Yin and Yang

Does Humaginarium make video games or health promotion?

“Do I have a split personality?” The question may arise when we hold two contrasting or conflicting beliefs, at the same time, and instead of trying to resolve or erase them, we let their differences flourish. Indeed, we may expect benefits from the tension.

There are different ways to perceive a split. On the one hand, we may cringe in the presence of cognitive dissonance, a symptom of unbalance and stress. On the other hand, we may proudly quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

(He wrote function, not prosper. Just making that clear to contrarians in our midst.)

Oxymorons are beloved by folks with a split personality. Take the oxymoron serious games, for example. Games are played, and by definition gameplay is amusing, frivolous, entertaining, somewhat meaningless. A wonderful miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, weaves an entertaining tale of struggle and conquest by a chess player, but chess itself is just a game. When you learn how to play it, the only benefit is that you now know how to play it.

(The miniseries has other ideas.)

So why pair game with serious, when serious is mindful, thoughtful, analytical, earnest. I once asked Clark Abt, who coined the oxymoron as the title of his book in 1970. He said that his editor came up with the title, it seemed catchy, and he didn’t think more about it.

When Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, he had just this sort of oxymoron in mind. As an aesthete of the decadent fin de siècle, he thought a great deal more about it. Ultimately, it cost him his life.

Well then, there are two contrasting or conflicting beliefs whirling through my mind these days, not fatal but nonetheless twisty. They are video games and health promotion.

I believe in both. There’s even an oxymoron that I coined, scientific entertainment, in order to pace Clark and jolt readers or listeners into paying closer attention to my project. So far, I have preserved my ability to function, though I’m still striving to prosper.

So does Humaginarium create video games or health promotion? The answer is, both at the same time. Yes, I know that you can survey the field of health promotion and not find a single video game sprouting in its barren soil. You can likewise survey the video game industry and not find anything that quacks like health promotion. That’s because video games and health promotion have nothing to do with each other.

(Until now.)

While claiming that Humaginarium makes video games and health promotion, at the same time, and expects to benefit mightily because of it, I am challenged every day to put them in order, to prioritize, to say we do one in order to do the other (not the other in order to do the one).

This challenge was a damned nuisance until I referenced it to the concept of yin and yang, or dualistic-monism (another oxymoron): a “fruitful paradox.” Yin and yang are complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Thus I arrived at the wheels within wheels of a conceptual breakthrough:

— Video games that are health promotion
— Art that is science
— Play that is work
— Freedom that is limiting
— Pleasure that is painful
— Silly that is smart
— Vulnerability that is strength
— Knowledge that is power

This list could go on. You probably have examples of your own.

The taijitu symbol famously depicts dualistic-monism. I chose a version of the symbol for this post, that reminds us, with markings around the circumference, that yin and yang are not reducible to this and that, subject and object, you and me. Instead it is a vortex of possibilities, in which every inferred possibility is accommodated and allowed to flourish. It is all-inclusive and balanced.

Not coincidentally, the quest of Humaginarium is for balance, or homeostasis. We are not trying to make sick people well, we are trying to make them happy. That may be the germ of our ultimate oxymoron.

Tai Chi Pa Kua Tu, the diagram of Tai Chi with Eight Trigrams, from Wikipedia

Literacies

Hey you, WHO, CDC, OECD: go stuff your endless texts!

There are many kinds of literacy. One that we all recognize is the ability to read and write in a native language. The average adult literacy, of that kind, in the United States, is utterly abysmal.

So bad, in fact, that health information should be written at no higher than an eighth-grade reading level (13-14 years old). That’s according to the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported by Wylie Communications.

You might say: it is what it is, we do the best we can. But publishing health information, at the level of younger adolescents, is bound to reinforce health inequities. The reason for that? Even when information is dumbed-down thus, about half of all adults still won’t understand it. Not because they’re morons, of course, but because they lack reading skills.

