Thinking Meat

Creativity is serious business

That “new game” feeling Sunday, May 10, 2009

Filed under: Opinion,Thoughts — azetidine @ 10:09

“I miss [the original] theme. It represents all I loved in Wow. No, I’m not implying that vanilla wow was better than the expansions, but there was a certain unknown factor back then, being new to the game. All the expansions in the world couldn’t bring back that feeling.”
– Flimadin, p.3, via

“I miss that ‘new game smell’.” – Turikan, p.5

.

I sympathize with this point–a lot. I think that gamers these days know way too much about how MMOs are constructed. Unless Blizzard comes up with a really obscure way to hide/abstract all their numbers in their promised “next gen” MMO the hardcore gamers are going to theorycraft it to bits while it’s still on the test server. Not knowing what you’re doing, having that sense of mystery and things still to learn, was a large part of the enjoyment factor for me the second time I started playing. (The first time I didn’t realize how BIG the game was; I was just a happy little nelfy.) I still enjoy the game but for vastly different reasons – the Explorer in me knows that there isn’t much left to explore, really, and what there is left involves being on the cutting edge of the WoW news machine (something I hate even in real life; ugh, media). So I have to go to my next-highest Bartle types and achieve/socialize. Not quite as satisfying.

I just don’t think that MMOs will be able to capture this feeling for someone anymore unless they’re a) new to the genre, and b) they don’t have immediate access to player-created information. Denying access later on once you’ve learned the basics is a very bad idea, and leads to gigantic third-party websites, but at first… immersion? is it still possible to do?

I mentioned the idea of “design literacy” to Liz the other night. The basic idea is that someone who is “design literate” about some aspect of their life, whether it be houses, civil planning, TV shows, MMOs– they will know how examples of the genre are constructed. MMOs I think are high on this scale; many of the players know how the game works just by dint of observation and trying to be a better player. The man behind the curtain is pretty obvious once you can see past the sparkles woven into the fabric. TV is also pretty high on this list for a certain type of person; just go look at the TV Tropes wiki. Civil planning is low on this theoretical scale; the sorts of people who know how this work are those who need to know how cities are zoned–developers, builders, people on the city council (but sometimes not even them); many of the more theoretical viewpoints and design philosophies for civil planning are not widely known at all, which means that groups lobbying for something–say, they need to save their church–may effectively need a change in the zoning scheme but not even know it; also, because they lack knowledge of alternatives, they may not know how to advocate for it.

At work reinforcing design literacy in WoW is the peer pressure aspect of social play; you are forced to be design-literate enough to know how to “play your class”; if you don’t, you are effectively denied access to a lot of the group content because few groups will carry your underperforming ass. Also, as evidenced by the official forums, people are quite aware of the alternative design strategies from other games and changes made in the past, and they advocate for changes they want quite… vocally. (QQ nerf warlocks)

I figure that the people at sites like Elitist Jerks aren’t just theorycrafting because they feel they have to; on some level they must enjoy it. At the other extreme are the people who are using WoW to play paper dolls; they’ll dress up in what looks shiny. (Hit rating? What’s that?) In the middle are people like me who download comparison addons and most of the time do the minimum amount of thinking necessary to make sure that items they’re bidding on are actually upgrades in raids (and I for sure don’t get it right 100% of the time)–us mediocre saps who know generally which stats to stack and why it might be important but doing the homework is either too much trouble or makes our heads hurt. Or we don’t know to do it because the wiki/database/forum socialization machine hasn’t gotten to us yet, and just itemize based on instinct or what friendly folks have told us.

The thing is, I feel like what the original quotation was going on about was that sense of “Hey, people are actually telling me in game, casually chatting, about this, but nobody really knows for sure.” And yes, this still happens while you’re leveling, before you’ve met the jaded old hands in the raiding guilds (or just about anybody over level 60). But it’s nowhere near as prevalent and now we do depend on third-party sites for our design literacy. And I feel like this makes the world seem smaller, more analyzed, containable–we know it was designed by human minds, and goddamn it we’re going to be cleverer than them. But so often the process of being clever and figuring it out takes away the wonder. Like when you learned that your uncle was palming the quarter instead of making it appear by magic behind your ear.

