#711: Political Philosophy as Game Design: Resolving Paradox & Confusion with Play

Rust LTD is composed of four avant-garde artists who are experimenting with political philosophy as game design through surrealist narratives and open world sandboxes of resolving paradox through play. I spoke with Rust’s CTO Anton Hand about Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades at GDC where we talked about guns, morals, and capitalism, and I just had a chance to sit down with Rust CEO Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz about how he embraces paradox and confusion in his game design process to explore thought experiments in political philosophy.

We cover a lot of ground in this EPIC 2-hour conversation that explores his “No Method” theory of game design, experiential design inspired by political philosophy thought experiments, pragmatic advice he gives his game design students, the struggle of being a designer, the role of providing feedback, the ethics of journalistic photogrammetry, the ecological sustainability of immersive technologies, immersive poetry, how play allows us to escape closed systems of logic, and what it means to be a democratic citizen in today’s society. We also cover a wide range of ideas in political philosophy including Rawls’ “Veil of Ignorance,” Plato’s ideal size of a polis, Aristotle on politics as matters of communal concern, Tip O’Neill on “All Politics is Local,” Sheldon Wolin’s Politics and Vision, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Community, Stoicism’s Enchiridion, and John Dewey’s Philosophy of Education. We cover a wide-range of deep questions about what it means to be a designer and artistre within our current political and economic context.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So I was in Bakersfield, California for an XR Hackathon, and listening to Adam Solzer of Laskiewicz talk about Rust Limited and some of the things that they've been doing with hot dogs, horseshoes, and hand grenades. the creators of Rust Limited are all these avant-garde artists who are really surrealist and absurdist, and they have a very particular philosophy for how they do game design. So Adam is actually the CEO of Rust Limited, he's also a poet, he's a narrative designer, but he's also a game designer at Occidental College, and so he has a very particular philosophy and viewpoint on game design. He describes it as anti-method. In other words, not having a method and really embracing paradox and confusion and having these different thought experiments and just getting there and iterating, just getting into an experience, starting with some sort of thought experiment or idea and embedding the sort of baseline of political philosophy. And then from there, they design these different interactions and experiences that are then in close dialogue with the community. They have one of the most active Reddit communities. and they're in constant dialogue with their community and just doing these various different experiments. In fact, Adam said that a lot of his approach with game design is like doing this research into political philosophy, which is a fascinating orientation into virtual reality. And Adam is someone who is thinking about all sorts of different aspects of VR, the ethics of VR, journalism in VR, and This is just over a two hour conversation and it's quite a journey. I mean, we just slipped into this whole other realm of just exploring all these different ideas, especially what it means to be a citizen in this democracy today and what's it mean to have a voice and to be a participant in a democracy where oftentimes you feel really disenfranchised. And so how is it that we can actually each find our own ways to become an active participant in our political system? So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Adam happened on Saturday, October 27th, 2018 at the California State University XR Hackathon in Bakersfield, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:25.885] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: My name is Adam Sulzdorf-Liskevich. I work at Rust LTD. Technically my title is CEO, but really I just sort of do a grab bag of things because, you know, we're an indie company, so sometimes I do narrative design, world building, sometimes I do writing. Occasionally in the past I've done sound design and whatever else anybody needs. I teach, too. I teach at Occidental College. What is it that you teach? I teach a bunch of stuff there. Game design, game studies, virtual reality and world building. I'll be teaching an introduction to digital culture class next semester, which should be a lot of fun. And an art and politics of virtual reality class. Yeah.

[00:03:03.971] Kent Bye: Interesting. Yeah, so we're here in Bakersfield, California of all places at this XR hackathon here at the CSUB So you're giving a talk today. So what were some of the things that you were trying to communicate to the students here?

[00:03:17.399] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Oh Man, I'm so long-winded. It's tough to think about how to summarize that I'd say that one of the biggest things I wanted to communicate is that people come to XR to VR from any number of different directions. And one of those directions can be philosophy, can be cultural studies, politics, right? And people like me take direct inspiration from really weird kinds of questions, from paradoxes, from strange thought experiments. For me, that's an inroad into play that I find really productive. And I think it's something that more people, especially young people, should be introduced to, that perspective. You know what I mean?

[00:03:55.410] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think that the more that I've been into VR, I feel like it starts to bring up these age-old philosophical questions that the phenomenologists have been talking about for hundreds of years. But now VR gives you a direct experience about some of these deeper philosophical questions and issues that gives you a context. It's like this concept of embodied cognition. You can talk about an abstract idea, but until you have an embodied experience of that idea, you don't have much context to be able to start to talk about it. So I feel like In some ways, the philosophers have been at the bleeding edge of ideating these concepts of what is the boundaries of what we know and don't know. But it takes time for that to propagate into culture, but that we're at the point now where we're having this immersive technology that gives us these embodied experiences that is recontextualizing these different philosophical questions. So I found myself in the process of covering virtual reality, getting more into like, oh, I have to kind of ramp up to this whole philosophical backlog of ideas for the last 2,500 years, because in a lot of ways, there's nothing new and people have talked about this, but it's now crossing the chasm into the mainstream of just having more access to be able to really unpack it and be able to look at what some of these philosophical thinkers were saying.

[00:05:11.348] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I mean, I kept thinking while you were talking about how the history of philosophy viewed from a certain angle is a history of thought experiments, right? Whether it's going as far back as Plato and thinking about, you know, the allegory of the cave, or to something more contemporary like John Rawls, who, I don't know, he's fallen out of fashion, like a lot of people have stopped talking about Rawls, but his theory of justice revolves around a thought experiment where you imagine yourself in what he called the original position, that you're behind a veil of ignorance. All that really means is you say to somebody, imagine you don't know anything about yourself. Which is easy to do when you put on VR, right? Like just covering up all of normal sensory organs. So you say, I don't know anything about myself. I don't know where I am. I don't know what my body is like. I don't know how old I am. I don't know how rich I am. I don't know how educated I am. I don't know what time this is, what era this is. And without knowing anything about yourself, start trying to imagine a just relationship with another human being, right? Start trying to imagine how much a gallon of milk should cost, practical things. Imagine what love looks like, right? All of these things that require us to do something that's nearly impossible. I mean, this was Habermas' critique of Rawls was, even if I could do that, which I can't, why the hell would I want to? So suddenly we have this medium where the base condition of the medium is depriving people of direct access to their bodies. I think that's part and parcel why when we joke around about, and by we I mean guys like me and Luke and Anton at Rust, when we joke around and say that virtual reality is not a visual medium, it's an inner ear medium, this is what we're talking about. It's to say that you strap something on somebody's face, you cover up their ears, their body gets confused. Your lizard brain gets confused. There are these tricks that you can do to try to make somebody more comfortable, like blowing air in their face, right? In general, those tricks help when they allow the senses that we have access to, the senses that are still firmly planted in quote-unquote actual reality, to compensate for the other senses which have become profoundly confused. I think a lot about how There's that thing they teach you in driver's ed that when you're going to get on a highway for the first time, it's going to be terrifying for the first 60 seconds because you're suddenly moving so fast and you've never operated like a giant steel box that could kill people before, and certainly not at that speed. But after about 60 seconds, your body acclimates to it, right? Velocitization. And it still happens. It happens to me every day that I hop on the highway around LA. I'm like, oh, OK, I feel better. I feel better now. So yeah, it's a strange thing to be working in a medium where the fundamental condition for your audience is that they'll be confused and uncomfortable and phenomenologically disoriented.

[00:07:59.946] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, the fact that you have a background in political philosophy I think is fascinating because I feel like there's like these different ways that you can use the medium of virtual reality to start to have these moral dilemmas or these different situations. There's a certain amount of our morality and our ethics that we have, but that as you're presented and having direct experiences with different moral dilemmas, it may cause you to expand your worldview and be able to evolve your set of moral values. And I feel like if I were to boil down the problems of the world, I think it comes down to what our ethics and what our values are, because that will drive the culture, that'll drive the laws that we have, it'll drive the economics and our behaviors on that. And to some extent, the technologies that we're building, it can all go back to our ethics and our morals and our values, and that if we have an ethical morality of, I'm gonna do everything that's going to benefit just myself, and screw everybody else, then that's kind of what we have in terms of an ethical and moral value system of our economy. And that when looking at Rawls and the theory of justice of this veil of ignorance of like if you were to design a system and you don't know what kind of socioeconomic background you're going to be born into, then is this the type of system that we'd want to design where the rich have a disproportionate Chances and opportunities to succeed versus somebody who is born in a situation where they don't have enough resources to sustain themselves and to survive and so There's these different social economic situations that we have in a culture that come from these individual decisions But at the essence they come down to our ethics and our morals and I'm just curious how you think about that when he comes to Your video game design and how you see this as a social change platform.

[00:09:38.910] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: I That's a great set of questions. I really agree with where you're coming from. As a game designer, my experience has been that the most powerful thing in games aren't just the verbs, they're not just the choices, they're the dilemmas that we're presented with. I think my favorite and the most powerful video game experience I've ever had was playing Fallout 3. There's a moment in Fallout 3 where you first encounter the slaver camp and You know, you get to it whenever you get to it. It's an open world game, so I've probably been playing the game for 10 or 15 hours, and I suddenly happen upon this camp that's walled in by makeshift walls. They're made of, like, corrugated metal or something. So I walk around the edge of this fence, and I find my way in, and suddenly I'm talking to somebody who owns slaves in this dystopic future. And I'm presented with a binary choice. Do I do what the slaver is asking of me? Do I go find the head of the Lincoln Memorial statue or not, right? So on the one hand, you cooperate with the slavers for whatever reason. And on the other hand, you leave and you go seek the anti-slavers out. God, I'm like feeling it as I'm trying to describe it because What welled up in me in that moment was an uncontrollable desire to just shoot the slavers, right? My character had a gun in their hands, and here I am looking face to face with somebody who I think the writing was pitch perfect, was just absolutely something I would imagine pragmatically emerging in that dystopic future. So I just shot him right in the head. And then I turned the game off, and I took a little walk. I'm like, that was... That really got to me, that was okay, maybe I need a break. And I tried to come back to it a little later, and I had a worse reaction. I just shot a bunch of them at that point. And I was really angry, just viscerally angry, as if it was really happening to me. And at that point, I took a longer break, hoping that at some point I'd go back and I'd have a more rational response to it. And I never did, actually. For me, that's the end of Fallout 3. It is an impossible decision. And so it was incredibly powerful. and it made me reckon with how I might comport myself in that circumstance, and it inspired me as a game designer. So, within any interactive medium, we have this opportunity to give people impossible choices, or extremely difficult choices, things that test your ethics, test your values, and make you put your money on the table, make you just lay it out and say, this is it, these are the cards I have, right? What I think is interesting about virtual reality is it adds this additional capacity to restrict or expand one's vision, one's ability to see something or not, to visualize something in a unique or previously inaccessible way, to expand our senses or to contract them usefully. So I think trying to find interesting ways to find an overlap is one of my primary goals, one of my primary motivating factors as a game designer is to say, can I give somebody a choice that's not just meaningful but difficult in a context where they are seeing or feeling or interacting with something in a way that they wouldn't be able to in real life, in a way that isn't just about manipulating something on a screen, but is about being stuck in a space. Whether that space be something analogous to the real world, like solitary confinement, or the interior of a jail, or something absurd or fantastical, like being on the surface of a planet, some sort of exoplanet, or deep undersea, or Anything else, like on a giant stick of gum, you can put somebody anywhere and you really put them there. It's going to get really wild when we start having smell-o-vision type accessories more widely accessible in out-of-home venues. I think it's going to happen. I don't know how widely accessible, but what's going to be the killer app that somehow gets your nose involved with VR? I mean that quite seriously, right? When I was kicking around ideas with folks at the Southern California's ACLU office last year, and we were talking about doing a project around prison reform, and I started showing them some mock-ups that Luke and I had done of the inside of a jail cell, and we started talking about virtual reality. There was a woman there who was adamant that we get smell involved. She wanted to know, could we get smell involved? Because for her that's the primary experience of the inside of a prison is the smell it's the smells and for her unless you've had that sensory experience you do not know what it's like for somebody to live inside a prison and I have a hard time imagining what that would be be like to go to a festival or go to a political event and be put in the position of occupying a cell and smelling something like that. I don't know how I feel about it. And I mean that quite seriously. I have no frame of reference. The ethics of it, the aesthetics of it confuse the hell out of me. So I have no idea where that lands, but as a designer of virtual reality experiences, I'm constantly confused as hell. I really am. And I rely on the people around me to kick ideas around and to test things and say, how is this landing with you? You know what I mean?

