavioral outcomes.” Their review covers 24 studies of gamification, and categorizes all the “motivational affordances” mentioned in those studies: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge.

These resonate with (but do not match) some of the emotional models I’ve been reading about elsewhere. Of course Points, Leaderboards, Achievements/Badges, Levels and Rewards can all be summed up with the Acquisition trigger that Sylvester mentions. Challenge exists in both models. Story and Progress fit with Sylvester’s character arc, and Theme (arguably) with his environment trigger. I’m a bit curious about “Feedback”, because, surely everything a system does in response to the user is “feedback” isn’t it?

Anyway, the Hamari et al’s thesis is that badges, a story etc (motivational affordances), should have psychological outcomes (engagement, enjoyment and yup, yer actual motivation) that change the user’s behavior, encouraging them to, for example, take more walking exercise (behavioral outcomes). Their meta-analysis of these 24 studies indicates that “gamification does produce positive effects and benefits.” But “some studies showed that the results of gamification may not be long-term, but instead could be caused due to a novelty effect.” The authors also point out that “As previous works on player motivations suggest, people in fact interact with game-like systems in different manners, and for different reasons. Thus, the experiences created by the gamifying motivational affordances are also likely to vary.”

My personal experience supports all these conclusions. Three years or so back, I took delivery of a new company car, that after a few hundred miles rewarded me with a “cup” to celebrate my fuel-efficient driving. I endeavored there-after not to lose any of the graphic flower petals each indicated things like keeping to legal speeds, not braking heavily etc which had contributed to my cup. You can chalk that up as a “positive benefit”. Other attempts have not been so successful – the insurance company Aviva have recently started to use gamification to sell and reduce the costs of car insurance. I downloaded the app out of curiosity and for the purposes of this study. It was infuriating, and lasted only a week on my phone. The novelty had obviously worn off. And about a year ago I downloaded another app, The Walk (illustrated above), I responded badly to its needless badges and dull story. I used it less and less and eventually deleted it from my phone. It was a recent bout of very high blood pressure and a stern warning from my doctor that worked better to motivate me towards a healthier lifestyle.

Bartle – and the power of You Tube.

For the last few days, my blog has been really popular.

BartleSpike

I’ve been getting hundreds of hits on a post I wrote a couple of years back. Now, I don’t expect hundreds of hits. I’m lucky if I get a couple of thousand a month. so my first thought was that it was some sort of new spam bot, testing WordPress’ defenses. But I didn’t have any new spam comments to trash, so I checked out where these hits were coming from. – mostly search engines. But there was something interesting about the search terms. Nowadays, more and more people opt to keep their search terms private, but the vast majority of the known search terms were “Bartle Taxonomy.”

My post on Bartle has always attracted a steady stream of hits, but most of them come from searches for “the Bartle test” (which is what my post is called). This time, whilst there were still some people searching for “the Bartle test”, most were using the “taxonomy” word. Something, somewhere had caused a spike of interest in “the Bartle Taxonomy” but what?

I googled it. There was the wikipedia page on Bartle at the top of the list, a bunch of other preferences, and my own post about 6th from the top. (Not bad – but Goggle knows who I am, so I wouldn’t put it past their logarithm to place my own posts higher when I’m searching. So I tried a couple of other engines too, who wouldn’t now me, DuckDuckGo and Quant, and I’m still up there, sixth or seventh. With is cool.)i

But I couldn’t see anything in particular that had prompted the spike in my visitor numbers. Until today, when this YouTube video was brought to my attention:

Its a good video, with a simple history and explanation of Bartle’s four type taxonomy. Interestingly, it doesn’t cover his revised eight type version – but who does? Where it excels though, is looking through the gamer types to the world/player and acting/interacting axes. They are going to “delve even deeper into Bartle’s world next week.” Looks like I’m going to have to subscribe. 🙂

Which brings me to my final point. This video was uploaded on the 14th of October, co-relating exactly with my visitor spike. That the publication of such a video can have such an impact on my little back-water of the web, suggests to me that search engines like Google are losing their power to navigate (or uncover?) knowledge. Instead subscribed publishers like YouTubers are introducing a new generation of web-users to all sorts of concepts, effectively becoming “curators”. Digital music companies are all about curation  – but there’s a an opportunity for the traditional publishers, of all sorts of media, to leverage their own skillbase as curators, if they are not already too late.