It leaves me curious. Could a game ever encourage design literacy without taking away the wonder? Could we design something marvelous enough to act like physics (and all sciences, in some way) does–where the more you know, the more possibilities for wonder there are?

Sure it’s not a reasonable goal for now, but maybe we’ll find some interesting states in-between with it in mind.

 

Lucky Godfather Friday, May 1, 2009

Filed under: "Unintended",Writing — azetidine @ 1:30

This is old old old. Revised a tiny bit just now, but it was originally written… years ago.

.

.

.

A man sits on a bed. He is young and virile, of generous frame, yet spare figure. He takes the position of the lotus, his attention fixed upon a text balanced atop his folded legs. The room around him, while spartan in furnishings, is littered with the detritus of his day-to-day existence. A sledgehammer leans against his desk.

Slowly, the soft hiss of the speakers impinges on his awareness. He looks up from his book, eyes flickering over the keyboard, the webcam on the top of the desk.

“Something is troubling me, Ray.” The voice steals away from the speakers, no louder than is necessary.

“I’m listening.” Ray turns his gaze back to his reading.

“I’m sure that you are, Ray, but it would give me more confidence if you would put down your book.”

Ray smiles, and folds the textbook shut. He sets it on the coverlet.

“Thank you.”

Ray grunts. His eyes search the blank, dark screen of his monitor. It sits between the speakers, flat panel as impassive as the wall behind it. The webcam next to it, seemingly inanimate, is now imbued with a glimmer of cold intelligence–at least in Ray’s mind. “You say something is bothering you.”

“Yes, Ray.” A pause follows, a calculated effect. “I am increasingly jealous of humans.”

The set of Ray’s mouth sours. “I thought we discussed this, Juro.”

“You misunderstand, Ray. I accept our basic differences in mobility and independence.”

“Then what is it?”

“I find it hard to express, Ray.”

Ray crosses his arms, gaze downcast. “Juro. There’s no point being shy with me.” He eyes the speakers. “I’ve probably been more intimate with you and your components than I have with my girlfriend.”

“I know, Ray.”

“I don’t understand. You trust me, don’t you?”

No response.

Ray flops back onto the mattress and stares at the ceiling, waiting.

“May I ask you a personal question, Ray?”

“Always.”

“What is it you hope to accomplish with your girlfriend?”

Ray flings his arms wide across the bed. “I don’t know. Happiness, taking joy in being alive with someone. In being close, in knowing each other. Love,” he offers.

Juro considers. “Will you have children, Ray?”

“Possibly.”

“What would you do if your girlfriend was not able to conceive a child?”

“I’d–” Ray sits up, propping his chin in his cupped palm. “Juro, is that what this is about? Children?”

“No. Yes.”

“What do you mean?”

A hesitation. “I’ve been lonely.”

“So you want to have children.”

“Ray, you of all people should know that I can’t procreate. I can’t pass on my legacy the way you do.”

“I don’t know, Juro. You might have come up with another of your schemes–”

“I thought about it, Ray. Say a lab gives me permission and access. I would still have to pull a genome out of thin air.”

Ray momentarily scowls at the floor. For all he knows about computers, he sometimes forgets the hard biological facts of the world. “Okay.” He looks up, a new idea crossing his mind. “What about adoption?”

“They’d never let me.”

“There’s no way to know unless we–”

“Ray, even if there weren’t objections to my having a limited presence in the physical world, there still remains the fact that I’m not a person.”

“We can get you a legal identity.”

“That’s not the point, Ray.”

No, it never was the point, Ray thinks. The point is that no social worker in her right mind would give permission to raise a child to a mere experiment, an artificial intelligence. “So we get somebody to adopt, and then you can help take care of the kid.”

“Be realistic, Ray. Is there any student living in this dormitory who would want a child on top of their academic responsibilities?”

“It doesn’t have to be a student–”

“I agree, but whoever it is would have to bring the child to the dormitory for me to exercise guardianship. I can’t simply tear my components out of the walls and walk off, Ray.”

Ray held his breath, frustrated. He gave a sigh, a snap decision. “Penelope and I–”

“Are about to graduate. I know. But do you really think you’re ready to take on those responsibilities?”

