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Substance and Simulation: An Exploration in Crafting and Gaming
// article by Beverley

If you've ever read Descartes' meditations on first philosophy, you will see where he makes a divide that scars western thought for centuries. The split he makes is called mind/body dualism, the belief that mind and body are of two substances, the physical substance being inferior to the mental substance. It's amazing where these splits reveal themselves in our culture today.

For example, I have a friend who is in graduate school right now who is working on a paper that says something about how the internet makes us live in a more dualistic world than ever, leading us to live in intellectual space rather than in a physical space, focusing on mental processes and devaluating physical processes. Although I didn't understand the entire thesis, that part makes sense to me. I once had a friend who summed this attitude up well, saying he hated being interrupted from his work by his bodily needs, such as going to the washroom and eating.

So you're probably wondering what this has to do with crafting Mama, a game I was eagerly anticipating the release of and snatched up as soon as I could. Crafting Mama is part of the cooking Mama series, except in this version, you go through step-by-steep directions in order to craft something. I never was a huge fan of the Cooking Mama series, but when Crafting Mama came out, I had to have a copy.

I am a crafter. I crotchet, sew, cross-stitch, paint, weave, and do everything else with whatever materials I can get my hands on. Naturally, I was excited about this game, because finally the gaming world was recognizing a set of interests very close to my heart. As much as I loved playing this game, it made me realize one thing: Crafting Mama had taken away the physical experience of crafting, and did a great job of it, but the physical experience of crafting was really at the core of what crafting is.

The virtualization of crafting really changed my experience of it. To begin with, crafts were pre-determined. You could make earrings, or a squirt gun, or cell phone charms or all kinds of things, but there was always a clearly defined end goal. I find that when I craft, my creations change themselves organically. The other day I set out to make a vest but the project changed itself into a scarf. Once I went to make my sister a pillowcase which turned into a purse. When crafts take place in physical space, and you work with your material over a long period of time, your idea of the finished product evolves with the piece, even if it's something as small as a minor deviation from the pattern on a cross stitch piece.

Another thing that was very different, and kind of good, about virtual crafting is that you always had the materials you needed in the right amount. For the water squirter craft, we used bamboo. I have no idea where I would get crafting bamboo where I live; it certainly isn't something you see at Michaels (EDITOR'S NOTE: Michaels is a Canadian crafting store. Did you know that?). But nonetheless, Mama had bamboo for this project, and she had enough so you could mess up on cutting it over and over and over... ughhh...

Which brings me to my next point about how virtual crafting is different, some things in Crafting Mama that should be really easy are really hard!!! Like, cutting slots in paper so you can make a pinwheel; you would think this would be a fairly easy task but had to redo my pinwheel way more often than I would in real life! I couldn't believe how frustrating it was to do a craft any 5 year old could do! And yet, a repetitive task that took a long time and a lot of diligence in real life, like crocheting, would go by incredibly quickly to keep the game interesting. I guess what I am trying to say is that Crafting Mama's portrayal of certain physical processes is unrealistic -- especially working with scissors!

And when you have finally toiled through your project, what do you have to show for it? I think this is my favourite part of crafting: having a piece of work that I can display with pride. I love it when people compliment me on a bag or scarf or patch I have made myself, and I especially love telling people how I did it and sharing my skills, but with crafting Mama you don't get any of that. Heck, in Cooking Mama, you don't even get to sample your delicious wares! Why would anybody cook without being able to taste their creation? However, in Crafting Mama, you do get a virtual toy you can play a pre-determined game with, but that's it! It kind of made me sad because there were so little fruits to my labor! Then again, considering how little work went into my crafting, what can I expect?

I really enjoyed playing Crafting Mama, but to state the obvious, it wasn't the same as real crafting. It felt like a video game, not a creative process. I don't think I favor one over the other -- sometimes you need to mash buttons and sometimes you need to pick up the ol' crotchet needle -- but I don't think you can take one and call it the other. The two are definitely different kind of experiences. I don't think a game can ever replace the fun of crafting, and I would be shocked if ever a craft could somehow replicate the fun of a game! It's not about activities that focus on the mind or the body; it's just having diverse and unique experiences that make people happy! So in the face of dualism this means that if we have to think about activities in terms of a mind/body divide (which isn't really realistic anyway) we have to at least consider them equal counterparts, not as one being master over the other.


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