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Time Travel: What Google Wave and Braid have in Common


At this point, most people should know of Google Wave.  Fewer have had an opportunity to start “waving,” as Google Wave is still in a “limited preview” stage.  Usually, I’m not the first in line to adopt a new technology, because I always need substantial convincing for why I should bother.  In the case of waving, I had a realization that many of my current communicative frustrations may be alleviated with a reorganization for how I understood conversations.  Immediately, I got on Facebook and announced that I’d really really want an invite to Google Wave– I was waving in matter of minutes (Thanks Kyle!).

Around the same time I started waving, I decided to play the game, Braid (I had heard so many wonderful things about this game, and, you know, better late than never).  In both of my experiences with Wave and Braid, I found myself  re-evaluating the common conventions as I had, from practice, defined.  With Wave, the norms of communication is challenged and with Braid, the meta-approaches to problem solving for platformer games.   What I’m left with is the realization that time does not immutably flow steadily forward in every context– something that I’d taken forgranted all my life, and when we change our frame of reference, so does our understanding of what is true.

An example from high school physics: if you are driving down the street and the car is your frame of reference, then relative to the car, you are NOT moving.  If the street is the frame of reference, then you ARE moving; however, if the car is the frame of reference, both the you and the car may not be moving, but the street, then, IS moving.  When you think about it, the street doesn’t really move, does it?  Well, it all depends on our frame of reference. The truth, in this sense, is relative to its environment.

I’m a couple years late with this comment, but Braid is brilliant (as its reception has to show for it).  For me, it was a challenge to play and yet innovative and refreshing at the same time.  Without ruining it, Braid changes how we perceive causality and the flow of time to work.  More simply, it totally messes with my head.  I find myself gradually learning a new set of mechanics and becoming fluent in the new approaches in achieving goals, but where I am woefully lacking was in the ability to problem solve in such a foreign context.

The way we’ve learned to play games has been based off a frame of reference where time flows immutably forward.  Typically (but not always), we are able to start over and try again– those outcomes are predictable.  Still there are games, such as Final Fantasy 8, which incorporate disruptions in the flow of time (and space) through mind transfers or quantum leaps in the narrative layer, and games, such as Chrono Trigger, which give some sense of agency in altering the past to change the future.  Constraints, in regards to narrative and story, make it difficult to produce emergent experiences (even when time flows steadily forward), leaving the affects of going back in time very controlled and scripted.  Braid, however, pre-establishes its intriguing narrative layer, and leads the player through unanticipated time bending experiences via its paidia during play, minus the dramatic agency of actual time travel.

Conventions that we set to be our rules change when our frame of reference is no longer what we based everything on. What we once considered to be universal, is no longer– things that would be impossible, no longer are.

Previously, I wrote a blog post in regards to the ubiquity of advantages in having sufficient procedural literacy:

That’s not to say that using something that does procedural things makes you procedurally literate… rather, to truly use a tool appropriately you have to know how it works, at least at a high level.  Whereas, people who use technology to be “fashionable” would not be procedurally literate.

I concluded with the cursory thought:

What then is “truth?”  Is it absolute? relative? subjective? pluralistic?… Perhaps, we are approaching the age of “procedural” truth and simple facts just won’t cut it anymore.

I believe that truth isn’t relative, but is defined relative to its situation.   How we understand the systems, in which situations define our beliefs, is perhaps a more accurate model of absolute truth (although, I am at no liberty to make such claims).

Like Braid has done for platformer games, Google Wave has officially (in data-structure form) augmented our perception of conversation.  Usually, I find people less inclined to embrace Wave or accept that it is anything significantly new, but to be able to alter the past and explore a breadth of topics in conversation is far more accurate of how my mind works than flowing steadily, immutably, and serially forward.

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