Measuring engagement

Just a short post today with a couple of fun links. I chanced upon this TED talk from Roz Picard this morning:

Roz is a a professor of Affective Computing at MIT and runs the spin-out Affectiva, and uses technology to measure emotional engagement. Much of the video talks about measuring skin conductence, and she gives a number of example of using that, to measure her own perfomance giving TED talks, identify the most engaging beats of movie commercials, work with non-verbal people on the autistic spectrum and even to measure grief. But as she points out, this method doesn’t differentiate between “positive” affect such as  joy and “negative” ones like fear.

So they’ve also been working on computer algorithms that measure facial emotions. Much in the same way that Nicole Lazarro did. Affectiva is all about selling this technology to third parties, but they do have a free app on the iTunes store so you can give their emotion recognition engine a try:

https://appsto.re/gb/tJji8.i

I need to see if anyone has used either of these technologies on people  experiencing heritage sites.

Mapping four different emotional models

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this, or indeed if I’m going anywhere at all, but I wanted the give it a try.

Yesterday’s post, about Panksepp and the deep instinctive play emotion network in rats (and other mammals and maybe even birds), and taking my kids to see Inside Out a couple of weeks ago (if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it – not as strong as Toy Story, Wall-E or Up) made me want to cross reference his list with Paul Ekman’s list of universal expressions. On his commercial site, Ekman currently seems to be claiming credit for Inside Out, which I guess is why Disgust features as a character. (Damn, now I want to put little pictures of each character in the table as well – which is all the evidence that I must stop mucking about with it and tidy our dining room/study for our approaching guests.)

So I’ve spent most of the day re-reading bits of Panksepp, Ekman, Lazarro and Sylvester and seeing if each of the models lines up to tell me anything interesting. Along the way I’ve made some other notes. For example  – contentment, relief and satisfaction seem like pretty deepseated emotions that should figure, or have equivalents, in Panksepp’s schema. Where should they go? Are they simply Homeostatic? or are they part of the SEEKING network? Also, a number of things that Lazarro calls “emotions” seem really out of place in this table, are the emotions at all? Or are they behaviours? That said what she calls Schadenfreude, really does seem to fit in the Panksepp’s emotional model – though he doesn’t use that word, he does describe the affect as part of “the dark side of human laughter.” Oh, and I need to see in Panksepp has anything to say about flow.

In conclusion I’m not sure if all this work does tell me anything interesting, but you can see the results below and I’m going to sleep on it (after I’ve tidied the dining room).

A table mapping out different “emotion” models (work very much in progress)

Neuroscience >> Psychology >> Games Triggers
Panksepp Ekman Lazarro Sylvester Notes
SEEKING Excitement? Excitement (S, P)

Curiosity (E)

RAGE Anger Frustration (H)
FEAR Fear PRIMAL THREATS
LUST BEAUTY (?)

SEXUAL SIGNALS

CARE Love, Generosity(P) Character arc
PANIC/GRIEF Sadness/

distress

MUSIC
PLAY Amusement Amusement (P)
Homeostatic affects Eg HUNGER THIRST
Sensory affects Disgust

Sensory pleasure

Visceral (S)? Eg DISGUST
Emotional control Mediate (S)?

Self-learning(s)?

Schadenfreude (P)? (Play)

Secondary process
Social emotions  

Contempt

Embarrassment

Guilt

Pride in achievement

Shame

Social bonding (P)

 

Embarrass (P)

 

Fiero (H), Naches (P)

Gratitude (P)

Ridicule (P)

Learn (S)?

