Tag Archives: Puzzle

Philosophical Boat Trip From The Witness


Image result for The Witness

Image result for The Witness

While I haven’t been playing the latest video games lately (especially on the busiest days!), I keep coming back to The Witness every once in a while.  Ever since I started writing the MakeSandcastlesNotWar blog, I couldn’t get enough of Jonathan Blow’s latest puzzle adventure game.  I don’t know where to start with what drew me into the game – the breathtaking world you wonder around, loads of puzzles that grow challenging each way, or the philosophical discussions from the various audio logs.

Image result for The Witness

Image result for The Witness

This was truly a game where I stepped back and really took in the gaming atmosphere for a while.  There are no enemies or ‘game over’ features when failing a puzzle because it’s not really what the game is all about.  The Witness challenges you to comprehend its lessons not on the game itself, but rather about life itself that you discover within the game.

Image result for The Witness Audio Logs

Image result for The Witness Audio Logs

Wandering around the island, you’ll notice some rectangular shaped audio logs.  Each audio log plays a different quote read by a voice actor/actress.  Some discussions revolve around religion while other nitpick on things like color or sound.  I loved discovering these audio logs so much that I created a series titled ‘Favorite Audio Logs From The Witness’, which you can start reading here.

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Now it’s time I get even DEEPER into these audio logs.  There was one log that really stood out to me for a while.  When you rowing through the ocean on the boat, you pass by a shipwrecked boat across from the mountain area.  Playing the audio logs will give you this:

Suppose a boat is crossing a river, and another empty boat is about to collide with it.  Even an irritable man would not lose his temper.  But supposing there was someone in the second boat.  Then the occupant of the first would shout to him to keep clear.  And if the other did not hear the first time, nor even when called three times, bad language would inevitably follow.  In the first case there was no anger, in the second there was; because in the first case the boat was empty, and in the second it was occupied.  And so it is with man.  If he could only roam empty through life, who would be able to injure him?

~ Zhuangzi, 4th century B.C.

Wow…just…it seems like NO words can describe this beautifully philosophical lesson here.  What does this hidden log mean?  Man losing temper over the occupant?  And could this so-called ‘man’ actually roam empty through life?

There’s a LOT of pieces that should be discussed within the story.  In order to dig deep into Zhuangzi’s lesson about the irritable man, let’s break this story up a bit.  We’ll start with the boat crossing through the river.

Suppose a boat is crossing a river, and another empty boat is about to collide with it.  Even an irritable man would not lose his temper.

Image result for Boat Crossing River

So the boat is crossing through the river and there was another empty boat nearby.  The two boats were about to collide, yet the man won’t become irritable.  Man doesn’t have as much noise distracting him from his simple dilemma (which was prevent his boat from colliding with the empty boat).

Image result for Calm River

            But supposing there was someone in the second boat.  Then the occupant of the first would shout to him to keep clear.

            Our symbolic tale introduces a new twist – another man was in that second boat.  That calm man has now become irritable because something else was added to his personal conundrum.  He must now shout to the occupant to keep him clear of his path.

Image result for Calm River

And if the other did not hear the first time, nor even when called three times, bad language would inevitably follow. 

            Here’s the ‘cause-and-effect’ part that is introduced to our scenario.  Since the other occupant did not hear the first time (nor even after three times), the bad language would follow.  Not so much bad in the language, but rather the communication happening between the men.  Bad language, or bad communication for that matter, would follow since the dilemma became more challenging.

Image result for Calm River

In the first case there was no anger, in the second there was; because in the first case the boat was empty, and in the second it was occupied.

            We’re near the end where the story starts wrapping up as an abridged version of our tale.  There was NO anger in the first case, yet in the second there WAS.  Where does the anger stem from? The boat being occupied.  The man was calm when the boat was empty, yet he started getting irritated when his problem got worse.

Image result for Calm River

            And so it is with man.  If he could only roam empty through life, who would be able to injure him?

Right up to the end of the story and BAM!  We’re left with an open-ended question that leaves the story hanging.  Rather than figure out if the man avoided the other occupant, we’re left digging deeper down the rabbit hole.  There is no simple ending because now there’s the idea of man roaming empty through life.

Image result for Calm River

Man roaming empty through life – think about this line for a second.  The boat dilemma casts as a metaphor for man’s two biggest battles in life: Man vs. Nature & Man vs. Man.  Man faced an obstacle hidden within nature, yet the obstacle got complicated when there was another man to deal with.  It’s not so much about the battle being VIOLENT, but rather battling for SURVIVAL.

