This site, Giant If, was launched in 2018 as a resurrection of a previous blog started in 2010.
The name “Giant If” comes from an expression of incredulity. When someone proposes a possibility, but it’s predicated on a highly unlikely event, that’s called a “big if.”
For example, say your friend Ed remarks “If cats control the universe in the year 3000, then humans will have to wear collars with bells on them.” You’d be tempted to say that Ed is off his gourd, but he’s a good friend, so you want to express your skepticism politely. You inform Ed that the weight of his conjecture rests on extremely unstable ground by replying “Ed, that’s a big ‘if’.”
A giant if, therefore, is even bigger than a big if. It’s a wild conjecture, an extreme hypothetical, a fantasy, a flight of imagination. An incredible idea, literally– it hardly seems credible. But it’s still possible. A giant if is about something that almost certainly won’t occur, though it might. But maybe that isn’t actually the point. Maybe the point is simply to ask “What if?”
In the imagination, a “What if” is about the counterfactual– that which is not currently a fact in this context. But it might be factual in the future, or in the past, or somewhere else, or for someone else.. Or maybe it doesn’t need to be factual at all, because we’re just playing. Pretending, maybe. Trying out possibilities, alternatives, fantasies, inventions, and creations in your mind. To entertain hypotheticals, thought experiments, points of view.
Stepping into someone else’s shoes– children who role play grow up to be better empathizers. What if I were someone else? How would I think and feel if I were them?
Philosopher C. Thi Nugyen wrote in Games: Agency as Art that playing a game is like “trying on” another form of agency, at least for the time you’re playing the game. What if I weren’t myself, but rather Sonic the hedgehog? Sonic wants gold rings. I have no use for gold rings myself, but if I’m playing Sonic the Hedgehog, I want all of the gold rings I can get my white gloved paws on.
It’s a kind of freedom to step out of your own agency with all of the problems and worries for a little while, and just be someone totally different. Maybe even something, as when you play the titular “character” in I Am Bread, a video game about being a slice of bread whose single, all-encompassing dream is to become toast. If an object like a slice of bread can behave as if it has intentions, we effortlessly ascribe agency to that object. We even try it on– we become bread, at least for a little while. Playing “What if” is second nature when it comes to agency.
When I play XCom 2, I am a commander. My squad is my family. I design every detail, pick out meaningful names for them, and grieve when they die. But in the 1980 game Adventure, my first favorite game, you play a literal square. A square you control, a square that can hold a magnet, a square that can hold an arrow that represents a sword (I have a tattoo of this square holding its arrow-sword, as well as the gold “starter” dragon).
That’s the power of “what if.” That’s why this site is called “Giant If”– to ask the big questions, even the GIANTEST questions.
And maybe, possibly, answer a few.