This piece came out of a new event series called “Are.na Walkthroughs” in which we ask people to take us through a particular channel, the blocks and ideas held within, and the ways those ideas may have evolved as the channel has grown and accumulated. Our second one was on April 23 over Zoom, and it featured Dodi King, Rohan Chaurasia, Cedric Payne, and Francis Tseng. Here, Francis shares some of what he talked about while walking us through his channel “Fugue.”
I'm working on a new game called Fugue, and it's still in the very early stage of figuring out the world, narrative, and general vibe. This channel is a place to corral the strands of thoughts and inspirations and help me draw out something more coherent and cohesive. It's still very difficult to give a summary of the game but I hope that the selections below help triangulate its core ideas a bit.
A lot of Fugue draws from Buddhism, including the idea of reincarnation (saṃsāra). In general the idea of loops and cycles are interesting, and we are frequently trying to break out of them: cycles of violence or suffering, for example. Often the breakage of these loops entail more loops, or turnings, as with "revolution." The role of reincarnation in Fugue is something more akin to class, race, and so on: categories that we are "born" into and that perpetuate inequities, like the children of wealthy parents being far more likely to be "succeed" in adulthood. These categories are also used to rationalize these inequities, like if you're born into lower or oppressed classes it must be deserved, a punishment for some personal failing in a past life.
Knots, like loops, are another way to think about patterns or structures we feel trapped by. Interestingly, the branch of mathematics that studies knots (knot theory) focuses on knots that are formed not by open-ended strings as is more typical in daily life, but instead looks at knots that are formed from a loop (the base loop itself is called an "unknot"). Knots are a fundamental technology for attachment (keeping things we value secured) and for binding (restraining other people)—some kind of knot-inspired magic might be in Fugue.
Revolution—a literal turning, a looping—seems impossible now (if it ever was), at least in the romantic way where it's seen as a clean breakage from the present. Stories of post-revolution hangovers, the mess that's left and needs sorting, the conflicts of the outside world catching up, and the betrayals and disappointments that follow, are all important cautionary tales. Fugue will take place over three generations: before, during, and after a revolution.
There are so many ways to pursue change, and there’s always disagreement about what the most effective way is. Some may even be harmful. I hope that Fugue can be a place to explore these different avenues. In video games, time is usually not a constraint—you have enough time to finish all the side quests you want and try everything you want to try. Choice in games usually amount to selecting different dialogue options. But one of the most important choices we regularly make is how we spend our time—we have to choose among these different strategies and tactics. In Fugue, you have a limited time in each generation, and you have to be deliberate in who/what strategies you put your time behind.
Probably the most contentious strategies for change are those that involve (or are said to involve) violence. In the west, Buddhism has a reputation as a docile, peaceful, and forgiving religion. Anyone can be redeemed and achieve enlightenment. But it has its share of wrathful deities and fierce guardians that protect (enforce?) the dharma, and there are histories of Buddhism's complicity in the violence of empire and more recently the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. The gulf between Buddhism's reputation in the west and the violence that is part of its history and present is a pattern found in so many places. I don't know that Buddhism's western image is a deliberate sanitization or anything like that, but certainly in other places violence is regularly deliberately laundered as necessary or as not really happening; this is something I want to explore more in Fugue.
Francis Tseng is a software engineer and lead independent researcher at the Jain Family Institute.