Image result for Calm River

Just like the first man dealing with the occupant in the second boat, we deal with complex problems every day.  What makes things crazier (yet disturbingly exciting!) is that these problems get piled on with MORE added problems.  It’s problems adding onto MORE problems that were there before.

Image result for Calm River

Let’s face it – these problems are never going to just eradicate into thin air.  Think about this for a minute: if you WERE to roam empty through life, who would be able to injure you?  Who? If no one were to injure you, would your chances of survival increase?

Image result for Calm River

Notice that I’m asking WHO would injure you in life rather than the WHAT.  If no one were to injure you, then man’s only true battle would be with just Nature.  Yet there’s another dilemma getting in the way, which is – get ready for it – MAN’S BATTLE WITH MAN.  Oh wait, there’s ANOTHER element added to the life: battle among SELF.  Three ongoing battles (Man, Self, Nature), one complicated and twisted life – it’s enough condensed philosophy to make your head spin.

Image result for The Witness

Image result for The Witness

I hope you’ve been paying attention because I’ve dug so deep into this hole that there’s nowhere else to go down.  One game featuring an audio log showcasing a simple story drawing from three philosophical battles.  That right there is The Witness going deeper than just being a video game.

Image result for The Witness

Alas, an inspirational passage has been successfully discussed.  That was just one of many enlightening audio logs from The Witness.  Who knows what other inspiring passages will be discussed next.

Until then, just know that they’ll always be an occupant within that second boat!

 

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Fidgety Fidget Spinners!


Image result for 2017 Trends

Image result for 2017 Movie trends

Every year there’s always some simple concept that transforms into a huge fad within the blink of an eye.  Products such as movies, toys, food, TV series, games, clothing, and other commodities can become popular through an interesting idea.  Members of the communications industry can do as much as they can to spread awareness of the trend, but the ending results lie with the audiences.  Some trends stick with the country for a long time while other just wear off quickly.  These trends may come and go every so often, but they make big waves in the social media universe.  This year’s most trending toy is the fidget spinners.

Image result for Fidget Spinners

Fidget spinners, those twirling gadgets that you spin around for hours at a time, have been selling out like crazy in stores everywhere.  These gadgets have been around mostly to help kids with autism or attention disorders concentrate in school, but they exploded in early spring this year.  They weren’t made by a major corporate company and can easily be found at your nearest convenient store.  It’s a hot toy that revolves around such a simple unique selling point, which is to prevent fidgeting problems.

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After months of seeing these around the shelves, I caved in yesterday and brought myself one!  While wandering around Liberty Tree Mall with my friend, I browsed through the selection of fidget spinners on the vendor.  I decided to go with the bright orange glow-in-the-dark spinner to take home.  It was only minutes later that I really got the hang of the device.

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The gist of the toy is really simple: hold the top/bottom with your fingertips and spin the wheel as fast as you can.  Once you stop flicking, hold the bottom part with your fingertips as it spins by itself.  Try holding it with one of your fingertips once you use it a few times.  For even more advanced tricks, try balancing it on your nose or shoe while it’s spinning.

Image result for Fidget Cube

Other than the fidget spinner, there’s also an alternative toy called the fidget cube.  The fidget cube comes with buttons, clickers, and even wheels to play around with.  Clicking around the fidget cube is really comforting for your hands when you start fidgeting.

Image result for Adults Freaking Out

There’s something interesting going on when a toy like a fidget spinner becomes the most popular product for adults.  In this 21st century, our world is rapidly changing each day.  Adults are performing at a faster rate and they can’t stop moving.  There’s been a large demand for more productivity, leaving many people feeling very stressed out.  Could the rise of fidget spinners be caused by the large amount of stress we’re facing?

Image result for Adults Smoking cigarettes

Before fidget spinners became the hottest toy of 2017, adults calmed their fidgeting nerves through smoking cigarettes.  Although it’s a nasty habit, cigarette smoking was the common way to calm your nerves every now and then.  But since cigarettes have increased in price over the past few decades (Marlboros are over $10 a pack in MA!), adults have been trying to trade in one habit for another habit.  Then along came the fidget spinners and those fidgety adults can’t get enough of them.  In a strange sense, fidget spinners could be the trend that would replace the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes.