This is a problem for anybody who produces health information, health education, or health promotion. Those are three pillars of self-determination, for controlling and improving health. They are meant to empower people. Problem is, most of what gets published under those headings is text. It must be read rather than watched, heard or experienced.

Ergo: no read, no learn; no learn, no improve.

There’s an additional problem for those who have proficient reading skills. Shown text that is written for juvenile eyes, they are more than likely to be bored. People tend to check out when boredom occurs. They don’t pay attention. They don’t engage. They don’t learn.

If we add the 50% of the adult population, who can’t understand the basic text of health information, with the 15% of the adult population that gets bored reading Golden Books, that leaves only 35% in the crosshairs of epitomic health information, health education and health promotion. No wonder the pillars are wobbly!

(Literate persons reading this may have noticed that health care is not listed as a pillar — for obvious reasons, to anybody who has received health care on a regular basis. It doesn’t empower through self-determination. Just the opposite, with rare exceptions. For better or worse, usually for worse, health care is a system of command and control.

However, I digress.)

The ability to read and write is a foundational literacy. It must be present in order for other literacies to flourish. Two others that are particularly important to Humaginarium are health literacy and scientific literacy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health literacy is the ability of individuals to access, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), scientific literacy is the ability of individuals to engage with science-related issues (including medicine), and with the ideas of science.

Each of these definitions, in their contexts, requires proficient foundational literacy to understand. The language is tortured. But for me they refer, somewhat allusively but inevitably, to reading skills: in one case, reading the rhetoric of medicine, in the other, reading the rhetoric of science.

Professionals spend decades in school and training, acquiring health or scientific literacy. And the 85% of adults in the United States, who have less than proficient reading skills? They don’t have a clue or a chance. They are sitting quietly, in the last row, waiting for the bell to ring.

That’s a problem that feels like an opportunity, at least to me.

Humaginarium has an opportunity to solve that problem. After noticing that the literatures of health information, health education and health promotion are banal and ridiculous for adults who are not morons (i.e. almost everybody), we cut a new path to empowerment. We obviously can’t develop the reading skills of folks with chronic illness, so instead we made reading optional. In fact, we made reading unnecessary. To be clear, people who come to our brand read nothing.

Instead of reading, they do what comes more naturally, no matter what level or kind of literacy they have attained. They get to:

  • Look at beautiful pictures
  • Play with amusing things
  • Crush thorny brain-teasers

In other words, they play video games. Our novel video games are health promotion in disguise.

Nobody will recognize the health promotion, because there’s no command-and-control text on the screen telling them what to think or do. Instead there are persuasive voices asking them to explore and act according to their own self-interest, their intimate wants and desires.

And for what? To win the game. To control the illness. To increase their share of well-being.

So hey, you, WHO, CDC, OECD: go stuff your scrolling pages of text already! Read my lips. The work needs to be about much more than information. It needs to be about empowerment!

Nurse Nancy, a Little Golden Book, now available from Amazon, and others since the 1950s

Determinants

Humaginarium operationalizes the force of self-determination.

Humaginarium addresses the problem of health incompetence, and we do it in a new way.

Not by telling folks how to avoid, prevent and control chronic illness, but letting them figure it out by themselves.

Not by imparting sterile medical information, but empowering them to make choices and decisions that satisfy underlying needs.

Not by picking apart symptoms and treatments, but nudging folks to understand and deal with causes.

Those causes are called determinants of health. According to Humaginarium, the determinants of health fall into four categories:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Environmental

Physical determinants are tangible properties of the body. Physiology, biochemistry, the tissues that give it shape and weight, the growth and decay manifest in them. Physical determinants can be seen under a microscope, on an x-ray and CT scan, in a DNA sequence. They’re as tiny as molecules swarming the mitochondria, as large as 25 feet of neatly folded intestines hosting trillions of symbiotic bacteria.

