On the Meaning of feelforit (iPhone/Web)

Mar 2, 2010
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[Update: feelforit was an IndieCade 2010 Finalist.]

[Update #2: feelforit is now free to play online (no iPhone required!) as a Flash port.]

feelforit is about the tacit understanding involved in bringing our state of mind into alignment with how we wish it to be. Mechanically, it was designed bottom-up around the iPhone’s unique form factor and accelerometer input.

A solution that seems nearby may be very far away, requiring a completely different perspective to close the gap. Generally, though, we do well to explore with vigor in proportion to how different our goal seems to be from our current view of reality.

Although the replay value as an intrinsically rewarding task is high, completing even a few configurations in feelforit may be enough to leave the player thereafter with seeds of an additional mental model for conceptualizing personal transformations.

I will attempt to clarify here what I hope those seeds will grow into. feelforit serves a role in making sense and personal application out of what follows; I could not express this as completely without it, and I suspect that this can be more easily understood alongside it. I hope that you’ll pardon my occasional digressions – feelforit is the most concise and focused manner I know to express the thought, and this being something other than that, I will deviate in a few places to visit neighboring ideas.

To begin, some background, which is not in feelforit but is expected of the player: there are relatively few ways that we can affect our relationship to the outside world – subtle adjustments to how we present ourselves, to how we respond to unforeseen events, and how we prepare for those things that we have elected to take part in. We cannot change the outside world directly; we can only change ourselves (which to the outside world, is only evident in how we prompt or respond to the outside world), which in turn may gradually have some effect on things beyond us. In the mind’s eye, we can strategize about changing ourselves as part of an effort to change the world around us; we can picture who we want to be, how we want to sound, what sort of outcome we’d like to see from conflicts or conversations or collaborations. It is easy to tell whether or not such a goal has been achieved, and yet achieving it seems like a labyrinth of uncertainty and misleading indicators of progress. It is easy to check, but hard to do.

There is a target state – how we want to be – and there is a current state – how we are. These are, respectively, the dark and light arm triplets in feelforit. With that context established, we can shift now to the intended meaning of feelforit.

What is the reward for successfully contorting oneself into the target mental image? Only one reward is for certain: a new mental target. It may begin with genuine purpose – to obtain an improved career, to gain social standing, or to simply keep oneself constructively busy – however it is prone to spiral, to treadmill, to be overtaken by itself. More on this in a minute.

We can improve at anything with practice. We become ever more interested in doing whatever we witness ourselves improving at. Trying on new perspectives is no exception to this – the more we do it, the more we tend to get lost in doing it.

And so, even if the previous transformation was not driven by an arbitrary curiosity for what reaching another state might be like, after the discovery that an imagined target state can be achieved with focus, temptation taunts us toward additional exploration. Once that target state has been achieved, the mind sets its goals elsewhere. The tension between reality and target reality has not really been removed, only relocated. Momentum builds until we inevitably overshoot the meaningful.

It is a psychosocial activity that can rapidly decay into a uniquely human form of chasing our own tails.

feelforit is a conceptual insight and skill challenge, not a sequence of fiction to be serially imbibed or obstacle courses to be completed. It is over when the player ‘gets it’. It is over when the player questions whether it’s worth doing more, when the foundation of time and thought already spent figuring out and getting better at it is left behind rather than building ever higher upon. Thereafter, it serves as a reminder, a memorable artifact of the challenging transformation between states, and a hook into the idea that challenge alone is not sufficient criteria for how we spend our time.

Some very difficult things are very important. Most very difficult things are not. Which ones we care about, how we care about them, and what we do about caring about them – these are mental variables, which like the jointed arm triplets in feelforit are transformable at our whim through focus, determination, and experimentation. Once they’re changed to how they ought to be, we should not continue to explore for love of the search – we have then found what was worth looking for, and it is time to make one final transformation, from searching for what is worthwhile to dedicating ourselves to it.

feelforit is practice overcoming mental transformation, hinting that continual mastery for its own sake is Sisyphean. It warns that becoming skilled in a particular activity – how to impress an employer, climb the social ladder, or become incrementally better at a game, for example – can become an endless cycle of useless turmoil if we aren’t careful, a good thing gone wrong by obsessive excess. At some point we are better off to simply decide we have taken on enough, that though there will always be more challenges available they will ultimately be of similar pattern anyhow. Having learned as much as we can learn about a type of transition, the time comes to settle and move on, ignoring the lure and temptation of the infinite series of challenges that we know are there, that we will always see hiding just a little beyond the next challenge, laughing at us from the horizon until the day we die. It’s not worth chasing, however, and the ultimate joke is on the ones that continue to chase them. Part of mastering the skill of chasing is learning that catching one will only reveal another.

The state of the game does not change through the player’s successful matching events – instead, the game is only won when the state of the player changes.

User Reactions

Enjoyable This is an interesting object to interact with; I like looking into its space and having it become more tangible as I intuit its workings. I like this.”
-pastrylikewolf (via iTunes)

Challenging The solutions are simultaneously complex and simple. I find myself smiling the entire time. It’s very much an intuitive process, an elegant game overall. The accompanying music is beautiful, and adds to the experience.”
-Madameblue (via iTunes)

Huh? I must be getting old! I don’t get it!”
-Christinesdragon (via iTunes)

Simple, but endlessly entertaining. This is a truly stunning game experience; it is one of the best uses of the tilt functionality of the iPhone. It is extremely simple in design, yet yields an endless amount of play possibility. You will consistently find yourself learning and surprising yourself as you play this game, even long after play sessions. I could play this forever.”
-Aaron Vanderbeek (via iTunes)

Ummm… I must not get it because I see no point to this app. The instructions are non-existent! I am glad I didn’t pay for this.”
-IrishDruidMama (via iTunes)

@ChrisDeLeon‘s feelforit is brilliant. It’s the most physical game I’ve ever played on the iPhone.”
-@GregoryWeir (via Twitter)

Originally posted as part of GameDevLessons.com Vol. 12

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