Saturday, 13 November 2004

Simulation experience is more than "ersatz" experience

Marc Prensky's Weblog is back. First up, he posted a few articles. The one which attracted my attention is Interactive Pretending -- An Overview of Simulation. Here are some of my reflections after reading his wonderful article.

The first sentence in colour is:

All simulations are “tools that give you ersatz (as opposed to real) experience.”

The first thing I did was to look up the meaning of "ersatz" and this is what I found from Google

literally "inferior substitute"
Being a substitute or imitation, usually an inferior one.
an artificial or inferior substitute or imitation
Substitute. As a rule, the term implies that the Ersatz is inferior to the article for which it is a substitute.
artificial and inferior;

Emphasis are mine.

It is true that experience arises from a simulation is NOT real, but I cannot agree that it is inferior to real experience. I have written about how we form our holistic world view. Two points I raised were:
1. our concept of “real” is created via our senses
2. some concepts are learnt, e.g. via secondary or third person experience.

Our everyday routine experience of brushing our teeth, washing our faces have faded into the background because these experiences do not provide new stimulation to excite us, to enlighten us or to cause us into reflection or self-improvement. These are ersatz experience if we still want to use a simulation to repeat them. But remember, these experience have once been very exciting... the first time when you can brush your teeth! I have captured my daughter's first trial on tape!

If simulation is used to deliver these ersatz experience, I can say no more.

The good news is that we use simulation to excite, to learn, to create new insight and new ways of understanding things. Such experience is NOT inferior in any sense. Because the simulation provides you with a safe environment to experience situations which may be too expensive, too dangerous or morally unacceptable, I would say these are very "valuable" experience.

Any stimulation entering our cognitive system is as real as any other stimulation. Yes, for some simulations, we do have to activate our "suspension of belief" in order to fully engage and work through the experience without constant reconciliation with our existing belief. But this is of no relationship to the value of the experience. It is just a different kind of experience we actively put into a different category.

Marc uses ersatz as opposed to real. I prefer to refer to simulated experience as "simulated experience". I would not attach any connotation of any inferiority to such valuable experience created by simulation.

Marc also talks about the model of a simulation being the magic black box and the utility of the simulation depends on the assumptions made when building the black box. I agree 100%.

To me, role play simulation's black box is the social structure we created for that role play simulation, by giving different persona different rights in different interaction spaces, by giving different persona different knowledge, wealth and connection to other persona. The assumptions we made in defining such power relationship and social structure is something we should constantly review.

The input and output model as described by Marc is a correct generalisation. However, I would like to point out that the output is not necessarily based solely on the black box. In role play simulation, the life experiences of the players affect the game play significantly. These are input from "outside the black box" while still constrained by the meta-rules set up by the role play simulation.

Finally, fidelity is an interesting issue. Our Fablusi role play simulation does not put a lot of effort in creating a highly graphical interface. In fact, we try to avoid giving the player a visual image of the persona. I compare this with playing chess. While having a set of beautiful chess pieces is one thing, the enjoyment and engagement of the game is almost a completely different matter. As long as you have an opponent of similar skill, the game will be exciting. For some simulation, fidelity is extremely important. So I agree, again 100% with Marc, that the investment in creating the realistic representation should be contained by the nature of the simulation and the expected learning outcome.

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