Image result for Pokemon GO

As I mentioned before, trends come and go every year.  Remember when Pokémon GO was released last summer?  That game spread like WILDFIRE, becoming the hottest app on the Android/Apple market in less than a week (read more about Pokémon GO here).  Fidget Spinners are just as much of a trend as Pokémon GO was in 2016.

Image result for Pokemon GO

Image result for Fidget Spinners

Rather than crack jokes at the silly trends kids are following these days, we should be amazed by the surprising health benefits both of these trends provide.  Fidget Spinners are great for people dealing with fidgeting problems and Pokémon GO helps people who deal with social anxiety.  These trends, as silly as they sound, actually help people in ways that we couldn’t imagine.  Who knew that a new Pokémon game would help people gain better social skills?

Image result for Vintage Kids playing with yo yos

Image result for 1980s Rubik's Cube

In the end, fidget spinners are one of many toys that combat fidgeting among people.  Things like the ball in the cup, yo-yos, and even Rubik’s Cube were popular just to play with.  The main unique selling point behind these trends was to give your hands something to do every so often.  Cigarettes may be expensive, but you can pick up a fidget spinner for less than $10.

Image result for Fidget Spinner gifs

So the next time you start feeling fidgety, put down the cigarette and pick up a fidget spinner.

The Witness: Solving the Maze Within Your Mind


It’s no secret that video games teach you life lessons outside of the classroom.  Video games have been proven to enhance people’s cognitive skills that are essential for solving real-world problems.  Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is a unique game that plays upon the philosophy around trial and error.

The Witness is an open world puzzle adventure game created after Jonathan Blow’s initial success with Braid.  The game released on January 26th for the PlayStation 4 and Steam console.  In the first week of its release, The Witness raked in $1 million in sales and sold over 100,000 units.

As you start the game, you wander around a large island surrounded by puzzles everywhere.  These puzzle boxes contain a circle as the starting point which they must trace through maze-like paths to reach the endpoint.  You will face complex and subtle rules that will cause you to alter your thinking strategies.  Such challenges you will run into include colored suns, tree branches, Tetris blocks, and many other unique elements.

Other than discovering puzzle boards within the area, you will discover hidden puzzles located around the environment.  Tracing these secret paths solve a portion of an obelisk, a large black structure with symbols engraved on each side.  Many obelisks are scattered around the island, each containing paths to seek out.

When playing through The Witness, you’ll notice that there is no actual narrative within the game.  With no actual narrative to follow through, what’s the underlying idea behind the game?

As you wander through each section of the island, you are constantly conjuring images in your head when completing each puzzle.  This game teaches you how the brain works and how it thinks in certain situations.  Your brain is a muscle that you exercise daily by solving more puzzles as you go along.  In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Jonathan Blow quotes, “The game is designed to create many opportunities for epiphany moments, both small and large. You know that it’s not just about the solving of problems, but what happens when you do”.  Besides the objective of solving puzzle boards, we can see that there is something bigger happening within the estranged island of The Witness.

Imputing various ideas into the puzzle boxes revolves around the concept called the Computational Complexity Theory.  Computational Complexity Theory is about providing random inputs into an algorithm in order to create a YES or NO answer to a problem.  The puzzle boxes around the island and secret puzzles within the environment play a consistent part of the system.  You don’t really understand how the puzzle operates at first glance, but you develop solutions to test the theories about how everything ties together.

Quintessentially, a witness is the reward for when the successful solution has been found so the game is literally about searching for successful solutions to a problem.  You are the witness in the island, constantly interacting with the gaming environment and drawing up successful strings of YES or NO answers.  The key reward for playing the game is fully understanding how to complete the puzzle and how you went about inputting the solution.

Jonathan Blow’s The Witness has players stranded in an open world filled with mysteries to solve.  Each puzzle will rattle your brain as you constantly draw up new ideas for finding the solution.  Puzzles are displayed everywhere you go, prompting you to think about why you are on the island.  Each puzzle you solve boosts the muscles within your brain that are essential for problem-solving skills.

It is more than just a puzzle game because The Witness teaches you lessons about how the brain operates when faced with a complex problem.  We are all faced with complex problems in our lives, but games like The Witness keys you into the operations of decision-making in everyday life.

If you ever want to boost your problem-solving skills, The Witness is the essential game for exercising your brain daily.