Communion Of Dreams


Dementia: the game.

OK, a bit flip, there. Sorry. This actually sounds like a really interesting game, and the people who are involved with it seem to understand about the limitations inherent in it:

Ether One: The Video Game That Tries to Simulate Dementia

Ether One, a first-person puzzle game made by a six-person team at White Paper Games, in Manchester, England, is about the slow dissolution of the brain. The game casts the player as an employee of a futuristic memory-retrieval company called the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories. Using scans of the woman’s brain, the Ether Institute reconstructs 3-D simulations of what remains of her memory. Players must reassemble the story of her life using the oddly alien artifacts (the symbolic significance and basic operation of which remain a mystery) left behind in the fraying simulation of her past home and work places.

* * *

Ether One is built around a central control room from which players access the four main areas of Jean’s past—a seaside town in England, an industrial mine, a processing factory, and a lighthouse overlooking the ocean. Each area is filled with hundreds of tchotchkes, mementos, and mundanities that could hold some long-forgotten significance. Players are asked to “collect” the memories and are limited to carrying only one object at a time. At any point in the gameplay, they can instantaneously teleport back to the control room, which is lined with empty shelves to hold anything they collect. As a player, you’re never sure what’s important and what isn’t, so the system encourages you to take everything.

This hoarding is repaid with periodic puzzles, such as a door with a numeric lock whose code can be found on the bottom of a previously collected mug. As the game progresses, these puzzles increase in complexity, as does the array of random objects filling the shelves. The collection gradually overwhelms the player’s ability to remember just where all of these things came from and why they seemed important enough to retrieve. Why did I bring this plate all the way back here? Whose hat is this supposed to be again? It’s a tidy simulation of the cognitive degradation of dementia.

The author of the piece, , has first-hand experience with a family member who suffered with dementia. Here’s his concluding insight about Ether One:

Playing Ether One, I can’t say I felt any new illuminations about the disease. Most of the things I watched my grandmother go through were missing in its simulation, but I was reminded of the helplessness I felt. After solving the first few puzzles in Ether One, I realized that I’d been storing way too many items back in the hub world. It reminded me of my grandmother’s stuffed bookshelves in her nursing home room—old books, half-used perfume bottles, porcelain ferrets, a piece of Bohemian glass I’d given her once—we’d kept as much as we could when she moved in, trying to guess what might mean something to her and what might be lost for good. If video games indulge in a fantasy of objects—swords, spaceships, and the like—it’s one that’s hard to translate into a room filled with forgotten things. In Ether One, I found that the distance between these seemingly incompatible worlds lessened just a little. Even though I couldn’t quite forget myself inside its artifice, it was comforting to have the space to try.

May be worth checking out.

Also worth checking out: the Kindle edition of Her Final Year will be available for free download next week, from Monday through Wednesday.

Jim Downey



Thinking about the unthinkable.*

Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.

Anyway, Eric Schlosser has a good article in The New Yorker reflecting on how the movie, originally considered a farce, was actually frighteningly accurate. From the article:

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

 

“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:

A Sound of Cosmic Thunder: Earth-Impacting Asteroid Heard by Nuke Detectors

On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.

What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.

NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:

 

Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.

And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!

 

Jim Downey

*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory.  I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.