Psychological determinants are properties of the mind — conscious and subconscious, voluntary and reflexive, rational and emotional, learned and instinctive. Psychological determinants can’t be seen, yet they can be felt and measured. They’re as fleeting as appetite and rooted as depression. As a professional focus of mind-body medicine, and having biochemical agency, they are psychic fluff that both augurs and stymies disease.

Social determinants of health are properties of lifestyle. Extrinsic, situational, interpersonal rather than organic and evolved, they manifest in customs, culture, class and community as behavioral norms, relationships and traditions that organize and regulate the tribe. Social determinants of health include wealth and poverty, education, race, religion, vocation, zip code and lately ideology. Sex and violence are also big among them.

Environmental determinants of health are both naturally occurring and built — in biosphere and atmosphere, urban sprawls and outback. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the weather that rains on our parade, the ground we frack, the mountains we strip and decapitate, the rivers we pollute, the trees we incinerate. Environmental determinants are palpable yet easy to ignore. They not only cause sickness, but also extinction!

There we have it, four determinants of health by category. There’s a fifth one I haven’t mentioned, the secret sauce of Humaginarium: it’s the determinant of self.

As in, self-determination. An individual’s firm intention to achieve a desired end. Self-determination theory explains out how it works and what it means; conation gives it linguistic pedigree; motivation, grit and ambition haul it into common parlance.

Self-determination is what a person exercises to assert cause, rather than be wrangled by the causes of others. Self-determination can be positive as with Laurence of Arabia, or negative as with Billy Budd. Either way, it is the single most potent counterweight to the other determinants of health that I listed. And of course, it is largely ignored by healthcare and biomedicine as we know them.

As players in Humaginarium develop their own firm intention to prevent, avoid and control the chronic illnesses they meet in our fantasies, it shall happen, they will win, both in game and real life.

But as long as they lack the gumption and inspiration and wherewithal to stand up and fight, it will not happen. I believe that as surely as I believe the sun also rises.

That Humaginarium has found a way to operationalize self determinants at scale, quickly and easily, simply means that the days of the other determinants of health may be numbered. They have ruled and tortured folks with chronic illness enough. Shut the back door. Game on!

From The Little Engine That Could

Resolve

Striving to go beyond, not back to normal.

The worst of bad years has finally ended. A hopeful New Year has begun. It’s time to make a New Year’s resolution. But hold on, wait a minute — resolve means very different things!

In one sense, resolve is to fashion a solution. I may resolve a conflict or a problem by settling differences; or resolve a mystery by explaining how something happened. Resolutions of that sort are answers and remedies. They can help the troubled and distracted get back to normal.

That’s typically not what New Year’s resolutions are for.

In a different sense, resolve is to make a decision. When feeling disquiet, uncertainty, challenge, yearning, I may resolve to make a change, or make a difference, or make something new. When I do that, I’m bravely striving to go beyond, not back to normal.

Going beyond is what New Year’s resolutions are for. They’re wholesome, even heroic gestures of self-determination. We pooh-pooh them because they’re hardly ever kept, and that’s sad, but also beside the point. Keeping a resolution is the end of trying. Making resolutions is the beginning.

Resolve is the beginning of a change process. How often do complicated new processes work as planned? Not often. How often do they generate unplanned results? Quite often. Even when change processes collapse, they may illuminate defects and limitations that were easy, even convenient to ignore.

Resolve in the sense of decision-making is a driver of constructive health competence promoted by Humaginarium. Constructive health competence is Humaginarium lingo for patient empowerment — though I don’t much like the word “patient.” It sounds so wounded and dependent and vulnerable. I prefer consumers or customers or just plain folks, because those words are full of agency, implying at least the potential for self-determination.

Resolution is cardinal to constructive health competence because people who use our video games come to understand and take better care of their own one-and-only (i.e. their body). They become excellent stewards of the self. They really want to live better and they’re ready to do something about it. That’s a big change!

I insist that foolish, ignorant, fearful, timid, anxious, feckless, angry and deluded people can’t be good stewards of anything, much less their health. So our program replaces those self-limiting conditions with resolve. Resolve to do whatever it takes to win in the imagination, and in life.

