'Homo Machina' toys with industrial body metaphors

Explore the body via Fritz Kahn’s detailed infographics and your phone.

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Homo Machina begins when you wake up. Your body's director of operations must get your eyes open and your cognitive systems online so that you can get out of bed, feed yourself, get to work and -- eventually -- go on a date with a lovely lady later in the evening.

The game is based on the medical illustrations of Fritz Kahn, a science writer and pioneer in the area of infographics. Kahn explained the workings of the human body with visual metaphors from the industrial age; it's these drawings that form the basis of Homo Machina, which launches on May 17th exclusively on Android and iOS.

The title's mechanics were inspired by Machinarium, a tap-to-solve puzzle game that came to the iPad in late 2011. In both games, you have to tap around the scene to find out what activates the next system or solves the puzzle. When I sat down with publisher ARTE's Adrien Larouzée to demo Homo Machina, I got to open the eyeball, help my body eat, chew with my teeth and help a racing heart calm down as I managed each system in line. The entire body, said Larouzée, is a mechanical factory, represented by art that was directly adapted from Kahn's illustrations from the early 1900s. The game also supports the German media company's goal of teaching people about other cultures and perspectives, showing that science can be fun while raising awareness of the artist-scientist's work.

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Homo Machina uses a muted, warm color palette that reflects Kahn's own work. Tapping around the imagery is a delight in itself, as it's both the only way to figure out what to do next and a way to explore the intricate artwork and metaphorical imagery. The eye, for example, is seen as a camera, with a large sheet of film that must be loaded into the rear of the orb immediately upon opening the eyelid, which slides upward on a rotating hinge like a big breadbox or rolltop desk.

What struck me the most about Homo Machina was the pure, calm joy I felt while playing it. There's a gentle narrative that helps guide you through the game, but there's no real pressure to solve any of the environmental puzzles inside a time limit. You can explore the beautiful artwork and cute little animations at your leisure. The music is whimsical, which fits the tone of the entire game; all the little faceless but charming characters go about their work in the fictional body with aplomb.

Homo Machina was co-produced with Darjeeling, a company that makes quirky documentaries and video games based on the work of Philip K. Dick. While the title aims to be fun all on its own, it also serves as a solid introduction to Kahn's work and source material like Uta and Thilo von Debschitz's monograph Fritz Kahn: Infographics Pioneer.

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