I am rapidly going bats tonight. I am trying to map out a bunch of scenarios for a point-and-click adventure I've had in my head for years. I keep forgetting why I hate flow charts until I try to do one again -- then it all comes rushing back at me.

I have never, ever done flow or outlines for essays or stories. I hated it like you wouldn't believe in high school and undergrad, when some instructor wanted me to turn in work on a research paper in stages. First week thesis, second week outline, third week draft, etc. I always had to just write the damn paper first and then go back and reverse-engineer all of the "prep" work, because if I tried to the prep work first I not only got utterly lost in my notes, but half the time then forgot big chunks of the essay I wanted to write, and had to start all over again.

The problem is not that I work in a completely haphazard fashion, where things only come together by accident. It's all quite orderly in my head. The problem is that paper is two-dimensional. Trying to transfer scenario flow for something like an adventure game with multiple paths is even worse than trying to outline the linear flow of research, although that doesn't work so hot for me either. The thing that makes it fall totally apart for me -- makes it absolutely useless as working notes, in fact, regardless of what the grading instructor thinks -- is that in order to reduce an n-dimensional working space to a 2-dimensional diagram, no matter what viewpoint I try to take, I end up having to list the same LABEL in multiple POSITIONS in the linear text or planar diagram, when all of those instances of that label are spatially the same POINT in my head.

Traditionally I do not have a very good track record trying to explain this to others, but here I go anyway.

Take the following 2D map:

These are three different possible routes from the cyan dot to the purple dot. It's very obvious when you look at this planar representation that there's only one cyan dot, and only one purple dot. But to write them out in a linear (i.e, 1D) list of directions, you get:
  • REDStart at the CYAN dot. Go forward until you find an intersection. Turn left. At the wall, turn right. At the corner, turn right. Stop at the PURPLE dot.
  • GREEN. Start at the CYAN dot. Go forward past the intersection. Stop at the PURPLE dot.
  • BLUE. Start at the CYAN dot. Turn right. At the corner, turn left. Pass the intersection. At the corner, turn left. Stop at the PURPLE dot.

Even though there's only one cyan dot and one purple dot, each is mentioned three times in the text. This is hideously confusing to my poor brain. Everything meshes up perfectly naturally on the 2D map, but the 1D list with all of its repetition is littered with phantom copies of any point that exists on more than one route. The problem gets exponentially worse as you add dimensions -- and particularly in adventure games, the number of dimensions n in your workspace can get very high, very quickly. There is no way to link everything up nicely in two dimensions such that each node has all the necessary connections and appears once and only once in the plane. It all works perfectly smoothly in my head, but it's an unreadable fucking mess on paper.

(A roughly analogous situation often occurs if you happen to work with any kind of database, and have coworkers who can't spell, type like tweaking monkeys, or both. It may be obvious to you, the human, that "blue widget", "blue widgets", "widget (blue)", "widjet blue" and "BLUWIJIT" are all talking about the same item, but because they are not all the same text, the computer can't figure it out, which makes trying to gather together all of the information you have on the only widgets you carry that even come in blue into a combination crapshoot, snipe hunt, and incipient migraine. It's almost impossible to make sure you get all the records you want in one fell swoop, because you're obliged to juggle so many different unlinked listings for one damn thing that it's a miracle if you manage to remember them all.)

How other people handle all this, I do not know. I suspect that a lot of them don't, or at least not well -- hence why writing teachers insist on having outlines handed in. The representation of the workspace in my head isn't entirely visual, which it seems to be for other people. I can get three, maybe four dimensions in a rotatable format that I could probably model in Maya or 3D Studio Max, or whatever people are using now that it's been almost a decade since I took an animation class. Beyond that, additional dimensions kick in as a sense of spatial distance and orientation, and a proprioceptive sense of motion when following a path from node to node.

I have a number of interesting short circuits in relation to all of this. Two that I know have names are spatial-sequence and number form synesthesia; I assume the rest of them are also some form of synesthesiae, if only because I had what is apparently the standard synesthete reaction when I was finally told that other people don't do that -- utter bewilderment, like finding out that other people knew perfectly well what a "sky" was and what "blue" meant, but had no idea what the fuck I was talking about when I assumed that the two things went together.


  1. I used to puzzle the heck out of teachers at school. During exams, I'd often be vaguely gesticulating in midair - unconsciously - while I extracted information out of the pattern it was stored in. It took several repetitions of the "Please don't appear to be sending smoke signals to your classmates, external auditors don't appreciate it" message before I managed to get the gestures contained down to the small bit of body space that wasn't too obvious to other people in the same room.

    The closest analogy to this I've ever had is those lovely 'screens' in silly futuristic movies where people can reach in, pull data out, make 3d models by banging 'facts' together... that's loosely how I store data in my head too.


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