Feeling Randy: Rationalization

By Kieron Gillen on August 24th, 2009 at 10:33 am.

Rationalization is, as far as I can work out, pure art game. There is, as far as I can work out, not much game actually there. If you’ve no interest in this kind of thing, don’t follow the link, as it’s totally not for you. It’s also not, as far as I can work out, particularly great. I link to provide something for those of a certain mindset to chew over as they start the week. Go give it a shot, think about your interpretation. You’ll find mine beneath the cut, but don’t cheat. The one clue: according to the creator he made it to “to help me think through some philosophical ideas of Ayn Rand”.

Okay. The aim of the game is to collect all the items. Two are possible, the third is separated by a divide which you can’t cross by any discernible normal method. You can give up at any time and leave through the door, where you’re told that “You Live On Earth” and it’s the first of two endings.

But there’s something else going on. There’s someone else in the area with you, who you can approach. If you do so, he spouts a series of pro-community/rationality cliches (“United we stand, divided we fall”, “Justice is fairness”. The sort of thing Rand is 100% against, basically) and advises you try a special move. When you do this, an overlay of other paths fades into view, which move as you move, but – as you eventually realise – you can’t interact with whatever. The advice has no meaningful effect in the world.

Eventually, you submit and go and end the game. The point being, that there is no second ending. The world is the world and we have to live in it, and anyone saying anything contrary to that is full of the proverbial shit. 1=1 and all that. It’s point is hammered home by small things like the identity of the person you’re trapped with’s identity changing on re-play – on time an artist, the next a medicine-man. Point being, that anyone who says this kind of thing is full of shit.

That’s my take anyway. It’s strength is that it actually uses the medium – in that it’s reliant on that final leap from yourself. You need someone to play it and think about it. It’s a philosophical argument you interact with. The final leap isn’t in the game – it’s in your head.

The problem is that I think the game actually holds its contrary thesis. Yeah, there almost certainly isn’t a way to get that third item… but we don’t know for sure. I’m writing this half expecting someone to say “no, you have to do this”. I know that’s clearly anti-Objectivist, but it’s there. Even in a simulation reduced as far down to the basics as Rationalization is, to try and show you this is how the world is it doesn’t prove it. In fact, the opposite. It just makes you feel there must be a way through, in defiance of all logic. Without actually having some knowledge of Rand, I suspect that’s the message I’d have taken from it. John – who doesn’t – gave it a shot and just left immediately thinking it an annoying webgame. In other words, it lacks clarity unless you’re already talking to the converted (or, at least, those like me who are aware of what the converted think).

It’s simplification hits on its other problem – one which Rand shares. In cutting to these fundamentals, the opposition is reduced to a pure straw man.

EDIT: Oh, be sure to read the comments here. It’s kind of proving my point.

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59 Comments »

  1. Nighthood says:

    Holdd on, I managed to get the last piece. I just repeatedly rammed into walls until I reached it. o_O

  2. Colthor says:

    If you do the special move several times in quick succession the other paths fade in enough for you to interact with the person there, who gives you another special move.
    Repeat, and then you get a special move too long for me to remember on a Monday morning so I don’t know what happens next.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Pah!

    (And I get to the string of moves one and go “fuck it”)

    KG

  4. roBurky says:

    You can get the third piece, Kieron.

  5. roBurky says:

    I liked your interpretation of the unwinnable version, though.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    (I’m sneakily pleased I was totally wrong. That’s kind of the exercise, innit?)

    KG

  7. RJ-45 says:

    “You have achieved Oneness
    This is an ending”

    aw, cool

  8. Heliocentric says:

    Unfinishable 7/10, wait? Finishable 1/10. Go team rand!