Our customers will learn how to make good resolutions on New Year’s and every other day too. Let us all do the same.

The principals of Humaginarium made several fine resolutions on January 1, 2021. Will we keep all of them? Any of them? None of them? I don’t know, and nobody else does either.

I don’t know how my story ends, only that it begins and begins again, and again and again, because it is well worth trying, and I would be absurd not to try.

As we proudly, nay bravely stand on the threshold of 2021, that’s what most matters to me.

Wants, and Needs

Don’t all patients participate in health care?

Wants and needs. The words are so close in meaning, they’re often interchangeable; almost synonymous — yet not quite. Humaginarium uses them to differentiate customer motivations, when it comes to playing our unusual video games; and also the payoffs that follow.

To be clear: Wants are desires. Needs are necessities. And both matter.

In the pragmatic world of tech startups — where Humaginarium occasionally visits and all problems are reducible to algorithms — wants are fluff and needs are raisons d’être.

Did you get that? I’ll elaborate.

  1. Wants are subjective. Needs are objective.
  2. Wants are “take it or leave it.” Needs are “gotta have it.”
  3. Wants are choices. Needs are imperatives.
  4. Wants are rewarded. Needs are met.
  5. Wants are pleasurable. Needs are painful.
  6. Wants are emotional. Needs are physical.
  7. Wants are fanciful. Needs are empirical.

People love what they want and hate what they need. I could go on like this for hourst. It’s a tense dichotomy in human nature.

Wants are addressed in art and entertainment, where they seek catharsis. Wants are addressed in industries like fashion and hospitality, that rely on customers enjoying themselves; that strive to please, since they know their customers have many choices and moreover control their choices.

Humaginarium makes art and entertainment in the form of video games. Not talking about serious games (grody) or gamification (gag me) or educational games (with a spoon). Talking about blockbuster, bestseller, AAA, dumbass games that are good for one thing only: escapism.

Except ours are not good for one thing. They’re good for two: escapism, and competence. Wants, and needs. Our games build skills called “constructive health competence,” which means the capacity of folks to take better care of themselves; to collaborate fully in medical decision-making; to participate actively in personalized healthcare.

Wait, don’t all patients already participate in healthcare? No, they don’t; no more than the chicken in your sandwich participated in agriculture and gastronomy. It’s not that folks don’t what to collaborate and participate, but they’re stymied: they don’t know how to begin or what to expect.

Humaginarium understands that health literacy, health acumen and medical self-efficacy are desperately needed by millions of people, but are nowhere available. Nowhere! So we address those needs in ways that are also desirable.

Because, let’s be honest, nobody likes healthcare. In this year’s presidential debates, when candidates said, “if you love your healthcare, you can keep it,” I wondered why they were talking to British or French or German voters — or practically anybody on earth other than patients living in the United States.

In fact, when we peel away the PR and bureaucracy, it’s clear that everybody in America hates healthcare, but puts up with it, because they have bloody needs. They put up with scary, clinical, patronizing, embarrassing, dehumanizing, baffling, riddled with mistakes, impoverishing, infuriating, futile — because they have unmet needs for control; especially control of chronic illness.

The problem is, putting up with healthcare isn’t fun. Even thinking about it is stressful.

The solution is, make it fun so folks want to think about it. Effective may follow. Health usually follows happiness. And that’s how Humaginarium performs its magic. By folding the wants of folks for escapist art into their needs for health competence, we have invented a way to empower. Empower is the opposite of telling folks what to do. It is enabling them to do for themselves.

Should you care about meeting your needs by satisfying your wants? Yes, most definitively you should care, if you’re a gamer. If you’re not a gamer, well, you can easily change that by learning how to play.

You’ll be glad to find that Humaginarium video games respect what you want, and respect what you need, and they don’t require a prescription.

The Business Plan

Think different?

