The psychology of reactions to various sized objects and the clumping thereof

I’m trying to deal with how players treat objects of various sizes, and what kinds of verbs they are going to want to use with those objects. Obviously, not all objects will make sense with all verbs. ( Picking up a plate is easy. Picking up the dining room table is different. Picking up a yacht is way different. Picking up Mars doesn’t even make sense in most contexts. )

I’m trying to place objects of various sizes into intuitive categories. IOW, I’m trying to take the whole scale of stuff from grains of sand to galaxies, and assign them into discrete clumps according to people’s reactions to them.

I have several categories already:

  1. Things that are too small to pick up easily, and which require a tool - such as tweezers or crumbers - to manipulate readily: grains of sand, pills, small beads, etc
  2. The things that I can pick up with one hand: plates, pencils, cell phones, hammers, etc
  3. The things that require two hands: chairs, breadboxes, cats, machine guns, etc
  4. Things that are too big for both hands, and usually require a small number of other people or draft animals to move them: canoes, the dining room table, ox carts, etc.
  5. Things that require huge groups of people and/or dedicated machinery to handle them: a Boeing airliner, blocks of sandstone to make pyramids, the main mast on a 74-gun ship, etc.

Beyond that there are things that we consider essentially immobile, and we no longer consider maniplation for categorization, but we group them by how long it will take to traverse them.

I’m sure that there are numerous grey areas in this attempt at category definition, and you readers may find many flaws. ( Although I opine that if you can see the point of a category that includes both cats and machine guns, you have a good future as a writer. )

Anyway…to the point at hand: I hypothesize that although dimensions are gradual and continuous, we tend to group things into discrete clumps.
I’m hoping that this clumping will allow the writer of a game to have groups of verbs to match those clumps.

So, I have questions:

  1. Is this whole concept complete drivel? Do all other people besides myself perceive the sizes of various objects in one smooth continuum?
  2. Has someone else done this before? And have they formalized it? Maybe produced an academic paper?
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I do not think it is “complete drivel” as you put it. I do not have any academic paper to refer to, but I face exactly the same problem: I want to categorize things so I can group things together and define sensible actions applicable to them.

Right now I have the following list in mind (not the same as yours, but similar idea of “categorization”). I use a number “weight” property so I can easily compare weights in the action checks and come up with “categorized” denial messages.

  1. small portable items which can be picked up one handed (e.g. a pen)
  2. two-handed items which can be picked up one handed but need both hands to operate (e.g. a two-handed sword)
  3. bigger items which need both hands free to pick them up (e.g. a heavy chair)
  4. items which are too big to pick up, but which can be moved (e.g. a cabinet)
  5. items which cannot be moved, but can be rotated (e.g. a winch, a rotatable statue)
  6. items which are immovable, but the player might logically try to move them (e.g. a heavy table)
  7. items which are clearly immovable (e.g. a tree)
  8. items which are mentioned but cannot be touched (e.g. the moon, or distant thing)

Apart from “weight” I also use “size” to decide whether something fits into a container (say, the player’s carryall).

Just my 2 cents.

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Chiming in to say there is an extension called “Bulky Items” (I think?) that lets you designate items the player can only carry if they drop everything else (ostensibly using both hands and all their capacity).

It’s not exactly a linear scale. We have (or a game may have) non-physical objects like “thunder” or “my memory of my sister’s death” – these cannot be picked up but size doesn’t enter into the question.

You’ve touched on the idea of “clearly immovable” or “clearly untouchable” objects, but this is already not exactly the same thing as size. A coin in a glass box is untouchable; a doorbell is immovable; but they’re both small.

We might also have red-hot objects, where the protagonist refuses to consider picking them up regardless of size. This temperature check takes precedence over size checks. (Or not – that’s a design decision by the author.)

Then you can start combining these categories in increasingly contrived ways. A red-hot penny which is actually nailed to the ground on the other side of a window!

(It is the sad fate of IF tool developers to at least think about these compound cases, because a perverse author might impose them all on a single object, and then what?)


well, red-hot items can be taken with blacksmith’s pincers, and generally speaking, from the perspective of take, there’s many things whose can be taken only with the appropriate tool, regardless of size, and the resulting puzzles are legion.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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