our industries, our lifestyles, our consumption, our production--capitalism--is unsustainable. we read low tech magazine and imagine the broad strokes of a sustainable future, but can we imagine just how radically different certain aspect of our lives might be in this future?
these speculations ask what computing and internet would look like in a low tech future, and if such radical changes would leave any room for video games as we know them to continue to exist
the tiles used to represent the game are printed as-is (or at least in black and white), and scanned in verbatim--the bitglyphs at the edges are used for alignment so it usually turns out pretty well. technically you could encode the tiles perfectly with bitglyphs but it's nice to see the tiles before you scan a game.
quick intro to bitglyphs for anyone who hasn't seen them before: they're the little squares with dots. the point is a single square represents a number (eight bits, 0-255). these work by counting the number of dots in each corner (two bits, 0-3) and combining them. they print easy in plotter mode and you can even draw them by hand!
scenes are printed as 16x16 grids of bitglyphs. each glyph tells you which number tile to use at that position (you can actually work out the bitglyph for a tile in the tileset by combining the column and row bitglyphs from the alignment edges).
the game scripts--for dialogue, puppet/wall definitions, scene transitions etc--are printed in scanner text. usually all the blocks are crunched together to save space, but there a few games distributed with interesting script layouts.
a fun thing to do is to try scanning in the rooms unintended orders to see what happens, there's actually a couple of games where it's intended to do that to progress. you can also make hand edits to any of the data--in fact it's common to make entire game drafts this way to avoid using power quota!
VIDEO GAMES IN A LOW←TECH FUTURE scraps/computing/internet "Around 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption is being used by the internet"  "The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. It cannot survive if these conditions change."  * in our low tech future, energy is necessarily less available * the present day internet consumes a huge amount of energy -> the internet as we know it cannot be sustained into our low tech future ? will we have a globally connected internet in our low tech future? ? will online social networks continue to exist in our low tech future? ? how long will you have to wait for a reply on the internet of our low tech future? ? how long does it take to spread information on the internet of our low tech future? ? will things still "go viral" in our low tech future?  https://www.insidescandinavianbusiness.com/article.php?id=356  https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/can-the-internet-run-on-renewable-energy.html  https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/how-to-build-a-low-tech-internet.html
VIDEO GAMES IN A LOW←TECH FUTURE scraps/computing/lifestyle * in our low tech future, energy is necessarily less available * using a computer requires a constant, uninterrupted, energy supply -> using a computer will involve a conscious decision to use energy ? who will have access to computer hardware in our low tech future? ? who will have access to enough reliable energy to use a computer in our low tech future? ? how casual will computer use be in our low tech future? ? how will computing factor into our work life? ? how will computing factor into our home life? https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2016/11/why-the-office-needs-a-typewriter-revolution.html
VIDEO GAMES IN A LOW←TECH FUTURE scraps/computing/hardware "digital technology is a product of cheap energy"  * in our low tech future, energy is necessarily less available * it is very energy expensive to create modern computer hardware -> the present is a peak of complexity and scale of computer hardware manufacture -> the most powerful computer hardware in our low tech future will be heirlooms from the present ? how much of our present computer hardware will survive into our low tech future? -> present day smartphones will not survive into our low tech future due to their limited lifespan and the resources required to manufacture replacements ? is present computer hardware too energy intensive to be useful in our low tech future? ? in the low tech future could a new mode of computer hardware manufacture supercede and obsolete the energy hungry computer hardware of the present?  https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html
VIDEO GAMES IN A LOW←TECH FUTURE scraps/computing/gaming ? to what extent is the idea of video games tied to computer hardware? ? are video games simply the inevitable consequence of computers pervading our lives? ? are video games as we know them simply an phenomenon emergent from market dynamics and an availability of cheap computing hardware and energy? * in our low tech future, energy is necessarily less available -> dedicated video games hardware will not be present in our low tech future ? to what extent will computers be present in our low tech future? * video games are games played using technology -> correspondence chess is a video game
VIDEO GAMES IN A LOW←TECH FUTURE scraps/games/distribution * no guarantee of end-to-end path between source and destination * no guarantee of short round trip times * no guarantee of low error rates "delay tolerant network" "sneakernet" -> releasing a video game will become akin to releasing a torrent: distribution relying on seeding the work among a wide network of peers to aid its proliferation -> the limits of transmission over the low tech internet, as well as the reliance on storage space volunteered by intermediate peers will make file size a primary concern again -> physical distribution by mail or by meetups re-emerge as a primary means to distribute video games. video game zine fairs https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/how-to-build-a-low-tech-internet.html
there is an episode of star trek: the next generation where the enterprise finds and awakens cryogenically frozen humans from the year 1994. at the time of broadcast these humans originated from a time 6 years into the audience's future, and 370 into star trek's past
when one character asks how to turn the television on so he can catch up with his sports team, the android data remarks "that particular form of entertainment did not last much beyond the year 2040"--which at the time of writing is 20 years into our future
this is one of the first things that came to mind when thinking about the future of video games for speculation jam: is it even sensible to assume that video games have a future?
