An election simulator shows you how everything went so wrong

Much of the public was left stunned in the wake of the November election in America. Beyond Clinton’s loss, despite winning the popular vote, many were shocked that the margin was close at all. While distrust and dislike of the electoral college is a fairly bipartisan issue, it is actually only one layer of what caused the election to go the way it did. The much larger systemic factor is the voting system we use, as demonstrated by Nicky Case’s To Build a Better Ballot, an interactive essay on alternative voting systems. One person, one vote, isn’t that the fairest?…


Mini Metro now lets you fix the subway, while you’re riding the subway

My walk to work is rife with construction; large swaths of land are cordoned off, sidewalks reworked and traffic patterns changed, all because of a big green stripe being added to our Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority maps. A project in the works since 1990, the Green Line Extension project only actually started to take shape in 2012. The MBTA started to put down the bones. And then it was halted. Revised. There’s a new plan now, but things still seem shaky. As it turns out, reworking a city’s transit system isn’t is easy as plopping a line down on a map. But…


Here it is, the game that Spore was supposed to be

In 2005, when the initial tech demo for Spore (2008) came out, players salivated. Here was a realistic life simulator letting you shape and follow the evolution of a universe—from a creature’s humble beginnings in its cellular stage to galactic exploration and colonization. As with Powers of Ten, the 1977 documentary that inspired the game, Spore promised to let players experience the vastness and interconnected nature of the universe. When the game was finally released in 2008, those who clamored for realism were left disappointed. The game shifted away from its “scientifically accurate” nature instead favoring a more simplified and “cute”…


Don’t hesitate to dive into Abzû

When I try to picture what the ocean depths must have looked like near England’s Jurassic Coast, 300 million years ago, I picture something like Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889). I picture a space of stillness but also turbulent life, things moving ceaselessly in the restless dark; I picture everything swirling, vortices upon vortices. What I picture undoubtedly derives from my encounters with what seems to have been the region’s primary resident: the ammonite, a snail-like prehistoric shellfish with a shell in the shape of a swirl. Ammonites were everywhere in this place. If you look hard enough, you can…


You can visit an historically accurate 1920s Berlin in Second Life

In 2007, Jo Yardely visited Second Life (2003) for the first time. She looked around, took in the view, and left immediately. “[Second Life] was a place where weird people spent all their time chatting about uninteresting things,” she said on her blog, “pretending they were having virtual hanky panky or spending real money on virtual rubbish.” You risked being griefed. Most of the simulations looked “horrendous.” Everyone’s fashion sense was terrible. Nine years later, Yardley runs one of the most successful historical simulations in Second Life. Her version of 1920s Berlin has over 100 tenants and regularly hosts events that…


Videogame lets you command neural networks to manipulate evolution

“It took 4400 million years for the first life to appear on Earth,” is the opening line to the website for HOUND, a recently announced game project by its 18-year-old solo creator, Nikita Shesterin. And if, on reading that, you just thought, “hang on… that’s not right,” then Shesterin believes you’re the right audience for his game. HOUND hands you a universe replete with evolving creatures and ecosystem, and then gives you the controls to fiddle. You can create a physical model, perhaps of something as simple as bacteria, and then watch it evolve into a variety of new species—billions…


Installation reveals the game-like complexity of life on the Scottish isles

Off the Western coast of Scotland, the Hebrides are a set of islands somewhat removed from the mainland. Scottish Gaelic is most prevalent there, but the furthest island out appears to be named for a non-existent saint, while some get their names from Norse or even pre-Celtic languages. 1973 horror film The Wicker Man is set on a fictional island among the Hebrides, and so is The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther (2012). There’s a misty sense of uncertainty brought on by the distance between the far-flung islands, and by the fact that travel from one island to another has historically…


No Pineapple Left Behind spends too long in the classroom

You are a school principal. You see a student who is being bullied. His parents ask for you to keep an eye out on him, make sure his feelings aren’t hurt. There will be hell to pay if he is sad when he goes home. You could stop kids from picking on him. Or you could help his self-esteem. But the easiest way to not get an earful from the student’s parents? Have his teachers use lasers to turn him into a pineapple. In No Pineapple Left Behind, from Subaltern Games, you play as this peculiar principal. You have to…


Replicate the world’s most complex systems via emoji

What if you could mod a game as seamlessly as playing it the way it was written? In Nicky Case’s latest simulation tool, A Simulation in Emoji, just that promise is fulfilled. In the introduction for A Simulation in Emoji, Case writes, “there is *no* difference between playing and making, between reading and writing.” This is because Case has given you, the player, all the tools already, to an endlessly customizable extent. But just what is being customized? A simulator for anything and everything—through emojis. Case is no stranger to life-simulation tools. Case first made waves in 2014 with Coming…