Gaming Thursday: Feelies

Back in the early, early days of computer gaming, there was excitement when you brought that hard-earned game home and opened the box. Besides the disk(s) there was a chance that inside there’d be something extra – a cloth map, a ring, an in-character or in-universe letter (Mechwarrior 1 came with an excellent affidavit that told the whole backstory for the game), or something else interesting related to the game. While sometimes they were a form of copy protection, mostly they served to aid to set the scene and to bring the atmosphere of the game to your fingertips, priming you to enjoy the fiction even more. They were tangible entry points into the world. (And they were cool!) These extras gained the name of “Feelies.”

And with that, I’m going to jump to the tabletop to talk about character sheets.

Truthfully, this is not just about character sheets, for there are many Feelies that can be put on the table to similarly bring out the atmosphere of the game world. Character sheets, however, are something you interact with very often and, when you sit down at the game every week and pull them out, they’re pretty much one of the first things you see. They’re the interface between you and the character written upon them. There’s an opportunity for them to set and reinforce the fiction of the world.

I love designing character sheets. (I might even enjoy it just a bit toooooo much to be healthy at times…) For our new Dresden Files campaign, where we are part of a paranormal investigation/handling non-profit organization, I created a character dossier:

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This is just the front; it’s printed on an 11×17 page and folded, so that it has all the appearance of a full dossier folder. Inside is listed the character’s characteristics and other in-game pertinent info (such as when we joined the organization) plus the main FATE-rules conceit of the character’s aspects.

There’s a great quote from Viggo Mortensen about filming the LotR movies when they were at Edoras. Weta workshop built the buildings of Edoras on a real rock in a real landscape (which they had to remove and Leave No Trace when they were done). Viggo’s quote went something like: “When you stepped out of the building, and stood there in the vast valley, with the flags fluttering nearby, you didn’t have to act as though you were in Edoras, because you **ing were in Edoras!”

My gaming room… doesn’t look like Edoras (unless we’re playing Papers and Paycheques, it wouldn’t do well to match any of our game settings), but when we start our games, and pull out that dossier, it sets our mind in gear. We have a tangible part of that world in front of us. It reminds us who we are: agents dealing with entities and events that few other even know exist. It builds an atmosphere.

RP springs from the creative muses within us all, and can exist quite well without any costumes or props or even feelies. But a little support never hurts. Whenever I look at one of my designed character sheets it is a subliminal reminder, a nudge back to the fictional realms I am engaging in. If you’re designing a game it pays to give attention to the character sheet so that it is not only legible and usable, but supports the feel and theme of the game. If you’re playing, I invite you to spend a few minutes and find a sheet online, doll up the one that comes with the game, or personalize it in a way so that it too can support the RP of your character and of the game.

Get your feelies on. Pull out that dossier, and dive into character.

(Other feelie ideas include props (cigars, hats, swords, candles), appropriate food, tent cards to set in front of each player depicting an image of their character and the character’s name, maps/posters/etc on the walls of the game world and game imagery, ambient light music or sounds in the background, goblets or other dishware, miniatures…)

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

It is also a quote:

“I think it is the official responsibility as us as human beings to try to imagine the world around us as complexly and interestingly as we can.”

— John Green

(I really like the expansiveness and the opening up of possibilities available in this quote, and how it brings a sense of wonder to our lives.  And I would extend it to people too:  people are also part of the world around us and so we too can imagine them as complexly as interestingly as we can.

A whole world, never knowing it fully, ready to engage and learn more, avoiding pitfalls, offering new avenues, always primed to be delighted.)

Architecture Monday

A slightly different post this week.

As I was learning Buddhist philosophy many moons ago, my instructor posed us a question / parable / inquiry that I found fascinating. She said, “What makes a cup, a cup? That is, what makes a cup uniquely a cup that instead of, say, a plate.” She paused. “It is the space. The space within the cup. That space within the cup is what allows it to hold liquid and you to drink from it. The space is the thing.”

After giving us a moment to ponder that, she continued, “But without the cup, the space doesn’t exist. That which makes a cup cannot exist without a cup.”

It was a great thing to chew on, mentally and spiritually, and it was very moving for me when I realized it very readily applied to architecture.

The thing that makes architecture so resplendent is the space… to inhabit that space, to experience that space, to explore that space. It is space shaped by, contained within, and framed by a structure.

Without the structure, the space does not exist.

Without the space, the structure has no form.

