Monday, 19 October 2015

Schiaffi&Fagioli: a Spaghetti western videogame tribute to Bud Spencer and Terence Hill.

I just finished to play the brief & funny demo of Spaghetti & Fagioli (Slaps and beans), created in only a month (!) as an entry of IndieVault Spaghetti Western Jam.
The game is inspired by the Italian s-w film They call me trinity, a true masterpiece and cult film (you can hear it's theme song form Franco Micalizzi at the end of Tarantino's Jango Unchained), one of the best of the couple Bud Spancer / Terence Hill.

I vividly advice you to download the demo, or to watch it's video: it is an amazing mix of good pixel art, inspiration and very hard (and quick!) work.

 However, They call me Trinity is not the only film quoted in the demo... maybe it is the 21st October 2015, but I think I spotted something... anachronistic in the beautifully pixelated western city of Schiaffi & Fagioli...

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Ray Cats!

"Ancient tales, told by the elder, warn us not to approach new lands without bringing with us our loyal friends: the ray cats.
Old folk songs, hummed before sleep, tell us to hurry and run away, whenever our cats change colour.
Because the cats are our friends and will glow in the night to warn us from the nuclear wasteland."

This is not the beginning of a Fallout 4 side quest, even if it might look pretty similar, but a possible future imagined by the Human Interference Task Force. In the 80s the U.S. Department of Energy created a team of experts and asked them a simple question: how do you create a message that can still be meaningful after tens of thousandths of years?
More specifically, how can we communicate to the future humanity to avoid the areas that now we are using to store nuclear waste?

If the question is simple, the answer is not. The oldest written texts on Earth are only 5000 years old, and we are unable to read many of them. Who knows what sort of language will humanity speak in a dozen of millennia? What sort of culture will they have? Will they still be able to read? Will they have the technology to detect radiations or not?

The Human Interference Task Force come up with various answers, some of them pretty clever. My favourite is the one from semioticians Paolo Fabbri and Fran├žoise Bastide. They argued that the most durable human product is culture: myths, religions, folklore, art and so on. So, if one wants to convey a message through ages it must engrave it on culture. The message will be modified and translated, but some of the main traits will forever be the same: let's think of Santa Claus or Harlequin!
The second step of the project was to individuate something that will probably still be part of human culture ten thousandths years from now, in order to use it as a vehicle of the message. That's when Bastide come up with the idea of cats. Cats are part of the human culture almost from the beginning, and they always have had very strong symbolic meanings - from the ancient Egyptians to Internet culture.
Fabbri and Bastide idea, then, was to create genetic modified cats that will glow and change colour if exposed to radiations: the ray cats.

Once created the ray cats, it is necessary to make an act of culture engineering and to convey the message "ray cat glowing = danger". In order to achieve this goal the semioticians suggest to create stories, songs, myths, objects that confirm this idea and, in a couple of generations: it's done! The message is part of the culture, now (Dawkins would say it has become a meme) and it will be retransmitted automatically though generations.
When the future humans will approach an area of nuclear wastes, seeing their cats glowing will remember them of all the old stories and songs that told how that is a sign of danger, and maybe they will stop and wonder if it is a good idea to continue in that direction.

The "ray cat" project was presented - not without a certain dose of humour - but it wasn't taken very seriously. Along with the other projects it was later published in German and... mostly forgotten (with the exception of us semioticians, of course!).

This, at least, until a couple of years ago journalist Matthew Kielty rediscovered the "ray cat project" and made it viral.
Since then the ray-cat has started to become a true cultural trope. They have entered the semiosphere and have been declined in several pop-cultural forms like t-shirts:

or music videos, see Don't change color kitty from Emperor X (full album):

This ray cats revival captured the attention of documentarists Benjamin Huguet and  Debanjan  Nandy that created the award-winning documentary La Solution Radiochat that won ANDRA contest "Looks on Nuclear Waste". You can see a preview here.

[UPDATE - The whole documentary in English is now available on-line on Vimeo]

As you can see from the documentary, some scientists are already working on creating glowing cats and so, who knows, maybe 20000 years from now people will look at cats with respect for their unnatural ability to help them avoid particularly radioactive spots in a post-nuclear world...

What I keep wondering, however, is: what if the first glowing turtle, found in September the 30th, is in fact, trying to give us a message? Where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the final result of an ancient act of culture engineering?