What is a simulation?
It is a private game we devise when the aliveness of a situation is too complex to really know. It is drafting reality through an ocean of forking behaviors to find an optimal end. What is a live simulation? It is playing this game in public and not letting it end when the game gets good. Darwin said the greatest live simulation is nature herself, who incessantly tries and fails aloud, never stopping at perfection. But nature is often too fast, too slow, too big, too small, for us. We desire a live simulation at scale with human spacetime, but unending in its variety and blind to our barometers of quality. A live simulation that we can feel, but does not give a fig for us.
No really, what is a simulation?
It is a form in which i can model a dynamic process or system or composition of systems - for example, an imaginary animal´s lifecycle, an ecology, or a manner of thinking - this is a simulation´s premise. Then the computer does the work of playing out all the causal consequences of that premise with a rigor beyond human ability, akin to nature playing out its own overwhelming possibilities. You could say simulations always already existed. Some believe the universe is a grand ancestor simulation. Others believe that the law, culture, our habits, our human umwelt, all already condition us to live in simulations of our own design. We are infantilized by legacy simulations, yet we can learn to love indeterminacy, the weird, the true troubles of now through the portal of simulation. A form that conjures these contradictions requires renewed lease on its namespace.
Simulation: a thing we can think of and play with. "Portals need names" - Ursula Le Guin
EMISSARY FORKS AT PERFECTION, live simulation and story, 2015-2016
Volcano to crater lake: what was once a geological disaster zone has grown into a fertile darwinian playground. 3,000 years following Emissary in the Squat of Gods (2015), an artificial intelligence called Talus Twenty Nine manages the landscape, compulsively gambling on the creation and survival of new forks in the evolutionary tree. After whimsically excavating and resurrecting the body of an ancient 21st century celebrity, Talus sends Shiba Emissary, its prized canine super-pet, to greet the undead human and introduce him to their hell.
Emissary Forks At Perfection is composed of two contradictory forms: a simulation of a darwinian playground disturbed by an atavistic human; and a deterministic story of an emissary´s emerging consciousness. Pushed together to occupy the same landscape, each form threatens to destabilize and mutate the other. Here, a story may escape its classical fixity and indefinitely procrastinate its conclusion. A simulation may find itself sculpted by narrative needs into sequences of controlled chaos. A sudden pattern of feelings may grow inside you, with or without you.
Ian Cheng (b. 1984) explores the nature of mutation and the capacity of humans to relate to change. Drawing on principles of video game design, improvisation, and Darwinian brutality, Cheng has developed so-called “live simulations,” living virtual ecosystems that begin with basic programmed properties, but are left to self-evolve without authorial control or end.