How to Train your Warjack: Affordances

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“Warjacks can’t really perform some of the simplest mathematical equations done by a calculator, yet can intuitively grasp the physics of the world by similar instincts as we use when catching a ball or throwing one. They are most certainly not adding machines”

This week, I’m going to talk about affordances. The concept of affordances is foundational to the radical embodied cognitive science viewpoint I spoke about last week. In the traditional informational processing account of perception, raw information hits our perceptual system, is coded into mental representations, then processed by a series of algorithms, and that process produces instructions for action. Under the RECS model, mental represenations are not necessary to explain action – they write a different story of how our perception works. This account heavily informs my thinking on steamjack cognition, and also sheds some light on the distinctions between warjacks and labourjacks.

From the RECS perspective, the things which we perceive are affordances. We don’t perceive raw information, per se. Instead, relations between the organisms and the environment are perceived, in terms of opportunities for action. Organisms attend to only the specific information that tells them how they can act in relation to the object/situation in front of them. Organisms then couple to the actionable information to form a task-solving system (For example, in the outfielder problem described last week, the person is coupled to the movement of the ball across his visual field and its velocity relative to his movement).

In simple terms, this means that organisms perceive information on (for example) the throwability of an object rather than the raw information about its weight and aerodynamics – throwability is a composite of that information, and the body is calibrated to perceive the composite info rather than perceiving the components and calculating a complex equation. Another thing to note is that this kind of perception is dynamic, in the sense that we perceive that information by acting in relation to it. The outfielder couldn’t use the information about the ball’s movement to catch it without also moving himself. We can’t perceive throwability without hefting the object in our hand. The way we act in relation to the world is how we perceive it, and we perceive the ways in which we can act in relation to it. It’s gorgeously complex in practice, elegantly simple in theory. Gives me nerdy goosebumps.

The fallout of this type of perception that is relevant to our discussion of ‘jacks is the fact that the dimensions of your body determine what information you perceive. ‘Jacks with stunty legs perceive/move differently over rough terrain than crabjacks would.

Furthermore, with regard to tool use, we seem to be able to perceive affordances as if the tool were an extension of our bodies (assuming we’re practiced in its use). The tools jacks use are a fundamental part of how they think, act, and perceive. In essense, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I think that this gives a good sense of how steamjacks’ personalities will develop. Labourjacks will primarily want to interact with the world by moving things around. Jacks with drill or chainsaw tools will break down problems and move them out of the way. They will approach problems as work, and take a slow and steady, reductive approach when left to work out the details of a task. Even in combat, a labourjack would approach the conflict as a task to be slowly and methodically dismantled, unless their marshal was countermanding their instincts. 

By contrast, warjack bodies are designed for destruction. They will primarily solve problems by removing them from their path altogether in an explosive display of force. When a labourjack would break down a tree across the road and move it piece by piece to the side, a warjack would lift it and hurl it aside, or slam straight through it, or hack it to mulch with their axe. And obviously, in combat a warjack is in its element. But affordances let us consider different warjack styles of combat – a Khadoran jack doesn’t have a body that allows for precision strikes at weak points. As such, a Juggernaut probably doesn’t even see weak points. It just sees a big object to be shattered. Reapers would see leverage points where a harpoon would lodge to create a drag, or where its sustained attack spear could lodge to keep hammering away without fail. With their two open fists and high MAT, a Seether would perceive an opposing warjack in the way a human wrestler sees another body. They would perceive ways to shift their weight to leverage a throw, or to knock them off their feet.

Warjacks with ranged weapons, I imagine, would always watch others like they were tracking a target. They’d have a threatening manner wherein they would pick out a person moving across their field of vision and turn their heads in sync with that person’s movement, always keeping them in the centre of their vision, and perhaps turning the gun arm in the same way. Even when they don’t take the shot, they look like they might, because their whole body is a target acquisition system. They see everything in terms of shootability.

In my imagination, warjacks move through the world as if everything is either a target to be destroyed, or beneath their notice. The way they destroy things inform the gait with which they move, how their heads turn to notice things and how their body orients while they do so. It makes warjacks a terribly threatening presence, insofar as if they notice you at all, they are (in terms of body language) preparing to destroy you. Warjacks don’t learn socially acceptable ways of orienting their bodies to put people at ease (like humans do) unless their ‘caster forces them too. And even if they learn that, it’s always uncomfortable for them, counter to their natural way of holding themselves.

In an RPG, I always like to think about two things when doing an NPC – body language, and tonality. With most NPCs, I’ll focus on the voice, and try to give the character verbal patterns that are quickly identifiable so I don’t have to say “And now X is talking” – the players recognise the accent or the way that Earnest Ernest always opens by saying “Mornin’ gents, how’s the weather?” no matter what time of day it is. When characterizing warjacks, all you’ve got is body language, so I think it’s really important to think hard about how a jack moves around the world. I hope this has given you some food for thought next time your players meet a new jack – how does he perceive/act in relation to the world, and how does that make him move his body?

Te Nosce,

I_Avian

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