Hello Less Wrong, this is my first post (kind of).  I belong to a small game development company called Shiny Ogre Games.  We have a vested interest in making games that, as Johnathan Blow puts it, "speak to the human condition."  I am here to announce our next project for you.

In this announcement for Shiny Ogre's next project, There are two points to address.  Firstly:

Thought is a process like any other. The methods by which we think can be identified, specified, defined, categorized and even predicted.  One method of thinking that has been thoroughly defined is rationality.  Many would consider rationality (i.e. the careful exercise of reason), to be an essential path toward enlightenment (hence this).

Secondly: The objective, logical, and mechanical approach to reason that rationality takes, meshes nicely with game development, because any well-defined system can be turn into a game.  A game is a system composed of players making decisions while considering objectives, governed by a rule set.

Where there is no decision there can be no game.  Where decisions matter, a game can make them matter more.

Therefore, rationality is a core component of game playing.

Games are learning tools.  They are perhaps the best learning tool available to humans, because they invoke our biological tendency to play.

With that said, our announcement:

We're making a video game about rationality.

The game will explore rationality in the context of Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Twelve Virtues of Rationality" (which we have permission for).  From a narrative perspective the game takes place inside a mind on the brink of epiphany and will heavily feature themes from Plato's "Allegory of the Cave".

Yudkowsky's twelve virtues are the basis of the twelve levels in the game, and will feature each virtue in metaphorical form.  The underlying message here is that if you master all of the twelve virtues (by completing all of the twelve levels), you will achieve 'epiphany'.

The game is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer.  The player assumes the role of a figure that represents his/her own conscious mind while it constructs machines (ala "Incredible Machine") that are a metaphor for the thoughts and concepts that one would create while meditating on a complex problem.

We will update our progress and share development information on our website here, as well as with posts on Less Wrong, our twitter account, and the game's website.

You can expect discussions of design decisions for this project to be written frequently from the angle of game design theory.  We may also release a small documentary film of the development process after the release of the game.

A release date has been set (and its not too long from now), but I don't want to announce it just yet.

Here is some concept art for our Curiosity metaphor (you can view more art at our website linked above):

If you're interested, just upvote and/or comment.  If you have any specific queries related to this project or about game design in general, it would be cool if you went here.

We will be sharing our progress as we make this game over the next few months.  So pay attention to Less Wrong and/or shinyogre.com for updates.




28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:30 AM
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First impressions:

  • I would have focused on applying the virtues in a concrete context, rather than representing them metaphorically.

  • The twelfth virtue is going to be ridiculously difficult to handle properly.

The twelfth virtue is achieved by quitting the game and achieving something in the real world.

This works rather well -- but only if the game does not instruct the player to do so.

Aside from telling the player how to play, our aim is to avoid telling the player what to do. Our belief is that the game mechanics in combination with the level design ought to be sufficient for guiding the player toward the objective.

We've discussed the 12th virtue extensively and I think we've settled on a very nice way of handling it.

My credence that this game will be awesome just went up by about three bits.

Therefore, rationality is a core component of game playing.

Also, of cooking.

Like I said: any well-defined system can be turned into a game. I wonder how many more people would enjoy cooking if it were "gamified".

I am intrigued, but skeptical about the commercial potential.

In what form are you planning to release it? A browser game, an iOS/Android app, a (direct download?) PC game, all of the above?

Right now it will be a direct download Windows game. We are exploring the possibility of a browser version as well.

Wish I could upvote this more than once. This kind of project is immensely valuable to the community. There really needs to be more rationality art. I wish you the best of luck

I greatly hope you'll actually pull of making this more than a message, a game is just about the only media that could potentially increase someone rationality DIRECTLY rather than just talking about it and suggesting things to do themselves, by making the gameplay itself fundamentally require rationality and training up all those 5-second-level skills.

I wish I could help with this somehow, I've quite a few times tried to boot up rationalist art projects but I just don't have the kind of personality to be the driving force behind things, being just able to help on the side with someone else's project would be a nice change of pace. But it looks like you're some kind of company so that'd probably bring all sorts of messes.

[-][anonymous]11y 4


I downvoted this, and in the interest of clarity, let me explain why. I hope I can avoid making this sound too ranty.

This doesn't sound like any fun at all. "Educational" games or games "with a message" never end up being fun. Before I end up channeling Sean Malstrom, I'll just say that if you wanna make a game, make a game. If you want to teach rationality, do that. But don't dress up your attempt at a video game as something more high status than it really is. All learning success that's been attributed to games so far is in my opinion bogus. (Yeah, I learned who Huayna Capac was from Civ4, too.)

