Jazz Hands Fridays vol. 1
Today Rilla and I had the inaugural meeting of our two-person reading group called “Jazz Hands Fridays”. We decided to start it just so we’d have an excuse to read a couple of things a week (we choose one each) and chat about it over coffee. It totally worked. This week we covered David Lewis’ “The Paradoxes of Time Travel” (1987) and Dave Hickey’s “Romancing the Looky-Loos” (1997).
I’ve always been pretty into time travel stuff, particularly after doing a unit on it during my philosophy degree. Love all the weird paradoxes especially, love the weirdly “simply” answers to a lot of the questions about the (logical) possibility of time travel, and on and on. The Lewis paper is one I’ve read before and there wasn’t really any “news” in it, but it served to reintroduce a lot of the fun stuff about how time travel could work. Notably the idea that you could go back in the past, but that you couldn’t do anything other than what “already” happened. No killing Hitler, etc.
Naturally there are plenty of game ideas that can come out of time travel, but they’re all kind of tricky to pull off if you want the player to be the one doing the time travelling. Specifically because of this determined stuff. If they do something in the game, then at a later point travel back to that same time, then it doesn’t really work for them to “meet themselves”, because that didn’t happen. So you’d have to come up with tricks to get around these sorts of things. We even discussed whether this issue of a “determined” past could be somehow made in a mechanic itself.
The creepiest thing in the paper, though, is the idea of “inexplicable causal loops”, which turn out to be entirely possible. The easiest example is a classic. John is woken up one night by his older self who says they’re a time traveller and tells John how to build a time machine. Eventually John builds the time machine and the first thing he does is go back in time to tell his younger self how to build the time machine. It seems okay if you just take it on face value, but where did the information about how to build a time machine actually come from? Creepy.
The Dave Hickey paper was useful in that it was about building kind of art “scenes” and about the apparent different between “participants” who are people who are an integral part of a scene and help to make it happen to to feed back into it, and “spectators” who just consume the art produced by the scene. The paper was good in that it set us off mostly into a discussion about Hickey’s extraordinarily confident claims about what sounded to us like a pretty subjective phenomenon. So we talked about the potential value and merits of spectators, for instance, and, naturally, about hipsters.
Anyway, that’s my book report. I guess we’ll read a couple of different things next week!