  9. Helm says:

    I had the same playthrough as Kieron and now I read the comments to go try it again. Does this speak for the medium and this game in particular or against? Toil further for further Realization? Not sure, when it comes to Platoist spatiality like this game uses. It seems to suggest ‘this is it, what you see is what you’re going to get’ (which fits the Randist theme too) and then fuzzy, analog effects like ‘trying the same move more times until it sticks’ are a stark opposition. The phase worlds still look pretty Platoist, though I do appreciate how the shifting of viewpoints are gradual and this signifies indoctorination in whatever line of bull each person of profession gives you. There’s a problem though: The people of anti-Objectivist persuasion give you increasingly complex commands that at some point I couldn’t keep keypressing in, so I won’t know what happens in the end. This doesn’t mirror reality because although in real life I’ve followed similarily different series of commands to persue some line of thinking, the feedback that keeps me doing this is much more rich and determinative than ‘a different pathway is slowly fading in’. Although it’s difficult, I press on. But here, I’m just getting tired of hitting left left up right right left right left.

    UI failure.

  10. CMaster says:

    Yeah, you just have to repeat the special move, then move the paths around until you find a converser who gives you another and so on, until eventually you can collect an otherworldly piece of gold.

    I have no idea how this relates to Objectivism at all.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah. I can only read it as a refutation of Ayn Rand now. As in, it’s tricky, but you can achieve another state.

    KG

  12. Helm says:

    Yeah but this is really strange because then the author means that if you follow whatever line of nonsense these people throw out (and it’s random in the game) then you eventually reach nirvana.

  13. CMaster says:

    It’s odd on many levels. Perhaps it is trying to say that accepting things at merely first glance is foolish and you should test further? That listening to people that help you actually is useful? That there is another kind of wealth other than material? I’m not sure and I wouldn’t think any of these things particularly if I wasn’t told it was about Rand. I’d think it was just a rather uninteresting game, perhaps commenting on console cheat codes or streetfighter special moves.

  14. Roritharr says:

    Lol @ Nighthood

    I got the last piece by using the combination the people in the room gives you. When you search the overlay, you find another person in the overlay, who gives you a combination to another overlay… you get the third piece by following this pattern and searching the last overlay which is hidden behind a painstakingly long combination.

    Too bad i haven’t read any Rand.

  15. MedO says:

    You find the last piece in the paths reached by the really long move sequence.

    My interpretation would be that you are learning to see the world from the viewpoint of those other people, which increases your options by enabling you to think about your problem (getting the last piece) in new ways, symbolised by the new paths you can take.

    However, there is no obvious benefit at first, since you can alway see the impossible problem in your old worldview: The wall is still there, and you don’t get closer to the last piece.

    As your new thoughts lead you to additional opinions which broaden your worldview again though, you suddenly discover that there is a solution to your problem after all. The item you pick up at the end is not the one you were desperately trying to reach all the time. You just never saw there was an alternative, because you had limited yourself to trying to reach the third item closest to you, which was unfortunately impossible.

    I could be totally off though, since I never read a book from Ayn Rand.

  16. roBurky says:

    Might be worth considering that while alternate world you has reached the last piece and ‘oneness’, the real you is still in the original room, banging his head against the walls.

  17. Helm says:

    CMaster, it’s not necessarily a problem that one would have to be told ‘this is about Rand’ before playing it, though. Lots of modernist art came with a manual so to speak.

    MedO, that’s a very interesting analysis.

    Although this isn’t a good game and the UI is misleading a bit, it did give food for thought, so, congrats!

  18. Heliocentric says:

    Not near a web ready pc atm, but what do you get if you leave without collecting any of the crap, or just 1 piece?

  19. Mike says:

    I like these sorts of things. They’re a bit overthought, but it’s nice. Interactive art is great.

  20. TBSliver says:

    heh its… interesting. managed to complete it. to unlock the patterns you have to overlap the guy in the room with the shadow thing. joy…

  21. Sagan says:

    I didn’t know that you could keep pressing the combination, and stuff would become clearer. I only entered each combination once, and then tried to find my way through the vague overlay. It actually works like that, too, but it’s much harder, since the last combination also activates other overlays, and you can’t clearly see where you are going.

    I’m with MedO’s interpretation. Though I would add that it’s impossible to be fulfilled by things in the real world, because there is always something you can’t have even though you want it.