 It’s a chicken and egg type situation – what comes first? What shapes which? What is designed first?

The answer is, quite rightfully, that there is no answer. Both kinda happen first, or maybe they happen simultaneously, or cyclically back and forth.

And beyond design, it is in the experience as well. What do you feel first, the space, or the container? Or both?

When we’re considering architecture, it is not one or the other, and it does not do us well to focus on only one element or another, be it structure, material, light, or the volumetrics. It is how they all interplay that is what can make a space sing, or, conversely, sink it.

It is a beautiful inquiry into the ethereal and wonderful qualities of architecture and why it can influence us so.

The Response, pt 2

Back in October, I invited the federal government to avoid amping up the “security” measures and laws and state power under the guise of “making us safer.” That invitation has not been taken, and Bill C-51 is now in committee, where being in committee means public comment is being curtailed, and witnesses are being questioned with leading and straw man questions of the “do you still beat your spouse?” variety.

This is not a parliamentary debate, this is a determined effort to strong arm an opaque bill into law.

I say it again: we know how these “strong security”-type bills end, and it does not end well. The endgame is increased cost, decreased public participation, wrongful convictions, loads of hassle, decrease in trust, upset in foreign relations, and negligible increases in public safety. The safety to cost (not only in financial cost) ratio is abysmal. We know this because we can see it having being tried in other countries already, allied or not. Why repeat their experiment?

Please call or write your MP to express your desire for a full and open debate on C-51, and speak against any “need” for creating a security state to fight off bogeymen.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I’ve been enjoying the various things to pop out of neuroscience of late, not only because it’s fascinating, but because most of it aligns with and corroborates 2500 years of ontological thought. The figure-y out-y side of me likes putting the two together and seeing how they march in lockstep.

One of the most revelatory, and powerful, findings I’ve come across is how our brains perceive the world. What we think is happening, and how it feels to us, is this:

Event –> Senses –> Consciousness –> Thought –> Action

When something happens in the world, we notice it, we perceive it, we are cognizant about it, and with that awareness we now evaluate it and from there can do something or move on.   That’s totally how we experience the world.

Turns out, neuroscience has found that the order is this:

Event –> Senses –> Filter –> Consciousness –> Thought –> Action

The “filter” is something our brains do before we become aware of the event. It pre-judges and removes and colours the sensory input of the event, based on what we already know and our worldview. So by the time it hits our consciousness, it already more strongly aligns with our views of who we are, of who others are, and how the world is, leaving us an incomplete picture but one that feels quite right because its right by our view. (This is one way confirmation bias does its thing.) Our thoughts and actions are thereby limited by this incomplete perception.*

This filter is hidden from our view, and happens without any intentional effort on our part. Just as our views themselves are often hidden from our (conscious) view. (So it’s a double hidden.) When we’re not aware we have filters operating, we don’t really see what’s so. We see what we think we should see about what’s so.

In our world of patterns, repetitive habits and neuroses, of mostly always being right, and of wondering how can others look at the same thing and see things so differently, here’s one very strong way how we are, in many ways, actually seeing things differently. Sensory waves come in, but confirmation hits our brain.

The filter works best when it’s left alone to do its work in the background. If we train ourselves to remove or look around the filter – to be present and mindful – we can gain access to what’s so, leading to greater options and freedom. When we train ourselves to dismantle or thin our filters – or re-align them in an empowering way – we again gain access to being aware of the greater world and of a greater experience.

* – Research has also found that the thoughts/actions themselves also often begin happening/firing before it hits our consciousness, making being present and examining our filters that much more important.

Architecture Monday

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A couple of weekends ago I visited the Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alcatraz, and it reminded me of how much I enjoy installation art. The great grand wiki gives a pretty good description of such art: three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space. And it is that latter part especially, space, that is what lands it here on Architecture Monday.

Installation art is installed in a space, altering the space by the fact it is in the space, while itself creating new space by its own form, which we then experience as a new space, both from the space and the object creating space. And I’m being purposefully hyper-verbose and intricate about it, it is a good rendering of the experience of installation art. It’s not just an item intended to be viewed independent of its context, it is inherently tied to its context, which, in many ways, is just like architecture itself. Any building is tied to its context, both physical (site, location, orientation), neighbourly (buildings around it), culturally, socially, historically… which in turn so too is the art contextually tied to cultural, social, historical realms. And in the case of Ai Weiwei, with explicit intent to challenge, awaken, and engage with those contexts to evoke thought, reflection, and create meaning.