[00:14:48.658] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that, you know, the thing that comes up as you're talking about this, the sort of the ethics around the experience design is just today you were giving a talk at this XR hackathon and you were talking about this project that you were doing this photogrammetry capture of this almost like homeless encampment that was next to the side of a river and that you were working in collaboration with a non-profit trying to figure out like how can we start to tell the story but yet There was a couple of ethical issues of like, are we doing some sort of ghetto tourism? Is this exploitive in any way? A bottom line, is this consensual? Are they consenting to you capturing this trauma of what you described as kind of like war photography? But at the same time there's a role for that journalism to be able to just show what's happening and to tell the world about that, to be able to potentially say this is the state of what's happening, to be able to then create this empathy but also anger and outrage to the point that people take action. And so there's this balance between doing these types of work where you're exploring the current state of humanity where you're on one hand trying to cultivate empathy but on the other hand trying to instill action in someone, which is to empower them with the choice that they can make to make a difference and the balance between all those things, but also just how this was a bit of an experiment that I'm just curious if you can maybe expand on what you found in some of those dilemmas that you were finding within yourself.

[00:16:16.007] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: I found that there's a real tension between my desire to replicate a situation, to motivate people to think about particular issues in ways that are kept at a distance from them, with the particular people that are going to have access to the experience of a virtual reality recreation. I guess what I'm getting at is, when I was working on that project, I had a hard time reckoning with who the project's audience was, who this project was for. It was complicated. What happened was, in late 2017, the Santa Ana River encampment in Anaheim started to hit the news, like the local news, because There were a variety of policy changes in and around Los Angeles that were driving small groups of houseless people toward that liminal space along the Santa Ana River, where this long-standing encampment had been, that had been there maybe 8 to 10 years. There had been sometimes 300, sometimes 500, sometimes more people. And that community was long-standing. The people that were there for a long time had strong relationships with one another, and over the course of a couple months, more and more people started to show up, such that I think at its largest point it was about 1,200 people. So with any small community like that, groups of 30 or 40 people that know each other and are coming from a completely different place start showing up in this encampment and start trying to carve out some space for themselves. And it creates tension, which meant that not only was this becoming a focal point, a convergence point for a lot of transient folks who didn't have any better options, but the communities themselves were in turmoil and conflict. They were confused. And around that time I had been getting to know Marcus Benigno and a few other folks, Yves Garro at the ACLU, and we were talking about the potential of virtual reality in social justice work, and we were talking about work by people like Nani de la Pena, Use of Force, and Hunger in Los Angeles. you know, like we were talking about, puts people in a position they weren't otherwise able to occupy, right? Seeing some event like police violence or someone standing in line at a food shelter and going into, I think it was diabetic shock is what's happening in hunger in Los Angeles. So you're in this situation that you otherwise couldn't have been in, wouldn't normally have access to. It's a powerful thing. So we were trying to brainstorm ideas. We were really just getting going. You know, we'd only been talking for a few weeks. trying to brainstorm ideas that would work with their existing campaigns and the stuff that they were working on and Suddenly I got a call from one of them and they said you've got to get down to the Santa Ana encampment I said, yeah, I know, you know, I don't want to put it off anymore and they're like No, you really have to get down there. They're de-encamping them and the camp's getting shut down, it sort of boiled over and so we had a couple of weeks and me and a couple students went down there and we tried to do some photogrammetric captures and it was from the get-go it was this ethical gray area that none of us were comfortable with because we were learning firsthand that there's a difference between taking a photograph of something and doing a photogrammetric scan of something and when that thing is a one to two mile long stretch of a bike path that people have been living on for five to ten years. If you haven't had the time to develop relationships with those people, which is what we wanted to do, we wanted to not only get their consent, we wanted them to help us design this experience. And that was not going to happen. Circumstance would not allow that. So we were trying to make this quick decision, and we went in and tried to get a scan going. We had a drone. We didn't want to put it up in the air. We found that we were relieved when we found this, that there's a no-fly zone directly above that path. We said, great, good, we don't have to make this decision. What we found is that the ethical issues and the technical issues prevented us from being able to do what we wanted to do to somehow capture this space in such a way that you could re-inhabit it. This place that was being annihilated, this community that had been there so long, We wanted to find some way to, I don't know, not just capture it, to almost archive it. Does that make sense? To say that this was a place, these were objects, that's what a tent looked like, this is how big it was. I have these memories of walking past 50 to 100 bike tires and saying, Oh, that person takes care of everyone's bicycles. They'll give them a dollar or two, whatever they've got, right? Because these are people who had jobs. These are people who were trying to make ends meet in a city where the housing market and the renting market is just broken. It's just criminally broken. So I feel like our hearts were in the right place, but we failed. We really did. So what we're working on now with the ACLU is drawing up some sort of document, some sort of white paper or some sort of handbook that can at least chronicle the difficulties that we faced and say, this was not like photography in these ways. We're not sure how we feel about what we were trying to do in retrospect. And it didn't work anyway for these reasons. So that people like us, who a year from now are trying to do something like this, and who need to be ready in a moment of crisis, might have some better tools, might have a little bit of a better understanding. But it's going to be a process, right? For designers of all kinds of experiences, let alone people who are trying at the point of need to capture something incredibly complicated. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:21:49.558] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think a part of my philosophy for how I do the Voices of VR podcast is that back in 2002, 2003, 2004, I was recording a lot of the media of the buildup to the war in Iraq and the actual war in Iraq. And so I ended up going and talking to all these different journalists. And one of the journalists I talked to was both Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. And They were a couple of journalists from Knight Ridder who had actually gotten the story right that the people that were on the ground The analysts were disagreeing with like they weren't going to the press conferences They were actually talking to the people on the ground in the trenches who actually were the closest to the actual raw data And so what I took away from that is that if you want to know what's happening, then don't just listen to the CEOs of the press conference. Go and talk to the developers. And so that's kind of been my philosophy in covering virtual reality, which is a little bit more of this postmodern, like not trying to say, OK, this is the grand narrative of VR. VR is dead. And just kind of like these filled with hubris declarations about, like, how can any one individual know what the whole story of VR is and then make a declaration and say this is what it is? To me it's just sort of like an ambiguous situated knowledges in this more postmodern like there's all these individuals that are finding a way to make a living within this industry and that it seems to be a progress that's moving forward but that It's a little bit of like using the metaphor of world building and this photogrammetry potential capture, like that space has a lot of people and a lot of stories and a lot of context and meaning that is embedded within the environment there that you could go through and ask everybody that lived there about what each of these different objects meant in that space. And if you were able to do that comprehensive survey of all those oral history interviews, but also have them walk through and give you like a docent, a guided tour to have them tell you the story of that space, then you're starting to get to a point where the future of augmented virtual reality is to be able to look at spaces and see what the context and meaning that a bunch of individuals have and what is the method by which you're able to navigate all those individual stories. Something like Lucas Rizzotto's Where Thoughts Go is one indication of having one question and having all these bubbles of those thoughts. Or something like the Voices of VR podcast, which hopefully you'll have a non-linear interactive memory palace of all this content that will start to be like this is a model or representation of a knowledge base of a community that's more of an ecosystem approach that's decentralized rather than trying to come up with a singular narrative and I feel like part of what the future of these projects are is to capture those spaces and then on top of that talk to as many people as you can to be able to have them annotate those spaces and have them give you the tours And then from that, then you're able to maybe see what the larger themes of the story are.

[00:24:36.164] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny to me because this connects directly to a thought experiment that I have students do all the time when I teach narrative design and I teach world building. I say, look at the room around you or look at the space around you, wherever we might be. And, you know, I'll say something trite like, imagine 3D modeling this, right? There are certain things that you focus on when you're trying to create a computationally efficient environment where you're controlling theatrically what people look at, right? So, we're right now sitting in a quad at CSU Bakersfield and I'm looking around and thinking, Okay, right like that sidewalk We were partly interrupted by a truck because that sidewalks wide enough for a truck to drive on purposely So other sections not so much, right? We're sitting on a concrete kind of a bench That's also doubling as a I don't know like a space demarcation almost creating a kind of planter About five feet away from us and there are these hard little pieces of metal on them at regular spaces I think we know why those are there, right? anti-homeless architecture is so prevalent in Los Angeles that it just sort of fades away. So there are things that you can pick up on. There are noteworthy things that are noteworthy because the world builder, the modeler, the narrative designer says, I want to focus on this aspect of the story. Something I love about photogrammetry and something I love about the idea that you're presenting is that there are so many other things to be captured in this space that are impossible to quantify and, perhaps more importantly, are built through human use. Have you ever heard of the school of design that says when you lay out a park, you don't pave anything, you just see where people walk. And wherever the people walk, that's where you put the sidewalks, you just pave that. Right? We don't have an equivalent for that yet in video games and virtual reality. Not really. I mean, to some extent, you could say big companies like Zyngo working on Facebook, or let's say Supercell. If you have a massive player base, you can tweak 24 hours a day. You can tweak and balance mechanics. You can change the parameters of some space, right? So we have something like that. But a space like the one we're sitting in, a space like the rooms I teach in, are so insanely complicated, right? The specular quality of something, or the gum wrapper that somebody left in the corner, the mark that somebody left on a wall, right? That's part of the space. That's gonna stick out for somebody. That's gonna mean something for somebody. In abstract, this is a view of storytelling that's about there being too much information, too much complexity around us, and far too many subjective perspectives to account for with any traditional linear storytelling practice. When the rubber meets the road and we're talking about ethical questions and political questions This takes on a entirely different magnitude of importance to say if I want to capture an encampment before it gets taken down right if I want to visit a refugee camp and with folks consent try to Capture that space somehow the sheer volume and richness of detail there would require a kind of annotation that would take a decade and that means both you could walk through that space and be overwhelmed or completely miss the kinds of things that meant everything to one person or You could if you were really fortunate like you're talking about talk to a lot of those people and let them tell you What's actually important about this space? Right? When this is gone, what will you miss forever? What will be impossible to duplicate? What is something that you see about this space as someone who lives there that might not be readily apparent to somebody else? But to you, this is everything. This is the poetic distillation of your life. It's this one thing, right? Who am I to come in as a narrative designer and try to model that? Try to tell somebody, this should be the focal point. This is where I want to direct people to this, this, and this, right? That's how we get really empty rhetorical polemics and stuff, right? You know, it has its place. I mean, sometimes you want to make a really clear statement. That's fine. But sometimes you want folk knowledge to grow our wisdom from the bottom up. I think you're doing that with developers. And I respect the hell out of that, you know?

[00:28:52.948] Kent Bye: Well, I think it's one of the things you mentioned earlier was paradox and like being able to embrace the paradox and be able to be comfortable with the ambiguity because there is a sense of like there are many different perspectives and the situated knowledge is is that every individual has their own direct lived experiences and they have their own position of power and privilege within the scale of wealth and power and that From that, every individual has a unique perspective on every event. So even if you have a singular event, there's going to be many different interpretations. And so it's like, how do you capture those many different perspectives and points of view and try to get a sense of, then how do you create cultural artifacts that are able to hone down the universal story amongst those? And I think that's the more challenging thing. As we're talking, we're talking about space and architecture, and as I talk to people who have come from architecture, I had a perception that architecture was all about just designing buildings, but it's also a lot about designing spaces for people to have different social interactions. And I feel like those insights from architecture in creating spaces, doing the emergent, see where people walk is one approach, but that's also just what the natural emergent behavior is. there's the ability of architecture to then take that to the next level, which is like, if you really want to cultivate specific social dynamics, then how do you create spaces that are encouraging these types of behaviors? Like these things that we're sitting on, we're sitting on and chatting because it is kind of inviting us to sit down and have a conversation here. So there's ways to do that environmental design. And I guess one of the things that I've found in talking to different architects and game designers, I guess it gets to this philosophy question of whether or not there's an ideal form, a platonic ideal form to have this some sort of equation that's able to translate space and movements and things that evolve over time that then gets translated into human emotion, whether it's through architecture or game design or any other type of art. And what I found is that most artists just iterate, they make stuff, they see how they feel, and then they show it to other people, they see how they feel, and they cultivate this sense of intuition that allows them to tap into these deeper threads that is able to perhaps, from the process of talking to hundreds of people, be able to distill down what the primary archetypal dynamics of a story might be that kind of tells from a microcosm of something that is able to be digested by somebody and understood as capturing the essence of the primary metaphors that are able to show what the story of whatever this dynamic is, rather than to just completely delusion with data that's unprocessed, but to really cultivate that sense of intuition to be able to tell that story. But as game designers, it's like, what is that process by which you do these trade-offs and create spaces and interactions and mechanics and dynamics that then get translated into emotion. Wow.

[00:31:36.715] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: We're having such a great conversation. I feel like one of the things I really like about this interview is that I'm really getting to hear where you're coming from too, and it's inspiring a lot of things for me. So the thing that I'm thinking about right now is driven in part by how much of a Wittgensteinian I am, right? That I really believe Wittgenstein was right that all philosophical questions are accidents of language. The thing is that they'll talk to you about that in the first semester philosophy class, right? That, oh, Wittgenstein, right? It's all just language games. They never do the dot, dot, dot. And the bridges don't seem to really fall down all that much, right? And that's something that's core to Wittgenstein's position. It's not that it's all language games and so nihilism. It's not we can't know anything about one another. We can't know how to be kind to one another, right? Talk about how we feel about war and whether something is just or not, right? It's quite the opposite. It's actually that gestural communication contingencies playing around with really messy Matrixes of meaning is just a fundamental thing that people do as easily as breathing. That's the thing, right? Like we're hardwired to be Horribly imprecise in the way that we talk and actually have a deep understanding of one another. You know what I mean?

