Beamspun 1.9: Mead
Beamspun is a regular newsletter/mailout about narrative, tech and magic for a better world. Published on a Sunday around the full moon, expect thoughts and links on anything from renewable power to ritual energy.
Mead Moon Local sunrise / publish time: 0416 UTC (weekly +9m)
64 squares, black and white, nothing outside the boundary. Bring the knight into a sidelong sweep, advance a fearless pawn, or pull back and castle like a spiralling wind? Fingers drumming on temples, twiddling with hair, eyes squinting to help the mind focus better. The clock ticks and nothing else matters.
Lately, I'm fascinated by the role that games play in teaching us about the world. I mean, I've always loved playing games of all kinds, but over the last few years I've started to see links between those games and my life outside of them. Working with team mates, thinking through strategy, finding methods to inspire myself. Were all those board games and card games I played growing up really just for entertainment?
This week I've been absorbed into the world of Sky: Children of the Light, a relaxed pseudo-social game world in which exploration is celebrated over conquest, and mutual support is fostered between random strangers. Flight, light, and hearts take the place of guns and victory dances as you retrace the steps of a lost civilisation. As you progress, you unlock new poses and musical instruments that seem more joyous than the benches that allow player-to-player chat. Our own discovery of the world leads to an unlocking of all the different ways in which we can interact, and I'm reminded of how travel - real travel - broadens the mind and transforms our attitudes.
In a similar vein, the browser-based game Wayfinder also uses the concept of recapturing lost memories, only this time it is haiku-like poems which are woven into the fabric of the land as you float around. Our character acts as the medium by which nature re-finds itself through art and symbols: the generative poetry is not some extractive exercise to convert a landscape into personal gain, but a way for the avatar - us, the player - to re-realise the links which already exist in the web that surrounds us.
In both Sky and Wayfinder, there is an overwhelming sense that the environment is alive, not just with life as we normally think about it, but with old stories and a sense of history, and the threat comes from the feeling that this history has been lost. Beamspun parallels this in many ways - exploring what we've lost and need to rediscover in the external world, but also within our own being.
Games are a fascinating, fertile playground for those of us looking to come to terms with a challenge. When we enter into a game, we choose to be presented with difficulty, and we will work overtime to resolve it as neatly as we can. Deliberately or unknowingly, we sign a pact with the game designer - or the game itself - to play within certain rules, to learn them, and to be taught how to respond. Depending on the game, we may pick up new social skills, imagination, strategic thought, and other fields we don't even have names for.
As a society, we can escape the boundaries of the board to think more broadly about the role of games in reaching our future. How can mystery and challenge get us to engage with problems more creatively? How can we use them to rediscover the network of connections around us. And - vitally - how do we take the big leap of faith from the game world (or board) into the real world?
There are so many good games coming out these days that I can't keep track of them. Let me know what your favourite or most-anticipated mind-changing games are, whatever the medium, and I'll try to link to them in future editions.
poetics: For more philosophical thoughts on how gaming and poetry can - should - interact more, this talk by Xuan Nguyen on Mad Poetics in Indie Games is worth 30 minutes of your time. To be all social constructive about it, I think there is a lot to learn from drawing together 'madness' and 'non-rationalism'. Often we find ourselves caught in a limbo zone between the walls of the prison and the laboratory like a coin being flipped, and perhaps there are ways to blur those lines...
wilding: Devine Lu Linvega of Hundred Rabbits summarises some thoughts on solarpunk and longevity. In particular, he notes that our stereotypical understanding of "the wild" is central to our relationship with the world. Rather than the wild being a dangerous place, we have a long way to go to reclaim an alternative perspective, one in which we also accept and embrace "the tranquility of the wild", as Devine puts it.
architecture: Green facades, a good look at ways to grow plants on the sides of buildings, the benefits it offers, and species to use.
- art: Claudia Fuggetti's Hot Zone, a project which brings together nature, neural networks, dreaming and uncertainty into surreal images.
repurposing: Teens in argentina hacked and repurposed state-supplied school netbooks to make music and produce videos. The story isn't just about reusing old tech, but about how an influx of new technology can highlight social situations, and produce new groups, scenes and movements, all set within the confines of what the hardware and software allows.
hydro: This video on micro-hydropower is a fascinating look at how small installations of intensive whirlpools can generate local energy efficiently.
energy: And in California, local solar power is replacing long-distance power lines in an effort to become more resilient, and less exposed to the extreme weather.
windpower: Vertical windfarming (or windmining?) continues to evolve, this time in the form of Norwegian produced "Windcatcher" systems, which are apparently at least twice as efficient as traditional wind farms (per square foot).
supplychain: Forced labour in Chinese solar panel production has been an ongoing topic recently, with the US banning imports of panels made by Hoshine Silicon. Fortune follows up by considering how the West could encourage supply chain standards. It's a big challenge given the state of global politics, but hugely important we don't just gloss over broader impacts in our move to new infrastructures.
passive: This solar-powered sun tracker is so simple that I can't believe I haven't seen or thought of it before. Reminds me of those robot that follow a line, using a basic yin/yang approach. (Via @vattuvarg)
art: Cambridge has a Moss Cow, a street installation containing an air quality sensor.
rocks: Trees are natural historians with their rings recording seasonal data, but scientists have recently found that stalactites and stalagmites can provide very long-term information about weather, and are using them to compare current weather events to what happened in the ice age.
chimes: And to bring everything back to the sky, research has found atmospheric vibrations that ripple around the planet, much like a bell ringing.
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And if you're interested, I'm also documenting my own 'everyday solarpunk adventures' over at the 6suns blog. Albeit slowly. Slow is good though.