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.

Behavior

Without getting to the why there is no getting to behavioral outcomes.

Is scientific entertainment™ an offshoot of behavioral science or behavioral medicine? With the FDA approving video games as therapy for the first time, the question is hardly idle. The answer may explain how Humaginarium achieves meaningful outcomes.

Behavioral science is the study of human behavior through observation, modeling, and experiment. Behavioral scientists investigate why people do what they do, and how they might do better. The scientists have a voracious appetite for meaning, so they stir separate disciplines into a unified mode of inquiry, wrangling diverse epistemology in order to discern and use truth in more holistic and robust ways.

Behavioral medicine is likewise the study of human behavior with a unified mode of inquiry. Practitioners study why people are unhealthy or at risk of illness, prone to injury, difficult to treat, heal, or cure; why they’re frail or short lived, and how they can manage health with more than biomedicine. Having a voracious appetite for meaning, practitioners look beyond clinic to identify environmental, psychological and social dimensions, causes, or palliations of disease – and try to make good use of them.

I now think that scientific entertainment is indeed an offshoot of these correlates; that it’s “behavioral entertainment.” It involves depictions of human behavior derived from observation, modeling, and experiment. It relates why people do what they do, and how they might do better. For example, why they often increase risks rather than avoid or control them; and how they might act differently to produce more desirable outcomes.

Could it be that standup comedy on The Daily Show is also behavioral entertainment; likewise animation by Pixar, theater by Lin Manuel Miranda, painting by Banksy, fiction by Margaret Atwood, movies by Guillermo Del Toro, music by Bob Dylan, and video games by Will Wright? All of these make audiences feel good while moving them to create and use new meaning.

If scientific entertainment in Humaginarium is behavioral, it’s important to remember that behavior is more than how people act; it’s also why. As Robert Sapolsky makes abundantly clear, without getting to the why there is no getting to behavioral outcomes.

In humans, “why” leads through a morass of conscious choices and decisions, through nervous reactions of the senses, all the way to the tremulous molecules that compose our bodies and microorganisms that live in and on us – some keeping us alive and others just the opposite.

I’m claiming to be behavioral, but not behaviorist. I don’t suppose that humans are machines that can be programmed with external conditioning. More in line with behavioral economics, I think people should not be trained, conditioned, or forced to do anything they prefer not to do.

The job of scientific entertainment in Humaginarium is to help them recognize choices and make decisions in what they believe is their own self-interest. That’s our nudge to wellness™.

The nudge is what allows us to generate behavioral outcomes. As I have often heard the butterfly say to the fish, “the best thing in the world you can be is yourself.” People who find themselves in Humaginarium may grow more confident that they’re incredibly beautiful and brave and may become ever more so.