Lined Up In A Row

What did people do to amuse themselves before video games? They looked at the wall, they lost themselves in the little nooks of interest therein. I can remember being lost in stains, wallpaper, other people’s little cartoons; shallow caves of interest. I haven’t been bored in years and I don’t miss it; but maybe it was good to have places to stop in with no answers forthcoming and so none asked for.

xxx

The lack of surface detail in the formal garden seems remarkable in retrospect. Especially in comparison to the protected world inside the manor house, the world of finely wrought objects, the forms of the hedge and the terrace seem blunt and accidental. You can focus on any one vegetal object, but if you try to look in it any detail will only repeat itself as surely as a swatch applied in a digital rendering. It strikes me that while they defaulted to treating hedges like rammed earth, piles of single material, the designers could have instead increased the surface resolution of the garden by arraying various sorts of plant or mineral through it along equally orderly lines.

xxx

I say that because the human ideal seems to be not pure spatial sculpture, as much as the purists might want it to be; but the bare skeleton of spatial structure kitted out with endless portals of meaningful detail. From the perspective of the human in luxury, all this exists for you to glide through and project yourself into as desired. Given enough leisure time, any tree’s bark is visible as its own little world, unspooling perhaps at the wrong speed but in an otherwise agreeable fashion. The only little given is that you should know a few of the players, borers or bee-eaters, and something about their tendencies.

The digital world, then, is always dangerously close to reinventing the wheel; like everything else people have done over the last few centuries, it’s mostly a matter of growing people where there weren’t people before. The digital world will improve on the mute template of the forest, replacing the stag with a gabbing NPC.

xxx

The charm of bird’s-eye-view video games, for me, is in the situation of looking down into a miniature garden to see an avatar you are half-projected into. It changes the nature of your immersion to be tethered to another self below; maybe it has that some quality of following a beetle over bark. Has anyone yet thought of flying a drone over an old formal garden and having it trace an actual walker through, and posting the result as though it was a Let’s Play?

xxx

A Series of Rooms posted recently on Batty Langley’s New Principles of Gardening. Langley, a devoted labyrinth-maker, complained of the “stiff regular Garden; where after we have seen one quarter thereof, the very same is repeated in all the remaining Parts, so that we are tired, instead of being further entertain’d with something new as expected.”

You know, it wouldn’t be so bad to encounter the same place twice in two different spaces; the problem is that the whole run-up to the place is duplicated as well, from the left wing of the garden to the right.

xxx

Game space is reiterated on a few different levels. First, it is made of repeating elements that always behave the same and have a relatively small repertoire of life histories (say, a wall is either intact, being breached, or breached). Second, it is meant to be repeated in time; that you essay the same space over and over again to solve or resolve it. As you travel it again and again, you can know this shrunken world better and better; rarely does it “get away from you.” Varying it indefinitely by algorithm only leads to better knowing the algorithm. A landscape supplies what a digital environment lacks, which is the ability to culture, or rot, without human presence; such that repetitions in time add up to differences in kind as well as degree.

All that is to say: the one thing lacking in a formal garden is that it should be left alone to grow a history.

(March 2021)