Lined Up In A Row

What did peo­ple do to amuse them­selves before video games? They looked at the wall, they lost them­selves in the lit­tle nooks of inter­est there­in. I can remem­ber being lost in stains, wall­pa­per, oth­er people’s lit­tle car­toons; shal­low caves of inter­est. I haven’t been bored in years and I don’t miss it; but maybe it was good to have places to stop in with no answers forth­com­ing and so none asked for.


Was­n’t it bor­ing to spend all day in Ver­sailles? The lack of sur­face detail in for­mal gar­dens seems remark­able, look­ing back. Espe­cial­ly in com­par­i­son to the pro­tect­ed world inside the manor house, the world of fine­ly wrought objects, the forms of the hedge and the ter­race seem blunt and acci­den­tal. You can focus on any one veg­e­tal object, but if you try to look in it any detail will only repeat itself, as sure­ly as a swatch applied in a dig­i­tal ren­der­ing. It strikes me that while they default­ed to treat­ing hedges like rammed earth, piles of sin­gle mate­r­i­al, the design­ers might as well have increased the sur­face res­o­lu­tion of the gar­den by array­ing var­i­ous sorts of plant or min­er­al through it along equal­ly order­ly lines. But then, maybe I’m being fooled by pos­ter­i­ty into think­ing that any one plant was made to stay where it was.


In prac­tice, the ide­al for most seems not to be pure spa­tial sculp­ture, as much as the purists might want it to be; but instead a bare skele­ton of spa­tial struc­ture, kit­ted out with end­less por­tals of mean­ing­ful detail. From the per­spec­tive of the human in lux­u­ry, all this detail exists for you to glide through and project your­self into as desired. Giv­en enough leisure time, any tree’s bark will become vis­i­ble as its own lit­tle world, unspool­ing per­haps at the wrong speed but in an oth­er­wise agree­able fash­ion. The only lit­tle giv­en is that you should know a few of the play­ers, bor­ers or bee-eaters, and some­thing about their tendencies.

In this sense, then, the dig­i­tal world is dan­ger­ous­ly close to rein­vent­ing the wheel; like every­thing else peo­ple have done over the last few cen­turies, it’s most­ly a mat­ter of grow­ing peo­ple where there weren’t peo­ple before. The dig­i­tal world means to improve on the mute tem­plate of the for­est, replac­ing the stag with a talk­ing NPC


The charm of bird’s‑eye-view video games, for me, is that they do not try too hard to immerse you any­thing. They do not mod­el being in a sit­u­a­tion your­self, but see­ing the sit­u­a­tion at a remove; look­ing down into a minia­ture gar­den, hav­ing cho­sen an avatar to be half-pro­ject­ed into. Maybe it has that same qual­i­ty of fol­low­ing a bee­tle over bark. 

Has any­one yet thought of fly­ing a drone over an old for­mal gar­den and hav­ing it trace an actu­al walk­er through, and post­ing the result as though it was a Let’s Play?


A Series of Rooms post­ed recent­ly on Bat­ty Langley’s New Prin­ci­ples of Gar­den­ing. Lan­g­ley, a devot­ed labyrinth-mak­er, com­plained of the stiff reg­u­lar Gar­den; where after we have seen one quar­ter there­of, the very same is repeat­ed in all the remain­ing Parts, so that we are tired, instead of being fur­ther entertain’d with some­thing new as expected.”

You know, it wouldn’t be so bad to encounter the same place twice in two dif­fer­ent spaces; the prob­lem is that the whole run-up to the place is dupli­cat­ed as well, from the left wing of the gar­den to the right. That is to say, you could han­dle any amount of rep­e­ti­tion pro­vid­ed that each instance in space kept chang­ing rel­a­tive to the others.


Game space gets repeat­ed on a few dif­fer­ent lev­els. First, it is made of repeat­ing ele­ments that always behave the same, and have a rel­a­tive­ly small reper­toire of pos­si­ble life his­to­ries (say, a wall is either intact, being breached, or bro­ken). Sec­ond, the space itself is meant to be repeat­ed in time through your action; that you should essay the same space over and over again to solve or resolve it. As you trav­el it again and again, you get to know this shrunk­en world bet­ter and bet­ter; rarely does it get away from you.” Vary­ing the world indef­i­nite­ly by algo­rithm only leads to bet­ter know­ing the algo­rithm. This sense of rep­e­ti­tion starts out as an ameni­ty but goes on to sap the expe­ri­ence of play; you always get sick of the rep­e­ti­tions in the end. A land­scape, on the oth­er hand, sup­plies what a dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment lacks, which is the abil­i­ty to cul­ture, or rot, with­out human pres­ence; such that rep­e­ti­tions in time add up to dif­fer­ences in kind as well as degree.

All that is to say: the one thing lack­ing in a for­mal gar­den is that it should be left alone to grow a history. 

(March 2021)