Game science, programming science

In Pokémon Go last summer, a new feature popped up: bad guys. Some Pokéstops turned dark, and Team Rocket appears there, and they want to fight me. And they always win, dammit!

the Team Rocket Grunt gloats over his victory.

This much I can discover within the game. If I want to know more — like how to win the fights — I turn to the internet.

People on the internet have cataloged all the Pokémon. Each has a type, and each type is weak to attacks of certain other types. They’ve also noticed that when the Team Rocket Grunt boasts, they reveal something about the type of Pokémon they have. After they boast, I get to choose which of my Pokémon to fight their Pokémon with.

People observed these properties of the in-game world, and they reasoned about which Pokémon will be effective against which Team Rocket Grunts, and they’ve tested these guesses in-game, and they’ve posted the results online. I can use their analysis to increase my effectiveness in the world of Pokémon Go.

People take it even farther: they’ve deduced the hidden talent levels of individual Pokémon based on observable properties, and created calculators so that you can evaluate your Pokémon. There is systematic testing and measurement here, and logical deduction, and math.

This is science. People do science to describe a Nature that exists inside this game world. And then they publish their results.

It’s a different culture from the Science we learn in school, that institution/body of knowledge/discipline/people that studies Nature in the physical world. But it is science: it is people using observation, causal hypotheses, tests, and discussion to increase a shared body of knowledge about how a world works.

In software development, StackOverflow works this way too. Questions and answers on StackOverflow are scientific publications, sharing observations and knowledge and recommendations about a Nature that exists inside a particular programming language, tool, or library.

Every piece of software constructs its own little reality. Collaborating online, we study them together. We do science.