Flocking and separating

What Remains of Edith Finch -The tale of Gus flying the kite

Gus is a child, this is the day his father is marrying. Gus feels excluded, he is hurt. He will fly his kite alone, away from the happy crowd. The storm in his heart spills out. First words fly off in the kite’s trail then the chairs, furniture, the whole world is in the air. This a segment of an exquisite game called What Remains of Edith Finch. The stories are told through the places in the family home. Each triggers a tragic story of one of the family members. I am fascinated by the use of the flocking movement in this tale of Gus. The kite attracts the furniture as it flies close to it, the objects start flocking and trailing behind it in a very organic way. This simulation is used as a subtle metaphor of his inner turbulence.

Using boids simulation in visual art is not new. In the ArtSway gallery in the New Forest, I remember visiting an exhibition called Halo by the artist Simon Biggs. This was in the early 2000s. As I walked in the dark room, a flock of almost transparent people shapes started flocking on the ceiling above my head. This effect stayed with me, it was inspiring but I was not quite sure what to do with it.

Boids are simulation originally developed by Craig Reynolds in the 1980s. it simulates the mesmerising movement of a flock of starlings in the early evening, or the movement of small fish in the shallows. Flocking together, the shapes seem almost alive. As if a sharply observed characteristic of groups has been defined in elegant code.

A thought provoking simulation called Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case pushes this further. It is based on the work of Thomas Schelling on Dynamic Models of Segregation. There is some similarity with the Game of Life sim. It has a board with two types of shapes: triangles and squares. The shapes are slightly shapist and if they are surrounded by too many (more than 30 percent) of the other shape, they are unhappy and want to move. Several iterations, of allowing them to move, leads to completely segregated spaces. ” though every individual only has a slight bias, the entire shape society cracks and splits.“(Hart&Case) In the final simulations there are sliders to adjust how shapist the shapes are and how much they demand diversity, as separate values. Hart and Case lead us through several steps to conclude that happy diversity is not easy to achieve. The equilibrium has to be constantly worked on. The shapes on the board are segregated even when we move the slider to 0, and there is no bias in the individual shapes. In a society that was shapist in the past the starting board is segregated.“The past haunts the present. Your bedroom floor doesn’t stop being dirty just coz you stopped dropping food all over the carpet. Creating equality is like staying clean: it takes work. And it’s always a work in progress.“(Hart&Case) We are currently experiencing an invigorated demand for diversity. We are living this process…

Another excellent example is The Boids Flocking Simulation by Jesse Lee. The boids are randomly coloured, the simulation includes sliders for: racism, introversion (the radius of the awareness of others, of each boid) and diversity (how diverse are the objects generated on the canvas). What makes the slider for racism move, what makes the shapes more or less shapist? In a society it seems that all of the sliders, represented in these simulations, are constantly changing. Although, sometimes this change is imperceptible. Periods with sharp changes in the values of the sliders, can be associated with violence. One extreme act causes an equal and opposite reaction, pushing the shapes further away from tolerance. As if reflected in a mirror with an opposite, the division is escalating and spreading like a virus.

I am exploring some JavaScript at the moment and will experiment with this.

BHATIA A. 2014 How Small Biases Lead to a Divided World: An Interactive Exploration of Racial Segregation, Wired 12/08/2014
HART VI, CASE NICKY Parable of the Poligons, In: ncase.me [viewed 18 July 2020] URL: https://ncase.me/polygons/
LEE J. 2017 The Boids Flocking Simulation, In: JumpOff, [viewed 18 July 2020] URL: https://jumpoff.io/portfolio/boids

Flocking and separating