One of the first and last words entrepreneurs hear when forming a tech startup is “pitch.” Referring not to the black muck that’s used to pave roads, nor the slant of a roof that prevents snow from piling up, nor a thrown ball that dances past a bat. This pitch is a PowerPoint deck.

Actually two decks: vanilla with about 10 slides and Neapolitan with about 50. Vanilla is for stakeholders who don’t dawdle. It cuts to the chase. Neapolitan is for slackers who need time to imagine that the venture wants only three years to pay out 10x what’s put in. A deck is paired with a script that couches the bulleted points in persuasive storytelling.

Prominence of a pitch contrasts with obscurity of a business plan. According to pundits who pass through startup incubators like roving bounty hunters, business plans are fossils. They take time to research and write and evaluate (diligence), they involve demonstrable facts and testable assumptions (empiricism), and they are not viable (so yesterday). Dude, if we’re going to bet on PITS (pie in the sky), let’s go fast and break things! The investing equivalent of high-throughput screening.

What a designer famously wrote about websites may be said about the pitch: “don’t make me think.”

A good pitch makes people think in a certain way, of course. That’s called fantasy. A business plan makes people think different, in a way called dialectics. It took me a while to realize this, and I am now creating the Humaginarium business plan (better late than never). Using the cloud app LivePlan to organize and prompt my writing, the business plan covers operations and markets; in an appended business pro forma, it covers commercialization and finance. Slowly. Carefully. Decisively. Come what may.

Writing a business plan feels to me like exploring majestic terra firma, after imagining a new world while sailing, surrounded by sea and sky.

To fresh entrepreneurs who have been threading the needle of a just-right pitch, I can recommend that you set it aside for the loom of a business plan and pro forma. Put first things first. Prove to yourself and stakeholders that you have the right stuff for a moonshot. Don’t mistake an albatross for a necktie.

The time will come later to whistle a happy tune in a dainty little pitch.

Covey’s Habit #3: Put first things first (the chicken before the egg).

Mind

The woke mind is a powerful ally of the wounded body.

Humaginarium is novel health promotion. With reverence for life science, it invites folks to discover how a healthy body works; and how the body may be induced to work better and last longer, despite chronic illness.

Okay the body, fine, but what about the mind? Does Humaginarium also revere perception, cognition, emotion, philosophy? Does it deem intangible mental phenomena as important for controlling and improving health?

The answer is yes, indubitably. Our novel health promotion posits that the mind is a lever of constructive health competence; that the woke mind is a powerful ally of the wounded body.

Moreover mental faculties, including the imagination, may be more practical and influential than dumbass regimens of behavioral conditioning. You know them: nudges, digital wearables, involuntary adherence, habits; the palaver of wellness. Easy to ignore because effective people rarely just follow instructions or accept manipulation. They seek to understand, and that’s especially true of those dealing with chronic illness.

Lately, my naive beliefs and assumptions about the mind have been sorely tested by COVID-19, likewise by the history of pandemics that previously obliterated swaths of humanity. In some ways, 2020 feels like 1520, when it comes to epidemiology. There is discouraging consistency, through all ages, of the failure by folks to understand, or even seek to understand, pathogenesis.

Of course, I’m not speaking of scientists and doctors, who administer remedies, who issue proclamations, recommendations, precautions. I’m speaking here of the untutored masses who tend to avoid, ignore, deny, resist, attack and refute health experts along with their intelligent advice. I’m speaking of neighbors whose leaden minds have empowered viral molecules to become proficient mass murderers, in the name of economic prosperity, political ideology, religious dogma and other cockamamie prejudices. I’m speaking about my customers.

Humaginarium promises constructive health competence to these same customers, knowing full well that human competence is based on critical thinking. Competence is the ability to control and improve your health, first by understanding it, then by skillfully — dammit willfully — mastering myriad determinants of health.

Competence isn’t calling a doctor for an appointment or a prescription; it isn’t subscribing to reminder text messages, or reading labels on vials. Constructive health competence is making informed, often brave, choices and decisions in order to minimize risks, in sickness and in health.