    And roBurky’s point is also interesting. Also, that all the people you meet are staring at the wall. And in a sense you become someone like that. I guess it’s a 2D interpretation of the opinion that many people have of philosophers and academics. (where in 3D it would be staring at the sky)

  22. Sagan says:

    @Heliocentric:
    Collecting nothing or collecting only one results in the same ending as if you collected two: “We live on Earth. This is ending 1 of 2″

  23. Alikchi says:

    Ayn Rand + philosophy/art? I thought these things were mutually self-destructive?

  24. SanguineAngel says:

    Hey guys, here’s my thoughts.

    First thing that jumps out at me is that it is impossible to fail.

    Secondly, I pretty much love MedO’s interpretation.

    In my view, part of it seems to me that, yes you can put in all the hard work, play for the long haul. but 2 out of the 3 pieces are right there. You don’t have to get the third piece, you can simply take what is readily available. And live a happy and mostly fulfilling life. (perhaps the three items represent three things in life? Love, work and spirituality or something? can’t look it up atm)

    Also, as a side note, it’s not a terrible game (although I’m not blown away). In fact, from my point of view, it’s better than some. You can play it any way you want and you can still complete the game appropriately. You can’t make “wrong decisions”. So there is signifcant consequences to your actions, but it’s not a pass/fail consequence. Also, the puzzle requires sufficient levels of thought and perserverence to be relatively interesting, while remaining pretty completable for most people who are likely to play. (I really hate the modern trend games have of hand holding. Especially the games that hand hold you through to completion. like, what’s the point if you’re just going to tell me what to do the whole time… sorry, tangent rant.)

    So yes, I think there is merit in the game. I would concur with most of the above interpretations too. Any game that makes you think has got to be a good thing.

    NB: Also, I tried playing NOT picking up the pieces and you still get ending 1… not sure if that was intentional. I suppose it makes sense, you put it NO effort and got NO rewards in life but things remain the same after your passing in the scheme of things. Earth is Earth. or something…

  25. Kirian says:

    I’ve played it, got both endings and had a little think.

    I think Kieron’s viewpoint is right for one ending. Those who accept that the world is the world and that go it alone will not fulfil all their dreams. They’ll come to a point where they realise that they cannot change the world alone so they just accept it. Anything they may have held must be left.

    Those who do not accept that they cannot change the world will find that, with the aid and advice of others, they can mutate the world to their benefit. That eventually, whatever their dreams, they may find them but only by relying on other strong people and their thoughts. I’m taking the coins=dreams thing from the opening screen, by the way. Actually, here’s a thing- that although they may need other people, everything they need to achieve their goals must be done by themselves, no matter how difficult, which comes from the strings of inputs.

    I haven’t read Rand so I don’t know how it relates to her. I’m also willing to be wrong.

  26. Kirian says:

    The thing about repeating inputs making the world more clear is probably to do with thought, or repeated actions, clarifying what any particular path or action goes/will do. I think.

  27. Sagan says:

    Alrigh I have more observations to add:

    After entering the combination of the first guy, you can walk through the wall he was looking at. The second guy however only allows you to move one field further into the direction he was looking at before you hit another wall. To get to the third guy you have to walk back. The message I get from that is, that you don’t have to believe everything these people tell you.
    After walking back from the second guy, there is a new path, where you meet the third guy. The combination of the third guy is just what the first guy told you, plus what the second guy told you, plus one more key. Which is definitely a metaphor for how ideas work in general. And he is standing right next to the island that the gold is on at the beginning. Only that you can’t see it in the overlay that you get from the second guy. After you enter the combination from the third guy you can see the gold and you can walk through the wall that the third guy was looking at, and get straight to the island and to the gold. Only that you approach it from the back, and that it isn’t the ‘real’ gold. Because in the real world you were just walking against walls all the time, as roBurky pointed out.

    Man it is fun to intepret stuff into this. I think this is another metaphor, added to all the stuff that was discussed before. Some ideas allow you to go where you couldn’t before. Other seem useless at first, but open other possibilities elsewhere. And after combining the ideas, and approaching things from another angle, you suddenly get a very simple solution.
    Also I interpret the second guy as advice, to not believe everyone, but to consider everyone’s input. Because he is really just looking at a wall. In the overlay he unlocks the wall just moved one piece back. But still taking his input was useful, because it opens another path where he isn’t looking, and is a part of the final solution.