This goes for the whole artsy indie game genre. (Especially Braid, which is everything that is wrong with games today.) But none of this is why I downvoted this. I downvoted because there's nothing to see. You have a vague idea. You haven't even playtested yet. How could you possibly know if what you're doing works? Come back when I can play something. Or at least watch someone else do it.

(Also, a puzzle platformer? Srsly? I mean, platformer are among my favorite genres too, but don't you think that maybe it's time to try something different? At least it doesn't look retro.)

"Educational" games or games "with a message" never end up being fun.

Manga High seems fun.


The scene is a school in Southall, where a computer game that teaches maths is being used in a trial scheme. It is claimed that the programme could eventually replace teachers for some classes.

Called Manga High, the software is designed to look like a normal game, and features colourful graphics, sound effects and music. Pupils must solve a series of mathematical puzzles.

Featherstone High has spent two weeks testing the software in 90-minute lessons, with more than 120 taking part.

Neil Bradford, head of maths, said results appeared impressive so far.

He said: "We have used other maths software but the response to Manga High was amazing - we had one pupil who played the game at home for nine and a half hours over the course of a week.

"When the pupils are using it you can hear a pin drop in the classroom as they are all concentrating so hard.

"In the classes we've trialled the software, the teachers haven't had to do anything, children just become completely engrossed in the game.

"The teachers were very impressed, as while the games are fun, they really do help teach the curriculum."


It’s a Friday in the UK, and near the end of the day. Toby Rowland, CEO of Manga High, is pleased at the number of high-level mathematics games played by students from all over the world. He estimates they will hit 12,000 games played by the end of the clock. And this is on a national holiday, and the teachers are not even teaching.

What’s happening here? Math games at Manga High, an online model for mathematics teaching has captured the attention of teachers and students in countries like England, India, and the United States. It’s the beginning of a new market in a highly fragmented academic software industry — fremium, highly challenging, games-centric mathematics teaching. [...]

Students that get looped into the free site find themselves looking for harder and harder challenges, which is a paradox to what most teachers experience, says Rowland. When they lead students to difficult questions in textbooks, they lack the motivation. “Teachers find harder questions in books as being unattractive, but what we see online is students actively wanting to answer extreme questions,” says Rowland.

Rowland says that up to a hundred schools a day sign up to access a functionality that trains the students for higher order thinking blended with a feet-on-the-ground teaching model where students work with teachers in groups to problem solve. But the student is tapped into the internet for a good length of sustained learning time, which works well with how Internet-raised youth access and play with information.

“In an hour, a student might do 250 math exercises,” says Rowland. “That density of work you can’t achieve in any other way.”

That looks like a great project! Thanks for the link!

I hope this catches on; a lot of educational games are not much fun, but then neither is school, and games that manage to mix learning and engagement can scale much more easily than schools who manage the same.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Interesting. I tried a few games and they actually are kinda fun. Not amazingly so, but certainly more interesting than class. If skill in these games actually transfers to real math skills, then I'll update my beliefs.

I also don't see how more abstract or fuzzy skills like "detecting a bias" could be gamified, but just improving math and math-like skills alone would be a great benefit already.

Eh, Braid was a pretty decent puzzle platformer, though maybe story bits were a bit pretentious and could have been left out; I agree with what you say about artsy indie games or educational games.

There is certainly some potential for making rationality games, and an actual stab at implementation is better than a bunch of ideas thrown around in an open thread.

All learning success that's been attributed to games so far is in my opinion bogus.

Dunno about that - a lot of geeks seem to have learned English or Japanese through games. And of course, you learn skills that are useful in playing other games, though those are not really always transferable to "real world" activities. But then, the same could be said about a lot of "official"education - among all the kids who have classes on calculus or biology or literature or Latin, how many learn things that are useful to them in their lives?

Hello, this is another member of the development team for this project. In doing research for a term paper in one of my classes, I came across this article that addresses some of the issues challenged in this thread. Particularly this statement:

"All learning success that's been attributed to games so far is in my opinion bogus."

Here's some clinical research to validate the legitimacy of learning via video games.


[-][anonymous]11y 0

Dunno about that - a lot of geeks seem to have learned English or Japanese through games.

Good point, I hadn't thought about that. Though that's rather unintentional. Games designed to teach languages fail horribly.

I disagree strongly with you about games. Educational games do usually suck, but 'art games', 'indie games' and/or 'message games' can be really cool. Braid rocked not because of its weird metaphorical tell-don't-show 'story', but because of its well-executed and novel puzzles, beautiful art, and the final level which had more story in its wordless execution than the entire rest of the game.

This doesn't sound like any fun at all. "Educational" games or games "with a message" never end up being fun.

I think there is a significant distinction that needs to be made between a) "Every educational game created thus far (that I myself have sampled or read of in any way) has not been fun." and b) "There is no possible way to create a game, in all of game-space, that is both fun and educational."

