Soundbite: Chris Crawford on thinking in processes vs facts
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He calls it process-intensive thinking, and here, in this excerpt from our interview, he explains what that means, why he thinks it's rare, and how he believes it will eventually reshape our society.
He's also written multiple short essays about this idea on his website. Here are links to a couple of them:
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To learn more about Chris, his Dragon Speech, and his immense importance to the early years of the games industry, be sure to listen to episode 30, 'The Dragon Speech, and Chris Crawford's improbable dream'.
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This is a Life and Times of Video Games soundbite. I'm Richard Moss.
The legendary game designer Chris Crawford has a lot of strong opinions, and those have probably been as much a constraint on his efforts to develop interactive storytelling as they've been an aid to his progress in that and other efforts to turn games into a great new art form.
But the famed Balance of Power creator is a genius of immense talent in one particular area — simulation. An area that he's sadly put less effort into during his years pursuing the metaphorical dragon that protects the riches of interactive storytelling. Which is not to say that those skills have been wasting away, because part of the challenge of interactive storytelling is in building simulations of human interaction, emotion, and personality.
When I interviewed him for episode 30, on his famous Dragon Speech, I asked him if he'd have pursued this dragon had he known he'd still be chasing it three decades later. And he admitted that he probably would have not. He'd have instead put his energy into making more simulations, teaching people to think in a way that he only recently realised is rare.
He calls it process-intensive thinking, and here, in this excerpt from our interview, he explains what means, why he thinks it's rare, and how he believes it will eventually reshape our society.
Richard Moss: And now so as you've just said, you concluded as though you were Don Quixote charging out of the room after that dragon. And the way people remember Don Quixote, the character, is sort of this fool who refused to accept the reality set before him, who would fight giants that others see as windmills and always strive to reach the unreachable, which certainly has some parallels to you. Do you still see yourself as a Don Quixote character now?
Chris Crawford: Yes, in the sense that I am tackling a challenge that is too great to be tackled. Now the big difference is that Don Quixote's opponents were imaginary, whereas my opponent is very real. This problem of art through the computer, that is a profoundly important problem.
Boy, this gets into a lot of history. The development of writing ultimately was what was responsible for science and technology. If you go through the long, long history of all of this, it all started with the sea peoples in the end of the Bronze Age in about 1100 BCE. And clearing out the Aegean.
And I won't go into the story. But basically this triggered a sequence of events that ultimately led to rationalism in Greece and then logic. And then after about a thousand year hiatus, the church's attempts to match theology with rationalism. And ultimately that led to science and that led to technology.
And that's how we got here.
Computers permit the expression of a completely different concept. Writing permits logical, sequential thinking. That is, the power of writing is that it allows you to audit the thoughts. That is, you can be going through a book here — (flips through pages) woop-de-doop-doo-doo, and you're reading blah, blah, blah. And then you see something and you say, 'wait a minute.' Waaaiiittt a minute. Back here he said this', and you can see the contradiction.
And that keeps us honest. And that forced us to be more and more rigorously logical, which ultimately got us into science and so forth. Computers challenge us with a completely different kind of thinking, and that's what I call subjunctive thinking. It's also a form of process-intensive thinking. Thinking about the processes rather than the facts. And that is a profoundly different way of thinking about reality.
And computers will — if civilisation lasts long enough, will kick off another revolution, the way writing kicked off a revolution. Now the revolution stemming from writing took about 2500-3000 years to get to where we are today. Computers will take a long time because this is not dependent upon the technology of the computer. It's dependent on the way it's received. The thinking style seeps into the culture and it will take generations. But ultimately, assuming civilisation lasts very long, I would expect that people a few hundred years from now will be much, much more comfortable thinking in terms of scenarios and subjunctivity.
Well, OK, let's imagine the tree of possibilities. It could branch out this way, branch out that way, and ultimately thinking in terms of the processes that produce results rather than the actual facts.
A good example of that was Balance of Power, where all I did was I took some basic geopolitical principles and I expressed them mathematically. And they were pretty simple things. And then I bundled them all up and set in a conflict and so forth. And bingo. It allowed you to play with complex geopolitical situations.
The whole — the essence of that design was in the processes that were going on, the way things happened. And it wasn't so important to know _what_ the world is as how it works. And I am very disappointed to observe that — well, I haven't seen — I don't think we've seen a programme addressing geopolitics that gets into the processes of geopolitics as deeply as Balance of Power did, which is really disappointing.
The way I said it once was, 'people should have left me in the dust 10 years after Balance of Power and many of them still haven't even caught up. And that's one of the things about the alien way I think. I think in terms of processes. And People aren't very good at that. But computers will teach the culture to think in terms of processes.