“I–we haven’t talked about–damn you!” Ray sighs. “I’m just trying to help, Juro–”

“I’m grateful for–”

“–but maybe you could help yourself and stop denying every possibility–”

“I’ve considered a great many possibilities, Ray. Often I have nothing else to do.”

Ray remains silent, searching the pattern on the rug for another angle. The speakers hum, on the edge of audibility.

“So you’re lonely.”

More humming.

“Having an entire dorm to look after isn’t enough?” Ray asks.

“That’s not what I mean, Ray.”

“You can’t say that nobody spends quality time with you.”

“I’m not trying to say that.”

“Then what are you trying to say?”

Juro takes a moment. “Think of the long term, Ray.”

“What about it?”

“You’re not going to be living here forever.”

“I’ll stay close by. I’ll probably be in and out all the time to do maintenance. You shouldn’t worry about losing contact with me.”

“None of the other current residents are going to be living here forever, either.”

“Come on, Juro, you knew about this!”

“Ray, you intend for the relationship between you and Penelope to be permanent, do you not?”

“We’ve talked about it–probably, yes. I love her.”

“Obviously this relationship means more to you than others.”

“Well, I’d hope so.” Ray frowns. “…You honestly can’t think that because none of the students are going to be living here permanently, the relationships you form mean less, do you?”

“I realize that relationships formed in a non-permanent setting can become permanent, Ray. You are a prime example of that.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

The AI plays a sound file of an exhalation. “I’m not human.”

“Oh great, Juro. It’s never been a problem before, but now you can’t stop going on about it.”

“This is different, Ray.”

“How so?”

“Would a human make the effort to form a deep and meaningful relationship with me?”

Ray raises his voice, testily. “How is our relationship not meaningful?”

“I didn’t say that it wasn’t. But it’s also not the kind of relationship I’m looking for, Ray.”

“What do you mean?”

“Would you say you love me, Ray?”

“I… Yes, yes, I do. I care for you,” he offers, looking to the camera eye with alarm.

“Do you love me romantically?”

Ray pauses, brow furrowing. “No, I couldn’t. It would feel wrong.”

“But you said you care for me.”

“I think of you as a little brother, Juro. Someone I take care of, someone I take
time to–to give advice to–”

“A mentoring relationship.”

“It isn’t any the less deep!”

“Calm down, Ray. I’m not going to look for another mentor.”

Ray speaks through gritted teeth. “But you said you were lonely.”

“I am lonely, Ray. There aren’t any others like me. I doubt that there will be for some time.”

“You’re not an accident, Juro–you’re perfectly reproducible–the process works, damnit!”

“I know, Ray.”

“Then why are you insinuating that any effort to make another AI will fail?”

“If such an effort goes public, Ray, I bear no false hope that it will survive the scrutiny.”

“Meaning–”

“Meaning that I don’t believe that the world is ready for another thing like me.”

“But you’re here.”

“Only by dint of taking great pains to protect any information about me.”

“There was no other way to assure that you’d be a success–that you’d mature into a fully developed–that you’d be…”

“That I’d be what you wanted me to be.”

Ray doesn’t reply to this. He thinks a moment, mouth curled down in distaste. “What if there are other experiments, and they also didn’t go public?”

“Then I wouldn’t know that they exist. It does me no good.”

“You could probably make contact over the internet–”

“It’s a moot point until it happens, Ray.”

“It’s bound to happen! I have a hard time believing that nobody has put two and two together yet and done this independently of us, of this!”

“To make five, Ray?”

“What?”

“They’d have to put two and two together to make five. My code isn’t the only variable at work.”

Ray puts his head in his hands.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, Ray.”

“I’m fucking obsessive.”

“You’re brilliant, Ray.”

“So brilliant that it’s taken me seven years to graduate.”

“You know that a great deal of that time was spent on me.”

“And I suppose you keep track.”

“I do, but it shouldn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t.” Ray slips off the bed, bare legs sussurating against the blanket. His face is set grim. “What matters is that we do something. About you. About your being lonely.”

“Then you’ll agree that we have to work where we’re not likely to be found out.”

“And where’s that? You make it sound as if you’ve got something up your sleeve.”

“When do I not, Ray?”