Conventional health promotion doesn’t share my worry about the untutored masses. It tends to leapfrog the mind anyway, as if folks don’t have one, rushing to pump procedural, behavioral bromides into their muscle memory. Don’t smoke. Just say no. Get more exercise. Cut out simple sugars. Eat more vegetables. Take your meds. Get tested. Fast after midnight. Buy health insurance. I could fill a blog with the most common commands of health promotion before getting to one that says something like, “seek to understand first,” or “begin with the end in mind.”

My objection to procedural and behavioral orders in health promotion is that they don’t matter and they don’t work. We have statistics to prove that. Yet my growing worry about getting folks to figure out health, and act accordingly, is that they seem averse to intellectual struggle. Thinking is slow and hard!

I want folks to make better choices and decisions, based on their own felt needs and understanding. To judge by the conduct of crowds who ignored copious, relentless public health information for most of this year, folks tend to act like they won’t think. So there is nothing there on which to build health competence.

Or is there? Remember that Humaginarium doesn’t promote health with pedagogy. It is not health education. It relies on art and entertainment, on learning from the experience of fantasy. Regular folks, the same ones who act like they don’t have a mind when it comes to their bodies, are able to shoulder fairly large cognitive loads when using their imagination.

Obviously, despite appearances, folks do have good minds, and moreover their minds are ready to absorb and use sophisticated concepts and techniques, provided that these are experienced in ways that arouse rather than stultify, engage rather than dictate obedience. Arouse and engage, as in video games.

Do you doubt it? Then you don’t know gamers. Want convincing? There is half a century of scholarly research awaiting your attention. If you lack time to review it, check out The Hole in the Wall Project for an epitome.

Still skeptical? Then close your eyes and recall when you learned more and better than at any other time in your life. If you’re like most of us, that was in your infancy and early childhood.

You learned then the way gamers learn as adults: by experiencing, practicing, pretending, figuring things out. If lately you’ve declined to wear a mask and social distance, your mind is probably AWOL and your body — your health — is on the line.

That’s bad, but things could be worse. Humaginarium wants you to make them better. By seeking to understand your body and health, first.

Scientific entertainment. Costume of a plague doctor nicknamed Dr Beaky of Rome (1721), by Paul Fürst. The doctor wears a face mask and socially distances, to avoid infection. NB that was 300 years ago, before the advent of modern microbiology.

Suprematism

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer, or to take Arms.

Suprematism, or constructivism; is that a question? It is, when we come to designing video games. Each is a pillar of design thinking. Each is a buttress holding up the walls of our visual program. They don’t really go together; in fact, each yearns to cancel the other. I want to make opposites attract with a bold new visual style that few seem to have mastered.

Suprematism is the most abstract of arts. It springs from an ideological rejection of objectivity and representation. A suprematist doesn’t mirror nature, or any aspect of the real world. Nor does a suprematist idealize by probing objects for mathematical properties that reveal and convey meaning. Suprematism reports, and cares only for, feelings: immediate, nonverbal, ineffable emotion, triggered by visual perception and expanding into lofty, unmapped spheres of intimation and sensibility and enlightenment.

Thus a suprematist, unlike most artists, is neither magician nor pretender. A suprematist doesn’t wear a mask or dupe people into seeing what isn’t there, or believing that an artifice has physical power. Suprematism is pure sensation and feeling. Feeling about.. what? Desire, valor, truth, fulfillment? No, nothing like that. Suprematism causes feelings about nothing at all: feelings that are a wordless projection of the human condition.

If you’re bored or repelled by feelings that are not for or about something, then suprematism is not for you. On the other hand, if you prefer art that you can use, then constructivism may work better. I think it works well.