Envy (P)

 

INSIGHT

 

 

 

Challenge

Tertiary process
Contentment

Relief

Satisfaction

Pleasure from work(S) ?(flow)?

Boredom (H)

Wonder (E)

Awe(E)

Relax (S)

Elevation (P)

Inspiration (P)

SPECTACLE

ENVIRONMENT

unassigned

 

Tickling Rats

At the stage reached by the age of three, and after ages four, five and six, play will be necessary. These are games which nature herself suggests at that age; children readily invent these for themselves when  left in one another’s company.

Plato, The Laws VII, 794

When you tickle a rat, it makes 50-kHz ultrasonic sounds or “chirps”. We know this because scientist Jaak Panksepp has tickled a lot of rats. Panksepp is a neurobiologist who, with psychotherapist Lucy Biven, wrote my holiday reading, The Archaeology of Mind. Panksepp doesn’t just tickle rats for fun. He is engaged in serious research. He noticed that rats make the same 50-kHz noise when they play among themselves, especially when that play is characterised by “pins” (think wrestling-style pins) and dorsal contact – the rough-and-tumble play that Panskepp is careful not to call play-fighting. (He is concerned that people misinterpret play as a form of aggression, and that parents may be causing developmental harm when they discourage the more boisterous forms of rough -and-tumble play.) That said, even rats’ rough-and-tumble play can sometimes turn into fighting. When rats actually fight, they make a lower 22-kHz ultrasonic sound and “when this happens, playful signs-the frantic hopping, darting and pouncing – immediately stop.”

So, after two years of observation (and tickling) the team proved that the 50-kHz ultrasonic chirps are rat laughter, and the 22-kHz sounds are “complaints.” His thesis is that all mammals share seven instinctive emotions, even if different species’ higher brain  functions can be very different. He labels the seven core emotions thus:

  • SEEKING
  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST
  • CARE
  • PANIC/GRIEF and
  • PLAY

“It is hard to define play,” he says “but you know it when you see it. Perhaps the best general definition has recently (2005) been suggested by Gordon Burghardt, consisting of five criteria:

  1. The adaptive functions of play are not fully evident at the time play occurs;
  2. play is a spontaneous activity, done for its own sake, because it is fun (pleasurable);
  3. play is an exaggerated and incomplete form of adult activities;
  4. play exhibits many repetitive activities, done with abundant variations, unlike serious behaviors that are not as flexible; and
  5. animals must be well fed, comfortable, and healthy for play or occur, and all stressors reduce play.”

Panksepp illustrates this last point with a personal anecdote “if a laboratory researcher has a pet cat at home and he is not careful to change his clothes before going to work, we will have a difficult time studying the play of rats because the odor of cats intrinsically scares rats, and fearful rats simply do not play.”

But why do we and other mammals share this instinctive play emotion? Well, as he says in his TED talk (below) science doesn’t answer the question why, it only answers “how.” But he does have some ideas about how play helps “the young to learn nonsocial physical skills like hunting, foraging and so on. It is also surely important for acquiring many social capacities, especially nascent aggressive, courting, sexual and in some species competitive and perhaps even parenting skills. It may be an essential force for the construction of the many higher functions of our social brains. Playful activities may help young animals learn to identify individuals with whom they can develop cooperative relationships and know who to avoid […] In short, the brain’s PLAY networks may help stitch individuals into the stratified social fabric that will be the staging ground for their lives.”

Though he doesn’t spend much ink on the higher brain function aspects of adult, human, play (games, sports etc) he does draw a comparison between the rough-and-tumble play he studies and the teasing repartee or word-play that can be observed in older humans.

All in all its been a very satisfying read, and I want to read more, especially his chapter on learning and memory. But for this post I’ll leave you with his TED talk which is an effective summary his 50 year career, and benefits it may be producing in the treatment of depression.