Cher Zhang  & Xiuzhu Zhang

a.description of the original text and its socio-cultural and historic contexts;

Story of Your Life is a science fiction novella written by Ted Chiang. In the story, the linguist Dr. Louise Banks learns the language of Heptapod (the alien that arrives on earth) and thus develops an alternative way of thinking and perceiving the world. The learning of heptapod’s writing language enables her to think as the Hetapod does. Instead of viewing the world in a cause-and-effect mode(causality), heptapods experience all events simultaneously, which means there is no unknown future in heptapods’ view. With the increasingly in-depth study of hetapod’s language, Louise begins to see her own future. She sees the birth of her daughter, the memorable time she spends with her, and the untimely death of her daughter at 25. The question this novel wants to explore is: if you already know your destiny and know that you cannot change it, are you just a puppet? Is it necessary for you to go through this fate again? The author’s answer is: it is necessary. Because knowing it in advance is not the same as having it achieved. Although knowing the fact that her daughter’s early death is unavoidable, Louise still chooses to give birth to that child and accompany her till death falls(Chiang, 1998).

 

In the word, the author gives the example of a wedding where everyone knows that the words “I now pronounce you husband and wife” will be spoken, but this foreknowledge is not a fact. The important thing is that the officiant must say the words, and when he says them, the marriage becomes a fact. Even if you already know everything, you still need to do it yourself to let it all be true. In this way, the author seems to endow determinism with a different meaning. Usually, people think of determinism as pessimistic because it denies the existence of free will and makes human agents’ actions insignificant. However, in Ted Chiang’s interpretation, determinism gives an agent the obligation to act precisely as what he/she knows would happen.

 

Story of Your Life was first published in Starlight 2 in 1998. The development of quantum mechanics and relativity theory in the 20th century has changed people’s perception of space and time. “Both relativity and quantum theories changed how we look at the world, and both recognize that cause and effect is not always linear, and our view of the world is inherently biased” (Goldie, 2017, p.2). People began to expand their imagination on the spatial-temporal outlook and to rethink the form of beings’ existence in the world. The breakthroughs of physical theories also provide theoretical support to ideas such as time travel and parallel universes. Ted Chiang is also influenced by those theories. He mentions in his notes of Story of Your Life that this story is inspired by the variational principle. The whole story is built upon a teleological world view deduced from the variational principle, which is an important mathematical method in calculus in quantum physics (Wikipedia). Also, the fast-evolving communication technology and the popularization of the internet in the 1990s provided people with instant information and created the idea of the Global Village. The immediacy brought by technology made it possible for humans to experience events happening around the world all at once and make the prediction of the future not only an illusion. Under such background, Ted Chiang wrote Story of Your Life as an attempt to explore alternative ways of experiencing time and the future.

 

b.justification for the alternate version that explains the new socio-cultural/historical contexts;

 

Nowadays, with material prosperity and the prevalence of consumerism, people have more choices than ever. However, the conflicts between determinism and free will grow even sharper. Think about the decision of purchasing a breakfast cereal. On the one hand, there seems to be a myriad of brands for you to choose from; On the other hand, algorithms and personalized recommendations already make the decision for you according to your purchase history and data analysis. With the collection of user information, algorithms may know our preferences better than ourselves and sometimes even block some options in the name of “convenience.” The question of do we really have free choices remains undetermined. In the internet activist Eli Pariser’s Ted Talks, he referred to how technology now supervises our lives from all perspectives and tailors our query results by giving the example of Google’s personalized searching results. What Pariser calls “filter bubbles” already decides what could enter our sights and what would be edited out. We feel uneasy when we recognize the unavoidable interference of technology in our decision-making process. However, it is impossible to go backward in the development of technology. To reconcile with all these disturbing technical impacts, we are urged to rethink how agents could find and reaffirm their subjectivity in the age of big data. In other words, how we feel the authenticity of ourselves instead of being reduced to a line of user data and code.