  28. Berzee says:

    Bwaahaha Ayn Rand.

  29. Kommissar Nicko says:

    You Have to Burn the Rope is about Ayn Rand.

    Go replay it.

  30. wm says:

    The game clearly achieved what it was designed for — to get a bunch of gamers to discuss Objectivism for minutes on end.

  31. Alex Hayter says:

    Here’s my take. Ayn Rand recommended three philosophers: Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and herself, Ayn Rand. The “three A’s”. Perhaps each of those three arrows (looking curiously like the letter A) represents each person. Looking at what each arrow is saying, though, it’s hard to tell.

  32. updownleftright says:

    This communicates to me the joy of sex with oneself.

  33. Heliocentric says:

    So its wank then?

  34. PeopleLikeFrank says:

    The Politician gives a statement that relates to Deleuze & Guattari:
    “There is the smooth and the striated, the smooth is better”.

    Actually, I just realized that it seems the different figures will just give any of the phrases at random. They also change their identities in different playthroughs as well – the first time I played the first person in the tunnels was “Artist”, the second time “Professor”.

  35. JonFitt says:

    Did you rationalise your inability to achieve oneness by convincing yourself it was unachievable?

  36. updownleftright says:

    By denying oneself oneness, either through oneself or finding oneness with others, one finds distorted expression through rage and violence and a displacement of inferiority to society’s ills

  37. Jayt says:

    Maybe its late, but this zoomed over me.

  38. Wednesday says:

    “to help me think through some philosophical ideas of Ayn Rand”

    Why do people pay so much attention her morally bankrupt drivel?

  39. Masked Dave says:

    Okay great. But how do I get the FOURTH gold square then? I want more gold damnit!

  40. brulleks says:

    I think it might have worked better as a comment if there were infinite pieces to collect, and each piece of advice led you to another one, but there was no actual ending to the game until you submit to the inevitable pressure of time and reality.

    You can keep on striving for more but, in the end, is it actually worth it?

  41. Josmos says:

    Ayn Ran was a terrible writer who bastardised a long tradition of anarchism in which the purpose was to free society from coersive forces (be that the state or capital). I am not a fan. The idea of the individual being the single most important unit just doesn’t sit well in my head knowing what we can achieve together. Interesting editorial in the guardian that cites behavioral psychology as a means of refuting free market ideologues, I’m always wary of this type of view (see social darwinism) but it was interesting none the less.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/23/brain-society-politics

  42. SanguineAngel says:

    @brulleks Hey man, that’s an interesting idea but it would be a completely different statement. I think being able to FINISH the game and attain enlightenment is integral to the point. Whereas your idea is more about true enlightenment being ultimately unattainable right?

  43. brulleks says:

    @SanguineAngel

    Absolutely – whatever you end up with is going to have to be ultimately purely subjective, and only you know when you’ve reached a point where you can sit back and say ‘okay, that will do for me.’ I don’t believe in the attainment of a Nirvana – just a personal jigsaw of acquired ideas/ideals at best.

    What you then do with it – maybe becoming one of the little guys giving out advice instead of the one trying to attain it – who knows? Maybe then it’s time for Rationalisation – the MMORPG…

    True, it’s not just a statement on Objectivism then, of course. But then, approaching life from a purely black and white view is not my thing at all – to the point of being unable to completely accept or reject any philosophical ideal.

    Even accepting the rationality of genetic evolution (as I do) still leaves a hell of a lot to be picked and mixed from the memetic before you can arrive at your own personally satisfying sundae of -isms. Our neurones and our senses are functions of an ongoing process of relationships with everything else, so in that sense I understand Objectivism, as long as it’s a given that the underlying ‘reality’ we perceive is so immense (and so dependent on chance) as to provide the opportunity for radically different modes of processing that perception and, vitally, controlling it, both personally and socially.

