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From Unintuitive to Eureka pt.2

People, in my experience, think they're unique as if what they experience, think, and feel is unpredictable and incomparable to anyone else. For the scope of this topic, let's assume that everyone is mostly same because everyone mostly learns the same way; trail and error. The slow process by which we learn and improve at a very complex game like StarCraft (and furthermore, learn from each other via competition) develops similar understandings of the game. Similar ideas, skills, and strategies. In other words, we naturally and collectively give a greater importance to a similar set of specific rules, features, and mechanics. By the time an individual player starts to develop their own ideas, strategies, or playstyles, one tends to start with the methods and general procedures that they've practiced. Because of this piecemeal trial and error learning process, players (and whole communities) tend to develop intuition gaps.

Photo: Peter Lundström

Certainly you know the feeling. You're playing a game and the opponent (computer AI or human) does something with a core mechanic that completely opens your eyes. In that moment, you realize that you've never even thought about using the move in that way. Yet, the way it's used is so simple and so obvious, you wonder why you haven't developed the technique before. This is common when witnessing next-level play. And it happens because all the assumptions you've developed have gone unchallenged, uninspired, or un-updated. Thus, the very way you define and perceive a game has a blind spot ie. intuition gap. When you're forced to use trial and error to come up with solutions that lies beyond intuition gaps, this process is called making an unintuitive leap.

When you realize that games are complicated, that's step 1. When you realize that games are "half-real" existing somewhere between the virtual computations of the CPU and your mind, memories, and actions, that's step 2. But when you come to terms with the idea that playing a video game is an intense-self-powered-learning experience in which you are the teacher and the student using the game as a tool, then you know that you're the only one that can hold your intellectual development back. Finally, when you learn that mastering how you learn a video game is no different than mastering how you learn anything, you'll know why I put so much work and passion into this blog. 

So the question we can begin to address is how to reduce one's intuition gaps. Essentially, taking this step involves recognizing the drawbacks of our most natural learning style (trial and error, which we've covered already) and taking the steps necessary to become a more intuitive learner. Believe me, developing an intuitive learning style isn't hard, but you must be consistent. Think of it this way, the world is filled with the unknown "X" and the familiar "F". Every day we deal with many X's and F's. Because we, as humans, very heavily use our LTM/learned experiences to function, we're essentially practicing and reinforcing what we already know. This, in turn, develops habits of prioritizing F. In this way, who we are, what we do, how we think, and what we see are intricately related to F. To offset a strong tendency to embrace F, we must embrace X. For everything we consciously recognize as F, we must also recognize how much about F is X. In other words, we much constantly recognize where our knowledge falls short. Questioning what we know, how we know it, how we  learned it, considering opposing points of view, and figuring out exactly how far our knowledge goes is very important. 

The next big step is to categorize everything. Like assigning tags to internet video/images, the more categories you assign to any piece of knowledge you have (thought, subject, idea, fact, etc.) the more potential connections you make for it. The more connections you have, the smaller the intuition gaps can become. 

The final important step is to update you categories whenever you learn something new. For example, I love the radio show Radio Lab. Like a Bill Nye for adults, this program entertains, inspires, and informs without fail. Every episode exposes me to a new level of detail or a new perspective that I've never considered before. After listening, I don't file the information away somewhere in my mind in some kind of "science only" folder. I take the insight then scrub through all of my related thoughts, reevaluating each, and updating the categories if necessary. This facilitates new connections and usually generates more questions thus creating a positive feedback loop of intuitive learning. In this way, one EUREKA! can chain into another, and so on. 

How far one reduces their intuition gaps to make what would otherwise be unintuitive leaps, is one way I measure intelligence. To me, it doesn't matter much how much someone doesn't know. After all, we all are ignorant in some field. What's important is how one reacts to a lack of knowledge, and how one works to catch up. Likewise, simply solving a problem or reaching a conclusion via a brute-force-trial and error methodology is what "everyone" does. In gaming, this method rewards the player who puts in more game hours. If you're the kind of person who thinks that an accomplishment is less impressive when you find out that it was brute forced over many pitiful attempts, then you understand my point of view. Guess and check is not as impressive as using reasoning/logic skills. Finding elegant solutions quickly is a sign of great intelligence. 

I'm working on using a branching model to display an individual's knowledge of a subject and their intuition gaps. Some games are like tools forcing the player to educate themselves on their own. Other games feature tutorials that can greatly influence and kickstart a player's learning. Many games teach the player how to play, what to look/listen for, and how to think through a progression of gameplay challenges. Perhaps, by comparing a game's level design with how a player works through a problem, I can accurately map out their intuition gaps and possibly draw conclusions about their learning process outside of the game.

In part 3 I'll list a techniques/strategies and the unintuitive leaps that were likely to keep most gamers from discovering them.  

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