[00:32:50.929] Kent Bye: Yeah, in natural language processing it's like the fact that there's a lot of paradoxes and inconsistencies and incomplete information so that you have to extrapolate what someone says and say what the intention is and that as humans we do a great job of being able to do that. We're able to resolve those paradoxes. and that you need something like machine learning and a bunch of data and maybe even something like paraconsistent logic in order to start to resolve all those concepts into a concrete intention or meaning. And as humans, we do a great job of that. But for computers, computationally, it's very difficult.

[00:33:21.898] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Oh, it's absolutely difficult. I don't know if we're ever going to have playing machines, but I think that's really the point at which we're going to get the artificial intelligence that folks have been dreaming about and fearing for a really long time. And I would say that from my weird position as someone who's an experimental writer and a philosopher, the kinds of paradoxes that I see jump out at me and the kinds of intuition I'm developing in VR have really surprised me. My art practice, my making practice is a kind of research. The work that I've been doing lately has taught me that There's something very strange about virtual interfaces. So an interface is just a shared boundary between two things, right? If we think about it in digital terms and computer terms, a mouse or a keyboard is a pretty common example of an interface, right? You've got the actual world where your hands are, right, and your eyes are, where your body is, and you've got these devices like keyboards and mice that allow you to affect something in this flat 2D space, right? Like, so you just steer your cursor around, you click on something, right? So that's the way that you extend yourself into that kind of virtual space, if we want to extend that metaphor to something like, let's say, a browser window. I want to effect change there on that screen in that space, so I use this mouse, it moves an arrow around, that's pretty easy. In VR, you're holding an object in your hand that is equivalent to the mouse. That's your interface. You're going to affect change in this other reality, this thing that you're holding in your hand. When you put on the headset and you're in the other reality, that thing is still there. It's still there physically. You can feel the weight of it. You can feel if it's smooth or not, right? If it's an Oculus Rift controller, it's lighter. It feels a little plasticky, right? If it's a Vive donut stick, you can really feel that thing is heavy, right? So it's there in the actual world, and it's there in the virtual world too, right? We have these ghost outlines of controllers, we have hands, we have guns, we have other kinds of objects, but it's there. It's not one thing on one side and one thing on the other. So we have the interface, which is itself a boundary, like a wall, which is on both sides of itself. That's crazy. To me, that's something that's truly unique about virtual reality is that the way that we affect change is something that continues to pull and push us back in and out of those virtual spaces and our own reality. It's something that muddies the separation between the two completely. It's something that makes virtual environments simultaneously more immersive and violently less immersive than their predecessors. And to me, I'm excited by that because I think it can engender a kind of deep playfulness that postmodern folks have been fantasizing about for years, right? This continuously updating playfulness where you're like, I'm in both places at the same time. What am I as a body, right? Like, I can question some fundamental things because I'm in this really playful space. The thing is, though, the dangerous possibility on the other side is that those two things that are supposed to be separate, the actual and the virtual, suddenly converge, and we just cross over into this nebulous, like, you're in both at the same time, and it kind of shuts off your playfulness. That's the dystopian side of this. I don't know which way we're heading, because as a developer, I'm just following my nose like everybody else. But I do think these are the things I'm starting to see and my intuition is a little broken about it, right? But I think that's the kind of knowledge that we all need to share because if we're gonna explore the full potential of the medium We're gonna need perspectives from all sorts of different folks, which is why I listen to your podcast

[00:36:58.472] Kent Bye: Well, and I'm curious to hear, because you teach game design and you're actually in the process of making games, or in the process of making these trade-offs, because I see that as you make a game you have to have some sort of philosophy or framework where you have trade-offs, where you're making different choices. Maybe there's different equivalence classes where you add more of this and you take less of this. And so it sounds like you use thought experiments and philosophy. When I talked to Robin Honecke, she has her own game design theory where she has the mechanics and the dynamics as well as the aesthetics.

[00:37:28.257] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: I assign her work in my classes, by the way. I didn't mean to interrupt. I just, you know, I really respect that too.

[00:37:33.944] Kent Bye: Well, she's starting with the emotion and the experience that you want to have. And I talked to Yelena Ratitsky and Isabel Tuis, and they had the Hierarchy of Being presentation at the Oculus Connect 5, where they were also saying, OK, we're going to start with yourself and your being and your, in essence, your phenomenological experience. And then on top of that, you have the world. And that is providing some sort of context and meaning and interactions and dynamics and objects that have affordances. And then on top of that is the other people. But they're kind of, in some ways, saying that, rather than a reductive materialist perspective, saying that, your physical world is the primary thing. They're saying, well, the self is primary, and that you're actually focusing on the experience that you're trying to go for. So it seems like, in some ways, a human-centered design, or phenomenology, or anything that is looking at virtuality, that some people are starting with, okay, what experience do you want to give them? What kind of emotion do you want to give them? And then creating the mechanics and dynamics from that. But I'm just curious, from your perspective, how do you think about it, and how do you make these different trade-offs? Do you have a framework?

[00:38:30.396] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, this is, I think, what I was trying to allude to with the Wittgensteinian stuff earlier is that, for me, I start with the confusion. I start with the mess. I say, we need to just dive in. Let's try some things, let's form some opinions, then let's break those opinions apart and reform them. I'm anti-method. I'm a deeply anti-method person. Most of the time, I think most of the people who suggest that some art form can be replicated via a specific method are selling you something. Now, that doesn't mean that it doesn't work in some cases, right? If you want to make a platformer, I want to know what Ed McMillan thinks, or do. I love Super Meat Boy, right? And I think there are ways in which specific narrow kinds of genre pieces can be built much more efficiently if you follow particular sets of procedures. As someone who works with new materials and new technologies, I try to keep my mind as radically open as possible, and I try to encourage that in my students as well, because I think that's the only way that they're going to come up with something that I could never come up with. So, yeah, I'm much more interested in creating spaces, whether it's classrooms or design teams, that are primarily safe spaces, because I think you can't have playfulness if you don't feel safe. I think I believe that, yeah. I also know that only the Sith speak in absolutes, right? So, I don't know. But in my experience, you really need people to feel safe and secure, especially at like the beginning of a semester or something, before they'll start actually being playful with one another. And then just try to not get in the way of that. Try to support and encourage people as they get messy. And if there's any kind of method that I want to show them, you know, it's techniques for failing efficiently. and for techniques like derives for getting outside of yourself for a bit. I do think burndown charts are really useful because I think that college students are, especially in the fields of game design and adjacent fields of computer engineering, college students are overworked, especially kids who weren't rich and who didn't have computers when they were four years old. I mean, they're playing catch up from day one, right? Then again, these are things that those kids are really passionate about so I don't want to get in the way either if they want to Dive in I just want to teach them how to correctly Approximate how long something is going to take so they can make decisions on a case-by-case basis. I want to model for them a an open kind of communication where if I'm a teacher and I don't do something I meant to do, I just say I meant to do that and I failed and I want my students to feel like they're allowed to say either that's okay because I'm a human being or we need more from you because I have more power than them, right? I'm not a student in that situation. It isn't a flat, non-hierarchical situation as much as I might wish it would be, as much as I wish there were no such thing as grades, right? That's not the circumstance. I got a boss too.

[00:41:24.017] Kent Bye: Well it sounds like that, you know, we're here at Bakersfield at the CSUB and talking to different students and a lot of them are asking various different questions and I think one of the things that came up for me as I was talking to a student is people asking for how do I even get started into this field and what do I do and There's this adage that this teacher in a pottery class had students and split up the students into two groups one groups would be Rated on they create the absolute best thing they can create and they're graded on that and the other one was to be just be graded on weight like just produce as much content as you can, just churn it out. And the surprising thing was, I mean, I was surprised to read it, was that the ones that created the better work were the ones who were focusing on making as much as they could because they were rapidly iterating, they were learning, and they actually had more iterations of actually producing stuff. And that they were able to learn more than the students who tried to get it perfectly the first time and plan everything out. And that's a bit of like my philosophy of what I've heard from a lot of developers is that you just got to make stuff and iterate. And it sounds similar to what you are saying is that you got to embrace the confusion and not know. Just get in there and start iterating and kind of building it out in some ways. maybe have a thought experiment or have an interaction or something that's striking to you in the process of you iterating and then you kind of expand it from there. But that there's not necessarily like a grand framework that you're going to be able to have a full sense of how this whole thing is going to play out, but it's much more iterative in that way.

[00:42:52.435] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, one of my favorite stories in this regard, well it's not so much a story, but are you familiar with the word cliché? So the word cliché comes from the French word cliché, which is to click, which is a strange thing, like what would a clicking sound have to do with a cliché? And when I looked into this, I found that the word cliché became first commonly used in its colloquial modern usage in and around a community of French metalworkers. And when I read this, I suddenly understood that for a metalworker, if something isn't working out, you just chuck it back into the metal. There's just this molten metal right there, and the sound that's made when you drop a failed experiment into a vat of molten metal, because of that temperature disparity, is this sharp clicking noise. It's a clicking, popping noise. So it's easy for me to imagine a sort of French master metal worker just saying, click, click, click, click, click, you know, and throwing some student's work back into the pot. And not to, like, glorify that aggressive side of art culture. I'm not a big fan of the way in which a lot of art programs haze their students by just being really, really critical, hypercritical about student work. But what I like about that story is, and as a teacher, it's something I like to do, is to say, good, you did that, let's move to the next one, right? Don't worry so much right now about whether or not what you made is good. You made it, let's move on. Okay, I know you were sick this week. That's okay. Finish what you have to the best of your ability without going overboard, without trying to play catch-up and working 25 hours this weekend. And let's move to the next one because you're going to be doing this. If you care about this, you're going to be doing this for the rest of your life. You have time to get better at this. So yeah, for me, I care more about the work ethic and the approach to one's sense of self, you know, self-care, taking care of other people, being good to one another. I think the only thing that I really am a stickler about is feedback. I require that students give rich feedback to one another, often written feedback, because that's how I learned when I was a poet, actually. I was a terrible poet at the start. I thought I was going to be Phil Levine. That was the first poet that I read as an adult that I connected with, and he was writing about being working class, so I read his book, What Work Is, a lot. And I thought, yeah, that's what I want to do. I want to write about growing up in Buffalo. I want to write about steel mills. I want to write about things that I saw and my family. And I was terrible at it. I am not that kind of writer. I learned to be a poet because I was part of an online poetry community. It was just one of those simple communities of amateurs who were reading each other's work and writing feedback. And there was a simple rule on that website. For every poem that you post, you have to write an actual critique of three other poems. It was always a one for three. And you have to give meaningful feedback. And whatever you give, whatever quality of feedback you give, that's what everyone else is going to give to you. Same things for stories. And it was the feedback that taught me everything, not the feedback I received, the feedback I gave. I learned so much about what I valued, what I believed was good in giving feedback. And it was the thing that led me toward really strange kinds of writing, things like Russell Edson's work, prose poetry, that when I read Russell Edson's work for the first time, It was like somebody had given me a permission slip to go to the bathroom, right? It was like suddenly, I'm allowed? I'm allowed to go over there now and do this thing that's natural? And Russell Edson always equated the act of creation as a bowel movement. That was it for him. He was like, I'm just gonna go over there and take a shit. He's one of my favorite poets and I can write really strange things really naturally and I can't write serious stuff like straight ahead, Phil Levine, this is what work is, kinds of poems. I can't do it. It doesn't work. And I tell that to my students and I say, you're gonna try to imitate a whole lot of people. You're gonna say, I like this genre of game, I like the way this experience feels, I like the look of that art, I'm gonna try to do that for a while. And it may or may not work, right? You never can tell when something's gonna click. But through that messy process of sharing with one another, of saying, I like this and I don't, I tried this and it didn't work. If you're open enough, if you're playful enough, if the space is safe enough, you just might develop that kind of tacit knowledge, that intuition. You might start to find that core, that nugget that's going to carry you forward, that's going to fuel you like a little bit of coal as you work through some tough times because it's hard to be a designer. I hear people talk about it like they did in there today all the time that to get where they're going. You gotta live cheap, you know, you gotta couch surf, you've gotta work long hours, you've gotta be frugal. That seems to me to be the only secret to success for anyone, especially for game designers, is just keep doing it longer than everybody else. Find some way to keep going and put in those hours and find your perspective, find the thing that you're good at. Learn to pitch yourself softballs and work a little more efficiently. And it just takes as long as it takes, right?

