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Playful ripples in space-time
Space invaders, solving riddles and sending positive vibes to the future
Two sections of brainchat today, covering the usual play, technology, culture and sustainability.
Games & play
“How (not) to get hit by a self driving car” is everything I hoped it would be. The other five Playable City prototypes have been nicely summarised in this playlist of short films.
Google has been splashing LOTS of cash whilst panicking about GenAI taking over its search empire: another “point your phone at the real world” game! I bite my tongue.
Good game design is a bit like good format design: get the constraints right and you might just strike gold. Formats Unpacked is a brilliant weekly newsletter from the StoryThings gang and last week I unpacked a casual drawing game playing out in connected living rooms around the world. Drawful is a great example of emergent complexity from the simplest ruleset.
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Culture & sustainability
London’s Natural History Museum has a new look and tagline. “From catalogue to catalyst” neatly pulls us from dusty specimen rooms to action and participation. For example, these cute biodiversity missions for young people and “Our Broken Planet”, which is returning as a permanent exhibition. (Though true, is that name not somewhat against the trend towards more positive messaging around climate action?)
The idea of a time-traveller creating a massive ripple effect by changing a tiny historical moment is very well engrained. And yet we underestimate what one small change today might make in the future. Believe it or not, a few years of unusually calm caribbean seas in the 1700s completely reshaped the modern world. From slavery and the enormous wealth inequality that created to our dangerous sugar addiction and a Hollywood film franchise about pirates. The positive takeaway is that little moments can have big impacts over time. Conversely, it’s sobering to imagine what unintended ripples will come of the subtle meteorological shifts we’re seeing today. September has been…hot.
There’s nothing like a deadline to sharpen one’s thinking. Last week I was invited to present my vision for a land-based community learning space to the Parish Council. We’ve visited small plots, big plots, crumbling slate farmyards, sprawling agricultural fields and scraggy hillsides left to the mercy of invasive species like Himalayan Balsam.
Perhaps you’ll soon be subscribing to a Ben-shaped YouTube channel where I talk excitedly to the camera about skill development, timber frame buildings and which breeds of apple tree will survive the apocalypse.
Cognitive dissonance of the week: reading The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes whilst also trying to buy land. The book is a beautiful tour through the bizarre mutations that make up the modern notion of ownership. It’s dizzying that only a few hundred years ago, Great Britain was largely common land, its beautiful hills and forests free for all to graze, gather and settle.
“There are boundaries in nature. There are rivers, forests, escarpments, ravines and mountain ranges…these boundaries are in fact areas of transaction, semi-permeable membranes. The notion that a perimeter should be impenetrable is a human contrivance alone. [M]ore often than not a wall stands at the precise fulcrum of an imbalance in society. Most walls are only necessary as a means of defending the resources of those that have them from those that lack them. In this way, though they present themselves as mechanisms of security, they are in fact tools of oppression”
Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass
Thought Den hosted a play-test on Monday 11th September for a game that gets teens thinking creatively and constructively about ways of taking action together. We approached recruitment quite differently.
At first, I fell into the “I’m a white man, please help me be more diverse” cliche. Then, though it felt clumsy, I actively sought interesting, diverse designers and explained to rejected candidates that we needed more balanced representation. It led to some great conversations and the session itself was brilliant.
I share this only as encouragement to proactively diversify how you make opportunities available. In my case it meant contacting people I’d never met, on threads and in communities I wasn’t previously part of. Go for it!
Hmm. A somewhat disjointed edition, this. Hello to the new subscribers! Would you like to see more brain-wandering or more short-n-sharp links to interesting things?
Catch you next time!
PS - Neural coupling is the reason you tend to stick your tongue out when concentrating, and apparently you can hijack the phenomonen. Martial artists and tennis players couple short, sharp exclamations with specific actions to increase power and efficacy. Singers use hand gestures alongside particularly tricky sounds. I think I sketch to jog my brain into action, or even to turn my conscious brain off so the subconscious bit can do its thing. How do you tap into that extra bit of brain or body juice? Coffee doesn’t count.