So to thus continue the verbose intricacy, installation art is about space tied to a context in a space tied to a context creating space contextually linked to all previous contexts up the chain, while similarly spatially linked, evoking context and space to invite exploration and reflection and heighten any message or meaning intended.

As I said, I really enjoy installation art.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I assert that a tendency has developed to be very reductionist when looking at things, either looking for the smoking gun or the silver bullet. Seeking the reason why X happens; the Y thing we need to do change something; the reason they did/do that thing; the one thing to do to make your new year’s resolution stick.

And it would be great if it were one thing, wouldn’t it? It’d be simple. Simple to understand, and simple to “fix” if that’s what we’re interested in doing – or simple to blame, if we’d prefer to just be right about it.

The thing is, especially when it comes to people and our behaviour, many things aren’t that simple and don’t possess a single influence. There are many moving parts, and each one can have an influence, and each part may have different influences at different times, or only when acting in concert will two of those pieces be able to mesh to produce movement.

It is much less like pushing on a ball – you apply force and the ball moves – and more like pushing on a single ball in a pit – you push on a ball, and all the balls jostle here and there. Push really hard on one ball, and you may see movement (though not necessarily in a straight line); push on a bunch of balls a little, and you’ll also likely see movement.

By extension, this also applies to the systems we have created, be they social, economic, interpersonal, or otherwise, as well as how we react to or mould ourselves within those systems. And what may keep those systems in place, when by many measures they have drawbacks.

To fully explore the vagaries of life, the seemingly intractable ways things happen, to fully understand and relate to each other, it pays dividends to explore beyond the easy, the surface, the simple, the one-note.

To address and begin to reorient ourselves and our systems towards a future we truly all want, single-pronged approaches will be singularly limited in impact. Delving more broadly, and in multiple areas interrupting the “norm” to adding what’s missing, that is how the greatest impact will be had.

It is more complex that way. It is perhaps more work. But the outcome is much sweeter.

Architecture Monday

click for project info

Adaptive re-use, and BIG architects (still on my BIG kick). Ohhh, you know it’s gotta be good.

And it is. How do you build a new museum in a unique and challenging site, amongst many world heritage structures and national treasures? One that references all of the above, celebrates them, and viscerally connects you to the subject of the museum? And create an experience that is worthy of the site, the subject, the national pride, and the museum going experience?

Why, when you find an existing dry dock nearby, you let your design tingles come alive.

Through a simple but brilliant design, BIG inhabits the spaces around the dry dock, bridging through the void with angled bridges and accessways that render sculptural cuts in the void, heightening its gravitas and giving a sense of the immense scale of ship building. At once, you are surrounded by, informed of, and feel the historical legacy of the site and it’s one-time-use.

Drought 4: The Droughtening

With the recent snowpack measurements reporting that the Sierra snowpack is now at 19% of multi-decade averages – some areas are down as low as 5% of average – it’s pretty clear we here in California are headed for our fourth year of severe drought. Which, while nasty sounding on its own, doesn’t actually tell the whole picture of how 11 of the past 15 years have been abnormally dry. If you look at a drought map of California, it’s almost funny with the map pretty much covered in its entirety in colours representing “holy crap dry” to “oh gods the abyss has invaded.”

I can’t help think about Australia here, and how they ended their decade of droughts: they legislated an end to them. With a stroke of a pen, they ceased having a drought. No water fell from the sky, of course; a drought is just a drought based on some past average. They realized, this isn’t an anomaly – this is the new normal.

Welcome to the new normal.

I think we’ve been hiding and hoping and praying that this will shift, this will change, as though all the signs are somehow wrong and we’re just fine, thankyouverymuch. But we have made our bed, and now we need to lie in it. Or, rather, stand up and face it. We can take steps to aid in removing that which is propelling this climate shift forward, and, moreso, we need to re-visit our water use policies in this state. I’m talking about more than just not watering lawns, I’m talking about the byzantinian gaggle of water “rights” that bleed rivers dry to flood irrigate fields (where it happily evaporates mostly away) amongst other things, the irresponsible drilling that is depleting aquifers faster than a soda at a diner, and the fouling of water through poor industrial use and other runoff.

I invite everyone to this new challenge. We’re all needed to get behind this, push for altering the “normal/conventional” way of doing things (from our stores to our manufacturers to our habits to beyond) and make a dent now. Look, choose, and talk.

There’s possibility in them thar hills, if we take the actions to seize it.