Strange Voyage | @str_voyage | Many Worlds Vol.3 Issue.1
"A bot forever voyaging, an endless nautical story."
@str_voyage is a twitter feed created by game designer and digital artist Joe Baxter-Webb. The words are bot-generated but the story that emerges is full of the human spirt, coming to life through fictional voyagers finding humanity in the tensions of trials, homesickness, and belonging. In the first feature of our 3rd newsletter series, Joe describes the world he's building below.
The protagonist of the “story”—if you can call it that—is very much a plural “we”. Although the voyagers are seeking refuge, there’s a sense of community; elders teaching children, myths and memories and hopes for the future. The voyagers are superstitious and relatively naive to the world they find themselves adrift in, but they’re also a hardy bunch, and they abide through nature’s violence and the indifference of strangers.
The voyagers are very idealised. They are constantly beset by trials, but they endure and push on. Strangers can be unwelcoming to them, but they are still warm towards those who allow them to be. They share their stories and their supplies. It is quite different from how I actually see the world, and more an ideal of how I would like myself to be—how I would like to be in the world.
Ultimately I hope that people who enjoy the bot feel as if they are part of the voyage. Homesickness, the hope for something better beyond the horizon, and the tension between desperately wanting to get somewhere in particular and enjoying the journey itself.
I have always been fascinated by imagery which treads the line between beautiful and ugly. The surrealist landscapes of Max Ernst spring to mind; particularly “The Eye of Silence” and “Europe After the Rain”. Vibrant colours that are slightly too acidic. A beetle’s carapace. Rough, rotting material set with gemstones. The dark fantasy films of the 1980s with their browns, purples and murky greens.
It’s not “chocolate box” sweetness and light, but it’s not deliberately ugly or edgy or nihilistic either. Like being revolted by something while wanting to stroke it. I feel there is something quite spiritual in the blurring of those two extremes of human experience. There is a depth and richness of feeling that can’t be derived from objects designed to be solely pleasurable or repulsive.
It’s a cliche to say that a fictional naval voyage is about a longing for freedom from day-to-day monotony, but it’s also true.
Crafting games and bots is a sanctuary for me because I get to create for others without exposing myself as much as I would were I making music or poetry - i.e. something which most audiences expect to be more personal.
When the bot creates passages about the elders telling stories, I suppose these also come from a personal longing. My family is quite small and tight-knit. My upbringing meant I didn’t have a very strong anchoring in any of the belief systems that a lot of people seem to find solace in: religion, national pride, or even sports fandom. I suppose what I am romanticising is the idea of being part of a bigger “tribe,” with its history and rituals and defences from the outside world.
Composure is for those who value artistry. Our newsletters feature people building worlds that others want to be a part of.
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