Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

One of my favourite video games is Elsinore (2019). It is the game of Hamlet as experienced by Ophelia. Except Ophelia is mixed race. And she is killed. And every time she is killed, she wakes up at the start of the story with another chance to play her last days over again until she does it right and she lives and no one else that she loves dies.

Elsinore resolves one of the largest problems that is inherent in almost every player-driven narrative video game, which is this: on the first play through of a game, a player cannot understand the ramifications of the choices they have just made.

But, that’s like life, I suppose.

We start our life’s journey with only one heart. Then you have dysentery and you die. There are no quarters that allow you to play again if you are violently pushed off course by a hurtling object. You do not want to be an NPC in someone else’s first person shooter experience.


I keep reading reviewers and hearing readers describe Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow as a book about video games. But it’s not.

And this is how I know. In the notes section at the end of book, the author Gabrielle Zevin tells us this herself. She states, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a novel about work”.

The book’s official blurb expands on this statement. It describes the novel as one in which “two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality”.

And on that note, I should warn you dear reader that, like Macbeth, there is tragedy in this book. There is violence and there is trauma and there is grief. Work is offered as a salve to these pains.

Also. two of the main characters of this novel are mixed race. So is the author of the novel and the author of the text you are currently reading.

Now, far be it for me to tell the author what her book is about. But I can describe to you the book that I just finished reading. And to me, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is not about video games or work. It is about stories.


The best review that I’ve read of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is How to Design a Beautiful, Cruel Universe by Tom Bissel in The New York Times, but I don’t recommend you read it until after you’ve read the novel because he names some of the painful events in the book that I have only vaguely gestured to here.

Bissel took notice of the same thing that I did. He saw the work that Sadie and Sam engage in, as depicted in this novel, as not a realistic or recognizable form of the creation of video games.

There’s very little depiction of how central play-testing and quality assurance are to game design, or of nuking core design conceits because of cost overruns or talent underruns. For the most part, Sam and Sadie’s games tend to work out the way they imagine they will, yet one of the most critically acclaimed titles I ever worked on, “What Remains of Edith Finch,” a game about a cursed family whose members all perish in freak accidents, began its life as a scuba simulator, of all things.

What Sadie and Sam do in the novel – through the guise of video game design – is create stories with and for each other. Unable to replay their past, as both the main characters grow older they re-interpret their shared history to play out their future with each other. Unwilling (or unable) to allow Sadie to leave his life, Sam uses the work of game design to try to keep her creating shared stories with him.

A relationship is just another form of world-building.

As film-maker Céline Sciamma has put it,

“Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something?” It’s a knock-out line. “A relationship is about inventing your own language,” says Sciamma. “You’ve got the jokes, you’ve got the songs, you have this anecdote that’s going to make you laugh three years later. It’s this language that you build. That’s what you mourn for when you’re losing someone you love. This language you’re not going to speak with anybody else.”

But Sam and Sadie are not lovers. They are creative partners at work. And in the Note that ends the novel, Zevin tells us that the book is equally about love as it is about work. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow explores how those engaged in creative work can occupy a space between friends and lovers. In the telling of this tale, video games become a stage where these characters perform their private lives for both a public and for each other.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare, from Macbeth, spoken by Macbeth

Group economics

§1

After the self-imposed hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NBA created the bubble in Orlando. In light of the events causing protest in America – specifically the death of George Floyd – players and the league took to messaging Black Lives Matter as part of their re-emergence.

The term Black Lives Matter graces the hardwood as well as many of the jerseys of players who participated in the bubble.

Some of the other approved messages are Say Their Names, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Justice, Peace, Equality, Freedom, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can), Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Ally, Anti-Racist, I Am A Man, Speak Up, How Many More, Education Reform and Mentor, as well as many of these in native languages of the internationally born players.

Anthony Tolliver and Andre Iguodala, members of the NBPA’s executive committee, advocated for “Group Economics” to be included on the list of acceptable social justice messages players could choose for their jerseys. They learned the term six year ago from David West.

