[Game: The Witness, Thekla, 2016]
DeMystified:

A Deconstructive Reading of Jonathan Blow and Thekla’s The Witness

 

Introduction:

Game designers who take seriously the idea that they are creating works of potential artistic significance operate at a great risk to their peace of mind. Regardless of the quality of their efforts, if their works are successful, they can expect to be bombarded with accusations that they are over-serious, over-dramatic, pretentious, overly political, egotistical, fatuous, and snooty. While players may be mostly united in the proclamation that games can be art, they often behave as though they are allergic to what it would mean for the world to accept that postulate: the production (and later the analysis) of works that are as challenging in subject matter as they are in mechanics.

One frequent target for that manner of criticism is Jonathan Blow, the lead designer and partial programmer of The Witness, which was made with a small team under the developer name ‘Thekla.’ The Witness is a game in which the player wanders an uninhabited, brightly colored island, slowly uncovering its landscape and details by tracing lines on the faces of circuitry panels installed throughout. On first glance, The Witness is a quasi-conventional title in which the player solves visual logic puzzles in order to ascend and explore a conspicuously placed mountain. Beyond that first impression, however, it slowly becomes clear that The Witness is a work overflowing with visual trickery, peppered with recordings of fiction and philosophy, offering a coherent-yet-concealed story concept, and harboring some of the most astonishing secrets hidden in plain sight in any piece of popular media ever made. These latter elements, much like the narrative details of Blow’s prior game Braid, have garnered a fair amount of the heavy-handed dismissal described in the paragraph above.

The Witness screenshot with entire island - Jonathan Blow, Thekla - analysis, deconstruction, meditation

Presumably, players are so keen to reject this kind of material precisely because it is at present relatively uncommon, unexpected, and thus instinctively unwelcome in games. But this tendency of people to brazenly dismiss ideas which are not straightforward in their delivery does not land only on game designers, and is in fact a longstanding tradition among the public reactions to certain academic fields and artistic styles. A natural case-in-point is the practice of deconstruction, a method of analysis popular in the philosophy of the humanities in the late 20th century as part of the movement of poststructuralism. In a very simplified nutshell, deconstruction teases out contradictory content in the grammatical, linguistic, and thematic content of a work in order to demonstrate a general idea about an inability to access the work’s “true” meaning and the world’s “true” qualities.

Interestingly, I personally feel that the reactions of most onlookers are not the only things that deconstruction and Thekla’s game have in common. I intend to show here that the method of deconstruction provides a remarkably appropriate path into analysis of The Witness.

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[Game: The Witness, Thekla, 2016]
DeMystified:

A Deconstructive Reading of Jonathan Blow and Thekla’s The Witness

was last modified: January 15th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Infinifactory, Zachtronics, 2015]
Infinite and Individual:

On Zachtronics’ Infinifactory, and What it Means to Approach Games as Art

 

Introduction:

Most players agree that games can be art, yet act in ways that betray the fact that they do not personally approach games as art. For such players, it is as though the word art is merely a badge that gets to be worn by things people particularly like. They see that some people seem to like novels quite a bit, and that those therefore get to be art. Well, they want to make it clear that others now like games a great deal, so of course they want games to be allowed to wear the badge too. I am certainly of the opinion that games can be art, but from my perspective, the word ‘art’ does not refer to a vague and insubstantial category of preferred works.

In this article, I would like to zero in on this topic of games as art. My test case for this purpose will be the design-based puzzle game Infinifactory. This example is a very conscious choice on my part, as Infinifactory is one of the many games that I consider to be poised between conceptions of games as art and conceptions of games as not art. If that sounds strange or you’re already making assumptions about where I’m going with this, don’t worry: I’ll explain myself with considerable specificity in the sections that follow.

This article will have four primary parts. First, I will present a working definition of art that I consider to be both flexible and rigid enough to be tenable. Second, I will apply that definition to games in general. Third, I will justify my claim that players often approach games as though they are not art. Then fourth and finally, I will describe how one may conceive of Infinifactory as a work of art. In doing all of this in a systematic fashion, I aim to foster a more specific and concrete discussion of this topic than most of the extant debates and articles produced about it over the past few decades have engendered, as a small contribution to spreading the formalist revolution in the study of games to a wider audience.