[00:48:01.276] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's interesting to hear that part of your journey has been through criticism and feedback because I feel like as I do the podcast as I go through an experience I then often have an opportunity to talk to the creator of that experience and then I feel like part of a framework or a critical theory of experiential design is that as I am having an experience I'm paying attention to what I'm feeling and trying to figure out what the different trade-offs are and I have my own framework for doing that and then talk to people and Afterwards, but I've sometimes there's experiences that just don't fit my model or just I don't know how to categorize it It's sort of like these weird avant-garde art experiences that are beyond anything that I've had before and Even if I don't like the experience, it's another thing. Sometimes I've had experiences I just don't like it and then I talk to the creator and And it's like I learned so much about it that I have such a much deeper appreciation for what they did. And then a lot of times it'll just completely change my thought about the experience after being able to unpack the deeper intention of what the artist's intention for why they created it. So I feel like it's been a process of having some theories and ideas of what this means, but also looking to someone like Gödel and his incompleteness theorem and say like, there's never going to be like a singular unified system of mathematics that's going to be both consistent and complete. So without that ability to be complete, but if you want to be consistent, then that means that you have to have a multitude of many different frameworks. And so I've been much more open to hearing more of a Wittgensteinian perspective that's based upon linguistics and language rather than some sort of ideal form in a more platonic sense, but that to see that there's value in having a multitude of different ways of looking at it, and that there's a million of ways to break up qualitative experience, and that it's more about having as many of those different frameworks as possible. So I'm appreciative that you have a completely different way of doing it and a different philosophy, because it's just also, to me, reinforcing the fact that there's going to be many different approaches to solve different problems. But also, each person may have their completely own process and their own artistic creation process in which they do things.

[00:50:02.759] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Did you hear me talking to the student after my talk about Girdell? No, I didn't know. So that's convergent thinking for you right there. Yeah, I was talking about Gödel, but more directly I was talking about Bertrand Russell and the problem of infinite regress, right? That if you start at any point in the middle of a system of logic and you try to work back to first principles, you'll just work back forever. It's like, you know, when a kid says to a parent, why is the sky blue? And they say, oh, you know, something about atmosphere and light coming through and our ability to perceive color. And the kid says, why? Like, well, I mean, we need eyes for blah, blah, blah. Why? Right? And the parent starts quickly understanding that this is just going to go on forever. So they go to sleep. I'm tired, right? Or I don't know, I'll eat a sandwich. And, you know, for Russell and for Goodell, part of where the rubber met the road for this is that the only bedrock you ever reach in a system of logic is assumptions, right? All systems of logic are closed. There's no such thing as an open system of logic. So when I talk about this in game studies classes because I do I Talk about play and its relation to logic that play is the thing that allows us to get outside of closed Systems of logic. I'm thinking for some reason of a friend of mine who's from Australia He was sitting outside one time under a tree He was like 15 or something and he was like having a conversation with his friends and the thought occurred to him out of nowhere What if God was a woman? And, you know, he's a serious Christian. And when this happened, it was one of those mind-blowing experiences. We forget how much, when we say something is mind-blowing, sometimes we actually mean it. It's this feeling, this fully, like, somatic experience we have, right, of Dickinson used to call good poetry makes you feel like the top of your head just got taken off, right? How do we deal with that as animals when some core assumption we have about the world whether it's belief or whether it's just something based upon experience and over and over again you've come to understand if I interact with my significant other in this particular way I'm gonna get some negative feedback, right? I guess what I'm alluding to is like what if you were born into an abusive home and you bring that trauma to bear on your relationship, right? How is it possible for somebody to get outside of that? How is it possible for somebody to get at the bedrock, the stuff that they learned when they were a kid and internalize and move forward from there? I don't think it's any accident that a lot of therapists talk about therapy as practicing play. That people who have been traumatized stop being playful. That's part of what this is. Their brain stops considering certain things. And so you need a safe place to play around with ideas. I don't think it's any accident that places like the ICT, the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC, has been working with the military to try to find ways to create virtual experiences, immersive experiences, that help soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. And look, I mean, I'm pretty vocal about this, and I'm not always a big fan of the military-industrial complex. I mean, my grandfather was a Marine, and he had PTSD from the moment I knew him on. And so he worked in a post office, sort and mail, and never drove a car because it was too stressful for him. I would have loved to believe that someone like my granddad, some Marine who got sent over somewhere, just drafted and did the best that they could with the situation they were in, not knowing the ethics of it, the compromise of it all, just having to be there and then having to deal with that the rest of their lives. Can we create experiences as designers that help people to feel safe enough to play again with other people?

[00:53:40.047] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm just really tuning into that war and the trauma that comes from war. It's the deep soul trauma. And I've done an interview with Skip Rizzo, and what he said was that a key part of healing from the post-traumatic stress is you put into a context under which that you are reminded of the stories. But it's not just to traumatize these memories. It's for you to be able to tell the story and for you to recontextualize that story and to take ownership of that story, but also to be fully emotionally present to that story. And I feel like in our culture today, there's a bit of a need for these immersive experiences that get to the heart of like a truth and reconciliation of ability to be able to feel the pain of the world and to express that in some ways, or at least to explore these ideas in an interesting way. And I feel like the things that you're doing at the Horseshoes, Hot Dogs and Hand Grenades, In a lot of ways, you're doing that. You're doing these thought experiments and if you can maybe pick a paradigmatic example of that, of things that you're doing, maybe starting from the insight or inspiration and the process of the design and then how that gets put out and how you see that this method of play and interaction is able to allow people to play with ideas.

[00:54:56.920] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Well, the four guys that form the core group of Rust, these are my best friends in the world and we've been working together since 2008-2009. So Luke alluded to this in his talk earlier that we're all family at this point, which means we're able to really play together. We feel safe around one another and we believe in each other's projects. Even when we disagree, we disagree in really productive ways. So I'll circle back around to the inspiration thing because I have a good story I think you'll enjoy. There was a day where Anton was starting to add human targets to the game. This was really early on in the game's process. And if I'm not mistaken, his motivation The thing that had prompted him to start trying this out in this internal build was the shooting competitions, like the really precise shooting competitions that people do where they have targets that approximate the shape of a body. And he was getting a lot of requests, as we always do from the community, to add more people to shoot. This is a thing. I mean, if you think it's a thing, trust me, you make a gun game and you find out just how many people want to shoot people. It's a thing. Anyway, so this is early in the process and he's adding these targets and he's asking me what I think of them. And I called him up on the phone and I was really passionate about convincing him that this was a bad idea. Because we had talked earlier in the process that the coherence of the game and its message is predicated upon the absolute absence of any human or anthropomorphized figures, right? So we had this great debate and After that resolved, I came to see over the coming months after that, that while at that moment we kept to that hard and fast rule, saying like, no, that's right, this is not a game about shooting other people, this is a sports shooting simulator. The open-ended discussions that we had and the kind of inspiration we had, led to us making a whole bunch of things that are clearly anthropomorphic objects that you're shooting in the game. It's just that they're all sausage, they're all meat, right? We came to understand through the experiments that we were doing that we're often driven by simple things like what would it be like to grab onto something and pull yourself up a wall, right? Or we have this new object that we want to try out, right? But we kept finding over and over again that that was the core that we actually liked, was not the no shooting people. It was everyone's meat because that's what unites all shooter games, right? All shooter games treat people like meat in the darkest possible way. That's all you are. And, you know, whether you're thinking about it or not, if you're playing an online match of Call of Duty or Team Fortress or any of the new Battle Royale games, even though those have permadeath, every time you respawn, it's just, that's more sausage coming out of the grinder, right? Like you're just getting put back out there and it's just, that's it, right? So we ran with that. Right? We're absurdists. We like dark comedy, right? We like surrealism. So, because there's that coherence, because we're family and we talk through these ideas and we debate stuff and the good ideas rise to the surface alongside the mechanics that we try out. And we keep interrogating our ideas and we keep saying, does this work? Does this work? We've created something that is weirdly coherent to the point that fans pick up on this, you know, and fans understand that they may in fact be the only person in that game. Or there may be no people in that game. You know, it happens over and you're the only person in the game and someone will comment, or are you even a person? Why? And then someone's mind gets blown. I don't want to give us too much credit, but I like to at least think about the possibility that there's some kid out there who's been playing shooter games their whole life and suddenly their mind's blown by the idea that they're just a walking, talking hot dog. What does that mean, right? I mean, it's goofy, but it's dark, right? I hope, I hope that the kinds of things that we've been talking about here somehow slip into those little moments. I like to believe that they do, but The truth is there's no way to know. And I think what makes us so lucky as developers is that we have this community of people who play with us all the time. We talk to them all the time. They give us great ideas. They give us great feedback. They inspire us. I mean, that's not blowing smoke. It's just something special. And I don't know how long this will last. I don't know if this will be the only game that we ever make where we have that kind of connection with a group of people and where that group of people help us to make an experience that transcends all of our abilities, not us as developers, not the community, but all of us working together, seeing something there, some special thing that we want to keep growing.

[00:59:30.133] Kent Bye: Yeah, we were talking earlier and just commenting about how the way that you run your business is not necessarily like be driven by spreadsheets, but it's really like going back to an old model of business of just building relationships and really cultivating a sense of community. And I think that It's pretty amazing that a team of four people could have a title that has been so well-reviewed and regarded within the community at the same time without any marketing budget. It's being driven purely by the community and the grassroots and the reviews. And maybe you could just talk about what are some of the key aspects that you feel like you do to actually pull that off that maybe could be a model for other people to start to adapt and maybe that could shift different dimensions of our culture.

[01:00:13.006] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Well, I think that depends on what you mean by you, right? First, I want to give credit where it's due. Anton's the lead on this project. Anton does the lion's share of the work on a daily basis. Whenever Russ does a project, there's always somebody who's really the creative vision behind it and is really pushing it forward. So what Anton does on a daily basis that I think other developers can really learn from is he continues to connect with users, has a real personal relationship with them, and he's brave enough to continue to communicate, not just via YouTube, but now via Twitch, to talk really openly but precisely about things on Reddit. He schedules time in his day to write the way that landed gentry in the 1700s would be like, I wake up every day and from 8 to 1 I write my correspondence with people and then I go for my evening constitutional and So he this is a marathon right interacting with people and I get to dip in and dip out and stuff, right? so each of us plays a different role in the project and I think that one of the things that I do is help coming in from oblique angles ask strange questions or I try to give feedback from the perspective of someone who's not much, I'm not a fan of guns, and I have inner ear problems, so things make me nauseous. I get to be a tough room for the group, right? And because we have this relationship, and because we're so close, I know how to be a tough room, and they're comfortable with me being that tough room. So a lot of the times, in a sort of broad-based way, that's the kind of work I'm doing. I'm coming in as a sort of outsider, as someone who's not actually part of the core fan base in those ways. But then I dip down into the verticals where I am doing a lot of work, things like Worst World or the original Meat Grinder or some other stuff I can't talk to you about, unfortunately, but I think you'll get a kick out of it next year, where I'm doing level layout and I'm writing and I'm testing core mechanics over and over again because I'm the sports guy of the group. So when we added horseshoes, I tested that stuff for more hours than I care to admit. And I did a lot of the voice acting too, right? And in those moments, I'm able to dive in and work right alongside Anton as he's assembling something in real time. We'll do a lot of like parallel development and, you know, Luke and Lucas will do that too. And we do that with one another on other projects as well. You sort of dive into your vertical and suddenly you've got somebody right there with you and you're getting that immediate feedback. So how would I generalize from that? So I guess continue to schedule and maintain a relationship with people and let your community grow organically. Be honest with them. Be yourself, right? And see what kind of people will gravitate toward that, right? But also, if you're lucky enough to find collaborators who have complementary but not overlapping skill sets, and you can get some experience working together and kicking around ideas together, never let it go. Never let those people go. I think that's probably the secret sauce behind Rust is that we found each other and we just grabbed on. Because like you said, this stuff takes time.

[01:03:14.039] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the process of cultivating a community and finding this balance between organic word-of-mouth growth versus paid marketing and advertising, I feel like there's this tension between what it takes to cultivate a community versus how you get your word out. And I think this is a challenge that anybody who's an artist and a creator, they have to figure out how to build an audience. And especially like if it's an event that you're having that only happens like once or twice And that's a lot different than being able to have an organic word-of-mouth growth campaign So I think that there's always gonna be both of the kind of more advertising marketing, but also like the community dimension But that yeah, just like trying to find for each artist and creator. They have to figure that out and I say that's process I through Patreon and figuring out how to, for me, it's difficult because as a journalist, I feel like it's actually like there's these ethical lines of like my community, also people that I'm covering. And so then, yeah, it's just been more complications as somebody who does journalism as an art than somebody who's an artist who's creating stuff. So there's things that I've been just inherently resistant towards keeping a distance between the funders and the art that makes it more challenging. But that may be a different use case of different models or things like that. But yeah, that totally makes sense.

