More on social simulation
For the past few months I've been studying language, especially Pinker's stuff and, therefore, Allen Fiske's stuff.
It's always been a common approach to try to simulate characters by focusing on the relationships a character has. The only more common approach is to do a goal-focused approach, and in most of the tries I've seen, both are used.
Fiske's basic idea is that there are four basic kinds of social relationships: Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, Market Pricing, and Communal Sharing. In English these are "Who's the boss", "tit for tat", "barter", and, um... communal sharing. That last one means that you treat a group as equivalent to a single person - for example, all blonds are dumb, you always help your family, everyone shares the roads, and politicians are liars.
This sounds like a pretty great basis, doesn't it? I mean, you could set up characters to think in these terms no problem.
The issue that instantly pops up is that relationships are not as transparent as you might presume. For example, when someone is in your home, they are a guest. When you are in their home, you are the guest. Similarly, a waitress won't ask you what kind of appetizer you want if you meet her in a bookshop.
Some of Pinker's work is based on the idea that much of the complexity of language arises from negotiating these relationships implicitly. For example, your parents teach you to say "please" and "thank you" because these allow you to make demands without entering into an authoritative relationship.
Some more of Pinker's work is based on the idea that ideas and other nonphysical things can be discussed as if they were physical things. Moving a meeting from Thursday to Friday, for example.
Combining these ideas is fairly obvious: if you can encode a situation into a relationship, you can have a wide diversity of relationships that are realistic. For example, you could simply say that the waitress relationship only exists while she's working at that restaurant. Or you can say that someone is only a mother to specific children. Or you can say that a general is only in a position of authority in military matters.
Even then, you're likely to miss subtleties. For example, a guest. What kind of relationship do you have to a guest? You're expected to make them feel welcome, to play the host, but what kind of relationship is that, exactly? Is it giving them some level of authority? What are the limits of that relationship? Similarly, while a politician technically is in a position of authority over me, it is a very disperse and indirect thing: in person, he has absolutely no authority over me and, in fact, would probably be glared at quite a lot.
Actually, what about being glared at? What kind of relationship is dislike? You could, I suppose, argue that it's a kind of negative communal sharing: you are specifically partitioning yourself from this person, specifically not sharing. This basis could, in turn, make you more aggressive and opportunistic in future social relationships with this person...
As you can see, the complexities quickly begin to build. In order to simulate something resembling common human experience, it is necessary to create a wide variety of potential situations to relate over. For example, can you share your hopes with someone? You need to be able to, for a decent social simulation. So "hopes" need to have some kind of representation in the world. Probably several, since there are hopes like dreams of the future, and hopes like what we think might arise out of something, and hopes like hoping something we cannot see has gone well...
Of course, it's not just a representation of hope, but also a social stigma attached to that representation. Me, I'm happy to tell most of my hopes on almost every scale to anyone who seems geeky... but I'm not likely to share my actual personal life. On the other hand, I know people who refuse to talk about what they want long-term while sober, but are fine with giving the gory details of their latest break-up.
Do we each have a defined relationship to representations of concepts? Perhaps so, but if so, we need to add some kind of "personal space" or "importance" relationship, because I can't see any way of representing what value I place on something in what contexts using the Fiske four. (Also, I think that equality matching and market pricing are fundamentally the same and should not be represented separately... so I guess it would still be four relationship types?)
As usual, it gets really, really gory the closer to implementation you get. The reason for this, as Murray Gell-Mann explains, is because any given situation is not descended from a core algorithm, but from such an algorithm plus a metric butt-ton of random chance building on random chance.
Our social algorithm is probably something fairly simple, although it may be difficult to express using English and more easy to express with math. But our actual social situation - both personal and cultural - is not a result of that algorithm. It's a result of that algorithm plus our life and the residue of the lives of our ancestors back at least four centuries.
We cannot "grow" a culture that is like ours, even if we use the same algorithm. We might develop a culture that is human-like, but it will feel as alien to us as if we were riding with Attila the Hun... and not necessarily very entertaining at all.
Attempting to reconstruct our culture, even simplified, is a monumental task involving listing a huge number of objects, cultural norms, microcultures, standard relationships within microcultures... Ugh!
In my mind, this approach cannot be used to create social play unless it is created by somehow harnessing the power of thousands of players that build the culture over a large period of time.
On the other hand, it may be possible to generalize all of our little obsessions and create something vaguely interesting to interact with that way... still, bottom-up is not the answer at the moment.
Instead, I prefer to build a framework of interesting content, ignoring all the details, and then basically just picking from column A and column B. Then I can focus on social reactions to this content, rather than having to simulate a history with that content or the other characters involved...
Either way, not very straight forward at all.