Monthly Archives: January 2011

Flanigan Lane, Melbourne


Three-reality monte, or changing the grammar of play in mid-sentence

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, said Santayana. And those who confuse the map with the territory are doomed to get lost, we could add. The recent news that our erstwhile friend the Locative Urbanist had attempted to upload some malware on the city came as no surprise. His delusions that he had succeeded, however, are troubling. How could he mistake his simulation for the world? Has he finally lost his grip on reality?

The map is not the territory

The map is not the territory

The Game (that some call The City) is composed of an indefinite andperhaps infinite number of rules. It’s not a thing, but a process, not a beehive, but a swarm. Outside catastrophic colony decay, play acts both as the virtual substrate of the process and its immune system, healing the game as it progresses. The process that is the City is able to modify its own rules, changing the grammar of play in mid-sentence. So to speak. All relevant indicators point to normality. What, then, has the lunatic loon also known as the Locative Urbanist attempted to undermine?.

Here is a philosophical question for you: how do you know your reality is indeed real, and that you are not inside a simulation? Plato, Descartes, Putnam have grappled with the question, and failed to solve it. he reason is, of course, that if simulations can be made at all, you can’t tell whether you are in one or not. The British singularitarian Nick Bostrom has even suggested that the probability that we are living in one is very high. Extremely high, since there are “vastly many more such simulated minds than there would be non-simulated minds running on organic brains”.

But probability doesn’t trump fact. It only speaks to the degree of correctness of our beliefs about such facts. Working with available data, the lone undertaker has decreed he would infect the city with new rules carried out by selected operatives. Unfortunately for him, his data were nicely sandboxed inside a simulation. Like Michael Douglas in an overrated movie, he’s been schemeing with our confederates, isolated from The Game by a hermetic simulatory conspiracy playing high-stakes Nomic and determined to win.

Remember how happy our amateur was that he had managed to reestablish an uplink? “The next phase is The Game, and we have found a way to run the program through it,” he thought out loud, not knowing that all his interfaces were part of our conspiracy. That’s how a Big Con works: the markks are always prey to their own cupidity and hubris. Ours was a paravirtualized simulation where ordinary messages were let through unchanged, while his miscommunications were isolated, analysed and denatured in real-time. Our matrix of deceit had him all along.

Take this as a Public Service Announcement. Like a callus around a thorn, our Game has surrounded the Locative Urbanist’s would-be-virus. It has also released a vaccine, just in case his scheme manages to gain real-world privileges through escalation. Our players are schoolteachers, parents, couriers and escorts, shoppers and idlers. Immunity is now woven into the pattern of schoolkids taking the tram to St Kilda for a day at the beach, of used-car salespeople haggling their victims into overpayment, of baristas putting a regular client’s order under the spout before she has a chance to order it, of paramedics responding to a call. Nobody is missing a beat here.

Don’t congratulate us. The Game did it on its own. The CrossMedia Ecologist was witness to the beauty of the process, but we didn’t spend one brainwave on plotting or schemeing. We never had to meddle with the beautiful game. Nor did we want to — so much work! It’s summer, and we were too busy going to the beach, trying to buy a car, having coffee at our local and saving ponies from the flood.

Urban Life… I thought it was an album by Roxy Music!

“According to E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia hypothesis*, humans have an innate desire to catalog, understand, and spend time with other life-forms.”

Time for another story this one is about Dr Bug.

Dr Bug is the childhood nickname of game designer Satoshi Tajiri. He earned this name due his fascination for studying insects he had as a child. Tajiri grew up in Machida, a western Tokyo suburb which was then still quite rural with rice paddies, rivers and forests. As the suburb became more developed the insects were driven away. Tajiri laments that urban children today do not have the opportunity to explore and learn about nature that way he did as a child. He designed the Pokémon game to recapture the pleasures of collecting and learning about creatures he so enjoyed as a child.

According to Science Magazine zoologists at the University of Cambridge are now looking to Pokémon for ways to engage children with conservation issues. There studies with a sample of 109 UK showed that children over 8 years old were able to correctly identify nearly 80%  of a sample drawn from the 150 virtual Pokémon creatures whilst struggled to identify their native wildlife such as a badger.

They were impressed by the children’s detailed knowledge of Pokémon. Noting that people care about what they know – they ask how can scientists uses games to re-establish links with nature?

How can game designers and urban designers work together to protect the future of all urban life? What is the potential of play?

Please collect and save the city’s ludic creatures.

*E. O. Wilson, Biophilia (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1984)


Interview with Satoshi Tajiri