[01:04:26.504] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: I know I could never do what you do. I've tried it, actually. When I was in high school, I went off to a little camp for a day or two. I think it was Canisius College or something. I'm from Buffalo. And they ran us through a bunch of journalism workshops. And I was like, there's just no way. I can't do this. This is such a I don't know if grind is the right word that has too much of a negative connotation, but it's a marathon and you just have to keep finding the facts that are salient in a given situation without overstepping a certain set of bounds. Especially nowadays, right? With the funding just going away in my lifetime to see the number of journalists dwindle and the kind of support both from a tax base, but also from an advertising base, right? For the readership to shift away toward other media and for, I think, the country's values to sort of shift out from under journalists in particular ways. I look at the position that you're in and I'm like, I could never do that. The way that people look at game designers, the way that people look at us and just sort of say, how in hell, how are you doing that? I'm a shy person by disposition. I teach every day and every day I get home and I am exhausted from it and I need a little time, you know. Yeah, I was actually really nervous when you said you wanted to interview me, because the last time I gave an interview was, I think, 2010 or 2011, because I had written this hit piece about Farmville. When Farmville was just at its peak, I was teaching one class as an adjunct professor at SUNY Buffalo. I was making, like, no money. And my thesis advisor asked me to go speak at this event that was, like, signaling the creation of a new game studies and game design minor. They were like, yeah, you know, people are going to be giving talks. Why don't you give a talk on something? I was like, all right, well, I hate Farmville. I guess I'll give a talk on that. Turns out I was the only person who talked. It was one of those, like, bait and switches where professors are like, come on, grad student, adjunct guy, come give a talk. Everyone's going to be talking. OK, you're giving the only talk. Great. Good job. Go for it. So I wrote this piece about Farmville. It was the day after Howard Zinn died, and I talked about how Basically how concerned I was that Farmville was this game that entangled people in this web of social obligations, right? That this act of continually giving each other gifts and posting stuff to your wall and then reaping the rewards of somebody else's work via a bonus, this sort of self-reinforcing act of gift-giving and the kind of obligations that it created was really, really dangerous. It was a really ethically problematic area and we forget that this was right on the heels of Zynga's being tangled up with those lead gen scams. I don't know if you remember those, but basically there would be some third party that was saying if you download our app or you visit our website or whatever, we'll give you this amount of in-game currency, right? Or you'll take a quiz or something like you'll do some online trivia thing and And you'll get this in-game currency and the redemption process was always something like, let us send you a text, like we'll text you the code or something. And it was written deep in the terms and conditions that if you provided your phone number in that instance, you were implicitly agreeing to certain contractual obligations. And so suddenly you're on the hook to pay them money, right? But broadly, this is what was happening. And so people were just trying to get some extra money for Farmville without having to pay for it. And the next thing they know, they owe a bill of $200 or $300 to somebody. And they were like, I never signed up for that. So a lot of this stuff was new at the time. There was nothing like Farmville before Farmville, like 80 some million people playing the same game at the same time that was being updated all day, every day in relation to this rich kind of data tracking that was enabled. And this was the moment that Facebook stopped losing money. The moment that Farmville became successful is the moment that Facebook started becoming profitable. This is a real watershed moment. And I wrote a scathing critique of FarmVille, and it went viral. I put it up on the internet, just on some stupid blog that I had thought I might do at some point, and the internet found it. I don't know what happened. And the next thing I know, it was on the front page of Reddit twice at the same time, and everyone I knew was calling me, right, because I was a lurker. Everyone was like, you're on Reddit right now! It was this big deal in 2010, right? So I started getting calls from people who wanted me to consult and do interviews and, you know, there were reposts everywhere and 50 comments, 100 comments on just one website. And it scared the hell out of me. And it drained me in a way that I was just not prepared for. And I stopped writing. I stopped writing for public consumption. I stopped trying to be a public intellectual in any direct way. I stopped giving interviews after a couple and just turned the rest down. I couldn't take it. I don't know that I'm the kind of person that could sustain this kind of deep practice, the sustained practice of really talking with somebody, of commenting on what's going on in the world around me in a really direct way, I think. I respect the hell out of that work. I just, I don't know that I'm built for it in the same way that I'm not built to be a nurse. I don't know that I could deal with the kind of work a nurse has to do all day, every day, put a gun to my head. I don't think I could do it. I don't think I have the constitution for it. So it's, it's, well, it's been stressful doing this. And, and I think that can be a good thing. I think it could be good to stretch, but yeah. I don't know when I'm going to do it again.

[01:09:51.487] Kent Bye: I appreciate you sitting down with me because, I mean, from my own experience, I feel like I have this blend of Plato and Aristotle where I love to think about the theory of, like, the ideal forms. But I'm also, like, an engineering-trained pragmatist where I like to actually do the work of being connected to what's happening and then, like, have an idea but actually test it through conversation. And so it's this constant dialectic. But it's also, like, there's so much that's happening in the world today that As I talk to more people, Plato would say that that's one form of the Platonic epistemology is that through dialectic you get a sense of like getting to the core, deeper truth. So just having lots of conversations, there's different patterns and themes that emerge that just help me understand what's happening. And I think in a world today, that's filled with such chaos and disorder, just the process of having those conversations helps me just make sense of that. And you mentioned earlier about how VR can be used as a form of political philosophy, both as a class you're going to teach, but also your background and how you use it and experiment with either thought experiments or confusion or paradox or through the interaction of mechanics and dynamics and play how you're able to bring about these different messages that you're communicating so I guess a question for you is Either what you want to experience in VR yourself or what type of experiences that you want to help? Create to be able to explore some of these deeper political ideas and philosophies

[01:11:12.437] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Well, I mean, the stupid thing that came to mind first is I want us to do more horseshoe stuff and hot dogs because it surprised the hell out of our community when we did it. We had never asked them to throw something, right? They had always had some controlled, I'm going to point this and it's going to go that way in a predictable physics-based interaction. And we had never put gated content in the game. So we took all this time making horseshoes feel great in virtual reality, and then we stopped doing anything with it. So on the one hand, I have the same kind of silly interests, right? I mean, to me, they're more than silly, but I mean, they're silly. Things that I want to do in VR. I like to throw shit. I do. I'm convinced somebody's going to make, when the technology's good enough, somebody's going to make a great pitching simulator in VR. I shouldn't have said that. I want to be the one to do it. We can't seem to get it right yet. Yeah, so, on the one hand, I want VR experiences to be able to replicate that stuff that people like to do in real life, just in a different context, right? Throwing horseshoes, but, you know, in some sort of gravity well or over a lava pit. Like, what would Mario horseshoes VR be like? I think that'd be so much fun. On the more serious side of things, I think that Nani de la Peña is a person whose work I respect tremendously and I think the kind of ground that she's been breaking and how she's been attacking issues the way that a journalist would, I think is brave and important. I want to see that line of work continue for years because it's going to take time for the best practices to emerge and for the technology to become accessible enough that people can make it. I mean, I've been fortunate enough to jury the Peabody Awards a couple of times, and this is through the past couple of years as VR stuff is becoming more accessible. And even big budget projects funded by major news outlets, you can still tell they just didn't have enough resources. They did the best job that they could, and the subject matter is really important, but it's not quite there a lot of the time, because this stuff is super difficult. So I want to see more of a commitment of resources, I really hope from a tax base. I think it's something that we should all invest in, into the journalistic capacities of VR itself. I think that the ability to be taken to a place that's totally inaccessible, granted this can be a kind of tourism that's really problematic, right? I'm not saying that we should create disaster porn, I do think we should risk it though. I do think that as designers we have to try, we have to say something is really important, it's happening over there, and because you can't see it, you don't understand it and you don't care. That's Tip O'Neill, all politics is local. That's Plato being afraid that the polis would get too big. Anything over 5,000 people is too big. That's right in the Republic. It's because people lose this kind of face-to-face connection. And the thing that always scares me about doing an interview or being recorded and giving a talk, it's this idea, this vague idea I have that an indefinite number of people will be hearing the dumb shit that I'm saying and and I can't in any way like look them dead in the eye and try to edge their reaction in one way like just you know that you give someone a little smile or you you shrug or something and it helps them to understand what you mean you share some physical location with them you share some set of experiences or like we do some passion for a new medium suddenly your willingness to play with that person your feeling of safety and security A little stronger, right? I don't know what some random folks in Indiana might think, right? I kind of want to know, but I'm also overwhelmed by the idea of this person who is only a concept to me. I know there are people in Indiana. I've been there, right? But I can't possibly hold that in my guts that there are billions of people I'll never meet and I don't know anything about them. in a deep, intimate way, and I don't know how to communicate with them, and I'm terrified by the idea that they're listening to me fumble with my own thoughts and my own confusing, muddled view of the world, right? So, I like the one-on-one. I like teaching to a small group of people, but... So, for you, do you think that virtual reality can offer a kind of communicative situation that can be politically useful? The work that you do, the kinds of things that you try to get at by connecting with one person and sharing it with a lot of people. Is there something that you wish virtual reality technologies could do or would be applied to that would complement the work that you do or would help you fill a gap in your own work that is too inaccessible, too difficult to fill right now?

[01:15:49.420] Kent Bye: Well, so I do think that there is something magical about the face-to-face conversations, and I've tended to avoid doing any interviews in VR just because I pick up on so much body language. I try not to plan or schedule anything. It's a very Daoist approach of going to events and being embodied, having direct experiences at events, and then using my own intuition to be able to say, oh, there's something that's intriguing or striking to me about what that person is saying or doing or what they've created, and to be able to explore that and unpack it a little bit more. So there's something that's very serendipitous about what I do, which is unplanned, unscheduled serendipity. And I feel like conferences and gatherings are like the cauldron of people who don't have a fixed schedule. There's things that you could do, there is a schedule, but there's also just an unplanned amount of hallway conversations. The Greeks had two words for time, the chronos time and the kairos time. And the chronos is like, you have a very fixed schedule, it's very mental, linear, you have a time of when it's gonna start, and then when I do try to schedule interviews, then people show up with, coming with the context of like, oh, they have a half hour to talk. But in the kairos, there's sort of like, oh, you know, we have sort of like just this exploration of who knows how long we'll end up talking or where it'll go, but there's an open-endedness to it that is more authentic and more real and more emergent in the moment. And I feel like there's something about just even the logistics of even getting into VR where a lot of that magic of that serendipity is not there. So there's a certain dimension of serendipity that's there, but also just the ability to track eyes and facial expressions and micro-expressions. And I feel like I've cultivated a sense of deep listening and my own shared presence. I feel like when I'm in VR, I can't communicate my depth of presence that I give to somebody. And there's something about My own presence that I can give as an interviewer that I cannot replicate in VR I feel cut off from it. So actually as a medium People always ask me like are you gonna do stuff in VR? And I'm like, no the technology isn't as good for doing all the things that I want or need and or that would make it interesting to me, but also I feel like there's a certain flatness of being cut off of that level of embodiment that comes from the medium. But the deeper question of what you're asking, which is the political implication, I would say that I recently did an interview with Ken Wilber, and he is pointing to different theories of moral development. Gene Gebsner did this whole theory that there's these different worldviews, and then also Claire Graves and spiral dynamics, Kohlberg and Gilligan they all have like these different models of either worldviews or moral development just to say that there's this evolution of ethics and morals and that It's kind of an open question for how you evolve your ethical framework in your moral framework And I think moral dilemmas is a part of it but I think actually a big part of it is being able to have interactive debates with other people that are challenging you and And so being able to have a space where you're willing to be open to the dialectic, which means that there's two logics coming together, and that there's going to be paradoxes, and that you're either going to break down the reception of the conversation, or you're going to have to have an accommodation of a new idea and thoughts. So that it's much more of an individualistic perspective of like, the only thing that we can do is to hope to change ourselves. maybe through the process of dialectic and dialogue through these virtual reality experiences or maybe mediated through different experiences to be able to give an experience that either invokes awe and wonder or an expansion of a worldview or Politically being able to allow people to be more comfortable with paradox, which I think is a probably one of the biggest challenges of our era is how to reckon things that are not Logically compatible, but yet how can they coexist and find the common humanity amongst everybody? And I think that's the big challenge for me right now is like there's been such a focus on political ideology that separates people But what are the things that we can say? Hey, we all live on earth What's the common ground of our lived human experience that we could connect on? Irrespective of any sort of differences of political ideology Yeah

