Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Problem Creation Problem: A Game of Thrones.

In "A Storm of Swords" (one of the fantasy novels that serve as a literary foundation for the popular HBO TV Show A Game of Thrones) the author creates a lot of problems for his characters to solve and for readers to enjoy. The more intractable the problem, the more entertainment value it provides because it requires ingenious solutions and plenty of opportunities for dangerous mistakes.
Personal intrigues about love, lust, and power aside, the novel poses interesting technical problems as well. For example, we find Jon Snow and less than a hundred of his fellow guards in charge of defending The Wall against more than a hundred thousand of Wildlings. The Wall itself is impregnable to the low tech assailants, but it has a narrow passage that allows people to get beyond the Wall. Jon Snow's biggest challenge is to prevent the Wildlings from getting through the passage.

In the book, both sides show great creativity in attacking and defending the passage. There's a king of giants who rips out its iron gate; there's a brave dozen of guards who kill him in the process, etc. The fight goes on for pages and its a lot of fun to read.

But when I put my inventor hat on, I wonder why have the passage at all. On the internal side of the Wall, the guards use an equivalent of a large elevator to get on and off the Wall. Since the guards on the Wall are in full control of the elevator, no enemy can get over the Wall. In short, the elevator is the safest method to get people "through" the Wall. You would think that the builders of the Wall should be smart enough to use the elevator on both sides; especially, on the dangerous side because the Wildlings would have no chance to penetrate the Wall when the guards lift or temporarily disable the elevator. Furthermore, according to the book, the passage is so narrow that its throughput capacity is no greater than that of the elevator. Then, why do we have the passage at all if it introduces a major design flaw?

Well, from a fun creation perspective, the passage is a "planted" intractable problem that allows the author to keep the struggle for the Wall going for pages and pages and pages. Not having the passage would be a great technology solution, but its entertainment value would be almost non-existent. As we discuss in the Prologue of Scalable Innovation, we humans prefer the entertainment value. That's why our discussions and practices of creativity are skewed toward fun and games, including games of thrones.

my earlier post on the Problem Creation Problem.

tags: problem, solution, entertainment, separation, bundle

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