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The beauty of algorithms. Randomness doesn't need stakes. (But they help.)

Started by droqen, January 24, 2022, 05:47:19 PM

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I was playing Kingdom Death: Monster and noticing how random everything is. As a player I make decisions, of course, but a huge part of the enjoyment I derive from this game is perceiving the algorithm at work, and telling stories about what happened, with my friends.

This isn't new (see Blaseball, for example, and the ages of sports fandoms that inspired it), but it's a really great alternative lens to seeing the pleasure of randomness as the pleasure of gambling. Stakes are merely an optional force that strengthens one's commitment to the magic circle. But the fundamental pleasure is deeper, and exists even without stakes.

When I visited Hong Kong for a few days, we noticed that a horse racing venue - a huge stadium - was on the way to where we were going, so we decided to drop in. Watching the horses race without a stake in the game, without any way to tell who was going to win, all I could do was watch and see these animals and their riders prance about in the pre-show, and then watch as some horses won, and others lost. We had picked some numbers, but didn't bet anything.

I don't remember if my guess was right.

Infinite generators churn out content without stakes.

Wordle and other daily challenges have stakes - there's only one today - it's a stake in time. Generative NFTs have stakes - there will only be however-many of these, they're worth something and have value. (I'm not a fan of NFTs and do not recommend getting into them, just like I don't recommend getting into gambling, which also involves stakes.) Cruel World had stakes - it would only be available for 1 day and would fall apart. (I sort of gave up on those stakes, an action which I now regret.)

Stakes grant meaning to the algorithmic unfolding, but there is an underlying beauty that can be appreciated, and cannot be denied. It's pleasurable to observe a random process. Somehow stakes give that pleasure meaning. I only have an hour, what will I see? This will only unfold once - how will it unfold? If I can generate a hundred thousand outcomes, no singular outcome has much meaning... unless it's meaningfully unique... once-in-a-lifetime.




Loop Hero

Idle games are not just games about waiting and watching numbers go up... they're also games about observing an algorithm at work. They are about a beautiful process.


I've talked before about the beauty of intelligence at work. It's caused me trouble for years.

Quote from: @droqen(2021)the nature of AI. why do we do it! i think that there is a specific feeling, an Aesthetic, a beauty, that i will describe as 'observing intelligence'. i love to peoplewatch. i love to watch crows pick and peck at things. living things with brains are great.


Quote from: @droqen(2014)Pathfinding is easy, the problem I have is intelligence. (Or maybe I just need to fake the intelligence)


But I think... seeing things through this lens, there's something beautiful about a situation unfolding even if the situation is plainly made up of randomness. I want to see how something works. Actual intelligence is a source of, perhaps, unlimited complexity. But the first time you run through a procedure, you don't know any of its outcomes. There's no downside to unintelligent procedures in those terms until the second time through.

(That said, I have developed a certain sort of jadedness -- I'm working through my own difficulty with seeing finite outcomes in every game. Actually playing some board games with friends again has been a joy.)


This enjoyment is what drives me to write code in the first place. Programming is the art of designing algorithms and seeing them function.


P.S. since I really like to think of things in terms of overarching megatheories, of course I'd like to include all games in this category. Although 0-player games (Conway's Life) are extremely "just watch an algorithm go," a single-player platformer is also observing a process in action - the only difference is that you, the observer, are also part of the system.


I suppose this is just another way of saying that it feels good to watch events occur, right? "Things change." The world goes on by. But I like the words algorithm, and system. They feel a little more bounded, more evocative. An algorithm is going somewhere. A system is something.

A process feels like something I can design, for a purpose.


Haha, "There is watching pleasure algorithms to be found at work"