As well, these are two separate statements. The first says that this specific game doesn't look fun. The second says something akin to b).

That being said, I agree that there's nothing concrete here. You can safely assume some typical 2d puzzle-plat mechanics, as well as construction mechanics. But aside from that, there's not any idea of how those will relate to the Virtues.

I'll await at least an alpha version, or something on the development process.

[-][anonymous]11y 1

Sure, it might be possible in principle to pick an educational topic and intentionally build a solid game around it that teaches it. Thing is, I have never seen this work so far and the video game industry (including indies) isn't exactly getting more creative recently. Outside view tells me to have very little faith in that happening.

At best, even if it can be done, it still seems to be a really inefficient way to do it. I suspect an underlying fallacy here is a lack of a proper Theory of Change.

Sure, it might be possible in principle

This is what I'm counting on.

the video game industry (including indies) isn't exactly getting more creative recently.

This is the big stopping block. And there's a number of pressures for that. Triple-A companies sticking with the safe IP and churning out sequels and clones that sell well. Indie companies not having the capital to fully flesh out their creative vision before tanking.

This is why it's important to talk seriously about games. Sure, they're not the most efficient way to learn if you're set out to learn a specific topic, but that's the same as beating you over the head with The Point of a movie. If you want to learn something, I agree, go learn it.

What games CAN be good for, is overcoming akrasia.

Yeah, I learned who Huayna Capac was from Civ4, too.

Were you taught in-game entirely? Or did the game get you interested, and you went out to explore yourself? I think making a game entirely based on educating on a single topic would fall flat, but educating in addition to engagement could be useful.

And as someone hoping to go into the gaming industry... I'll take the Theory of Change into advisement.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

What games CAN be good for, is overcoming akrasia.

How so? For the last 15 years or so games have been one of my major sources of akrasia, or rather the stuff I do instead of what I want. Not that I blame them, but except for inspiring me to "be awesome" occasionally, I don't see how games could possibly help here.

Were you taught in-game entirely?

In this specific case, yes. The only cases where games inspired me to learn something on my own were themselves about art, so for me it's all memetic incest.

[...] educating in addition to engagement could be useful.

It might be possible to essentially embed a solid mechanic in kinda-realistic fluff, like in Civ, which would work in any arbitrary universe, but by basing it on actual history, you pick up some stuff. I agree with you that it would be really neat if this worked, but I think given current technology and production costs that ain't gonna happen without killing the game in the process.

Also, the level of teaching (of non-trope material) you can put into the background like that is very superficial. My impression is that this really only spreads some basic references and common myths, but nobody actually walks away with a real, even if only introductory, understanding of anything.

(Being more and more proficient in all kinds of topics is the main reason I can barely stand fiction anymore. Did Not Do The Research is one of my Berserk Buttons.)

(Also personally, I find it really interesting when a game silently embodies a certain paradigm. Civ for example follows Jane Jacobs' idea of taking cities as the fundamental unit of macro-economics, not nations. Or DwarfFortress and Minecraft, which are "losing is fun" and "why not - the game!", respectively. Though I strongly doubt that this really affects the audience much.)

[-][anonymous]11y 1

What games CAN be good for, is overcoming akrasia.

How so? For the last 15 years or so games have been one of my major sources of akrasia, or rather the stuff I do instead of what I want. Not that I blame them, but except for inspiring me to "be awesome" occasionally, I don't see how games could possibly help here.

I believe the idea - which I have seen brought up elsewhere - is that you can use game mechanics to get yourself to do things that you really should be doing. Essentially you build a game around the actual task that needs getting done. Here's a TED talk about it.

Well there's that, yes. That's more like very basic Gamification of dull activities (more specifically this). (1)

But that's working from a task towards something more game-like. Rather than designing a game experience from the outset. That seems a suboptimal way to do it. And yeah, the current state of education-in-games, there's only going to be referential tidbits here and there that a few might look into. But if you're designing a game and have a topic of interest you enjoy, it wouldn't likely take much extra development time to incorporate it, especially if you really are interested.

Facilitating education is the goal, I guess. Rather than providing an in-depth education of whatever topic.

(1) I am going to reference Extra Credits a lot when discussing games. I can't recommend it enough. EC and this textbook are my main influences and sources of knowledge on games and game design, aside from the regular expected amount of game-playing.

This sounds really cool. Are you intending it to teach rationality at all, or just to be fun and promote the concept? It sounds like the latter, but that's still a good thing.

We are trying to make a fun game that promotes the concept, and I would say that is the best way to engage players, thus opening up their minds for learning.

Speaking of virtues, have you ever played Ultima IV?