[01:19:55.273] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Speaking of serendipity, it's funny because I talk a lot about Sheldon Boland's work. He wrote this great book called Politics and Vision. One of his core arguments is that the problem of politics in contemporary life is the problem of ever-expanding space. So the polis, right, the sort of heart of the political is the city-state. It's the city. And the platonic ideal of the city is maybe 5,000 people. You actually know people. And so if we take Aristotle seriously, that politics is about matters of communal concern, it's a lot easier to find out what those points that we hold in common are if I can just walk over there and talk to you, right? I mean, again, we're sitting here surrounded almost entirely by a dormitory, right? Wouldn't be that many more people in the platonic ideal of a city, right? So you can just walk over and talk to people and sometimes your shared concerns are there's a pothole over there and we need to fill it. And sometimes their shared concerns are the space was not designed in such a way that we can protest without snipers having clear vantage points at our heads. I think about things like that because I did my MFA at the State University of New York at Buffalo where the campus was designed such that snipers would have really good shots at your head if you tried to congregate in the one place on campus where you could organize, right? They built that campus, UB North as it's called, after Kent State and not too long after the president's office on the original UB South Campus was occupied for a month. So if you want to know what authoritarian architecture looks like, go to UB. People have written dissertations on it. Anyway, so back to Wolin. So Wolin tries to lay out in politics and vision this way of looking at the growth of the polis from a small Greek city-state to the megapolis, right, the megalopolis of the Roman big old cities, right, and how as soon as the center of politics expands, as soon as you have this bigger space to contend with, it's less heterogeneous. I mean, people have less of this, less face-to-face interaction and conversations. So you need to start finding conceptual ways to bind people together and that's the moment that you put Caesar's face on a coin right and as that city space continues to expand you start to see via Augustine right like the city of God right like you start to see religion play an important political role because We may not all share the same space, but we're all citizens of heaven or something, potentially. And then we move past that and organizations start to take on that role, right? Whether it's like you work in a Soviet or something, right? Some workers' collective, or you're a part of some labor union, or what have you, right? Like, people's political energies start being redirected toward other kinds of ancillary things that used to be part of a social sphere more properly. And it's not long until you get to 20 years ago when people are meeting at sports bars for the first time, and you have more in common with your rotisserie baseball league than you do with the people down the street, right? So this is a long-winded way of me setting up the argument that politics has always been virtual. That as soon as you've got more than a couple people talking to one another, Politics is driven by this model that we have in our heads of what people are and what they care about, and we have this ability to opt in and out of particular kinds of communities in a way that you're not supposed to politically. You're actually part of a community in a place like this on a college campus. You're stuck with these people. These are your people, right? And as soon as political energies diffuse into the social, and things like associations, things like clubs, things like interests have to stand in for real deep sharing of space and concerns, it becomes really, really difficult to get people to care, to get people to understand what they have in common. I talked a little bit about this inside in my talk, that when the nation-state as such is forming, Creoles are confused about what they share in common, right, as they've come over North America is being colonized and the technologies of the newspaper, so like shipping manifests, and then stories, right? People reading a novel and seeing other people through the narrator's eyes becomes this powerful tool for getting people to understand and imagine one another as part of a community. That's Benedict Anderson's book, Imagined Communities. So it's this act of imagination that we need to encourage to say I know there are people in Indiana who might be listening to this and I want to believe that they're the kind of person that I am or the kind of person that you are right Who might want to play around with some ideas who might be worried about the environment or who if they're not? Maybe this conversation would somehow have them ask themselves. Like what does the environment have to do with these video games that I like to play right and How do you get somebody to care that they're playing a game of Minecraft on a computer that's powered by coal? Like you're burning coal to dig up fake coal. This is strange stuff. It's a really weird world You know what I mean? So

[01:25:01.033] Kent Bye: You mentioned Howard Zinn earlier and I think another dimension about both VR and you said all politics is virtual. Well, I think there's a sense of like what even the history is, like what's the story, the mythology that we tell ourselves and sometimes that gets captured in national holidays, state-sanctioned statues, and who are the heroes of the culture? What are the stories we tell ourselves? What are the rituals that we do each and every year? So there's different aspects of culture that get embedded within national holidays and just things that we celebrate. And yet, something like the People's History of the United States from Howard Zinn just shows how much of the history is written by the victors and that there's this other history. And I feel like another aspect of both VR and politics is going to potentially be, talking to Clint Contave, he was creating these augmented reality experiences that were trying to recontextualize the Christopher Columbus statue in New York City, saying, hey Columbus he was kind of a horrible person let's do an augmented reality experience where you're at that location of the statue and let's put slaves here about how he was the catalyst to this whole slave trade and all the different things that he did in human rights violations even at the time that he was jailed for and so just the idea that you could start to have an individual overlay a context of a holographic object a cultural meaning that's going to be juxtaposed towards a cultural meaning that may be a statue but what are the abilities for you to start to overlay your own meaning of what the story is and what the history is and how can you tell the story of us place through augmented reality because place tells a story and so how do you emerge that story and how is there a way to start to come up with a common sense of what the shared context of the history is because I feel like That's a huge part of the differences of these different debates is that a lot of people just simply aren't aware of how things got to that point. And then the history of it all. Again, I don't even know if we'll ever have like a grand unified theory like this is the shared story. but like some sort of ability for people to have an open world exploration, to at least have their own experiences of it that we can agree upon to some degree, but that without that agreement, you just have these completely different polarizations that can happen. And I feel like that's a bit of what is happening today.

[01:27:14.646] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, and I wonder how much in the near-term future users of VR are going to have the ability to mod, to re-author, to annotate given experiences and really take hold of those things and add to them. I was reminded, I completely forgot about this, but a couple years ago, As indie designers, you're always very opportunistic. You have to have this mindset of finding ways to grab onto potential opportunities and do something meaningful in those contexts. At least that's the approach that we took. An opportunity that I saw come up a few years ago was through the National Park System. And specifically, they were opening a new national park in Patterson, New Jersey, like right downtown. So this call for work, this call for submissions, which you know, you look for constantly when you're in the you know, you're looking for grants or you're looking for clients or contract work. So I saw this grant and they said, can you pitch some augmented reality project, some new media project that relates to one of these four parks. And when I saw the Patterson, New Jersey one, I immediately thought of William Carlos Williams' book, Patterson, right? And I grabbed it off the shelf, hadn't read it in a long time, and I started leafing through it, and I started researching the park. And I knew, conceptually, because I like William Carlos Williams' work, I knew that Patterson was a book about the city Patterson, right? It's this long poem in five parts where he treats the entire city like a body. Right? It's kind of a distant cousin of Hobbes' Leviathan, right? And thinking of the state as a body. So he was thinking of Patterson as both a place and a body, as a person, as a character. So I thought, wouldn't it be great to embed lines from Patterson in and around this park and bleed it out into the community? And then when I started doing research about Patterson, New Jersey, where I've never been there. I lived in New Jersey for a while. I've never been there. I don't know anything about it. I started learning about all the strikes that went on there, right? The union actions and the conflicts that happened around these strikes, the people who bled trying to defend particular sets of workers' rights and interests, and started thinking about, how could I open up this process such that over time, people who were living in Patterson could start adding lines to this app, to this augmented reality experience that perhaps you'd scan a QR code and on your phone some line would come up and at first we'd seed it with lots of lines from Patterson that were tagged with metadata, right? You're looking at a lake, maybe something that's got water, right, appended to it as a piece of metadata would get popped up there on your screen. You wouldn't necessarily know what you'd see. But two years later, could we imagine that there would suddenly be a much larger base of text that was written by the community, that the community would essentially start remixing this seminal piece of modern American poetry and make it their own, right? I mean, we didn't get funded, we didn't get picked, and there were some really worthy projects that did, so it's fine, but... As I get older as a designer, it's moments like this, talking about random stuff outside of a conference, where I revisit this former self that I feel like I am, right? But I haven't thought about that experience, I haven't thought about that attitude, that set of interests in a couple years. I'd forgotten I even put a couple weeks into putting this pitch together and then it didn't happen and we were so disappointed. Every designer I know has stories like that, these things that they really care about, that they put some time into and it didn't quite work out. And I think that there have been times as an artist where I've been a lot more active in trying to explore our capacity as designers to uplift the voices of community members, enable is the wrong word, allow is the wrong word, right? Like authorship is connected to authority in an indelible way, but can you help to create a structure, some sort of foundation that other people can build upon? Can you take seriously that an act of play is an act of creation, that a user always has this kinetic ability to create in the spaces that you make. And sometimes it bursts outside of not just your intentions, but what they're like legally allowed to do. It's just, I have to take this, I have to remove this dragon, and I have to put Thomas the Tank Engine in there, and then we have this amazing mod of Skyrim, right? And that's great. But if the tools were more accessible to users, what kinds of experiences, what kinds of subjective positions would we have to reckon with and wrestle with as a community that is so often so ironic to this conversation, so homogenous, right? Like, when I went to Steam Dev Days for the first time, and it was just a sea of white guys, and I thought, I've always liked Steam, I always dreamt of having a game on Steam, and that was this gestalt, visceral, like, okay, We're not anywhere near as diverse a field as I had hoped. I have the privilege to work alongside all sorts of people who are not white dudes, who do not come from privileged backgrounds, so it's easy for me to lose sight of the fact that that ain't the case most places, just like it's not the case in most academic departments. We've got a lot of work to do, and it's going to take work. So I just hope that these tools that we're talking about, this passion that we have for these new tools, is well-founded. And that's just going to take work like anything else.

[01:32:42.212] Kent Bye: As you're talking about the poetry and being able to take the poem and distribute it and see those lines I just imagine a future where you could have a context and meaning of space and that you may be able to have visual communication where if you wanted to look at that tree and that tree has a connection to your lineage, your family, or a story about it, and then maybe there's a little immersive theater piece that is easy to create that you can annotate in that way and share that. I start to see the early phases of that with meme culture, because memes are essentially like a form of visual communication that are taking cultural artifacts and remixing them in a way to say, oh, here's a dog jumping in a pile of leaves, and this is what I feel like right now. And you're saying, with this embodied action in this video, this is my feeling, and then just ways to be able to take a juxtaposition of a reaction GIF and then add some sort of text that shows like just last night there was like the longest World Series game ever that went to 18 innings in 7 hours and 20 minutes and I watched it and all these videos and I watched the last hour of it and just be a part of the experience because it was like I saw on Twitter that people were watching it and then just to see the pictures like oh here's a picture of Daniel Radcliffe when he was young playing Harry Potter and then now and it's like oh this is how much time has passed And the course of this game and people being just funny of like, oh, this was super long. How long was it? But to do like a visual depiction of that, there was a foul ball that got hit. And then this was like, oh, this is my life where I want to go is this home run. But where I'm at is like the ball's foul. And just like taking a screenshot and writing that text on top of it. is a sense of where augmented reality is going to go where you're able to add your context and meaning of whatever your feelings are of whatever embodied environmental action that you can start to annotate and then almost have like this meme culture that goes from social media into the world but not just to be jokes and funny but to actually convey meaning and to be able to connect to people and to tell stories about a place and your relationship to that place and that context in a way that helps allow people to understand what the lived experience is of a place. Like, we're here in Bakersfield, and I have no idea much about Bakersfield. I was reading Wikipedia, but what would it be like to have an augmented reality experience that would be able to give me this sense of what the story of the place is and what it's like to live here? And it's difficult for me to access that without talking to people, but are there gonna be ways to use the augmented reality technology that's connected to a place to be able to tell those types of stories. So as you were saying that, that poetry, and connected to a place, just made me think about what's already happening online, and Twitter, and social media, and to extrapolate that out. Okay, what is the augmented reality? What's the spatialized version? What's the geolocated version of this? And once we have immersive headsets and augmented reality glasses, then how can we imagine a future where this is everywhere? And how can we actually use that to create this cohesive culture that is allowing us to connect deeper to each other?

[01:35:39.562] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: That's a really interesting set of questions. I keep thinking about graffiti because I like graffiti a lot. I think that graffiti is almost becoming Passé at this point. I mean because people have grown more accustomed to it and more people do it You know when I see graffiti nowadays, I'm sometimes disappointed that there aren't like more experimental things going on in graffiti But I'm a fan of it and I see graffiti as a illicit annotation of the world around us, right? Even if it's just your name or it's some moniker that you go by to say this wall fuck your wall or you know, I'm gonna use this space to make a particular kind of statement and I think that's a great thing. It's problematic, too, but I'm ready. I mean, for me, when I run that cost-benefit analysis, I think it's worth it. So when I think about the equivalent in augmented reality, on the one hand, I'm like, great, everything becomes a canvas for everyone, right? And, you know, there'll be a lot of dick jokes, and there'll be a lot of offensive stuff, and there'll be a lot of poetry, and there'll be kittens, for sure, because there's always going to be kittens everywhere if the internet shows up. So I like that. I like that there might be a way in which to tag that stuff with metadata and opt in and do that and perhaps sort and say like what is one particular group's perspective on a given space and do I want to see all of it? Do I want to see part of it? Can I sort it? I could see that being really empowering. I could also see it being a trap. Right? I mean, it reminds me of how, like, this was a mind-blowing thing for me when I was taught, when I came to understand that Nixon founded the National Endowment for the Arts so you could control artists. Right? Like, if that was the only way that you're going to get funding as an artist, is to apply through these official channels, then you're going to have to make certain kinds of art, or the government's not going to fund it. Right? Otherwise, we're not going to support artists at all. Right? But look, look, there's all these grants you can apply for. You know, setting aside that those amounts have dwindled to comically low amounts, that it's one of the many ways in which America underfunds various aspects of its economic and socio-political base, of its needs. You know, setting that aside, it's a modicum of control, right? As much as I'm deeply inspired by some of the VR that I'm seeing, I'm always worried that it costs so much to build a rig and to get a vibe and to play one of our games. To have the kind of experience that we want users to have, you need money, you need space, which is money. As someone who lives in LA, let me tell you. And you need several deep sets of literacies, all of which are inaccessible to most people. So, who am I reaching with the experience that I'm creating? And what are the ethics of investing into a medium that, like smartphone production, You're gonna use a lot of rare earth metals, you're gonna burn a lot of coal, you're gonna do a lot of things that I feel really conflicted about. I love virtual reality experiences. I also like trees and fish and stuff, right? And I hate that we're living in a moment right now where it feels like, to so many of us who are working in game design, that The art that we want to make is being made potentially at the expense of a stable, healthy future, right? We use the word ecosystem so much when we're talking about game development, like, as a metaphor, and I think too few of us are thinking on a day-to-day basis of the actual ecosystem that's around us. But it's too much. It's an overwhelming thing to ask somebody to hold those deeply contradictory perspectives and keep them balanced, right? This is to say that it's hard to be playful when you're making games sometimes. So... I don't know. It's a tough thing to reckon with. I think more than anything else, I hope that the kinds of technologies that we're using become a lot less disruptive of the natural environment. I hope that we can find better ways to recycle the materials that we're using and to become more power efficient. I hope that we can do this as part of a larger movement as a culture and as a polis toward minimizing the waste that we're producing and curtailing a variety of practices that all of us are all too familiar with, right? Yeah, it's funny. I'm thinking now about how, on the one hand, I feel like this conversation is the most important thing in the world right now, and it makes me nervous, like we talked about, but it's such a drop in the bucket. Right? And I have no way of knowing if anyone's going to listen to this. I have no way of knowing if I'm going to affect how anyone feels, right? And that's political participation in a nutshell. Does my vote count? You know, should I bother recycling? Like it's a, they left the recycling bin a three minute walk over that way, right? Like, should I bother, right? All those little decisions that feel so small. There's 7 billion people making them, right? Like little decisions can go a long way and we can't control them, you know?

