Critical Play Seminar - Parable of the Polygons

  • Posted on: 25 February 2016
  • By: dcollins

Presented by: Gary Larsen, MA (Theory, Culture, and Politics, Trent University), MA student (Political Science, York University)
February 25th, 7pm

Billed not as a game, but as a “playable post,” Parable of the Polygons challenges players to fuss about with yellow triangles and blue squares. Depending on their surroundings, the polygons represent their respective happiness, disquiet or “meh” indifference to the world through blinks, bops, wobbling or static immobility. Produced by Vi Hart & Nicki Case, Parable of the Polygons is a delightfully preachy and interactive post that promotes the merits and celebration of recognizing difference in contemporary society. As it states from the onset, “This is the story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.” The polygons are programmed to be “slightly shapist.” The player is told upfront that “I want to move if less than 1/3 of my neighbours are like me.” Through a series of minimally differentiated game boards, players learn the value of embracing difference, as well as the complexity attendant to contesting structural and cultural forms of discrimination.

Parable of the Polygons is regularly used as a pedagogical device facilitating students’ recognition of how discrimination materializes. But, what is most fascinating about this playable post is that as a mathematical model of institutionalized bias, it dynamically oscillates between figurations of human freedom. On the one hand, there is a vicious restricting, reducing, flattening or compressing of freedom and human potential to simplistic choices regarding real estate (e.g. where a polygon should move in order to conform to the standards of their shapist biases). On the other hand, by utilizing the very mathematical modelling with which the player is engaged, this post gestures towards its own structuring principles as malleable and subject to revision. Indeed, the responsibility for the mutability of these parameters is placed in the hands of the player at various points during play. And at the close, the player is invited to manipulate all parameters of the game board and polygon biases via an accessible programming toolkit. Such features gesture towards a contestation of the stability of the gamers’ own ontological conditions.

By foregrounding the mathematical modelling as a force of deterministic predilection that implicit biases contain, Parable of the Polygons affords the player an opportunity to engage in radical democratic utopian thought. It invites the player to imagine a world more dynamic and rich in its unrelenting negotiation of the political conditions of difference than most games can and is well worth a look (