    I’m not much of a philosopher though. I believe that you have to start any thinking by looking at what has been stringently tested and examined, rather than just allowing your own subjectivity to take over.

    Whew. I’m going to eat something now. Then I’ll probably read this back and decide I don’t agree with any of it.

  44. Heliocentric says:

    If you couldn’t win. Enlightenment would be realising that. Ah well, game made some good discussion.

  45. James O'Hare says:

    I played it, realised it could be done but couldn’t be arsed to go through all the maps and then got bored and closed the page… so where does that land me?

  46. Markoff Chaney says:

    The only way to win is by not playing. Everything else is play-acting on a stage, no matter how minimalistic or well rendered the set pieces are. Once already forced through the Bardo into existence, pieces must be put together to fulfill programming requisite to nearly infinite nucleotide protein combinations and even more imprints brought about by internal and external influences or else the biological apparatus ceases processing energy and begins the process of decay.

    Before the biological machine expires, it can, through methods such as alkaloids or repeated uses of sounds and gestures to enter in to a slightly more aware state of mind that differs significantly from what we usually tie to awareness (basically sense impressions that travel through neurological impulses to be interpreted by the great pattern creator, the brain) to allow glimpses of what is unperceived by most organic matter, as it precludes everything that “should” and “ought” to be. In these attentive periods, can any continuity of consciousness be maintained, new paths can arise and allow us to achieve things we previously held to be impossible to attain. Repeating these phrases, thoughts, ingestible substances makes further travel easier, through time and practice.

    I’ve always had strong individualistic leanings and suffered through a couple of Ms. Rands tomes, but I can not fully ascribe to any philosophy that places one atom as having more value (or being separate) than another. When we start doing that, we are talking relative value and that’s all in the eye of the beholder. What I consider living flesh that keeps me alive the fly considers a poor choice to lay his maggots and any offspring lain on me while alive will probably perish. We are at a place in our understanding through science that, finally, we understand that with Quantum Entanglement that things don’t have to have proximity to have an impact and that even the act of observation influences the outcome of an experiment, making any form of truly independent action by definition impossible. There’s a fine balance for me between “The Greater Good” and “I am not a number”.

    Fun little game. Thanks!

  47. MrFake says:

    It’s just an oversimplification of contra-Randian philosophies.

    “You can accept the Randian morality, and stay in the straightforward world of ‘work alone until you die.’ Or you can achieve social enlightenment and find that there’s yet more attainable through mutual cooperation.”

    i.e. open your mind. A good message with a good delivery, but a poor choice of subject matter (Randian morality actually agrees wholeheartedly with it).

  48. Esc says:

    What is interesting is that if you get the third piece you are not actually getting the piece you see in the room separated from you at the start. It is a different piece, that appears within its corridor as it fades into view.

    Actually by entering in the sequences you are told to, you simply fading in these corridors, BUT you are always moving in them. If the corridor fades from view, and you move around and then bring it back into view you will notice that your position in the corridor has changed.

    So you are always moving though these four layers, even if you can’t see it. I would say it is possible (though unlikely) that you could reach the third piece by stumbling around luckily.

    My interpertation of it is that these four layers/corridors are aspects of life/reality that you simply don’t see unless you take the time to adopt the viewpoint of others. And as you adopt their viewpoints new paths appear that you didn’t see before.

    As for Ayn Rand, it seems like it is refuting her philosophy because you actually do achieve “Oneness” by listening to the caste of dreamers reviled by her.

  49. Chemix says:

    Perhaps someone just made a simple to create game that was hard to understand and then called it artsy and tagged on Ayn Rand and rationalization for the hell of it, maybe all our connections and meanings are driven are imaginary and had no part in the creation of this game, or have we recreated it mentally with more meaning than the original has, or does nothing have meaning? What is the purpose of meaning?

  50. Bret says:

    It wouldn’t let me move.

    I analyzed the sociopolitical statements connected to the aforemention futility, rationalized the actuality, then said sod it all and booted up Marathon.

    At least there you can address the philosophical queries via the accepted ancient tradition of the grenade launcher.