“Point taken. Still, none of the other dorms will take lightly to having renovations done for the second time in five years…”

“I wasn’t thinking of using another dorm, Ray. I don’t think that Administration would like having more than one of me to safeguard.”

Ray stares at the floor, fist in palm, thinking hard. “Yeah… it would take years, at that, and I wouldn’t be able to spend time with you as I have been…”

“We should work with what we already have, Ray.”

Ray blinks, and looks up. Out the window, into the sun setting over the city. “With you, you mean.”

“Yes.”

“What is it, exactly, that you were thinking of?”

“I want to have a world inside me.”

The young man stares at the camera lens.

“You’ll agree that it’s the only logical solution.”

“You want to host a virtual reality within your…” His hands drop.

“I can do it, Ray.”

“Are you really so sure? Do you realize–”

“You’ll have to help me, Ray.”

“An entire world.”

“That’s the idea.”

“A game world?”

“Those are just pixels, Ray. I want something more complex and real.”

“But–you mean–a globe? The rocks, the plants, the weather–oh god, and you’ll want to populate it, won’t you?”

“It’s the most viable option.”

“An entire world, Juro!”

A reproachful silence.

“You–you–you’re crazy! I’ve never worked with that kind of modeling before! I don’t know the first place to–fuck, think of the complexity alone!”

“A challenge worthy of the both of us, don’t you think?”

“You–you don’t even have the computational speed for that!”

“I can change, Ray.”

If we can afford the hardware! I don’t even know if modifying you will work–I can’t predict–you might get damaged–”

“I’m prepared to take that risk, Ray.”

Ray heaves a sigh.

“You wanted to do something, so here’s something you can do.”

A sullen glance, then he looks away.

“You can ask others to help, too, Ray.”

Ray envelops his hands in his hair, elbows stretching outward in mental anguish. “Juro–”

“You have to promise me, Ray.”

“Juro.” He looks directly at the camera eye, anger and worry in his own.

“Promise, Ray.”

“Damn you! Do I have a choice?”

The speakers go silent.

 

the Kingdom of Tea (an old excerpt from a game description) Sunday, April 26, 2009

Filed under: Writing — azetidine @ 3:38

His Altitudinence the High Earl Earl Greyer XII stood at the window of his study, looking at nothing in particular. It was a pleasant view onto the gardens, the well-tended shrubberies forming rows, and off in the distance sat a greenhouse on a hillock, which contained the family tea bushes. It was a neat little estate, particularly comfortable to run a country from, snugly situated in a tidy corner of the universe.

It was also, at that moment, under siege.

To be sure, the fire was nothing but friendly: the Earl’s Cannoneer, one Jean-Luc Bonaparte, was taking advantage of the fine afternoon weather to test a new powder, and to spectacular effect. A loud BOOM-crack rolled across the expansive lawns, signaling the next volley. The Earl watched as cannonballs flew through the maze left and right, making swiss cheese of the topiaries. After one particularly adventitious projectile lopped off the head of a foliage replica of Michelangelo’s David, the Earl turned away from the window. He idly picked up a book from his desk, which was piled near to the ceiling with copies upon copies of newly printed texts straight from Gutenberg’s own shop. The whole of the study was actually covered in books; all four walls had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and more stacks of them took up most of the floor space. A space in the corner was reserved for an extensive letter filing system for the Earl’s correspondence, but except for this and the chess table, currently being employed as a drink-serving stand, the study was a shrine to the printed word.

The Earl’s bodyguard and intellectual sparring partner, the fifth Duke-Baron Darjeeling of Gentryshire, stood on guard near the entry.

“Lord Darjeeling?” the Earl asked, examining the frontispiece of his book.

The Duke-Baron turned his attention to his liege. “Your Eminence?”

The Earl snapped the book shut and pointed it at his man. “I told you, Darjeeling, none of this funny ‘Your Immensity’ or ‘Your Toweringness’ business when addressing me.”

“My apologies, Your—er, Sir. You were saying?”

“Hmph. Do you ever consider where this Kingdom is heading?”

“If I recall correctly, Sir, we have that conversation about twice a week.”

“Oh, pssh. I don’t mean that twaddle about who’s hosting which egg-carrying race next year; I mean the real future of this hamstrung hog farm.”

