Bruce Layman

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Re: Life, and video games, within constraints

Quarantine is the first time in probably 7 years that I’ve truly missed having a video game console beyond my iPhone. Reader Chelsea told me all about the unbelievable cuteness of Animal Crossing and I wished for a Switch so I could play along. I’ve revisited a few of the more meditative iOS games I love: Alto’s Odyssey, Mini Metro, and my absolute favorite Threes. What iOS games lack in complex animations, they often make up for in intuitive controls or beautiful, simple visuals.

I’ve been thinking about limitations a lot lately. What we are allowed, or in many cases limited from doing in order to #flattenthecurve. I do not know if it helped me entirely, but reframing those limitations as constraints and working to live within them and do what I can within them has helped some.

Working within constraints led to some of the most important video games of all time. Robin Sloan—who you might remember from previous issues of Bird Mail—is currently making his own video game, the primary constraint being his skill, or lack thereof. You can follow along here. This bit from his “reasons” for making a video game resonated deeply with me (emphasis mine).

Just like books, video games have been formative aesthetic experiences for me, particularly in my youth. For me, media-making has always proceeded like this: I encounter something meaningful; I decide I want to produce my own version of that something; I learn how to do it. So it’s all reverb, really: impulse reflected back from material, transformed but recognizable. The material is me.

That reverb Sloan writes about is the same reason I write Bird Mail for all of you. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of the newsletter: to deliver something more than just marketing drivel to your inbox, to deliver valuable knowledge, joyous information that teaches you about something or someone new, or simply something that makes you laugh. After years of reading newsletters, I wanted to try my hand at my own newsletter. Thus, Bird Mail. The constraints of email are well known at this point, and that’s exactly what I love about it. There is only so much that can be done in this space with words and links and the occasional image, but I want Bird Mail to continue to be a bright spot in your inbox each time you see it.