Arboretum Imaginarium is less of a game and more a ritual for personal exploration. It is the result of a creative exploration between game designer Allen Turner and artist Stacey Taheny.
It is meant to instigate the exploration of personal narrative. The goal is to borrow from oracle traditions like the tarot to create a tool that gets participants using images and words to begin introspective delving and journaling about the way they perceive things that arise from looking at the cards.
Laying cards in in various patterns and using different rituals of organization lead to the participant giving themselves permission to see things they wouldn’t otherwise see in themselves.
The ideal is a tool that is a sort of socioemotional/spiritual device that a person uses with themselves, or as a group of two or more, to identify things that are gestating in their subconscious or just for instigating narratives for character development or story structures.
All of the images in Arboretum Imaginarium come from nature and engage themes of growth and rot. They are from photos taken by artist Stacey Taheny in her explorations in nature. She then goes on to manipulate them into patterns of symmetry and asymmetry. This results in images that the eye and brain have to engage in an apophenic struggle to make sense of what is being seen. Apophenia is the human tendency to perceive patterns in random information. It’s the thing that makes us see faces and forms in clouds and cracks on the walls.
What is wonderful, and powerful, about this is that it allows us to create an experience that veers away from similar tools that have drawn images or painting because the images in the cards don’t have a preconceived culture. What ever you see in the image is a function of how you see, the cultures you come from, and the narratives that inform you. No two people will see the same thing in one of these images. In addition the perception of the images further get redefined by the eye depending on what other images and words they are in proximity to.
The basic version of this tool takes the form of cards that are made of images and words. The words, imprinted on the cards, are arbitrarily connected to the images that causes the participant to try to associated the word with the image or disassociate the word and image.
When looking at the cards in this way one can try to focus in on the image, focus in on the word, or try to settle between the two. One pays attention to the emotional experiences that come with exposure to the card. Narratives form as the word image connection begins to form and as the participant talks about what they see, adding more cards and arranging them in different patterns allows the participant to drill deeper and focus more, paying attention to what bubbles to the surface.
The cards help one to see what is in plain sight the same way a magnifying glass allows one to see the details of the ant that was see-able, but not noticeable, without the tool. The result is something to explore. It’s important to note that one does not “Read” the cards. One reads oneself using the cards. The cards have no inherent power, they don’t give you any answers. They allow you to see something that you are already in relationship with so you can begin a conversation with yourself about it. Ideally the participant takes the experience of the cards and continues it in an act of creation, or exploration, via an artistic medium, or journaling, or both.
The cards can be purchased at The Game Crafter via the following link for US $34.99.
There are 61 cards in the box. Of the 61 cards, 55 are high quality image cards and the remainder are instructional prompts that show you how to use them. We will continue to add to the card via expansion sets and elaborate on their usage here on this blog. We’ll also make many of the card images available as high quality poster prints that you can buy via the shop link here on Council Of Fools. If you should find a card that resonates with you, and would like a poster of it, let us know and we’ll help you to get a print.
The Arboretum Imaginarium does not end with the cards however. There is more coming as we expand it into a more advanced version that opens up the possibilities even more.
The more advanced form of the tool focuses on giving agency to the participant and expanding the tools and lenses available to work with. In this expanded version the cards and words are separated. The images now stand alone with no inherent prompts to spark one’s imagination. The prompts are now separate and take the form of small tiles with words on them. We call these tiles “notions.” Notions are action words, nouns, and qualities that, when arranged in patterns, either alone or in conjunction with the cards, begin to form narratives. They begin to provide meaning, interpreted by the participant, that allows them to really engage and see, physically, rituals and reactions, attractions and aversions.
When the final product ships it will also have layouts, audio prompts and meditations, and simple game mechanics to assist participants in figuring out how to use it.
The Arboretum Imaginarium becomes especially effective however when it is used in conjunction with one or more partners who help to facilitate. Basically, the people participating are divided into the player and one or more witnesses.
This is similar to the relationship between someone sitting down to get a tarot reading and the reader. The significant difference is that the witness does not offer a reading or interpretation. They only exist to help identify process and habit and actions and rituals. As the player lays out cards and talks about images and connects words, the Witness asks why they do what they do with questions that allow the player to answer themselves. Every action, every placement, every reveal potentially has meaning and says something about what is going on in the player. So the Witness would ask:
“Why did you do that?”
“What are you seeing?”
“What does this mean to you?”
“Why is that there?”
“Where does that belong?”
“How do those make you feel together or apart?”
“How do you feel?”
The witness is part of the game. They are a role that exists without ego to help the player to identify and sift. The witness pokes and nudges the player to help them to be cognizant of the actions they take and look for meaning in the physicality of those actions.