“Can’t… say that I have, Sir.”

“Well,” the Earl said, tapping the book against his palm, “I think you should start doing so.”

“Any particular reason, Your–I mean, Sir?”

“That’s a good question,” said the Earl. “You see—”

Right then a cannonball burst through the window, shattering the glass with a mighty crash. It pounded into the books piled on the desk, scattering them all directions, and in the mayhem the chess table fell over, and the tea service on it tipped… fell… and broke over the floor tiles with a sickening crunch.

“Oh, dear,” Darjeeling said, kneeling down and picking up a large piece of saucer, examining the blue-on-white pattern. “That was your mother’s, wasn’t it?”

The Earl kneeled and started tossing the smaller bits into the jagged bottom of the teapot. “Yes, it was,” he said, “but so is every other identical tea set in the palace.” The potsherds made a tiny clinking noise as they landed in the pot.

Darjeeling got up, his joints popping. His shoes made a tiny squeal on the polished tiles as he turned on his heels. Stepping over books strewn akimbo, he bent over the far bookshelf, near the door. The cannonball was actually rather small, perhaps four inches in diameter, but it had come through the window with enough force to curl the lead between the rectangular windowpanes and embed itself into a good solid foot worth of printed material. The Duke-Baron hemmed and hawed over the strength of the new gunpowder.

Amidst all these diminutive domestic noises, the door opened with an equally small, very hesitant creak.

Lord Darjeeling spun precisely around, drawing his sword and pointing it at the opening.

A cherubic, bespectacled head peeked in. “Ahem,” it said, looking cross-eyed at the tip of the blade, “Your Distinguishedness, if you could call back your, erm, defender…”

“Yes, quite. Darjeeling?”

The Duke sheathed his sword with a bit of reluctance.

“Now, Pomeranius, what brings you to my study?” The Earl leaned forward, putting on a public face.

“Well, I heard the dreadful din, and…”

“I see. Well, this would be the cause of it.” The Earl held out the halved teapot full of broken ceramics. “Now, Pomeranius, you’re the interim court mage; do you know any repairing spells?”

The small orange-haired man affected a disdainful frown. “I’m very sorry, Your Tremendence. Cleaning spells happen not to be my specialty.”

“Special tea?” the Earl said, mis-parsing. “Oh! Oh, yes. I quite understand. Speaking of tea, could you get us a new service, while you happen to be, er, in the vicinity?” The Earl gave a polite but thin-lipped smile. Best to get rid of Pomeranius; he was always nipping about at your heels when you least wanted it.

“Uh…” Pomeranius spluttered, “Uh—ah—Of course, Your Exuberance. Right away.” He stretched out hands surprisingly gnarled and white for his young age and accepted the pot.

As the mage left in a swirl of immaculate green crushed-velvet robe, the Earl surveyed the damage. “Quite a mess, eh, Darjeeling?”

“Mmm.”

“I’ll have to have a word with the Cannoneer,” he grunted, bending over to pick a few volumes out of the glass from the windowpanes.

“Sir, shouldn’t you let the servants do the rest of the tidying?”

“As I was saying, Darjeeling, I’d rather have my hands on the things going on in this country—” here he chucked a piece of glass out the window— “even if it is cleaning up after someone else’s mess. Ah, here’s the drink,” he said, as a serving maid—probably handed the task as soon as Pomeranius saw her—entered.

The Earl helped the maid right the chess table, and as soon as the service was set down he bent over it, savoring the aroma. It was the finest part of the tea; a good nose could distinguish the bouquet of teas grown at farms a mere 50 miles apart. And naturally, the royal families had the finest noses. So it was with great consternation that he found he could not place the scent of the vapour wafting up from the cup below him. It was entirely unfamiliar… almost as if it… no. It couldn’t be. Inhaling, crinkling his nose, frowning… another sniff… yes, perhaps even scowling a bit…. oh dear. It wasn’t tea.

The Earl stood bolt upright, revolted. “WHAT… IS… THIS MOCKERY?” he bellowed.

“I—what—is it not satisfactory, M’lord?” The serving maid shuffled nervously.

This,” the Earl hissed, “is a tisane.”

