- CorridorsEngaging Multispecies Entanglements through Infrastructural Play
The members of the symbioses of the Children of Compost, human and nonhuman, travel or depend on associates that travel; corridors are essential to their being. The restoration and care of corridors, of connection, is a central task of the communities; it is how they imagine and practice repair of ruined lands and waters and their critters, human and not.—Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble1
Generations of jokesters have invented punch lines for the classic setup “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Our own answer, admittedly not a very funny one, is that it probably had no other choice. Clichés have a way of revealing uncomfortable truths—in this case, involving the givenness of human infrastructure (a road) and the uncertain fate of any animal (a chicken) hapless enough to cross it. Yet the situation clearly calls for humor and ingenuity. Jokes included, one might be surprised to find that playful evidence of animal wanderlust has its own considerable history. In the early 1980s, for instance, arcade players helped millions of frogs traverse a busy road and a treacherous river to reach their homes on the other side, in the archetypal crossing game Frogger (fig. 1).2
A few years later, in 1988, while driving across Nebraska to visit relatives, Lynn Matson and his family invented the game Roadkill Bingo, which they advertise as a “unique educational travel game” that has since sold over twenty-five thousand copies and even spawned a [End Page 68] West Coast version.3 Armed with Matson’s game, parents can presumably transform a dull trip on the interstate into a fun—and edifying— adventure, where bored kids in the back seat kill time by noting squashed raccoons, skunks, squirrels, birds, deer, cats, and the mysteriously unknowable but grisly “urk” (fig. 2).
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Meanwhile, since the turn of the millennium, Nintendo has had enormous success with its Animal Crossing series (originally “animal forest” or Dōbutsu no Mori, どうぶつの森), which, despite its English [End Page 69] name, is less a story of animals unlucky enough to travel in human-modified domains than a cheery community simulator populated by anthropomorphic animal villagers. Flattened countless times on televisions, the dual screens of Nintendo’s DS handheld gaming systems, and most recently the capacitive touchscreens of mobile phones,4 the non-human citizens of Animal Crossing have been revealed as mere window dressing over the game’s underlying logics of consumerism and capital accumulation.5
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Decades on from Matson’s fateful midwestern road trip and the first Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo 64, actual habitat fragmentation due to human settlement and activity has only grown more pronounced, and estimates of animal casualties can be hard to fathom. In 2005 High Country News estimated that approximately one million vertebrates were run over each day in the United States, which works out to a discouraging rate of one road death every 11.5 seconds.6 The Federal Highway Administration also reported to Congress in August 2008 that some one to two million collisions between cars and large animals occur every year in the United States.7 While insurance companies and state and local agencies tend to focus on these accidents in terms of human injuries and fatalities and costs associated with vehicle damage (by some estimates, upward of one billion dollars a year), clearly the price paid in both human and animal life continues to be tremendous.
Fortunately, there are many ways to imagine alternatives to the existing paradigm in which human mobility and safety are held as paramount while animal death and dislocation are unfortunate but tolerable consequences. Our hope was to create our own playful spin on games like Frogger, Roadkill Bingo, and Animal Crossing, one where human-animal encounters are inevitable and strangely challenging, rather than statistical externalities to the smooth functioning of human systems. The result is Corridors, a...