Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vacation Day 2: The Game Professor and the Cave

The Game Professor

In the morning I navigated the Boston MTA, made famous by The Kingston Trio in their 1950s song about poor old Charlie stuck on train due to a proposed fare increase to charge people an extra nickel for getting off the train. Today's MTA uses the "CharlieCard" on all of its services. They're free. With one, I took a bus to the subway and then the subway back to a bus for $2.55 (more than Charlie would have paid, but reasonable by today's standards); without one, the cost would have been significantly higher.

I met the brilliant and gracious Sebastian Deterding at the Pavement Coffeehouse on 44 Gainsborough St in Boston. Sebastian wrote several important sources about gameful design that I used for research on my book. I wrote to him as a stranger, asking if I would be able to catch him lecture or if he would be willing to meet a fan for coffee, and he agreed to coffee.

I wasn't sure what the conversation would be - maybe I would interview him for my blog - but it ended up being about the central tenets of my book. He is the first person in my field with whom I have discussed my ideas. He is not only more educated that I; as a professor he is able to discuss it with a depth that I struggled with, since I live outside of academia. It was awesome (for me, at least).

We talked for 90 minutes. He asked deep questions that presented deep challenges. My ideas held out pretty well, but I need to address these challenges - in the book, or at least for my own sake, in order to be sure that I know what I'm talking about. For example:

I propose a new definition of "game" that I feel captures the essential aspect of game more rigorously than any previous definition. For one thing, my definition describes what a game "is", not what it contains. Sebastian asked me if, in my definition, a game was a) a fundamental reality, in which case "game" pre-existed mankind and humans discovered it, or b) a
human construct, in which case game could be more or less different from culture to culture, or c) my own convenient grouping of ideas/activities, in order to provide new insights into the other topics I cover in my book.

Although I had already written a bit about why I was attempting to define "game" in the book, I had not thought about asking these questions, and thus I had been moving back and forth among these usages without thought. This is the kind of insightful analysis you get from years of experience in defending and presenting your thoughts in academia, and which Sebastian generously shared with a complete stranger in a coffeehouse. I am very grateful.

When I got home, Tal told me that my hair was sticking up and my shirt was on backwards and inside out.

New England

We bought a BBQ, and some kosher food at The Butcherie, and ate at the nearby Taam China kosher Chinese restaurant for lunch. We headed out for what was supposed to be a three hour drive but ended up being a five and a half hour drive through beautiful New England. Once we were far away from Boston, most of our drive was through small towns and one lane highways through the woods. Very beautiful. However, without GPS, we still either got lost or occasionally thought we were lost and had to stop to figure out where we were going.

In one of those stops we managed to connect to Wi-Fi for around 4 minutes, and during that time Saarya was able to download the destination, the navigation, and many of the maps on the route. The phone's GPS works even without Wi-Fi or cellular connection, so long as all of that is pre-loaded onto the phone and so long as you stay on route. It helped us get back onto my pre-printed route. If we were not scheduled to meet the person whose cabin we were renting at a particular time, I would have stopped several more times to wander around in antique stores, roadside vegetable stands, and several pretty lakes and streams. Once you get into Vermont, the vegetable stands become maple product stands. We met the guy and he was willing to wait while we picked up some more food items.

The Cabin

It's really a cabin in the wood that the guy had built himself. Stunning setting and a beautiful property, it lacks only Wi-Fi, telephone, and a bathroom. It uses an outhouse. There is only cold water piped in from the stream into tanks. He provides a bathtub to use - outdoors - with only cold running water. For hot water, you have to fill up some buckets, lower heating coils into them, and wait. This kind of setup might be a first for my kids, and it's been a long time for me, too. We were able to use the Wi-Fi from the house next door, which also  belongs to him.

Dinner was BBQ'd chicken and farmer's market vegetables.
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