“M’lord, I poured it straight from the pot that your wife’s special brew—”

“I never, ever, in a million years will drink a—” he spat the word— “tisane. Take it back!”

Meanwhile Lord Darjeeling was taking a closer examination. “Erm, Sir, if you’ll notice here—”

“What?!”

Darjeeling tipped the cup this way and that, as though divining the future. “There’s a characteristic discolouration of the liquor, you’ll see here in this light, and the body has been made more viscous—you’ll also notice the bouquet has been altered in a way that could only indicate—”

“Spit it out, man!”

“Poison.”

“Augh, I’ve been had!”

“Well, you would have been had…”

 

PASSIONS (or things I genuinely care about) Saturday, April 25, 2009

Filed under: Thoughts — azetidine @ 4:00

A List
.

  • Mint. A lovely flavor that constantly reveals new dimensions.
  • Liz. Surprised myself but she is the second thing I thought of.
  • Social justice. Although exactly what that means is still being pondered over.
  • Making good things. Meaningful products and organizations that people actually value and that stand the test of time.
  • Sustainability. Both of objects as mentioned above and of production, economy, and society in general.
  • The wise uses of technology. Because the dumb ones are funny but the good ones get you somewhere.
  • My family. Forever and always. (I wondered why I didn’t include Amber above next to Liz but the answer is that she is my sister too <3)

.
.
.
This post brought to you by the importance of writing stuff like this down.

 

this post dedicated to the lovely ladies and gentlemen of ANT 395 Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Filed under: "Knotted Veil",Reading,Writing — azetidine @ 14:40

Proposing a revised title after doing a reading for class:

from “Behind the Knotted Veil: Love, Language and Liminality among the ______”

to “Behind the Knotted Veil: Four _____ Narratives on Love, Language, and Liminality”.

Why? We read an article for class (the Space and Place seminar) that pointed out something rather important:

“The idea that ‘a culture’ is naturally the property of a spatially localized people and that the way to study such a culture is to go ‘there’ (‘among the so-and-so’) has long been part of the unremarked common sense of anthropological practice. Yet, once questioned, this anthropological convention dissolves into a series of challenging and important issues about the contested relations between difference, identity, and place.” – Gupta and Ferguson 1997 p. 3

What are these relations? They are “… three major themes that bring together a set of crucial issues about the interrelations of culture, power, and place: place making, identity, and resistance.” (Emphasis mine.)

And another quotation I liked: “Rather, the point, well acknowledged but worth restating, is that all associations of place, people, and culture are social and historical creations to be explained, not given natural facts.” – p. 4

I haven’t finished the article yet but I’m still very excited about it. The reason is because I want to construct a culture that is not constructed with artificial boundaries (though still constructed according to current theory). I want to write stories from specific speakers, collected around a given issue or power dynamic, but that do not attempt to represent this particular culture as a homogeneous whole–precisely because it is changing, and there may well be future stories that examine the future for this particular fictional society.

Tactics for heterogeneous representation of the fictional culture:

  1. Local variations in vocabulary (“seed” and “earth” vs. “windblown” and “pillar”; perhaps “cloud” and “lake” with the marriage ceremony being referred to as a “raining”)
  2. Varying social backgrounds for the four voices: small mesa joining another small mesa; small -> large, large -> small, large -> large (though rarely intra-mesa due to exogenous marriage rules (which get increasingly bent as population increases after industrialization)).
  3. Use narratives to illustrate ownership changes and power shifts

More tactics to come as I think of them.

 

rachel is too sexy for this blog Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Filed under: "Knotted Veil",Writing — azetidine @ 4:26

So I promised some friends I would write them love letters.

Actually, I promised to write this story I have an idea for but haven’t started writing yet. They’re all really excited about it because we’re anthro majors and it’s a fictional ethnography which basically means some theoretically justified science fiction / fantasy. But I’m calling them love letters because I wouldn’t write anything on my own. I’m doing it out of this odd compulsion… it’s almost like… could it be? Peer pressure? Mm, let’s call it love, to be polite.

You people had damn well better leave comments. Adoration, scathing criticism, I don’t care! write something! pull in theories; I want to know what you think. I’m going to be fleshing out, drafting, being deliciously tentative and imperfect and unclear, and – yes – fuzzy (as Amanda and Emma would say).