[01:40:24.387] Kent Bye: What I would say is that this little trip to Bakersfield, California The conversations I'm having here, both with Cosmo and with you at this same location, have been about the deeper political, economic, wealth, power, control context of our ecology and our world today. From Cosmo, from a perspective of trying to think about what are some forward-thinking solutions, but also just a candid assessment of where we're at as a culture. One of the quotes he said in his talk was, I see that there's a smile on your face, but also a sadness in your eyes. that little phrase of the smile that's on top of a deep sadness and trauma that's happening in our world today. And as you're talking about the sustainability of all this, I mean, this is in some ways the first conversation in the podcast that I've talked about. But two or three years ago, when I was talking to some people in Portland who were let's say just more in the spiritual communities and very skeptical about technology. And one person asked a question of me like, well, where did the minerals come from for where this was made? Can you trace where the materials came from? And I think there's a certain disconnection between this virtual reality technology that I can't say where all these materials came from and how it's related to the earth. And so in some ways, It's part of this global ecosystem where I don't know the ethics of how things were sourced. I don't know where they came from. I don't know the labor practices. There's so many dimensions of what it even has taken within this global infrastructure of what we have in the world today to be able to produce this amazing technology. And I think it's very easy to look at the potential and turn a blind eye to a lot of those out of sight, out of mind types of externalized costs to culture and humanity that how many people have been exploited in the process of getting this to my being now, yes, can open up new worlds for me to change my mind, but it's a new technology that will diffuse out. And I think there's a lot of more of a keto of like working with what's existing in the world to be able to change the world. And I think that that's kind of the story I tell myself is that despite all the costs that may be there, that all these questions that I can't answer, But there's still that deeper question of how is this going to be sustainable? How is this economically viable? All these deeper questions that I think get to the ethics of what it means to be involved in this emerging technology.

[01:42:39.175] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: I'm reminded of the debates in the 90s and early 2000s around the democratizing potentials of the internet. totally unprecedented media form and relationship that people were having via this set of mediating technologies and critics started having a set of familiar debates around the internet, right? Is this a good technology? Is it a bad technology? Is it something that's going to democratize communication, right? Such that people can share things and have technology uplift and support their subjective perspective on something? Or are those people going to sort of get crushed under the weight of some new set of conglomerate mediatized messes. And I remember Ben Barber writing about this and I always liked his argument that it was very simple that tools are just tools. It's about the way that we use them. No one media book, right, a hammer, a light bulb, these things have something like values attached to them. You can double back to that but Largely, they're defined via their use, right? And their value is defined via their use. So if we use the Internet in a way that reflects democratic values, it will be a democratizing technology. If we use it in ways that are antithetical to democracy, then that's the way it's going to be, right? There's some limits to that argument, right? I mean, if you take philosophy of technology seriously, that any piece of technology reflects the culture that made it, this means that every tool that we use in the scientific method is perhaps tainting that method. Right? And it's an ironic thing. We can't view certain things without a telescope, a microscope, and yet those are things that privilege vision and assume that we need to use vision to get at some sort of thing and that the thing that we're getting at and the knowledge that we're trying to obtain is worth getting, that it's good, right? That's what it is to be a talking monkey. I don't know what to tell you, right? Like, we can do cool things. Virtual reality is amazing. Whether we should be doing it is too big a question for me. I want to be able to say opinionated things sometimes about it, but I'm horribly inconsistent. It has everything to do with my mood and the particular view I'm taking on a subject, right? And who can blame us? I mean, we really are just animals, except we're the only ones that seem to have the potential, the potential, Theoretically to break outside of what it is to be an animal right to be bounded by our environment to be Limited by forces that are outside of our control. It's a very seductive thing about humanity It might be the thing that really defines us is we're trying to stop being a Animals, right? That's what the singularity and the fantasy is all about. Could we live forever either as some super organism or as individual bodies, right? And what's worth it? How much of the planet are we willing to kill in the quest to break outside of that planet? Would the entirety of the Star Trek universe be justified if Earth was a husk? I can't answer that question, especially as someone who loves Star Trek. Next generation. I'm a next generation Deep Space Nine guy. But yeah, so in some sense, this moment in technological development is more complicated, I think, only because of the acceleration of the curve that we're... sliding along, right? Things are going to get bad or good pretty quickly, relative to the length of history and what it's been to be a human in the grand scheme of things. You know, whether things tip good or bad in the next decade, two decades, 50 years, I don't know. You know, there's some wiggle room in the debates, but it's coming. And I think it's hard nowadays to be self-aware as an artist or a designer or an architect or a philosopher or just a person and not just sometimes be overwhelmed by that crushing hyper object, the size and scope of climate change. It's just unimaginable, right? International conflict. It's just too much. It's too much to reckon with.

[01:46:37.698] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[01:46:48.092] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Oh, man. I think there's a chance that virtual reality or a technology like virtual reality would enable us to communicate in a way that doesn't just extend our senses, but changes them. That it could be to communication what quantum physics has been to our understanding of the universe, right? That we could be in multiple places at the same time, that we could dwell inside of a contradiction. And it sounds like the stuff of poetry, but You know, it wasn't that long ago that we were just talking about how the whole idea of an interface doesn't make sense in virtual reality, right? And how when you undertake the ritual of just strapping a ski mask, a bumpy ski mask onto your face and holding these ridiculous sticks in your hand, you're suddenly able to do these things that are so powerful that they can make you vomit. Right? I've seen people put on virtual reality headsets and 20 seconds in, take it off and they're just crying. Not because of the content. Nothing to do with the content. It was just a deep animal experience. They just didn't know what to feel. They didn't know what to do. Right? Something strange with virtual reality. And I know that early adopters of mediums talk like this about their mediums, about how different it is and how powerful it is. But I've never read a book that made me puke. I've never read a book that so disoriented me that when I put it down, I walked down a hallway and felt like the proportions were wrong and I was moving at the wrong speed. There's a whole genre of literature, existentialism, that tried to get at that experience. But that's like ready at hand with virtual reality. It's a replicable thing. You don't need a book. You don't need art. It's just that's the fundamental effect it has on a lot of people. So I like to believe that there's a chance that virtual reality could enculturate people to a profoundly different kind of relationship. to each other, to information, to the visualization of stuff that we just can't perceive easily and reckon with. But if I'm being honest, I think the ultimate direction that VR is heading is probably the same direction everything else is heading. I think we're, 10 or 20 years from now, going to be looking back on this and thinking, damn it, we shouldn't stop playing VR. And I love it, and maybe it's worth it to try, just to see what could happen here. But yeah, there's a lot of stuff happening around VR that's going to need to change real quick if the medium of virtual reality is going to reach its potential. I think it's a both-and.

[01:49:35.410] Kent Bye: That's a very provocative thing. Is there, like, I'm just trying to get a sense of what specifically you think should change, or if it's going in that wrong direction, then what do you think needs to shift?

[01:49:49.407] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Well, I think it's like you said earlier in this conversation, something along the lines that we hope that there's a grand narrative out there and maybe there'll be something that unites it. But if we take postmodernism seriously, if we take contemporary cultural studies seriously, it's a web of interconnected subjectivities that are perhaps incompatible, right? So I think concretely, like, I think something that the Obama administration's approach to ecological change showed us is that there is some hope in a bunch of small changes, a lot of targeted small changes, as opposed to one large thing, right? We don't necessarily need cold fusion if we can just have some windmills over there, and we can stop fracking over there, and, you know what I mean? If we can have some sort of distributed set of small to medium-sized changes in that way, there might be a pragmatic set of steps to take us to a point where we limit the effects of climate change. And then perhaps, if we're patient and we pick our spots, we can roll this problem back. Maybe. Maybe. But that's a maybe. There are a lot of people in the scientific community who think that we need to roll things back hard. And those folks, I'm sure, would find the prospect of VR helping pretty dubious. When it's pretty clear that we could just shut a lot of stuff off. So, at the end of the day, I mean, it might be a policy thing. Right? I mean, for example, off the top of my head, 2% of the country's power consumption is servers, right? But it doesn't need to be that way. We don't need to keep servers running at 100% capacity just because we think the internet might show up and we don't want Amazon to shut down for three minutes, right? We could keep them at 10% capacity, 15% capacity, right? And save a whole lot of power. That's a lot of coal that's being burned. This is not clean sources of energy in those situations, right? What effect would that have? I don't know. I don't know. Is it worth it? Probably. I think if I was educated in such a way that I valued it, I might be more tolerant of a website going down for a couple minutes if I knew it was... 1.5% of the coal that's being burned in the country would not be burned. So...

[01:52:03.998] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think it's to me there's also like fake news and you know slipping into like what is the base of reality but to me it's about Can we get individuals to be able to change their behaviors and I saw experience at Sundance a couple years ago It was a 360 video that just gave me this embodied experience of what it was like to be inside of this farm of chickens that just the horrible conditions and then juxtaposed with like free-range chickens and How like cage free chickens just as a concept of like that made me be like alright I'm willing to pay a little extra money to ensure that these chickens are not in cages because that just seems like torture and There was something that I had an embodied experience where I was able to connect the dots between the conditions of something that I was completely out of sight, out of mind. I had never thought about it really. But then I have that experience that is connecting like this is the conditions of these chickens and by me making a choice to spend more money, then I can start to bring about change. And I think with blockchain technologies and other ways to potentially have people use smart contracts or some sort of thing to say this is the level of ethics that I want to promote and the values of what I value in terms of what I want to see with either fair trade or whatever it is to then ensure that there's some way that they can choose to spend more money to make a choice rather than to take the lowest common denominator and to just by default have like these ecological detrimental externalized costs to, from the economic perspective, there's no number you can put on the environment. So because of that, the ecological impact of these choices are invisible to the economic system, which means that there has to be some way to draw that back so that as individuals, we can make different choices. And so that is a huge thing. And like, if we look at technology diffusion as a model for how to even start to have that as an academic idea? Like, theoretically, how would you even do that? And then see the initial implementation and then eventually crossing the chasm in the mainstream? We're talking about decades out before we're able to even take that as a concept now and to make it so that everybody can be able to do that. But I just hope that maybe there's going to be some sort of paradigm shift that comes with VR that Is this natural evolution of people's value systems that they have their mind open in different ways and maybe there's this catalyst and maybe maybe it could be that sort of quantum leap in some ways that Yeah, so I tend to be a little bit more of an idealist and like optimist and like the potential. I mean, that's sort of the whole thrust of a lot of my work is to talk and have all these conversations. But at the same time, there's a lot of political realities, a lot of ecological realities and a lot of things that just through the course of this conversation that It's not like a sure thing that even within the next couple of years, what type of cultural and political and economic context we're going to be in to be even to continue to push this industry forward. It feels like there could be coming to some sort of like breaking point in our culture. I don't know what that is, but it just feels like the weight of the world is becoming more and more of everybody thinking about it each and every day. And I still see a lot of hope and vision in emerging technologies. But sometimes, with all the things that are breaking in the news, it's sort of like, man, how does VR fit into this larger context of what's happening in the world? And through the course of this conversation, it's me and us, I think, fleshing that out and telling that story for ourselves and also for the larger community to sort of help contextualize what this all means with everything that's happening in the world.