now, 32 years after this prediction was made, and with 20 years to go: does it look like television will last much beyond 2040?
firstly, i should acknowledge this is pretty much just a throw-away line on a sci-fi show and it really shouldn't be taken so seriously. regardless, i think i'd say it's pretty likely that it'll turn out to be right--in a sense.
television as we know it today is different to television as it was in 1988 and even to television as i remember it in the late 90s. it is true to say we still (and probably will always) watch chunks of video telling fictional stories or documentary accounts, but when we're accessing these on demand over the internet, watching them on laptops and phones, bingeing whole shows in evenings, watching self-produced self-published works on youtube, is it true to say that television--"that particular form of entertainment" from 1988--has lasted?
this is all a roundabout way to say: under a sensibly broad characterisation of "video games", yes we can assume they have a future. but that particular form of entertainment we know today will not last much beyond the year 2040.
why think about, let alone write about the future of video games, especially if i'm interested in a low tech future so radically different from now that video games may cease to exist altogether?
my present life is immersed in computing and video games, particularly developing video games and works adjacent to them. it's among my primary means of expression myself artistically, and also my path into my current career
i dream of living in a low tech future, but as a dream it is vague and unrooted --it is not necessarily plausible, or viable, or even self-consistent. in the dream i can end a hard day repairing the waterwheel and sit down at my circa 2020 laptop and browsing the internet. i can livetweet my day's farming and be kept company from across the world. really?
and so i want to confront this and imagine: if i lived in a low tech future, how would the specific bubble around my life be different? why are certain things pervasive in my life, and will they still be? what things will be lost, and how will i feel about that loss?
this isn't really about video games so much as video games are a case study of how a low tech future might affect a particular lifestyle
the oldest and most tedious question in video games discourse is "are video games art?". the next oldest and most tedious is "what counts as a video game?" this is the one i will unfortunately address.
the purpose of bringing this up is so contextualise my notion of video games in the rest of my speculations--to adopt what might be considered a charitably wide characterisation of video games in order to give them a fighting chance of surviving into a low tech future.
there are the video games i make--predominantly within the bitsy community--that you could describe as interactive poems. a notion of a video game space used to evoke a mood and pace the delivery of text. for me they are a means of artistic expression. these are video games.
there are the video games as Gamers see them: a extensive playground or theme park that invites the player to engage in a number of games of skill. almost always there is a sense of accumulation of power and achievement as play progresses. primarily they are a product designed for a market, but they are also a vehicle for the self expression of individuals involved in their production. these are video games.
there are the video games that are one-to-one translations of existing non-digital games and puzzles. board games, sudoku, etc, etc, etc. these are video games.
for the purposes of these speculations, i am characterising video games as games or activities or play or whatever that is mediately by technology. as such, i say correspondence chess is a video game. playing a tabletop rpg over telephone is a video game. following a sports team is probably a video game.
and by speculating on which technologies will be available, to who they will be available, and how available they will be, i can begin to extrapolate a speculation on what forms video games could reasonably take, and what aspects of present day video games seem impossible for a low tech future.
low tech magazine is the catalyst for my desire to live in a low tech future, and offers compelling snippets of how we might exist there. it claims that it, among other things, "highlights the potential of past knowledge and technologies for designing a sustainable society".
recently i read the book "lo-tek design by radical indigenism", which presents a wide range of indigenous land management case studies. it describes how the environment it exists within, the people who practice it, how it works--and particularly why it is sustainable, and in many cases: how it has been or is being eroded or destroyed by (predominantly) western influence.
a low tech future is not just a utopian dream, but is also a desire to return to indigenous values and the consequent technologies. it is a desire to backtrack from an untenable position. in both low tech magazine and lo-tek, it is recognised that it is not just a past and a future, but a living present for the remaining indigenous and unwesternised populations still surviving today.
these speculations consider the consequences of grafting low tech onto our westernised, non-indigenous, lifestyles--but you don't have to speculate to see the converse: indigenous populations survive and our world has been grafted onto them violently. could these be the roots of a low tech future?
there are a few things to consider early on if you want to distribute a game globally--some of these you can mitigate down the line, but the easiest solution is simply to make a game that avoids these problems in the first place.