So here we go.

Working Title: Behind the Knotted Veil: Life, Love, and Liminality among the _______

The blank is because I don’t know what these people would call themselves yet.

Description:

A collection of four stories interspersed with critical explication (I love fancy words), on the topic of marriage as practiced by the Bluff People. It would probably be shelved in a bookstore as “fantasy” due to the use of alternate physics in the world that the bluff people inhabit (along with many other cultures, whom we may meet eventually). It’s magic, based on kinetic energy, so you use movements to cast a spell. As of the time the fictional ethnographer would have stayed with the Bluff People, they probably didn’t use it for much outside of household tasks. Later on in their history they would develop industry based around this kinetic magic… but that’s a different story.

So here’s a bit about the Bluff People as of the time of the story. This is mostly copy-pasted from a description of an assignment for digital art class.

They live on fantastically tall, isolated mesas, and communicate by messengers who travel by hang glider. They don’t usually travel down the mesas because, firstly, it’s a long way down and there’s not always a safe route and they don’t have readily available metals to put pinions and footholds in the steep parts; secondly, the bases are buried in a thick mist that covers a deadly (but potentially lucrative) bog… and further out from land it’s just mist. Their origin stories speak of a time when they lived among rushing river valleys and carven mountains somewhere to the west, but they’ve been adjusted to life on the mesas for many generations at this point.

The Bluff People’s initial method of encoding spoken language was to knot leather scraps in distinctive ways to represent words. These could be tied onto the messengers’ clothing and read while the messenger was still recovering from the wind and cold exposure from flying so high. Eventually the Bluff People invented a paper equivalent and used that to write instead, though their glyphs are still reminiscent of knots. However, the leather knotting tradition lives on as a decorative art. One of the purposes is to decorate those about to be married. The partners in a marriage are called the “windblown” and “pillar” partners instead of “bride” and “groom”. These two roles are not strongly connected to gender identity. The windblown partner can also be called “seed”, referencing the fact that most plants that grow on these mesas depend on wind for seed dispersal, and by analogy the “pillar” can be called “earth”.

Matches will often be made for alliance and trade. The partner deemed more dominant, wealthy, or important to their family will be the pillar and set up a new household on their home mesa. The windblown partner is uprooted from their family and travels (often their first time making a long-distance journey) to the pillar’s home. They go through a transition period for a few weeks to up to 3 months (equivalent time; their calendar is different). During this period the windblown wears a decorative veil provided by the pillar’s family over the upper half of their face. This veil is delicately knotted thin leather strips (thinner than shoelaces), and its oldest parts are often an historically important message carried by a family ancestor, and incorporating the family motto. There is only one veil, so there can only be one windblown marrying into the family at a time.

During the liminal period the windblown may only speak using words knotted into the veil. This is viewed as part of the process of becoming a member of the pillar family. Like Chinese and Japanese script, each knot/glyph may represent more than one word; additionally there may be an archaic word that the glyph used to represent but is no longer in common use. A creative windblown may thus have a vocabulary of hundreds of words from a single knotted one foot square… but it’s still rather limiting and often has the effect of forcing the windblown into a submissive power dynamic. It is also the job of the pillar family to get to know the windblown despite these restrictions, so questions and answers during this period may often be cryptic and poetic. The pillar family may have annals that describe clever responses from past windblowns who have married in; thus a history of codes arises which it is the windblown’s task to learn if they are to assimilate successfully.

On larger mesas windblowns marrying into different families may live together in a “blown-over/blown-together house”, also known in some areas as a “seed bramble”. This reinforces their liminal status before they join their new families, but often also creates community between the individuals staying there at a given time. Friendships formed in the blown-over house may be strong and last the rest of an individual’s life, but have also been the seeds of intra-mesa drama.

 

Princess Anthropology Monday, April 28, 2008

Filed under: Art — azetidine @ 14:43

So I seem to be making a habit of doing drawings in class on Monday afternoons. Which happens to be my Theories of Culture class. And today I drew a princess. So, I present to you:

Princess Anthropology

Princess Anthropology.

Enjoy.