I often mention constructivism as a pedagogy. In that sense of the word, constructivism is an offshoot of heuristics and untrammeled learning from experience; the ways children learn when playing and adults learn at work. Both learn by doing things, their own way, alone and with others, discovering what satisfies and turning that into competence. Diabetes Agonistes is a video game simulation, Metabolic Genii is a video game role-play. Therefore, each facilitates constructivist learning experience. But learning and visualization are different things.

Suprematist and constructivist art emerged in Russia in the early 20th Century. Both were revolutionary at the time, became very influential, and remain so today, mainly because they epitomize the morally courageous act of shrugging off tradition and authority, and placing all bets on creative freedom. Suprematists shrug to evince the human condition, constructivists shrug to improve it.

Constructivist art, in theory at least, is utilitarian. It wants not to be viewed, but interrogated. It wants not to be admired, but engaged. It wants not to be hung, but applied. It wants not to be pretty, but unsettling and useful. The most notable constructivist working today is the street artist Banksy. Fracturing rather than mirroring or adorning reality, forcing sudden openings for invention and reform. Not in the artist, but in people who experience art.

There you have two opposites, of sorts, and both are central to the mission of Humaginarium. We are creating interactive art and entertainment that epitomizes the human condition and generates intense sensations, without recourse to narrative, without telling people what to think or how to behave. Just keeping our philosophical mouths shut while they enjoy the playground. And yet, their enjoyment doesn’t stop in the playground. It continues in the imagination and transfers to the real world as a mindset, a frame of reference, a sense of morality, a habit of informed thinking.

Is the question suprematism, or constructivism? No, not in our project, and not at a time when tradition and authority are grinding to a stop on the train tracks to nowhere. We need all the resources of resistance we can get! Because work does not make us free; the act of shrugging might.

Suprematism and constructivism, feeling and empowering: each in full flower, in the same visual program, for the benefit of many people who couldn’t care less, but should.

Suprematist logo art of Humaginarium.

Experience

A video game is a process more than a product.

Video game entertainment is a process more than a product; moreover one that people control to their advantage. For example, as they play Diabetes Agonistes, their personal experience of discovery, invention, synthesis and resolution is paramount. They, not the game, make individual choices and meaning that bring the game to life. They learn from their experience in a process known as heuristics.

Unlike pure play (epitomized by Johan Huizinga and Bernie De Koven), a video game is structural and ordained. It imposes rules on performance; meets out punishments and rewards; tells a story or at least has a narrative arc; occupies virtual space that seams realistic or at least familiar. A video game has personality or involves characters whose personalities have to be dealt with. One of those personalities belongs to the player who participates as an actor: performing a role that is directed if not scripted by the game.

Diabetes Agonistes has five complementary dimensions of experience that enrich lives. By enrich I mean amuse and edify, make them happier, smarter, healthier. These are the takeaways and reasons for coming back for more.

The first dimension of experience is art. Just looking at Diabetes Agonistes gives pleasure and satisfaction. Enjoyment doesn’t depend on understanding or using what’s visible. Drawing, painting, modeling render all subject matter beautiful no matter how it actually appears in nature, if at all. We use a hybrid style of hyperrealism and romanticism to achieve this effect, because the blend is perfect for rendering science and fantasy from the same perspective.

The second dimension is entertainment and it surprises me. Diabetes Agonistes is funny, though I haven’t thought about it that way. It wants to be liked though it’s morbid, difficult, obnoxious. It mocks itself and makes fun of others, and seems to have neither center of gravity nor gravitas: dancing when told to march, joking when asked for help, by turns Harpo, Groucho or Chico and willing to do anything to earn people’s trust — not to make subject matter easy but to make it fun.

The third dimension is fantasy. Our scientific subject matter is not imaginary, not invented, not theoretical, not in doubt. It’s real in every cell of the body; and it’s faithfully represented in Diabetes Agonistes: modeled, simulated, rendered before cast as art and entertainment. Yet the experience we make of science is perversely unrealistic. After taking much trouble to get it right, we rig it in fantasy. We let folks pretend that illness is no threat, but a competitor. Rather than retreating in fear, anger, denial as folks do in life, fantasists tackle illness curiously, deliberately, with chutzpah.

