Future of tabletop games ⊗ Sinofuturism v orientalism ⊗ The office economy ⊗ Graeber ⊗ Maps — No.140

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

This week → The digital future of tabletop games ⊗ Sinofuturism as inverse orientalism: China’s future and the denial of coevalness ⊗ Remote work is killing the hidden trillion-dollar office economy ⊗ The privileged have entered their escape pods ⊗ David Graeber ⊗ Maps

A year ago → To decarbonize we must decomputerize: why we need a Luddite revolution.

Two one-time sections this week: one with some readings from the dearly departed David Graeber, and one for maps. Find them between featured articles and the asides section.

The Digital Future of Tabletop Games

In another example of “software is not eating the world, it’s making new hybrids possible,” this piece looks at how the internet is opening new possibilities for tabletop games and making them accessible to new publics. “The next generation of tabletop games will diverge from tradition in four key ways: livestreaming, user-generated content, audio-first experiences, and online community platforms.” Basically; people can learn on their own using livestreaming, Youtube, and podcasts; find groups to play with from a much larger pool; experience the games in new forms (audio, for one); and once together they can create orders of magnitude more content for themselves then they could with one group in a basement.

Intersect this with video games becoming bigger than Hollywood (old story), game engines being used to create tv series and movies, and gamification being used everywhere, and you start having a whole lot of different domains touching and overlapping, cross-breeding through their common digitalization.

For an adjacent hybrid, see my members’ Dispatch about the Metaverse, now unlocked for all.

[T]he next generation of games goes a step further, integrating tools such as live-streaming, user generated content (UGC), audio products, and community platforms. This digital transformation is reinventing the way we learn, play, and connect with one another over tabletop games. […]

Today, chess consistently trends as a top 30 game on Twitch in terms of hours watched, topping even AAA heavyweights such as Starcraft 2 and the recently released Ghost of Tsushima. […]

Through these streams, D&D has managed to capture a fresh audience. Total hours of D&D streamed has doubled every year since 2015. Last year, viewers watched 20 million hours of D&D on Twitch alone. […]

On the Alexa platform alone, there are over 10,000 audio games in the “Knowledge and Trivia” section, most of which are adaptations of parlor games. Classics such as Trivia, Scattergories, and Would You Rather are perennially popular. Song Quiz is a “name-that-song” trivia game with a cloud-based music library that is constantly updated with new songs. […]

Over the past decade, these platforms have been able to stitch together fragmented groups into a connected online community. The official DnD subreddit counts over 2 million members; the MTG subreddit counts over 500,000. There are more than 4,500 Discord servers dedicated to D&D or Magic, where tens of thousands of players chat with each other about their favorite cards and campaigns.

Sinofuturism as Inverse Orientalism: China’s Future and the Denial of Coevalness

Decolonizing, defunding, anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, etc. There currently are (deservedly) a lot of movements to re-balance power, perceptions, revisit history, and more. The “currently living” are also colonizing the future by extracting (stealing) resources from it, and the west has constantly rewritten histories and cultures to fit its own narratives. In a similar vein of decolonizing narratives, this paper at the SFRA Review looks at orientalism, techno-orientalism, sinofuturism, and how they obfuscate aspects of China and its own invention. The author argues that the latter two are ways “of deferring participation in contemporariness” to prevent China from existing fully in the present, focusing its views of the country on its past and imagined futures in lieu of the present. The west must be aware of the biases in these ways of contemplating Chinese futures, and pay more attention to local “articulations of the future in China, all waiting to be encountered in their own terms.”

Sinofuturism is an enticing proposition. Firstly, it portends to overcome the arbitrary distinction between China’s ancient past and its contemporary modernization, promising to open up knowledge production about the People’s Republic of China towards its uncharted future. […]

Under its glossy veneer of science-fictional novelty and cyber-exoticism, sinofuturism partakes in the problematic heritage of an enduring techno-orientalist discourse. […]

As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun notes, a generalized “high tech orientalism” has come to pervade most depictions of East Asia in popular culture, offering the modern Western subject “a way to steer through the future, or more properly represent the future as something that can be negotiated” […]

This genealogy of temporal othering evidences how both sinofuturism and techno-orientalism are not merely culpable of propagating exoticizing fantasies about the future in China or other Asian contexts, but also responsible for perpetuating a more generalized denial of coevalness. […]

Chinese philosophical traditions have argued around different conceptions of time over centuries, utopian futurity has driven numerous upheavals, and revolutionary temporality has been a key ideological battleground around the founding of the People’s Republic of China (Qian).

Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy

Lots of numbers in this piece, to get a better grasp of the size of the tumble many city centres are still reeling from amidst the pandemic. Some of the drops are pretty staggering and affect a much broader swath of workers than “just” those fired, furloughed, or working from home. Restaurants, shops, airlines, office supplies, maintenance, are just some of the fields affected by this redistribution of where people work from, or work at all. Airlines for example have seen a drop of 97% in business travel for July and analysts expect there’s at least a good two or three years of this slow-down still ahead. For those working from home, there are quite a few benefits (and difficulties) and in general knowledge work seems to be trending towards an ongoing chunk of it being done from home.

Vaccine or not, a lot of jobs are going to change, city centres are going to change, and the daily and longterm flux between them, suburbs, and medium and small cities will be an ongoing transition that governments will have to deal with. Yet so far the public facing message pretty much comes down to “go back to work.” We’ll need better, and we’ll need it to factor-in climate, decarbonizing, and equality issues.

A result has been the paralysis of the rarely remarked-upon business ecosystem centering on white-collar workers, who, when you include the enterprises reliant on them, account for a pre-pandemic labor force approaching 100 million workers.rare opportunity

The travel pain is broad. The hotels that typically cater to business travelers are in a crisis, with some poised for bankruptcy. As of July, 23.4% of mortgage-backed loans extended to hotels were delinquent at least 30 days, amounting to $20.6 billion. That compares with $1.15 billion in pre-pandemic delinquent loans, and $13.5 billion at the peak of the 2008 recession.rare opportunity

Regardless of the length of the recovery, it looks likely that airlines and hotels will have to shrink, die, or reinvent. And, in a profound forced makeover, the cities will have to reimagine themselves as well, with a severe potential hit to years of national GDP for the country as a whole.

More → This ? by julian dobson is quite good on this very topic.

The Privileged Have Entered Their Escape Pods

Pairs well with the previous. Douglas Rushkoff on two aspects of privilege and fleeing from the virus. The highly privileged and their luxury escape pod strategies, and the more common but still privileged “anywhere workers” able to work from home who have the resources and opportunity to reconfigure, adjust, and secure (to a degree) their lives. He also considers the moral dilemma of protecting you and yours with full knowledge of the essential workers who don’t have those opportunities, many of which are at the same time enabling these escapes.

These solar-powered hilltop resorts, chains of defensible floating islands, and robotically tilled eco-farms were less last resorts than escape fantasies for billionaires who aren’t quite rich enough to build space programs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. No, they weren’t scared for the Event; on some level, they were hoping for it. […]

They’re simply succumbing to one of the dominant ethos of the digital age, which is to design one’s personal reality so meticulously that existential threats are simply removed from the equation. […]

There’s no Dropbox plan that will let us upload body and soul to the cloud. We are still here on the ground, with the same people and on the same planet we are being encouraged to leave behind. There’s no escape from the others. […]

Our Covid-19 isolation is giving us a rare opportunity to see where this road takes us and to choose to use our technologies to take a very different one.

David Graeber

The American anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber died four days ago and I’m pretty sure I don’t exaggerate when I say that a good third of tweets in my main list that day were about him and his influential work. I of course knew of him and bullshit jobs, amongst other highlights, but judging by the comments and everything shared that day, I was woefully under-informed and will be correcting this in coming months. Here are some of his shorter writings I’ll start with.

? Maps!!

  • ?? ? The True Colors of America’s Political Spectrum Are Gray and Green. “This is a grid of aerial images taken across the contiguous United States, selected at random and arranged by political leaning. The neighborhoods on the left voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while President Trump received outsize support in the landscapes on the right. Those in the middle were more evenly divided.”
  • ?? ?? Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian. “Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research.” (Via Deb Chachra.)
  • ?? ? Sometimes the internet is awesome. Sounds of the Forest. “We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.”
  • ? Mapping a World of Cities “is a digital collaboration between ten map libraries and collections in the United States. Covering four centuries, these maps show how world cities changed alongside the changing art and science of cartography”


  • ? ? One of my favourite stories from Ted Chiang’s Exhalation available in full on Medium, Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom. “Morrow took the oversize box into the storeroom and came out with the prism. He set it up in a carrel for the third customer with seconds to spare. At four o’clock, the ready lights on all three prisms came on, and all three customers began chatting with their paraselves.”
  • ?? ? ? E-Bikers Ride Much Farther and More Frequently Than Regular Bikers. “The people who bought e-bikes increased their bicycle use from 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) to 9.2 kilometers (5.7 miles) on average per day; a 340% increase. The e-bike’s share of all their transportation increased dramatically too; from 17% to 49%, where they e-biked instead of walking, taking public transit, and driving.”
  • ? 50 new planets confirmed in machine learning first. “For the first time, astronomers have used a process based on machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to analyze a sample of potential planets and determine which ones are real and which are “fakes,” or false positives, calculating the probability of each candidate to be a true planet.”
  • Mars College “is an educational program, R&D lab, and residential community dedicated to cultivating a low-cost, high-tech lifestyle.”

Header image: Thousands of saltwater evaporation ponds can be seen near the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India.