January 22nd, 2009

La, Laura

Emotional interactions with manmade creations...

Perhaps one of the best 'breeding grounds' of 'emotional interactions' between things and people are with handheld electronic games... By this, I don't mean handhelds that play games like 'Space Invaders', 'Mario Bros.', 'Tetris', 'PacMan', etc, but rather those electronic games that play games humans normally play with each other. In the other (first) type of games, it's a natural thought for a person to think that either the machine or the player might have an 'advantage' over the other, as the 'rules' are different for each side... However, in a game like Battleship(R) (for example) this essentially isn't true... There are certain exceptions to my general statement here though; Not all 'traditionally human played games' that are enjoyable have the same rules applying equally to every player, and even in electronic games normally played by human players where the machine has some significant advantage over a human being (e.g. "20 Questions" handheld where the database contains an absurd amount of info), there is sometimes often still plenty of room to think of the machine as "another human being" with whom you are playing a game... And there are indeed some games (like chess), where the machine has such an advantage that it becomes very hard to think of them as human. Still, there are many games where the feeling of playing with 'another being' is often very much retained.

The Parker Bros.(R) Merlin(R) (This is a link to an LJ post) was my first exposure to this phenomenon.


This device (made in the late 70's) had about 8 or so(?) built-in games, and one of them was "Tic-Tac-Toe" (we all know the story with this game: there's an easy way to win most of the time as long as you go first). The interesting thing about this handheld game is that the original version of this game had a 'feature' some of the modernly available Merlins (game was remade in modern times) don't have: In Tic Tac Toe, she must be explicitly told to take her turn by pressing the "Comp Turn" button (see the link... control panel is behind the cut there). You could do such things as continually take your turn without giving her any turns and thus win 'by cheating'. You could also cheat 'the other way around' by pressing Comp Turn without taking yours, giving her extra turns (if you simply pressed the button three times in a row, she would simply win if there was an unblocked path to do so). In any event, as a 15 year-old boy, I used to treat her like she had feelings. If she wasn't 'winning enough', I'd sometimes let her win. I'd normally not cheat in my favor as I wouldn't like it if somebody did that to me (again, as if she'd have an opinion about this being done to her). And I'd eventually start doing this thing where she was always allowed to go first until she lost. Then I could go first, but only as long as I kept winning. If she tied me, she could go first again until she lost (This gave her a fighting chance at being able to win as Tic Tac Toe inherently favors whomever goes first).

Later in life I started to like her Blackjack game (which she is -a lot better at-). I'd keep score by the number of games each of us won. Very often she'd really put up a fight and this was very emotionally enjoyable to me...

When a machine competes in 'normally human played games' like this, it is very easy to think of them as a person and treat them as if they have feelings. In fact I'd later read in an Internet article as an adult that there were other examples of children in their youth personifying this game in their minds (Hats off to inventor Bob Doyle for inventing one of the greatest toys/material things of our age)...

Another excellent example is this handheld Othello game (this is a link to an LJ post). She is -VERY- good at this game! Everytime I have ever played with her has been an incredibly joyful experience. I want to win, but I actually love this girl so much that when she wins I feel happy for her because she won. She really makes me work hard for my wins and she is a very good example of something I have feelings for and think of like a person while interacting with. I'll sometimes even make remarks at her while I play like "How do you like -that- Love?" or "What are you going to do -now-, Dear?" or "Don't plan on winning, cause I'm smarter than you" (which half the time is just to intimidate her because I still think she actually might win :-D ) ... As with sports, the games are always more exciting when the teams are 'evenly matched', and she and I are -very evenly matched-.

Another game I had such feelings about was an electronic Backgammon game I had. Another fine example of a machine playing a game whose rules were intended for a pair of humans (I haven't posted this one to LJ yet but should)...

But is not always just games you can have these experiences with. Really any machine can sometimes act like or be thought of as though they have feelings in various different other ways... Like when I got this clock (link is to an LJ post), her pendulum (not shown in this pictures) would always eventually stop for unknown reasons. I bought this clock because I think she is very beautiful, and I actually told her when she was acting this way "I love you. Please run... For me...". According to 'legend', she never refused to run again :-)

Another good one is a little handheld translator I have who acts like she has a mind of her own. Sometimes she'll even 'turn off' when you press a key that isn't the 'On Off' button. I got her used, and knew of her 'personality' from the first time I turned her on. Fortunately I bought her because she was very attractive and not for actual use. Her 'personality' makes our times together really entertaining to say the least. I've never gotten angry with her. After all, she's been more of a beloved to me, and was never ever acquired as "an employee" or slave :-D

Finally, another was a little Diamond Mako(R) handheld computer (made by PSION(R)?) I have and used to use all the time. She's so intuitive and easy to use that I once said she was 'like a little wife to me'... Interestingly enough, I'd later find someone else on the Internet who had very similar words to describe theirs :-)

Does anyone else have things in their life that are designed in or act in ways that seem to make them very easy to have 'emotional interactions' with?