The fourth dimension is plaything or toy. Diabetes Agonistes has unconstrained elements that are not justified by game rules, mechanics, theory, objectives. Pictorial embellishments, challenging diversions, anecdotal pockets that randomly delight for no logical reason. Our proper game about metabolism gains nothing from playthings, while people enjoy the silly distractions. They are occasions for lallygagging.

The fifth dimension is game. It immerses people in conflicts they’ve never consciously had and would avoid if presented another way. Life and death conflicts that erupt in their imagination, involving mysterious dynamics that are scary and difficult to understand, and that most folks are unfit to learn by any pedagogical means. Gaming not only makes it possible to learn, but more importantly desirable. People get to vanquish pernicious drivers of their illness.

Indeed our video game is a process more than a product. A process involving perception, cognition, emotional engagement, self-determination. Each one of the five dimensions is a way of experiencing the process, a way for players to deposit themselves in a virtual world of endless opportunities, and later take themselves out with gifts of amazing insight.

Material

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”

The Italian Renaissance was the cradle of modern civilization. Is that because it freed people from medieval superstition? Not by a long shot: superstition continues to thrive right up to the present and shows no sign of waning. Something else happened to make that time and place consequential. It was the advent of natural science.

The Renaissance isn’t notable for reinventing religion. It merely stopped inventing nature and instead turned people’s attention from the imaginary to the existential. At first this code switch probably felt like a comedown, because the natural world seems uncomplicated and familiar; it’s all around us, there for everybody to see and use rather than a symbol of things mysterious, unseen and desired.

That rustic perspective may have preceded the Quattrocento but for sure it ended there, with the emergence of scientific acumen. Because when patiently and attentively considered, nature is not uncomplicated and familiar; it is not mostly palpable to the senses, not intuitive or logical or even fathomable at its extremities. Nature is an enigma so mind-boggling that relatively few people can or even want to think about it. Instead we take it for granted, and wonder what’s for dinner.

Nature is the material world, spanning particles so small that they pass through our porous membranes as though we aren’t there; and stardust so diffuse that we don’t know where (or if) it ever ends. Beginning in the Italian Renaissance, artists and scientists have investigated material in order to understand what it truly is, why it sometimes comes to life and lives on, how it may be controlled and used for practical purposes.

A celebrated artist-scientist of that era was Michelangelo. He wrote of his art that “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” What did he mean?

He meant that material is us and we are material. We may look at and into ourselves to discover the meaning of the universe; we may look at and into the universe to discover the meaning of ourselves. Fearful symmetry!

This insight came forcefully to mind as I surveyed human metabolism and asked myself, “What may people come to know or know about, that they didn’t already know, by the time they finish Diabetes Agonistes? And how much of that will be useful to them.”

The answers are pretty exciting. People will suddenly know that their life is their body: neither the soul everlasting nor the face in the mirror, but a unique and beautiful and transitory expression of their genes. They will know that the genes encode biochemical activities so numerous and subtle and complex and quick and precise and certain that miraculous is not an exaggeration.

When our game posits that the body is a miracle worthy of their greatest care and respect and love, they will not scratch their head and wonder how that can be. They will not sign up for a class or call a doctor or a priest to explain life to them. They will instead look out on the world – the seas, the mountains and valleys, the forests and pathways through the forest, and they will believe, “That is me. I can now find myself in the world where I live, and understand the world where I live as the body I inhabit. For a time, until the material that is me returns to stardust and finds another fascinating way to emerge and continue.”

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” wrote Michelangelo about another sculpture. We know it when we view his art. We know that his genius was to let the human emerge from material; and for material to teach us something ineffable about the human that nobody before the Italian Renaissance understood, and which few of us today understand. Tomorrow will be different.

Scientific entertainment. The Awakening Slave (1530) by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, pictured with a biochemical fantasy and cruciform suggesting any person’s intermateriality.