firstly, file size file size file size! the more space your game takes up, the sooner it's going to be considered for deletion from someone's system. this will limit its lifespan straight off the bat. on top of that, the bigger the game, the more time it takes to transfer and therefore longer to propagate through the network--games that can be transferred in one session fare far far better than anything else. you could consider splitting your game into parts, but then people looking for complete experiences need to trust you will follow through.
next up: language! if you're distributing your game globally you need to think hard about your use of language. of course you need to retain the authenticity of your community and local dialect, but if your text is too colloquial it will simply be impossible for an outsider to understand it! think about which parts of the text benefit from the authenticity of local expression, and which need the universal clarity of simple speech. it's always a compromise, but you should be making a conscious decision on this.
and lastly, resource usage. every community has different computers, different hardware capability, energy usage, different electricity reliability. the more your game needs, the more communities won't be able to play it even if they want to. picking lower resolutions or lower color modes are an easy win, and you'll notice many world games do this. this is crucial if you decide to use the realtime modes--they are especially power hungry. you'd be suprised at how far you can stretch the four frames of hardware animation buffer to avoid going realtime.
this is what you're already familiar with: distributing your game on the local network, maybe taking it to zine fairs and meetups--the usual. it's even more important than ever, because this is your first opportunity to find problems with your game, and at a time where issuing corrections is much easier--we'll talk more about this later. it's a good idea to include a no-redistribution request in your game at this stage, this helps keep the lifecycle under your control.
this is it. once you release your work onto the wider web it is very difficult to control. contact delays and network availability can add significant delays to any corrections you wish to issue, and you will not have the established relationships of your local community and neighbours to spread the word about them.
if you do issue corrections then you will have multiple versions of your work out there and people will not necessarily realise they have an outdated one. even if they do they may decide it's not worth it to download corrections, and your reputation may already have been damaged if they played it already.
of course if this is your first release under a name, you have a lot less to lose--but you can still damage your work this way.
the options to package your payload are pretty limited, so while you should spend time coming up with a representative description, and appropriate tags, there's only so much this will help you. most people are finding games through the blogs, and most blogs are going by recommendations and submissions.
now it's time to get your game on remote networks. you always rely on random chance to some extent--the interplay of power availability and who stumbles upon your game make for a very chaotic journey through the wider web. and the more copies out there, the more opportunities for more copies--a little bit of the old devil in the machine.
start off with the low hanging fruit: get your game on your community network and replicated to neighbours--most communities have an allowance for cuture seeding from neighbours. if you have any remote friends, you can ask them to help too--don't push too hard though, they'll be using their personal allowances for this!
there are a number of culture exchange hubs on the wider network--they all have waiting lists for a slot in the rotation, but many have specialised programmes that you can apply for immediate disemmination if your game fits the criteria!
one you have this small foothold in availability you can begin contacting blogs. local and neighbouring are best because they will be reaching an audience who has more ready access to your game. don't skip the remote blogs though, they will pay off in the long run.
obviously keep exchanging your game at the usual zine fairs. if you get an opportunity to travel remote, make sure you bring plenty of copies along!
if your seeding works out, your game will have steady availibility from most networks, and recurring availability everywhere else. this is the golden age of your game, and this is when most of the appreciation emails come in. if your game touches enough people it may get circulated within the discourse, if you pay attention to that. it's considered bad form for the author to try and make this happen, so you'll just have to sit back and see. anyway you're probably moving on to other works at this point!
the sad truth is that your hard work will one day go extinct. eventually your game is downloaded from someone else for the last time, and from there those finite copies expire one by one.
the first death is when your game once again ceases to exist outside of your local networks: and of course you can reseed it and begin the lifecycle again. perhaps your game has some timeless quality that will allow it to live another life?
the second death is usually much later: the last copy in the last network finally ceases to exist. this is probably your copy. sooner if the storage is compromised and without backup--perhaps a building collapse or hardware beyond its lifespan. or otherwise much later, when you have passed on and those who inherit your data find it has no meaning to them--the final memory of your game will be overwritten, and that's the end.
i wonder what the oldest game still available on the wider web is. and i mean a game kept around for what it is, not just because of some sense of reward of having a copy of something really old. of course it's impossible to know. but think about it next time you browse the file stores: what's the oldest thing here?
but don't get too bummed out--it isn't all for nothing! the ideas you share have the potential to long outlive the means in which you choose to share them. folklore from the oldest days is still with us, even if no-one remembers what a "baby yoda" is.
so there it is! the lifecycle of distributing a game globally. it's a lot more work than the usual local exchange, but it's a rite of passage for anyone going mainline in the arts.
many great artists haven't lived to see their work proliferate, many great works have never even proliferated. distributing globally is an opportunity to see a wider response in your own lifetime, but don't take it personally if it doesn't work out--local community goes on!