Multifaceted Memories in Monument Valley 2

Multifaceted Memories in Monument Valley 2

"In our haste in looking forward, we too often forget the past"
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When I wandered into the App Store to install updates the other week, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my favorite game had been given a sequel. The original Monument Valley was a game whose existence I wasn't entirely sure of; my first look at it was when it was featured on season 3 of "House of Cards". The game itself is constructed of Escher-like puzzles that require the landscape to be rotated and twisted so its protagonist -- Ida, a faceless figure in a white dress and matching cone hat -- could walk up walls, go through transporting doors, and avoid enthusiastic polygonal crows, all in an effort to reach the shrine at the top of each level, effectively 'restoring' a lost monument.


Ida wanders the abandoned Valley in an effort to reach the shrine at the end of each level, all the while being confronted by spirits of elders who lament the forgotten past. For me, the highlight of the original game was a chilling level with minimal puzzles, and where no monuments were returned at all; in the end, the player's only task was to guide Ida straight through a vast underground graveyard, the only sound being the echoes of her little footsteps. With the mystery of the Valley's shrouded past still heavy in the air, the short game left me hungry for more. So, naturally, I instantly dropped $5 for Monument Valley 2 without even thinking about it; I was desperate to return to the nonsensical puzzle world I wanted so badly to live in.


This time we are introduced to Ro, another faceless woman in an orange dress and matching hat. She has her small child in tow, dressed in a red hood for her first visit to the Valley. Ro restores monuments as they go along, but keeps her daughter's safety a top priority among these crumbling ruins.

Just as in its predecessor, some levels offer brief interludes in monochrome environments where Ro, alone, speaks to an oracle who encourages her to let go of her daughter and continue further into the Valley alone, allowing her daughter to learn her own lessons and become her own person. Soon after one such conversation, Ro gestures for her daughter to board a little sailboat that waits at the docks. The boat brings the child to her own levels, where she skips among the ruins and speaks to the ghosts of other elders. They tell her that "Our shadows grow long as we wait for one worthy to take up our mantle. She has taught you well, but there is still much to learn. The path will be hard but remember, we walked it too."




The game then diverges into different points of view. Ro enters an introspective level represented by puzzles within puzzles, with each door she enters allowing the camera to zoom into a new space previously too small to be seen. She chases her younger self through a series of her own memories that are remarkably similar to the path taken by herself and her daughter at the start of the game. Ro's daughter, on the other hand, is led through an empty, somber castle. The player controls the size of the windows, and the amount of light that comes through in turn determines the growth of trees that can be used as platforms. It's simple, yet very moving to see light being used as a mechanic for progress. At the end, the girl enters a door in the leaves of the tree, and as the tree grows up and up, the ceiling of the castle peels back like the petals of a flower, and the child emerges as an adult.

The game ultimately ends with the reunion between Ro and her grown daughter, who remains unnamed. Their final level together has the woman ascending above her mother to restore the final monument and, in turn, the whole Valley. The light of all the symmetrical shapes drawn by the player over the course of their adventure illuminates the two women and the spirits of their ancestors as they rejoice among the shrines.


I felt Monument Valley 2 was still far too short, and didn't answer nearly as many questions as I was hoping -- what happened to the Valley in the first place? Why was Ro's daughter able to accomplish what she herself could not? How does Ida from the first game tie into this story? But, nevertheless, I was still just as transfixed with the calming music and soft gradients, as well as its use of color schemes and symmetry. I felt challenged by the puzzles, but never frustrated or rushed. Ro demonstrated the importance of introspection, and how it is vital for growth. Her daughter's journey showed how history is prone to repeat itself, but sometimes for different reasons; we may follow in our parents' footsteps more than we think, but in the end the path we carve out is our own.

Visit Monument Valley's website here. Here's to hoping that ustwo's DLC isn't afraid to delve a little deeper into the game's elusive lore...



Cover Image Credit: Emily Prechtl

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The Case Against 'Strong AI', Are Computers Truly Intelligent?

The analysis of American philosopher, John Searle, and his "Chinese Room Thought Experiment," making the case against strong artificial intelligence.

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In his stance against 'strong AI,' John Searle presented what he named 'The Chinese Room Thought Experiment'. This experiment presents the situation in which a monolingual English speaker is secluded in a room and is given some writings that are written in Chinese along with some Chinese script and a set of rules in English to aid the English speaker to be able to compare the two sets of Chinese writings from each other. Then providing the English speaker with a third selection of writings along with more instructions in English for deciphering, the monolingual English speaker is now enabled to prepare a response to the questions asked in the script.

To compare and create an analogy which can further the understanding of this experiment can be one being secluded and being presented with two sets of hieroglyphics from Ancient Egypt and being given a key in English which allows them to understand the hieroglyphics and use that to answer the third set of hieroglyphics which are in the form of a question. The analogy works well in comparison to the Chinese scripts since most have experience in school being presented with a similar and relatable situation with hieroglyphics.

After the secluded monolingual English speaker uses all of the scripts and guides presented to him to answer the questions and return them to those outside the room, his answers are read by native Chinese speakers. The person inside the room becomes so well versed in following the instructions that are presented to them that they are able to seamlessly respond to the questions and the work that they created is seemingly "indistinguishable from those of Chinese speakers."

When they read and look at the answers provided by the English speaker, the Chinese speakers would not be able to come to the conclusion that the person that is inside the room and responding to their questions is not a native Chinese speaker. By being able to produce these answers by just decoding uninterpreted symbols using a code, it can be said that the person just following the instructions is "simply behaving like a computer." Searle uses this computer example to relate to the "Script Applier Mechanism" (SAM), story understanding program, created by Schank and Abelson in 1977.

In order to reach his conclusion for "The Chinese Room Thought Experiment," Searle decides to consider the situation as if he were the monolingual English speaker placed in the secluded room. In his own perspective, he believes that it is quite clear that he does not understand any bit of the Chinese stories. He states that he receives the same content in the writings that would be seamless for the native Chinese speaker to understand and regardless of the extent to which how extensive the deciphering codes are in the end, he as a monolingual English speaker understands nothing. Searle then takes this conclusion that he comes to and makes the follow-up conclusion that Schank's computer does not understand any of the stories either.

The computer is also able to use all three sets of the Chinese writing as well as the deciphering codes in English to come up with a response in Chinese just as the well-trained English speaker is able to do. Since Searle claims that he is able to "understand nothing" and is able to produce a response to the questions, he claims that Schank and Abelson's computer also does not understand anything as it is simply able to reproduce the exact same thing that the English speaker was able to do. Expanding the conclusions that he made further, Searle then states that the ability of Schank and Abelson's computer to follow the set of rules in order to respond to the questions is not something that can be considered inherently special or unique to their specific computer.

It is something that can be programmed into any computer or taught to any human being so it is not unique and the theory can then apply to any simulation. This works to support Searle's task of refuting strong AI, by stating that the computers ability to decipher the three sets of Chinese script and use the English codes, it is not considered intelligent no matter how intelligent it may seem.

The programming inserted into the computers which cause the symbols to be processed, it is not intelligent because it is just executing the functions it is being told to do and the symbols are meaningless and the computer itself is not doing anything that could be considered intelligent. With this lack of semantics and thinking, it can be stated that it does not have any meaningful mental states further supporting Searle's argument.

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