Infinifactory screenshot with corpse - Zachtronics - games as art, definition of art

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[Game: Infinifactory, Zachtronics, 2015]
Infinite and Individual:

On Zachtronics’ Infinifactory, and What it Means to Approach Games as Art

was last modified: January 15th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Internet, Philosophy of Education]
Traditionally Progressive Education:

On the Philosophy of Education, and the Internet’s Role in Future Learning and Social Change

Introduction:

Mental Calculation. In Public School of S. A. Rachinsky by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky - philosophy of education - internet - The Gemsbok

Mental Calculation. In Public School of S. A. Rachinsky by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

A couple of months ago, I was speaking with a man who teaches computer programming part-time at a university in the Midwestern United States. At some point in the conversation, he asked me what I thought the biggest problems facing the USA were. Knowing that we both had shared interests in science and philosophy (two vast and fascinating subjects with, as I have previously written, a lot of overlap), I wanted to give him a solid answer.

After a moment’s consideration, I told him that I thought there were two upper echelon issues, from which stemmed—to varying degrees—all of America’s other problems: the first, I said, is our unequal, low-quality (and so perpetually self-diminishing) education system, and the second is corruption among powerful public and private members of society. He quipped that I had really presented just one issue, as the latter is a product of the former, and the lack of consistent, high-quality education for every citizen is then the only candidate for the top spot.

I am not particularly sure that I can agree with him, as I find it entirely possible that intelligent and well-educated people can still exercise power corruptly in the absence of proper transparency and regulation. But the notion that many of the commonly noted big issues in any given country can be traced back to some manner of inadequacy in that country’s education is a point of definite agreement between us.

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[Topics: Internet, Philosophy of Education]
Traditionally Progressive Education:

On the Philosophy of Education, and the Internet’s Role in Future Learning and Social Change

was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: The Night They Raided Minsky’s, William Friedkin, 1968]
Raiders of the Lost Art:

How The Night They Raided Minsky’s Uses a Disjointed Tone as an Asset Rather Than a Detriment

 

Introduction:

The Night They Raided Minsky's poster - William Friedkin, Ralph Rosenblum - burlesque, editing, toneSurely, most folks who are aware of William Friedkin know him only as the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection. Some may also know him for the controversies surrounding his movie Cruising, but virtually no one still knows him as the director of the subject of this article. The Night They Raided Minsky’s is a comedic (fictionalized) account of the unintentional invention of striptease dancing by a young Amish dancer at a burlesque theater in New York City in 1925—a film apparently saved from mediocrity in the editing room by Ralph Rosenblum.

People vaguely aware of the terms ‘vaudeville’ and ‘burlesque’ might be tempted to think of the former as old-fashioned comedy and the latter as old-fashioned pornography, but neither category is that narrow and there’s lot more overlap than one might think. Both are forms of live variety entertainment (meaning they freely incorporate musical numbers, comedy acts, and dancing in a non-narrative format), but you would only hear strings of lewd jokes and see women removing articles of clothing in burlesque. To put things in the terms of the modern American cinematic-moral paradigm, when it came to theatrical variety shows on late-19th-century and early-20th-century American stages (adapted from French theatrical concepts), vaudeville was like PG or PG-13 entertainment, whereas burlesque was R.

The Night They Raided Minsky’s is a touching tribute to the often-misunderstood practice of American burlesque, including all of its textures: its whimsical joys, its seedy inauthenticities, and its relationships to the morals and economics of its time. And that unique blend of dirt and glamor, lust and love, greed and sincerity—admirably spreads out of the substance of the film and into its style.

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[Film: The Night They Raided Minsky’s, William Friedkin, 1968]
Raiders of the Lost Art:

How The Night They Raided Minsky’s Uses a Disjointed Tone as an Asset Rather Than a Detriment

was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

Building the Springbok PC

 

Introduction:

The video above is a walkthrough of building my secondary away-office PC in September of 2019, which is a small form factor (micro ATX) machine. Unlike all other pages on this site, this resource is available as a video only. But for some added value I’ve got supplemental lists of parts and sites below.

I omit mentioning (or at least omit going into detail on) a few things, like the fact that the second case fan was repurposed from the 100R in the Gemsbok PC, why I chose my motherboard, and how I installed the CPU cooler—but otherwise the video gives a pretty clear picture of the PC build process.

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Building the Springbok PC was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski