You Don't Need to See His Identification

Went to Star Wars: Identities at the Edmonton Space & Science centre today (yes, that *is* the correct name, corporate sponsors can jump in a snowbank...) with my protege, "Z." The prop and motion-control-model displays were very, very cool to see, and probably worth the price of admission, while the multimedia/interactive aspects of the presentation were only fair to middling.

The show is really set up to showcase a few ideas about identity, some of which I thought bear comment:
(For those who haven't heard of this thing before, it's a travelling exhibit of Star Wars props that incorporates ten interactive kiosks which allow you to build an "identity" profile based on the traits and factors discussed in the educational talk-along and supplemental video.)
First, the consideration of genetic factors is limited to asking participants' skin/fur colour and force ability. I find this strangely comforting (no asking about heritable dispositions toward addiction, psychiatric disorder, etc.? How quaint...) and at the same time somewhat ironic, given that it highlights the biggest cop-out in the whole Star Wars scrip process. (I.E.: if Anakin is predisposed to force-use because he was "fathered" by the force, Lucas wasn't forced to make force-use into a caste-type social scenario, and was also able to write a character with no personality strengths whatsoever and still make him the most intuitive/powerful force-user in the universe.) Thus, your genetics selections at the beginning of the show have no effect whatsoever beyond appearance, unless there's some kind of adaptive stat-checking in one of the other stations that factors force-power before presenting you with options.

Other factors include native culture, parental style, intellectual/physical aptitude, traumatic events, occupation, personality, value system, and the inevitable "dark vs. light" decision.

Personality seems to be the station with the most forethought put into it, basically it's a big-five / OCEAN model for personality traits. Again I didn't feel like the choices were really important to the "result" at the end of the tour, but it was clear the people who put this thing together were at least familiar with the commonly used personality assessment tools (even if they put no effort into the statistical instruments usually used to get some verifiability into vague test questions like "how much do you like people?")

The most interesting thing about the entire tour was seeing how much importance some people place on the decisions, or more specifically how *little* weight Z. gave any of them. Z.'s mom tagged along with us for the day and she practically begged him to let her watch as he selected his 'personality' answers. She tried to let him choose without steering his selections, but couldn't help questioning a few of his decisions. Z., being the impulsive twelve-year-old he is, retaliated in a few places by flaunting his ambivalence toward the meaning of such questions as "are you efficient and organized, or easy-going?" She clearly put a great deal of weight into the "results" of his answers (which, in a battery of questions so limited, are simply a read-back of the input you give...) while he didn't even bother to read them.

I've seen this in Z.'s attitude before, in the slightly-but-not-entirely different realm of Role-Playing Games. Z.'s history with games, up until about a year ago, centred on the simplistic (if in some cases well-designed) action-shooter genre. In the past year, he's played Fallout 3 and it's difficult for me to get a sense of what he really wants out of a role-playing experience. (I'll not that I've always expressed concern over the suitability of some of the games Z's parents have bought him, but it's a losing battle and so long as he's not playing them during our outings or telling me blatantly unhealthy things about them I try not to be overly negative about it, since it *is* something we can actually have fairly deep conversations about.) This really shouldn't surprise me, since I often have similar problems on a lesser scale (how do I collect all the best stuff in the game without resorting to outright burglary and banditry???) but it's funny hearing about his slowly-developing cognitive dissonance:
 "It was really hard buying supplies or anything, since every town I went into everyone started shooting me on sight."
"Really? What did you do to get them that mad? Usually they only do that if you shoot first..."
"Well, the first time I went into a shop I picked up a rocket launcher and started blowing things up..."

RPGs are still quite limited in terms of the moral possibilities they offer (non-player-character scripting is still pretty limited in terms of motivation and response to binary and obvious triggers like being hurt by the player, political allegiance of the character, etc.) but in contrast to the magazine-quiz format of typical personality profiling tests, I think they offer real potential. Sure, gamers who are focused on winning will always use the "min-max" approach and create unrealistically one-dimensional characters to make the game easier to play, but in a way that's *more* indicative of real personality traits than even the most honest answer to "on a scale of one to five, how honest are you?"--if my only goal in the development of a character is the ability to win more battles (at the expense of exploration or social skills) I've expressed in a very clear way my intention and priorities. The trick with RPGs, though, is that they give people the option to explore multiple possibilities on different playthroughs. You can't look at the decisions a player makes in a video game as a definitive or reductive evaluation of values or even traits, but you *can* pull qualitative correlations from multiple playthroughs together with post-play interviews about player motivation and problem-solving strategies. Not saying the RPG should be the next thing in personality trait assessment, just that it's a very interesting tool that could probably be put to work in a laboratory setting to get a much different kind of result than the typical self-reporting (and thus only marginally verifiable) multiple-choice results.

[Ed.: I am beginning to see a strong correlation between the number of hours I'm awake, the amount of time I spend standing in lines, and the number of incoherent sentences I can type in one sitting.)

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