Engines All Around

"Issue": 054

Spread out on the front lawn. The sun is spreading across the back of my neck, warming my entire back. This is in stark contrast to my fingers sliding between blades of grass. I push them deeper and deeper. Noticing how lush the layers of growth are. Incredibly different than lying out in Prospect Park, where perhaps it takes a single wiggle to reach the soil, which is hard and dead. No, this takes effort. I see the roots of previous blades before I can feel the cool soil. I look back up to see my friends, caressed by this green bed that extends to the stone wall up the hill. I rejoin the conversation while my mind tumbles over how we could render the feeling of the lawn I was experiencing in Maine. If my avatar would move different on this landscape, if I could feel that difference in my controls.

Two years ago, I was completely ignorant to what building a world really meant. I didn’t know Unity or Unreal Engine even existed. But working with game developers, technical artists, and the entire scene… has exploded my understanding of not only software/product development, but my lived world.

I took the photo above while I was laying out on that same lawn. Having finished my water, I looked at the way light was coming through my glass. Holding it up towards the sun, I held my phone camera up through several different angles. Simply admiring the complexity of the image.

When you realize that it *waves hands all around*, is an engine. You build a new appreciation for creation and perception.


In “Understanding Media: the extensions of man”, Marshall McLuhan dedicates a very brief essay towards games.

Games are popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture. Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism. Both games and technologies are counter-irritants or ways of adjusting to the stress of the specialized actions that occur in any social group. As extensions of the popular response to the workday stress, games become faithful models of a culture. They incorporate both the action and the reaction of the whole populations in a single dynamic image.

Reading this, a visualization of a release valve came to mind. Allowing the flow of built up pressure to cascade over itself. Bubbling and crashing into a new arena.

To pull one more quote from McLuhan… (this is what I’ve become). This one is from “Reflections on Religion”, which I’m enjoying annotating next to the previous annotations from AZL.

De-Romanization is a fact ever since the telegraph. Any speed-up of communication de-centralizes. Slow forms of communication centralize: information is localized and the decision-making takes place at the centre. All this is reversed by electric speed when information becomes available at the same moment everywhere. Decisions can be made at the periphery the same as at the centre.

I wanted to hold these side by side because in the margins of the quote above I wrote, “there is no center of the ocean, you’re just in water”.


Once you’ve extended beyond the body, outward into the arena of play. There is no center there. You’ve broken the membrane. You realize that the trail was not the park.

A couple of months ago, I was watching a stranger go through the public beta onboarding. The onboarding map was constructed as a triangle with platforms to accomplish tasks.

After the account creation, text pops up that tells you to go to the right to select an avatar. And despite this, I watched this person turn left. Lose their sense of place, and then turn to me and ask “what’s supposed to happen next”.

For anyone that has designed anything, this is when you crack a molar from clenching your jaw so hard.

We gave too much world too soon. They thought they were in the park already, but they had only started the path. Little did they know, they had fallen off the bridge.

In a previous issue, I mulled over the idea of interfaces of perfect response. This same attraction that I believe makes computing and good design so compelling, is the very thing that cannot exist within play.

Perfect response renders play lifeless, and dull. It is that which you don’t expect to enter the arena that evokes emotion. It is here you remember that you are “in it” and that there are many others factors that can impress upon you at any moment.

To use the machine for control is to be controlled by the machine. To operate a machine one must operate like a machine. Using a machine to do what we cannot do, we find we must do what the machine does.

— Finite & Infinite Games, James P. Carse

Or a super tight way of saying it — code is law.

But what happens, when code is supposed to be play. Not pull down to refresh, tap tap tap to sew seeds of future interaction within the Twitter garden. But instead to spatially understand form and presence and manipulation.

Law is dissociative. I see myself rendered in my profile, confined by the set code that instructs my conduct. Measured information, and knowing is the aesthetic. The path.

What working with my team has shown me… Play is proper extension. It is breaking through the membrane. I cannot consume myself, I can only act as part of the world. Play is the possibility and the aesthetic. The park.

This is equally the goal beyond constructed product, but seeing life as the potential that it is: infinite interactive play.

This brings me back to meditating on the joy that is working with the Eternal team. In order to produce an environment of infinite play, work must hold that similar spirit.

What you discover is that work is kind of like an undeveloped park. And you’re not exactly sure how the path is supposed to look, where to lay the bricks, to maximize how much of the park we can see.

If you start laying brick too soon, you never see the park for what it could be. If you start laying them too late, well… in our reality… the park could close before the path makes it around that first interesting bend of trees.

I saw a tweet that said something to the effect “a good game only needs two buttons.” I thought this was incredibly powerful in thinking through the two repeated actions we take daily that allows a wide array of interactions that are both satisfying and tension building.

I think it applies to work and design as well. What are the two buttons that we return too, when we think of laying down a brick. The nugget of law that allows the park to function. These buttons can be a value, a mantra, the core thesis. You have to know what you’re actually laying the bricks down with…

I believe if you have that at the center of how you play, the park will show you where to lay the path.


Taking a short break from the zine exploration. I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.

Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.

Much love.

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