Waves of Consciousness: Global Game Jam Project

I don’t think I ever got around to sharing the project I worked on for the Global Game Jam, so here it is. I did the programming/game design in Fungus and IU undergraduate Autumn Almeida created the artwork. You can download the 2D game from the Global Game Jam page under the ‘executable’ link.

Waves of Consciousness is a point and click adventure that explores the levels between reality and dreams. A little girl struggles to fall asleep and goes on an adventure in order to solve her problem. On this quest she runs into strange creatures and puzzles to solve.

Source: Waves of Consciousness | Global Game Jam®

MART 702: The Hermetic

Last week’s reading and discussion of The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus inspired me to create a remix of my classmate’s previous projects in the course. I argued that the remediation of their videos as animated .gifs hosted to a website remediated (new media format) and remixed (new meaning) their projects served as the alchemical substances from which a produced a philosopher’s stone.

I anticipated mixed feedback from my peers; I thought they might feel somewhat violated that I used their works for my own purposes without their consultation. This expected reaction was intended to augment the isolation experienced by an alchemist, such as Paracelsus, but in this case, me (the artist). On the contrary, my classmates voiced that they loved the concept and thought it clever! Such much for the veiled hostility; the presentation was not at all uncomfortable.

[P.S. the below is not my best writing, as I was severely rushed last week]


“Now at this time, I, Theophrastus Paracelsus Bombast, Monarch of the Arcana, am endowed by God with special gifts for this end, that every searcher after this supreme philosophic work may be forced to imitate me… Come hither after me, all you philosophers, astronomers, and spagyrists, of however lofty a name ye may be, I will show and open to you, Alchemists and Doctors, who are exalted by me with the most consummate labours, this corporeal regeneration. I will teach you the tincture, the Arcanum, the quintessence, wherein lie hid the foundations of all mysteries and of all works.” Thus wrote Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, a Swiss German Renaissance physician and occultist who preferred the sobriquet Paracelsus, in his meticulous compendium on alchemy (p.45). Today, his texts are available in English as The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus.

However, readers who expect to uncover the alchemists’ ancient secrets through the author’s vast wisdom and instruction might be disappointed. The opening passages of the book promise that alchemy is a practice that rewards few. Paracelsus writes that, “You who are skilled in Alchemy… who willingly undergo toil and vexations, and wish not be freed from them, until you have attained your rewards… experience teaches this everyday, that out of thousands of you not even one accomplishes his desire” (p.10) His words suggest that alchemical knowledge is only imparted to those who devote their entire life to the craft: “Is this the failure of Nature or of Art? I say, no; but it is rather the fault of fate, or of the unskillfulness of the operator” (p.10). His words of caution imply that only a select number will achieve proficiency in the purported craft. These passages, above, imply that Paracelsus’ writing, at the literal level, appears to imbue scholarship and knowledge to aspiring alchemists. Figuratively, the book is a much different read.

The allegorical interpretations of this monograph are a testament to the deception of words and appearances. There is no doubt that Paracelsus was a brilliant man. But was he a brilliant alchemist? The answer to this question is open to interpretation. Paracelsus explains that, “In this Art, nothing is more true than this… all the fault and cause of difficulty in Alchemy… is wholly and solely lack of skill in the operator… the straight road is easy, but it is found by very few” (p.11). His brilliancy lies in is his power to convince others that he possessed vast occult wisdom and performed transmutation, the changing of one substance into another. This is evident in his bombastic words, “An inferior intelligence does not easily perceive occult and abstruse objects… Many persons, puffed up with pride, fancy they can easily comprehend all which this book comprises” (p.11). To rebuff Paracelsus and his text as the words of a driveling madman was equivalent to ignorance. It is imagined that few men might have contested his expertise for fear of being branded incompetent.

In class, we discussed how Paracelsus’ book was a cunning means to influence his readers and assessed that, “a good alchemist is someone who has convinced others that they are a good alchemist.” This statement intrigues me because I accept that most, if not all, people might relate to it. I assume that the majority of individuals, at one point or another, have performed a pretense to appear/behave like something/someone they are not. In a world that prioritizes appearance and opinion over character and knowledge, it is not an impossibility to imply that humans adopt facades in order to be accepted, loved, or to survive.

I am also drawn to the central tenant of alchemy: transmuting one thing into another; and that this is possible because every thing shares in common the essence of everything. Paracelsus asserts that, “Any one can at pleasure learn this Art in Alchemy [transmuting mercury into silver or gold], since it is so simple and easy; and by it, in a short time, he could make any quantity of silver and gold… the method of making Sol [gold] and Luna [silver] by Alchemy is so prompt that there is no more need of books… than there would be if one wished to write about last year’s snow” (p.13). Paracelsus implies that, for a gifted Alchemist, gold and silver are an unlimited bounty. At the literal level, he speaks of Sol and Luna in the valued mineral forms. For the context of Alchemy as a philosophy, Sol and Luna might be construed as positives arising from something negative, or the improvement of something deemed average into a more spectacular form.

For an Alchemist’s response that plays with these concepts, I transmuted the previous projects of my classmates James, Keyes, Jordan, Alison, and Katie. I re-mixed their respective video projects, the previously submitted responses to Invisible Cities and Portal. In this way, their works served as the object of transmutation. I.e., I produced an original series of animated gifs from their videos. Two of the remixes are more obvious than others (obvious meaning that it is apparent what the original project was). Two are happy accidents; glitches produced by unusual css formatting of a div container. The glitches are more experimental and less obvious than the other transmutations.

For the context of my project, I use remix to mean “a new context” and remediation as a “a new form.” The remediation is from video to animated gifs, still images, and presentation on a new webpage called Art Alchemy. Paracelsus explains that during the transmutation process, “… the Alchemist, who again corrupts, mortifies, and artificially prepares such a metallic body” (p.17). Similarly, I “corrupt” and otherwise alter the original projects of my peers into something else. Transmuted into the animated gif format on a webpage, the stills from video are less transitory; as animated gifs embedded into a website, they continue to play in cyclical fashion until the user leaves the webpage or closes their web browser. This means that the stills may be more closely examined than they would be in their original format.

For example, this is my intention with the transmutations of James’ and Katie’s video projects for Invisible Cities and Portal, respectively. “Absentia” features a table that expanses four columns by three rows. Each cell contains an animated gif. “Refresh your visit” appears at the very top of the page above the table. Upon refreshing the page, the gifs appear in new cells each time. One cell, located in the top left corner, abruptly cycles through all of the gifs that load into each table cell.  Truthfully, I wanted the javascript to perform this task for all of the cells but there is an error in the code that prevents this. Arguably, the new format for James’ video might not change/alter the message of his work; there still exists a sense of absence and quiet from the images that I have chosen to display on the webpage. I kept the essence in tact but chose to alter the way it is mediated. Instead of playing in sequence from beginning to end, a narrative timeline no longer exists. The objects in frame remain in frame and at the same time, they may appear in another frame within the cell on the table. In this way, the remediation calls attention to the materials that clutter spaces. The repetition of these objects is meant to espouse a sense that the things once valued never remain so.

Similarly, I conveyed how gifs may concisely and, perhaps, more efficiently, perform the same message of a video. I demonstrated this using Katie’s Portal project, a video response that visually represented the themes of fragmented self and surveillance. Her montage featured several intriguing sequences, which unfortunately, suffered from overexposure. I felt that the he presence of several long takes in the original piece was unnecessary. As such, I screen capped the five most relevant shots, imported the stills into GIMP photo editing software, and copied the layers to ensure that each image, once animated, would loop back to the beginning of the sequence. It was tedious but worth the effort. “Refraction,” my transmutation of Katie’s video, is one of my more successful remixes. Again, the thematic connotations of the piece are not disturbed via the transmutation process; rather, it was my attempt with “Refraction” to reinforce them through succinct visuals.

Two of the pieces are the result of a glitch of the animated gifs created from Keyes’ and Jordan’s video projects. “Spectra,” the corruption of Keyes’ response to Invisible Cities, illustrates how a conceptual piece remains susceptible to further abstraction. “Spectra” compresses a gif of Keyes’ video of peripheral lights to create a spectrum of colors as they animate across the screen. “Noisy,” the bastardization of Jordan’s Portal response is a similar but less stunning visually.

The transmutation of my peers’ artwork into a different form suggests that I might have a higher opinion of my own creations. This also reflects the status of Paracelsus, who was estranged to his contemporary community of scholars and doctors. My remix project might espouse a similar reaction from the artists whose work I manipulated for my own purposes.


MART 702: Response to “Invisible Cities”

Download the project, Invisible Boundaries, for Mac OSX.

Invisible Boundaries is, first and foremost, an artistic response to Italo Calvino’s text Invisible Cities. The narrative of the book is about Marco Polo’s companionship with emperor Kublai Khan. Marco Polo tells to emperor Kublai Khan fantastical stories about the myriad cities within his expansive empire. Each city, described to readers (and Kublai Khan) in one-to-two page chapters, is more unbelievable than the last, but with good reason: the cities that Marco Polo describes do not actually exist. In fact, the truth (revealed halfway through the book) is that each city described is actually the same: Venice.

Calvino’s Invisible Cities alludes to many different themes. A reoccurring analogy in the book is one of place and memory. Many of the different cities (i.e. chapters) resonate a sense of longing/nostalgia for a past/place that are impossible to re-experience/revisit. For example, Calvino’s description of Isidora (Cities & Memory) reads, “In the square there is the wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he [an old man] is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories” (p.8). I interpret Calvino to mean that humans never truly appreciate what they have until it is gone. When something is no longer as it once was, like the old men who stare at the city’s youth, one can only remember. It is in a moment of remembrance that humans pine for what they no longer have. Time moves forward and the people, places, and choices that once were present are no longer available. Invisible Cities constantly reminds readers of the ephemeral nature of existence (peoples and places) and the memories associated with them. This is a theme I aimed to recreate in Invisible Boundaries.

Invisible Boundaries is a first person virtual experience in which users explore the personal memories of the artist. These “memories” (i.e. levels) represent the lingering vestiges of her childhood home in Lebanon, Connecticut. The player is invited to walk across a mostly linear landscape for an unknown purpose. Invisible Boundaries never makes its objective clear. Users may find the experience trivial, at best, or frustrating, at worst. This is the artist’s intent. All movement is linear; the scenery lacks contextualization (and possibly coherence) aside from the obvious that there is a sense of similarity between the levels; and the message/narrative is extremely abstract. Is it worth your time to venture into the landscape of Invisible Boundaries? The artist’s response is to break it. The majority of the experience is succinct and obvious; however, there are areas where the seams are broken, much like “real” memories. A glitch may be exploited here or there and something unexpected may occur as result. Memories often conceal just as much as they reveal; similarly, Invisible Boundaries suggests that its users break through the invisible walls that confine them.

The prose of Invisible Cites features hazy, dream-like visuals and thought-provoking analogies. Unlike the book, Invisible Boundaries does not feature hazy, dream like visuals and thought-provoking analogies. In these attempts it is likely a failure. What it achieves, at its most base, is to force players along a predetermined path across one of four landscapes. The first of these scenes guides players towards a lake. A stonewall frames the pathway, evoking the historic New England atmosphere. Once players reach the lakefront, they are presented with a wooden dock. When the player walks on the dock they are suddenly transported to the opposite side of the lake and the sun is setting. What does this sudden interruption signify? Could it be a flash-forward in time and space? Or is it a new memory altogether? The player can only move onward; the interpretation is as good as anyone’s.  When Marco (i.e. Calvino) describes Zaira (Cities & Memory) he says that,

“This city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lighting rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls” (p.11). I take this passage to mean that spaces may be “read” like a text; signs (e.g. scratches, indentations, scrolls) leave a minute trace of what once was. In this way, certain signs in a space may evoke memories. These marks/memories within cities/spaces/landscapes are indexes to the past; a past that is often foreign and unknowable because the past that is known about a specific place/time is limited to that of one’s own experiences. A place has different meanings and associations for each person who encounters it. Invisible Boundaries has it’s own marks that may signify different associations for different people.

Calvino addresses the unknowable in terms of place, experience, memory, and self. Invisible Boundaries attempts to channel these themes without blatantly acknowledging them. In his description of the city Tamara (Cities & Signs), Calvino explains that, “The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things…” (p.13). From this, I understand him to mean that one’s daily observances are governed by the reading and interpretation of the images around them. In our memories, we remember vague, but selected, images of privilege and give them vital meaning in order to better understand past experiences. The images, or signs, in Invisible Boundaries have vital meaning for me (the maker) in the way that I remember my childhood home. However, for anyone else, the representations are arbitrary (and possibly meaningless). Despite the arbitrary nature of signs, much of the imagery in Invisible Boundaries is symbolically charged. For example, the lake and river, fresh bodies of pure water, may connote purity because of their association with nature and baptism. The cemetery has strong symbolism of death, decay, and even fear and superstition. The bonfire may evoke death/rebirth because it may conjure thoughts of a funeral pyre or cremated ashes. For me, the meanings are more personal than these broad associations. The lake is where I spent my summers; the river is where I used to camp; the cemetery is where I rubbed the markings of old tombstones; the fire represents the giant bonfire my dad made in the backyard on the fourth of July. Calvino was aware of the power of particular signs in memories that espouse feelings and associations, as am I.

While there is an extent of freedom in respect to interpretation of the virtual signs, the design forces users to subject themselves to the rules of Invisible Boundaries. Calvino’s description of the city of Tamara is useful in this respect: “Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts” (p.14). In Invisible Boundaries, a player may assume that they have agency in this virtual world; in actuality, there is little. A guided path and invisible barriers prevent users from true freedom and opportunity to explore. The world has a discourse that must be obeyed to “complete” the experience; the user is subordinate to these rules, much like a visitor’s relationship to Tamara.

Calvino continues to explain that, “However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it” (p.14). Calvino’s words beg the question: do we ever really know a place? And once we leave, how do we really know that we have been? The more distant our memories are from the real, lived experience, the more dream-like and fictitious they become. People may visit a place, but after they leave it, all that they take with them are the memories. And memories paint an incomplete picture; they are simulacrum of the real. Therefore, it can be surmised that people often leave places “without having discovered it” because they misinterpret/misunderstand it.  At face value, Invisible Boundaries is defined by the invisible walls constructed from “box colliders” and the 3D models of trees, stonewalls, fences, and vegetation that line the perimeter of the virtual world. These objects are purposely placed to structure the experience. They enforce the idea that a user may “visit” this representational landscape, but they will never really “know” it. Furthermore, because this virtual world is a simulation of my personal memories that represent my childhood home, one cannot “know” the real place, either.

Invisible Cities is redundant. Cities share thematic chapters (e.g. “Cities & Memory,” “Cities & Desire,” “Cities & Signs,” etc.); some cities have almost identical allegories and symbolism in the stories as told by Marco Polo. This is intentional. Halfway through the narrative the audience learns that each of the cities is the same; Marco Polo simply describes the city of Venice to Kublai Khan each and every time. This is hinted at early in the book. When Marco (i.e. Calvino) describes Zirma (Cities & Signs) he says that, “The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind… Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist” (p.19). It begs me to ponder; does routine habit/practice/experience skew  memories or give privilege to some memories over others? People have a way of explaining a situation or series of events as, “It was all a blur to me.” I understand this in the context of Calvino’s text to mean that certain images/signs are privileged over others in a way to provide an aid to memories. The redundancy in recounting memories allows people to remember, and in the moment one remembers, it is the only instance that the past “exists” again. Invisible Boundaries is likewise redundant. Once the experience is complete, it may be replayed, but only to assume the same cycle. The cyclical experience is not unlike memory recall. Generally speaking, people remember to remember; in remembering, one may remember something that they had previously forgotten. Recollection is an unending, cycle of redundancy; this redundancy is necessary to maintain a semblance of self-awareness.

On his discussion of a “Continuous City” called Trude, Marco Polo/Calvino explains that, “This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged… The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end” (p.128). I interpret him to mean that people see familiarity everywhere; for this reason, there are some things that are inescapable, especially the past. There is always a sign (a reminder) that may trigger a memory of familiarity, that unusual feeling of déjà vu. Invisible Boundaries imparts a similar sense of déjà vu with each leap forward to a new scene/memory. There is a sense of familiarity of the landscape that each user will come to understand differently based on their unique, individual lived experiences.

Speaking on Tamara, Calvino adds “Outside, the land stretches, empty, to the horizon; the sky opens, with speeding clouds. In the shape that chance and wind give the clouds, you are already intent on recognizing figures; a sailing ship, a hand, an elephant…” I take this to mean that people constantly construct the world around them through signs in order to make meaning… and sometimes, people make meaning where there is none just to make sense of the perceived reality. Sometimes, a cloud should just be a cloud. But for most of humanity, they want the cloud to be something more than the abstract concentration of ephemeral condensation. Humans, in their vain attempt to understand, want to give the “cloud” meaning, an explanation that provides context; e.g. why must the dark cloud blot out the happy, eternal sunshine? So that the sun may be all the more appreciated when it resurfaces. Similarly, deriving meaning from memory provides comfort that life and experience is knowable; that there is some kind of “point” or value in the suffering and pain that life unexpectedly produces.

Similarly, yet differently, Invisible Boundaries aims to recreate these connotations associated with memories of a place. Memory, not unlike experience, is fleeting. When one recalls a past event/place, the memory of it is likely to change with every retelling; i.e. one may depend more upon the “spoke words” that are used to retell a memory because, overtime, the visuals become less vivid and the “images” that account for a memory are rendered unreliable. Recalling and retelling ultimately leads to an erosion of one’s true memories; i.e. the memories that are preserved shortly after the actual, lived experience. As such, all memories become an imperfect recollection. Memories are a large part of what constitutes the self. Therefore, if memories are imperfect it can be surmised that people are also imperfect. If Invisible Boundaries is flawed or pointless it is as an extension of my imperfect self.