Only three players chose to wear Group Economics in the bubble- Tolliver, Iguodala and Jabari Parker.

Group economics refers to a group of people who have a common economic interest, in this instance people of color. The commonality motivates people to pursue that interest in order to create a secure economy for all participants in that group. It is a direct reference to the laws that have been created since the Civil War to keep black people in servitude to white capitalism. This has evolved from, but not been limited to, banking and home ownership rules specifically to segregate minorities and keep generational wealth from being an option for a vast number of families.

Andre Iguodala has the most interesting Black Lives Matter jersey message by Jeph Duarte Sep 30, 2020

§2

If you were shocked by the firing of Timnit you haven’t been paying attention. We need to fucking take responsibility for the present because while you’re immobilized, debating whether if you’re the one who should mention the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lexicon (inherently de-coupled from a political economic analysis) is half of the problem. The most opportunistic and/or mediocre are defining the discourse on a global stage. We’re ruminating about Jeff Dean’s feelings instead of building a cross class labor movement that defines tech workers broadly, ie researchers, engineers, Uber drivers, Amazon warehouse workers, content moderators etc. We should cry out not because Timnit is a brilliant scientist who has shaped her field, but because her firing is a symptom of the broken society we’ve constructed. She isn’t fucked, we all are.

On the Moral Collapse of AI Ethics | by J. Khadijah Abdurahman | Dec, 2020 | Medium

One Publishes to Find Comrades

Let us examine in more detail what happens before (and after) this moment of going public. Let us not look at publishing as the end of a process during which consolidated thoughts and inquiries are out into a final brochure, book, or leaflet. Let us look at publishing more as a way to initiate a social process, a social space, where meaning is collectively established in the collaborative creation of a publication. From this perspective, all of sudden publishing is not a document of predefined cognitions. Publishing becomes a tool to make discoveries…

Coming back to André Breton’s “one publishes to find comrads”, I’d like to think of printed publications, posters, or zines as not necessarily the end product trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather as “working towards establishing conditions for the co-production of meaning…

“One Publishes to Find Comrades”, Eva Weinmayer, 2014 excerpted in Publishing Manifestos: an international anthology from artists and writers, MIT Press, 2019

The Image of Confederation

Firstly, then, as to our Canadian economic nationalism. I pointed out in my third lecture that, during the generation after Confederation, we adopted a national policy based on economic expansion through railway building and tariff protection, a policy carried out under the leadership of, and for the primary benefit of, a group of great capitalist entrepreneurs working in close alliance with the national government. We have since then made no fundamental modification in this form of society. Other interests have learned to organize themselves into effective pressure-groups; and the government, in the benefits that it has to distribute, tends to become a sort of arbitrator among competing groups. But, in the economic jungle that results from this regime of Darwinian competition, the lion’s share continues to be distributed to the lions.

Frank H. Underhill, Image of Confederation, p. 198.

The Power of Habits (excerpt)

Destructive organizational habits can be found within hundreds of industries and at thousands of firms. And almost always, they are the products of thoughtlessness, of leaders who avoid thinking about the culture and so let it develop without guidance…

These organizational habits or routines, are enormously important, because without them, most companies would never get any work done. Routines provide the hundreds of unwritten rules that companies need to operate. But among the most important benefits of routines is that they create truces between potentially warring groups or individuals within an organization. Most of the time, routines and truces work perfectly. Rivalries still exist, of course, but because of institutional habits, they’re kept within bounds and the business thrives.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Myth

Kinship and AI

The essay, titled “Making Kin with the Machines,” is co-authored by Lewis, Kite, Noelani Arista (University of Hawai‘i atMānoa) and Archer Pechawis.

Chosen out of 260 submissions, it is one of 10 essays published in a special edition of the Journal of Design and Science by MIT Press. One reviewer wrote that it might be the only essay in the collection that opens up truly new ways of thinking about AI.

