• And, re: my previous, this. The purpose of higher, further, *any* education, shouldn't be to learn a skill to be put to direct use; if anything, it should be the opposite of that – to luxuriate in a subject, just as the girl studying Norse Literature was, because we don't just learn facts. We learn ways of thinking, we learn more holistically, and a richer education benefits everyone: students, children, employers, peers. (As usual: I will defend my humanities degree to the hilt).
  • "So the Year of Code isn’t about doing fun stuff with JavaScript, Python and Ruby. It’s about building another element of a society where those that don’t work don’t eat, and where the rewards of work are skewed ever further towards a tiny minority at the top of the pile… It’s about creating childhoods overshadowed by adult anxieties about work and economic survival. It’s about replacing the broad expanse of education – with all the exploration, creativity and genuine freedom that implies – with the narrow tunnel of schooling. It’s training children to have “relevant” employer-friendly skills and the right attitudes and politics to go with them." Yeah, that. I have no problem with the idea of teaching code, but I don't care for the idea that you're teaching code so that people can do code for a living. Education is about more than a direct translation of rote learning to skills for business; it should be about skills for the soul. for the well-rounded adult yet-to-be. I hadn't twigged that the thing that always rankled with me was the 'neoliberal' part.

Little Clockwork Worlds

21 July 2012

Spelunky is a little clockwork world in which items and enemies behave in defined ways, but when mixed together cause a delicious feedback loops that you can, with experience, predict. My boy loves systemic games like this, games that are built on coherent systems that you can play in an open-ended way. Toy boxes like Minecraft and Plants Vs Zombies, Animal Crossing and (we play this together) Civilization – where he can tinker and learn cause and effect.

He spends hours playing them, or would if we let him. And these are the kind of games that, though they were much cruder back then, I liked when I was a boy too, especially Elite. Where anything seemed possible.

But the big games today, in which play comes fixed to immutable stories, aren’t like that. So I asked him: “Do you like games that tell stories that you follow as you play them, or do you like games that let you do what you want?”

“The second one.” My heart burst with pride.

Last Day Of School, from lovely chum Alex Wiltshire.

The big computer games I grew up with – the ones that made an impression – were Rogue, Prince of Persia, and countless flight sims (beginning with MS Flight Simulator 3.0 then 4.0, and then getting steadily less realistic through the MicroProse back catalogue). And there, really, is a lot of the things I like: deep systems, short repeated play sessions, complex things to master, coupled t worlds to do whatever you want in. I got to about level 14 of the dungeons of Yendor; I landed a Cessna 182 on a Nimitz class carrier without an arrestor wire (only just) and took it around the Michigan bay; I explored the deep 60-minute run/jump mechanics of Mechner’s early triumph.

My tendency to simplification as I grew up has a lot to recommend it – in particular, desigining for sofas or tiny bursts – but my heart swells too when I see the conversations Alex and his son have. Not just because of what they like – but because of how they like it, and, most importantly, how they talk about it together.

  • "Over the past few months I have been collaborating with her to curate her first ever career-spanning exhibition. Retrospective Posy Simmonds: Essentially English opens on June 12th at the beautiful Art Nouveau, Victor Horta-designed Belgian Comic Strip Centre in Brussels and continues until November 25th 2012. I’ll be adding photos from the exhibition shortly, but below are the texts I have written for the explanatory graphic panels." Paul Gravett on Posy Simmonds – some great sketches in here and details of early work.
  • "[Bradbury] told them about a child he had watched, teased by his friends for wanting to enter a toy shop because they said it was too young for him, and how much Ray had wanted to persuade the child to ignore his friends and play with the toys." That, forever.
  • "Nine hours in, with no end to the fetching and photographing and fishing and flower-watering in sight, I suggested to one of my nieces, who was playing the game with me (the whole thing's drop-in co-op friendly), that maybe collecting three pepper pots to make Monstro the Whale sneeze was not so very different to collecting three sets of banners for the Toon Town election. It turns out that, from the perspective of a six-year-old, it's entirely different, and I clearly understand little about whales and even less about elections." A marvellous, marvellous piece of writing from Christian (again).
  • "However I am just as impressed but the extent in which Scarry’s work has in fact not dated very much at all. While the book covers an almost bafflingly broad range of occupations and includes sections on the extraction and transformation of raw materials, there is one notable omission: large-scale manufacturing. And without industry, from a Western perspective the book seems in fact almost presciently current. Some of the jobs the author describes have evolved, very few of them have all but disappeared (you can’t easily bump into a blacksmith, much less one who sells tractors); the texture of our cities has changed and those little shops have given way to larger chain stores; but by and large we still do the things that occupy Scarry’s anthropomorphic menagerie: we fix the sewers and serve the meals and cut down the trees and drive the trucks and cultivate the land and so forth. It’s almost as if Scarry made a conscious effort to draw only the jobs that could not be outsourced overseas, and had thus future-proofed the book for his domestic audience." I read this when I was very small, and loved it; fond memories, and sharp analysis
  • "We live in a world where the game of the movie of Where the Wild Things are, Motherfucking Where the Wild Things are, was a fucking cash-grab. This was a game based of Maurice Sendak. This should have been teeming with imagination. This should have been infinitely creative, a wonderful adventure inspiring generations of children. What is it, instead? It's a boring platformer. That's it. Just a generic, ordinary platformer. Are we okay with that? Are we okay with living in a world where a game based on a Maurice Sendak book is anything less than breathtaking, let alone underwhelming? I'm sure as hell not." 'Where are the children's games?" is, in fact, a good question; I can think of a few answers – but nowhere near enough. And, more to the point: there's a lot packed up inside that question that applies to things that aren't children's games. This is a topic I shall be returning to, I feel sure.
  • "More primal and immediate than any of the previously mentioned examples, it was couch cushion architecture that established the basic building blocks of our design logic. Unrepresented and ignored for too long in the architectural industry, today’s post pays respect to the wonders of couch cushion architecture. We’ve rounded up a (mostly) admirable collection of projects, taken from a randomly conducted search on the internet. Join us as we take a critical analysis of the architecture, methods and design philosophies of living room furniture re-appropriation." Charming, and generous, too.