[01:55:36.341] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Yeah, something that you just said made me think about Stoicism, you know, like we've been talking about the Greeks and you've been talking about the sort of Taoist approach that you're taking and I'm reminded of the Incredian and the simple idea that humans too often confuse the things they can change with the things that they can't, which is to say that humans become stressed out about these things around them that they have absolutely no control over. And if you just let those things go, and you learn to tell the difference between the things that you can actually affect change on and the things you can't, it will profoundly change not just your disposition in relation to people and your environment, but it will make you feel good, right? That it will remove this kind of deep existential angst that I think so many of us feel. Because I'm overwhelmed by the idea of climate change. I was overwhelmed the other day when I read about the Trump administration's decision to I'm sorry. I can't it's just so dark. I like the the The disarmament agreement that suddenly Trump was like I was roll back Russia hasn't been holding up its side of the bargain So yeah, I'm just gonna start making more nukes or something again, right? And There's nothing I can do about that You know, I'm just getting old enough now that I'm starting to, like, get that on a deep gut level that, yeah, I can't do anything about it. I'm never going to be able to do something about that in particular. We can do this, right? Like, we can take our time talking to one another passionately and saying, like, wouldn't it be wonderful if, right, playing those games with one another, entertaining those thought experiments and saying, can you imagine a way in which virtual reality is going to do these amazing things? Because if we don't, it never will. That's, that's, that's... Well, unless, you know, the computers and shit take over, and then fine, let them do their thing, you know? It's a hard job, and fine, if they want to do it, go ahead, be our overlords, but I try to at least find some solace in the work that I do as a teacher and in the conversations I have. in places like this, with students, with you, with colleagues, because at least that's something I know I can do. I know that we can leave this conversation saying, yeah, that was really interesting, that was inspiring, right? And I can think, I gotta go play that chicken game experience. It sounds pretty good. I know I can do that. And if we start from there, that's something. I just, I don't think people are finding enough solace in that anymore because of the rate at which things are changing and the new things that are cropping up every day. and the kinds of perspectives that we now have and that I think like Generation Z, I think it's called, kids have when they get woke, right? And they look at the world around them and they see just how subjective everything is and just what a mess it is and how much it's about authority and power and rules and procedures that you have to follow. How can you do anything about it? How can you change it? So I feel as though I've been talking in circles a lot in these little moments when I have space to speak and I feel like I do that a lot lately, you know, I sort of entertain one possibility I loop around another possibility I get back to where I am and I don't feel like I've been changed by it It's this really empty kind of Zen experience where I just feel like I'm spinning the wheels of a motorcycle, right? Like a lot of people feel like that right now So I wanted to get somewhere. I want this spinning to take me somewhere. I'm a philosophy wank, you know, I love knowledge. That's the root of the whole practice. So I'm going to keep doing this because I can't stop, right? I don't know what's going to take me anywhere. I hope it does. But the one place it seems to take me that's really great are conversations like this one. And in a subjective way, it helps me to understand the industry and the country that I'm living in from an entirely new perspective that would have been inaccessible to me. And maybe that's enough, right? Maybe just the cumulative effect of that, if we just keep doing this. Old tricks are the best tricks, right? Let's just keep talking to one another, right? Anyway. This has been a pleasure. Yeah.

[01:59:41.295] Kent Bye: Yeah, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[01:59:45.919] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: You know, I guess what I would say is that the folks that I know and I work with, and I'm lucky enough to work with, are confused. All the time, by all sorts of stuff. We kick around ideas, we try to think about things that people are going to find fun and inspiring, we try to tackle serious issues, set them aside, we'll tell some dirty jokes, right? We're hypocrites sometimes. We feel contradictory things. We get confused. You mentioned blockchain, for example. On the one hand, I'm like, interesting. I see compelling arguments for that being a useful piece of technology. Also, holy crap, we've been mining a lot of them. Holy crap, we've been burning a lot of Fossil fuels and building a lot of GPUs. Oh, you know, it's a both and it's a both and That's a position that I think as a designer you have to try to get comfortable with So I guess what I'd end with is one of my favorite philosophers when I was in college was John Dewey and kind of fell in love with pragmatism because I read this piece of his where he talked about the way that humans come to understand something how they gain new knowledge is a four-step process, right and The first thing that you do is you take in sensory data. It's the way that you normally do. You touch things, you see things. Second step is you convert it into information, right? It becomes part of some structure that you have of understanding. The data gets converted from a sensory input into, this is warm, you know, and you have some thoughts about it, right? The third step is question mark, question mark, question mark. And the fourth step is knowledge. And that is sincerely Dewey's position. And he says that the most difficult thing about being a democratic citizen is step three. It's that conversion of new information that you have into a larger body of knowledge and that knowledge acclimating to that information, what opinions will change, what policy will seem good that seemed bad or vice versa. Step three is indeterminate. It's unpredictable. It's organic. There's no method to it. So it is scary as hell. Totally just scary. That's it. So to be a democratic citizen, you have to get comfortable with uncertainty. I read that as you have to get comfortable with play. And Dewey's the guy that essentially built the edifice of American education, right? The difference between primary and secondary school via Dewey is that in primary school you enculturate everyone to the same stuff. The earth is round. There's Santa Claus. Secondary school, you mess it all up. You show them how everything that they've learned at this point is maybe a lie. It's not so clear-cut, right? The Earth is in fact not round. It's kind of an oblong spheroid, maybe. It depends on... We don't even have really good language to describe the object, right? This is this massive thing with weird properties. But the theory behind this, the intention was, if we get people comfortable with one another, if you find areas of common interest, if you've seen baseball even, right, and you can talk about a baseball game, if you have feelings about a pothole, right, you've shared experiences, you've heard specific stories and narratives about the world, and then you go mess with it. You do that for a couple years. The idea is that people get comfortable with the mess. They get comfortable with having to continually revise their opinions and their beliefs and their understanding of the world, right? I hope virtual reality can be a part of that process. But it's a process that extends far past virtual reality. And it's something I think that we're not as well trained to do as we used to be.

[02:03:25.260] Kent Bye: Yeah.

[02:03:28.517] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: But that's what it is to be a designer for me. Get real uncomfortable all the time. It sucks. But I wouldn't give it up for anything. Cool.

[02:03:38.544] Kent Bye: Well, Adam, I just wanted to thank you for sitting down and having this conversation. And if nothing else, whoever hears this and however they take it, having this conversation for me has been super helpful just to hear your background and insights into political philosophy and your experiences. super rich and rewarding and inspiring for me just to sit down and talk to you and kind of unpack all these things. And if nothing else, it was a fascinating conversation and I trust that it'll get out there and people will be able to listen to it and other people resonate. But if they don't, that's okay because we had a great time just sitting here in Bakersfield talking about the nature of reality and the state of the world today. So yeah, just wanted to thank you for joining me today. So thank you.

[02:04:19.628] Adam Sulzdorf Liszkiewicz: Thanks, Scott. That means a lot and it's been a pleasure.

[02:04:22.389] Kent Bye: So that was Adam Solsdorf-Liskiewicz. He's the CEO of Rust Ltd. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I was really interested in how Adam is really embracing this idea of confusion and paradox and thought experiments and really just embracing these contradictions and all the different ways that we are hypocrites with ourselves. And I think that What that is saying is that in order for you to evolve your perspectives and your worldview, you have to be comfortable with that level of paradox. You have to be faced with some sort of deep moral dilemma or just things that are inherently contradictory. And he kind of referred to virtual reality as this certainly postmodern medium where you're able to deal with the deconstruction of all these different things, especially deconstruction of identity, the deconstruction of the self, to the point where you're able to do these contradictory things like what does it mean to have more than one body or what's it mean to be at two places at the same time. It's kind of like an embodiment of the complementary principles of quantum physics. So Adam is also really focused on the ethics of everything and the fascinating discussion about journalism and what's it mean to go in and do photogrammetry where it's one thing to take a photo but it's a whole other thing to take a capture of an environment because that environment is embedded with so much context and meaning and without the process of being able to cultivate a relationship with the people that you're doing that with, then who are you to go into anybody else's context and start to photograph and say what it means? It would almost be like if somebody came into your house and then took a photogrammetry of everything that was in your house and then started to tell other people what the story of who you were based upon objects that didn't even know what the meaning was. I mean, you are the authority of what objects mean in your house. And if anything, you should be the one telling that story. And so this idea and concept that you would go in to capture somebody else's environment and then try to tell their story without actually speaking to them, I think is one of the things that Adam found was one of the gray areas of ethics when it comes to virtual reality and storytelling. And it really gets into this more postmodern take, which is that there isn't necessarily going to be a grand narrative. And so I think Adam is really embracing this contradictions and paradoxes and using virtual reality as a medium to do exploration of political philosophy. I mean, Adam shared just a brief anecdote about some of the things like, you know, within hot dogs, horseshoes, and hand grenades, there's no other human beings. And so they made this very explicit design decision to not have humans in the game and to explore what it means as a first-person shooter. It's really a deconstruction of what the first-person shooter genre even is. Also, it was super fascinating that he's kind of using virtual reality as this playground for research into either political philosophy or just this communication medium of what's it mean to be able to have these areas of play. Play seems to be that ability to be able to handle that paradox and contradiction. Like there's something about having rules that are open enough where you're able to push boundaries and there's an ambiguity of what those boundaries even are. But that at the end here, he's talking about the pragmatism of John Dewey, which is that the four step process of knowledge creation is to take in sensory information. And then the next step is to pay attention to the qualia of that experience. What's it feel like? What are the different qualitative dimensions of it? But then that starts to categorize it into different pieces of information. And then there's a mysterious third step. We don't really know what happens from that point into being able to integrate it into these structures of knowledge. And so we have lots of invisible worldviews and beliefs and systems and values. And we are projecting a lot of those values onto that information that's coming in. But we're also creating this mental model of what the nature of the reality is. And as we take this information, it's either reaffirming that model, or if it's contradicting it, then we have to expand our model of knowledge. And I think it's through that process of play of being able to handle through contradictions and ambiguity, we're able to be in these situations that are able to expand our way of seeing the world. So the thing that I really appreciated about this conversation was that there's a lot of different ideas and tours through different political philosophies. And so Wittgenstein and how a lot of the interpretation of philosophy could be through a semantic lens of, it's just an accidents of language, a lot of these different open philosophical questions, There's Plato and this idea that the polis should only be like 5,000 people and we have so many people right now in our government, then how do you even come up with ways we're able to have some sort of cohesion within the political systems? And that's where Tip O'Neill says that all politics is local. Sheldon Wolin in Politics and Vision talks about how the problem of politics is about this ever-expanding space and that once you get a space that's too big, then you have to come up with all sorts of systems of abstraction. And that's when they started to put the Caesar's face on a coin. And now we have to deal with all sorts of abstractions of modeling other people and then figuring out what they're thinking. And so Adam is saying that all politics is virtual. There's a certain virtualization that has to happen where you're carrying these different types of mental models. and that Benedict Anderson and Imagine Community were having to do that level of abstraction of kind of projecting out these different mental models and how there's different shared cultural artifacts from journalism as well as different stories that are told that allow us to have these common center points to be able to orient ourselves around and how Dewey was taking this two-stage approach of education where you have that consensus of really having people be on the same page. And then there's this level of deconstruction where you're then challenging a lot of those different concepts, but it allows each person to get more comfortable with contradiction and paradox. And then finally, there's the stoicism and Incredion, which is, you know, knowing what the boundary is between what you can impact and change and what you can't, and just realizing how much suffering can come in our lives when we try to change things that are actually way beyond our control of being able to change anything. So there's a overall, I think, a center of gravity of like this question of like, what does it mean to be a citizen? What's it mean to be able to participate in our democracy? Does your voice count? Does whatever you're doing matter in the larger context? And I think this is a huge open question. I mean, what is the difference between when an idea or a concept or a conversation takes off and actually makes a change? Is it enough to just change yourself? And then just trust that whatever work that you're doing is going to be able to play into this larger dynamic of an ecosystem so that whatever work that you're working on, maybe there's no one else in the world that's really thinking about it and maybe you're the only one that could be doing it. And even if it sounds crazy to be working on something when all of the world is crumbling in different ways, then there could be a completely justified reason to continue to push forward with that because who knows who that's going to change and how that's going to ripple out and change society. And the final thing that I'd just say is that I just really appreciated Adam's perspective of his process as a designer because I think everybody is going to have their own process. There is not going to be some sort of universal formula that is going to allow you to do a step-by-step following of that to be able to then churn out great and meaningful art. I think it really is this process of tuning in deeply and trying to find your own voice and perhaps you have to mimic other people and to take other genres that inspire you and try to do that yourself but through that process of having that embodied experience of creation then eventually you start to find your own voice and you start to have maybe some unique ideas that no one has explored before and you try to have some unique variations or maybe it's something that has done before but you do it again and right now it just takes off wherein before it wasn't ready or it wasn't time and so it's just trusting that process of creation and following your own gut and intuition and just getting out there and iterating and perhaps like Adam says chasing that confusion chasing that thing that's interesting enough for you to explore whether it's a dilemma or a thought experiment or trying to embed a whole environment within some sort of underlying political philosophy whatever it is it's just trying to continue to just find the inspiration to keep pushing forward and making because If there's nothing else, it's those who continue to produce and make that could eventually make something that breaks through and has this deeper impact on society. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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