Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gridlock

Sometimes, when you're playing a new game, perhaps for the first few times, you come to several realisations about what you might be doing wrong and have no clue as to what to do about it. Or sometimes you have a very good clue and then you find out that doing something about one problem actually causes worse problems (or 'suboptimalities') elsewhere.

The solution to this is called 'minimaxing'. In most games, some sort of optimal expectation-based strategy allows you to figure out what a good solution might be, in terms of maximising your gains while minimising your losses.

But in complex games (or worse, games which you aren't sure are games, or games which don't seem to have success conditions, or games which you have a sneaky feeling are set up so that success might actually be failure), this strategy may not work. It might even work against you.

Once in a while I look at the world in which I live and I realise that if it is a game, or game-like, then it probably can't be optimised by minimaxing. It's too complicated, and if you think about it too much, your thoughts and theories degenerate into handwaving and other gestures of uncertainty. Eventually, things come to a gridlock; they don't work out because too many goals and interests have come into conflict.

There may be no solution; there may never have been a solution. The world may be solid, opaque, intractable all the way through, insolvent and insoluble, inscrutable but pretending to scrutability. All we can do is work things out the best we think we can, and trust that there is some validity to what we're doing.

The most important idea behind all this metagame theory is: are the rules spontaneous and hence random in origin, or are the rules imposed deliberately by an external agency? And one nagging thought beyond that is: are there any other options?

It is all terribly fascinating.

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