 

In the new version of Story of Your Lifewe would like to propose a game that is based on the idea of a “known and immutable future.” The game is a combination of puzzle escape and various forms of storytelling. At the beginning of the game, the player would be given a script that tells the whole story. The script would be saved for the player’s reference at any time. However, they would not be able to change any plots. After reading the script, the player will be situated in a room, which is the initial scene in the script. The player could interact with the elements in the room, solve puzzles, and trigger stories. Although all the stories are predetermined by the script, the player would experience it again with sounds, images, and videos. The point of reproducing the experience is to feel the distinction between knowing one thing and actualizing it with all perceptual abilities and rediscover oneself. In playing the game, we hope the player could abandon the obsession with purpose as well as the thinking mode of viewing everything at hand as a resource and enjoy just the experience itself.

 

Some players may feel frustrated because of the inability to make any changes to the ending, but some may also find the ending not important anymore as they enjoy revealing every detail in the room. There is no winner or loser in the game for the ending is destined, nor will the player be scored by any criterion. Playing this game is a process of self-discovery, in which we hope all the players could figure out by themselves what really matters —- the power of making differences or fully committed to sensing the world and experiencing all the emotions.

 

c.engagement with relevant theoretical perspectives as they apply to the original work and to the new version;

 

In Story of My Life, Ted Chiang uses variational principles in physics and Fermat’s principle to depict how alien races look at the universe differently from human beings. Variational principle enables problems to be solved using the calculus of variations by finding functions that optimize the values between two points, but the choice of points is arbitrary. Similarly, for aliens, principles in physics are fundamental to see the universe. As Louise says, “the physical universe is a language with a perfectly ambiguous grammar.” Once they understand the principle, they know what will happen in advance. Fermat’s principle, also known as the principle of least time, states that light traveling between two points finds the path that requires minimum or maximum time. This principle questions the relationship between cause and effect. If the light wants to find the best path, it must know the road before it goes out. It also relates to the time travel interpretation. The famous grandfather paradox states that if a person travels back to the past and kills his grandfather, the person would not exist. In this story, if Louise decides to save her daughter and make different choices, her story may not exist at all.

 

Both science fiction and the new game are about free will and fate. “Free will has traditionally been conceived as a kind of power to control one’s choices and actions.” When someone uses free will over his choices and actions, he decides to make choices. Once each decision is made, hundreds of other choices open, and hundreds of choices close. People who believe in free will may believe that things can change if they travel to the past because it’s their choices to change the past. However, determinism is about fixed outcomes. “Determinism means the world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specific way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.” It means that everything can be explained, and everything has a reason behind it. No matter what happened in the process, the outcome is always the same. This can relate to Louise’s struggle between free will and determinism. When she knows the fate of her daughter, she still decides to give birth to her. She uses her free will to make choices and take action, but her free will didn’t win fate. We will tell players the ending of our new game and tell them that the result cannot be changed. While they are playing the game, they can make different choices and experience different storylines. However, no matter what choice they make, their free will cannot escape the story’s fate.

 

d.a work plan for the project.

Reread the story and write in-depth description and interpretation about Hetapod’s teleological way of thinking

Do more research on the puzzle-solving games that we could refer to in our game design and take note

Write the script

Design the logic of puzzles in the game (how puzzles could be situated in the game and be integrated into the storytelling)

Produce video samples that show how the experience written in the script would be actualized in a more vivid form while playing the game

Use Photoshop to draw sketches of the game interface.

Presentation and reflection paper

 

Bibliography:

Archyaloha (Director). (2011, July 27). Eli Pariser:當心網路的「過濾氣泡」(中英雙字幕) [Video file]. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkmPIxUt3PA&ab_channel=ArchyGuo

Chiang, T. (1998). Story of your life. Stories of your life and others, 117-78.

Goldie J. (2017). A quantum perspective: an analogy for a GP worldview?. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 67(658), 218.https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp17X690653

Gwern. (2012, December 12). ‘Story of your life’ is not a time-travel story. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.gwern.net/Story-Of-Your-Life#cognitive-time-travel

Story of your life. (2021, February 05). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Story_of_Your_Life

Variational principle. (2021, March 14). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variational_principle

Hoefer, C. (2016, January 21). Causal determinism. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/

O’Connor, T., & Franklin, C. (2018, August 21). Free will. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/#NatuFreeWill

Free will vs. fate. (2019, March 27). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://vusf.wordpress.com/2019/03/27/free-will-vs-fate/