The essay argues that Indigenous knowledge systems are much better at accommodating the non-human than Western philosophies, because the Indigenous worldview does not place man at the centre of creation. The writers seek a relationship to non-human intelligences — beyond that of merely tools or slaves — as potential partners who exist in a living system of mutual respect.

The essay states that there is currently no consensus on how to approach human relations with AI. Opinions vary widely within the small network of Indigenous scholars, artists, designers, computer programmers and knowledge-holders who consider the topic. Different Indigenous communities approach questions of kinship differently; some disavow kinship with machines entirely.

Concordia’s Jason Edward Lewis wants ethical artificial intelligence with an Indigenous worldview, April 29, 2019, Andy Murdoch

On the same day as I read the above, I listened to an interview with Genevieve Bell, former anthropologist at Intel, and now leads the 3Ai Institute which is working on creating a new applied science to take AI safely to scale. She describes this work starting at the 42 minute mark.

“There’s a connection to anthropology. Want to know what it is?”

“I sure do!”

“It’s a good one. So, there was a mathematician named Norbert Weiner back in 1946, 1947. He organized a series of conferences called the Macy Conference of Cybernetics and cybernetics was a term he coined. And for him, cybernetics meant a dynamic system that included technology, nature, and human beings. So a technical system that included biology, humans, and technology.   A system that included computation, the environment, and humans.”

Wow.”

“Yeah, and in ’46, that is a radical proposition.

It’s radical now.

“Well what’s interesting is that in ’46 he started to curate these conferences and he reached out to someone he had met to help him curate them…”

“Who was an anthropologist!”

“It was Margaret Mead. It was just not any anthropologist. It was Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.”

The Familiar Strange #32, “Hula Hoops not Bicycles” Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future (46 minute mark)

Here a space opens for an artistic materialism

Here a space opens for an artistic materialism. Parallel to the Marxist tradition runs an aesthetic one, from Cezanne to Miro and the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee. Crucial to Jorn’s reworking of Marxist thought is his radical revision of the locus and significance of the aesthetic. Art belongs to the infrastructure of society, not to the super-structure. Art is a fundamental kind of social production. Marxism breaks with classical tradition by assigning priority to action rather than contemplation, but its error error is to consider art only as a form of contemplation. Art is action.

Engels wrote that “the economic structure of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical and other ideas of a given historical period.” Jorn would agree with this, but with the proviso that aesthetic practice is part of the economic structure, not just one of the “other ideas” within the superstructure. The qualitative practice of art is as much part of the base of the capitalist social formation as its qualitative production process. The ontological failure of capital, its inability to perceive and produce its own reality, stems from the domination of the quantitative over the qualitative process.

Jorn breaks with privileging of science that he finds particularly in Engels. Jorn distinguishes between what he calls a worldview and an attitude to life. Both, he insists, can be materialistic, but they do not always go together. Even when science has a materialistic worldview, it does not necessarily have a materialist attitude to life. It remains Apollonian…
Aesthetic experiment is the necessary complement to scientific experiment, but it is not an imitation of science. While science extends knowledge and expands the material worldview, art creates a way of life by shaping material characteristics according to desire. If science concerns itself with objective truth, then art will search for subjective truth. “Rather an entangled and chaotic truth than a four-square, beautiful symmetrical and finely-chiseled lie.” But, crucially, Jorn sees subjectivity as non-individualistic. The art that matters is a subjective realism that extends beyond the individual and invokes a collective practice: “art, therefore, is not a representation, a mirror, of nature but a direct transformation of nature. Art is experimental social practice which transforms nature into second nature, but without reducing nature to essence or order.

McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International

Reading Foucault is like taking a master class on how the game of scholarship is to be played

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) undermines the romantic theory of authorship by speaking of discourse as a distribution of author functions. For Foucault, a statement is authorized by a particular form of discourse, a regime of truth, a procedure for assigning truth-value to statements. It’s not hard to see why this captivated the minds of academics. It made the procedures in which academics are obsessively drilled the very form of power itself. As if that by which academics are made, the molding of their bodies to desks and texts, that about which they know the most, even more than they know their allotted fields, were the very index of power. Reading Foucault is like taking a master class on how the game of scholarship is to be played, and with the reliable alibi that this knowledge of power, of knowledge as power, is to be used in the interests of resistance to something or other. Détournement on the other hand, turns the tables, upends the game.

The device of détournement restores all the subversive qualities to past critical judgements that have congealed into respectable truths. Détournement makes for a type of communication aware of its inability to enshrine any inherent and definitive certainty. This language is inaccessible in the highest degree to confirmation by any earlier or supra-critical reference point. On the contrary, its internal coherence and its adequacy in respect of the practically possible are what validate the symbolic remnants that it restores. Détournement founds its cause on nothing but its own practice as critique at work in the present. Détournement creates anti-statements. For the Situationalists, the very act of unauthorized appropriation in the truth content of détournement.

Needless to say, the best lines in this chapter are plagiarized. Or rather, they are détourned. (It hardly counts as plagiarism if the text itself gives notice of the offense – or does it?) Moreover, many of these détourned phrases have been corrected, as Lautréamont would say. Plagiarism uploads private property in thought by trying to hide its thefts. Détournement treats all of culture as common property to being with, and openly declares its rights. Moreover, it treats it not as a creative commons, not as the wealth of networks, not as free culture or remix culture; but as an active place of challenge, agency, strategy and conflict. Detournement dissolves the rituals of knowledge in an active remembering that calls collective being into existence. If all property is theft, then all intellectual property is détournement.
Not surprisingly, official discourse has a hard time with this concept. The decline of critical theory in the postwar years is directly correlated to the refusal to confront détournement as the most consistent approach to a knowledge made by all. The meandering stream that runs from the Letterist International to the Situationist International and beyond is the course not taken, and remains a troubling memory for critical thought. The path not taken poses the difficult question: what if one challenged the organization of knowledge itself? What if, rather than knowledge as a representation of another life, it is that other life?

McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International


Ideas as intersections

When I try to think about thinking, for instance retracing where an idea of mine came from, the limitation of English force me to say that “I” produced and “idea.” But none of these things are stable entities, and this grammatical relationship among them is misleading. The “idea” isn’t a finished product with identifiable boundaries that one moment sprung into being — one of the reasons artists so hate the interview question, “So what was your inspiration for this?” Any idea is actually an unstable shifting intersection between myself and whatever I was encountering. By extension, thought doesn’t somehow inside of me, but between what I perceive as me and not-me. Cognitive scientists Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Elenaor Rosch back up this intuition with fascinating scientific studies in The Embodied Mind, a book that draws comparisons between moden cognitive science and ancient Buddhist principles. Using examples like the coevolution of vision with certain colors that occur in nature, they fundamentally complicate the idea that perception mere gives information about what’s “out there.” As they put it, “Cognition is not the representation of a pre-given mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind.”

Jenny Odell, How to do Nothing, p. 142

Ecology as comfortingly anti-essentialist

I find something comfortingly anti-essentialist in the way ecology works. As someone who is both Asian and white, I am an anomaly or a nonentity from an essentialist point of view. It’s not possive for me to be “native” to anywhere in any obvious sense. But things like the atmospheric river, or even the sight of Western tanagers (a favourite bird) migrating through Oakland in the spring gives me an image of how to be from two places at once. I remember that the sampaguita, while it’s the national flower of the Philippines, actually originated in the Himalayas before being imported in the seventeenth cenutry. I remember that not only is my mother an immigrant, but that there something immigrant about the air I breathe, the water I drink, the carbon in my bones, and the thoughts in my mind.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing.