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Time, Gaming, and Weather Zen: Slow Down and Enjoy the Weather

download“Time is a game played beautiful by children.” -Heraclitus

Designed by the conscious, deliberative team at Krellware,Weather Zen invites players to seek the restorative balance of the elements and predict weather patterns and events, in a quest to correct the material excesses of a planet’s previous irresponsible stewards. The game was inspired in part by the tragic death of designer Dale Strickler’s wife and two daughters in 2007. A Kickstarter campaign, which you should definitely support, has been launched to get the game off the ground.

Last June, Krellware and Weather Zen designer Aaron Kishbaugh wrote about “The Slow Game Movement.” Comparing it to the slow food movement (he could have further compared it to the slow growth movement), Aaron commented:

 Slow gaming, like slow food, is about how you interact with others, how the game changes your interactions with the world, and with one another. Traditional gaming focuses on point acquisition, goal achievement, and completion. These are important in slow gaming, but not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of slow gaming is interaction, not isolation.

The slowing down of gaming is not new. Jake Shapiro, a member of the Gamasutra gaming community, wrote a couple of years ago about the advent of “slow games.” Citing a lecture from a former professor of his, Mark Sample, he discussed the way in which slow games strip or twist the power dynamic of players’ characters rather than feeding into a power fantasy of cumulative growth in character power. Games like Every Day the Same Dream, Shenmue and Dear Esther celebrate and meditate on being itself, rather than feeding into the often violent, trauma-informed, ADHD world of power- or conflict-based games.

Writing for Slate back in 2009, Chris Suellentrop drew attention to the “Slow Video Game Movement” with his review of the then-new game called The Path, designed by the Belgian company Tale of Tales.  The web site for The Path describes the game in this way:

The Path is designed with accessibility in mind. There are no ticking clocks or monsters to defeat. No hard puzzles will ever halt your progress. Most activities in the game are entirely optional and voluntary. The player has all the freedom in the world to explore and experience. The Path is a Slow Game.

But what’s really at stake, in terms of our existence and experiences, in designing games like this? In a real sense, the effort is one of replacing linear time with a more wholistic view of time. The problem with linear time, as expressed beautifully by Steve Randall, is:

With the experience of time flowing between past, present, and future there is a dissatisfied self ‘spending time’ in the foreground. The self reaches out for satisfaction, looking to other people to fulfill desires, or seeking out special things and activities. The self ‘looks forward to’ things, but has difficulty fully appreciating them.

This undermines our ability to feel pleasure from human (and non-human) relationships, but there are social ramifications as well. The 20th Century was characterized by the mechanization of time and labor, the speeding up of culture and human interaction, and, not coincidentally, widespread terror and war-making technology. Interpersonally, humans became alienated from their work, the natural beauty surrounding them, and their interpersonal relationships.

Weather Zen doesn’t pretend to comprehensively solve any of these problems, but what the game does do is reward patience and the long view. In rewarding players for predicting, cooperating with, and fundamentally accepting the inevitable patterns of nature, our hope is that Weather Zen helps players reconceptualize their own sense of time, moving it from a linear, technological track to a wholistic, configural, relationship-based fountain of existence. Large-scale patterns, sometimes disrupted by unpredicted changes, replace the hard and fast guarantee of inevitable waves of conflict.

Aaron’s June post on slow gaming contrasted isolation with interaction. The contrast is also between conflictual games and relational games. One cultivates a relationship with the outside elements in a patient and studied way. Aaron concludes that “slow gaming can change both the player, and ultimately the world for the better.” While that may be a lofty goal for a little videogame by a small group of designers, a look around us at the fragmented, trauma-plagued and alienated world around us suggests to us that it’s a goal well worth pursuing.

You can help Krellware advance this restorative, contemplative game by supporting Weather Zen‘s Kickstarter campaign here.

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