Game enthusiasts are all about the games they play being “realistic,” with higher resolution graphics and smarter AIs. One of the more alluring features of alternate reality games is their ability to blur the lines between reality and game to the point where you question where one ended and the other began, exemplified through the “TINAG” (This Is Not A Game) philosophy. Of course, we all knew it was just a game, but hid that knowledge away back in the “suspension of disbelief” part of our brains, and let ourselves believe it was all real. But what if we could experience a game that was so real, you honestly didn’t know what was game and what was real? David Cronenberg would like to offer you an opportunity to do just that, via a personal on-demand biotech recommendation engine (“POD”) designed to enhance your everyday experience.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it draws on the plot of past Cronenberg films like eXistenZ, where players of a game would use gamepods, flesh-like instruments that allowed them to “jack into” and interact with the game on a real-time. Now, Cronenberg has joined forces with Body/Mind/Change Labs to create PODs similar to the ones in the movie, and you are encouraged to sign up for your own.
In Lance Weiler’s Culture Hacker column in Filmmaker Magazine, he states Cronenberg has “quietly licensed the fictional technology and science found within his films Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and eXistenZ for a mind-bending eight-figure sum.” Reporting from the BMC Labs building in Venice, CA, he describes the lab as looking like “something out of a sci-fi film” and describes the company’s previous biotech achievements and their goal “to enhance humankind by harnessing biotechnology to make us smarter, faster and more efficient.” Cronenberg himself released a trailer describing the POD and his collaboration with Body/Mind/Change Labs.
Dig a little deeper and the truth becomes evident – Weiler’s article is the opening salvo for a digital extention of the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) David Cronenberg: Evolution exhibit set to debut in November 2013 and run through January 2014, and includes “artifacts, props, documentation and audio-visual interviews, as well as reconstructed set-pieces from Cronenberg’s films”. The Body/Mind/Change experience is co-produced by CFC Media Lab and directed by Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, Pandemic, Reboot Stories), and “features plot lines and game mechanics involving biotechnology start-ups, body enhancements, and emotional learning systems.”
According to the project’s press release, the experience is scheduled to launch on October 25th, but there is plenty to do and see while you’re waiting. Visitors to the BMC Labs website are encouraged to sign up for their own POD. After signing up, registrants are presented with a confirmation page hard-coded with a message congratulating them for being “8,743 of 137,234 in line for a POD implant.” The website’s POD Challene page, which is currently “OFFLINE” displaying a field of static, hints at things to come later this month.
Check out the discussion of Body Mind Change on the Unfiction forums to see how the project evolves, and schedule your trip out to Toronto to see the installation for yourself to get the full experience.
My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough
The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.
Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.
Image by Mike Hedge and Tiffani Bearup
Lance Weiler’s most recent project began with a simple yet provocative question: can a robot reboot education? To answer that question, Weiler collaborated with fellow Workbook Project contributor Janine Saunders in creating Robot Heart Stories with a team of more than 50 creative professionals.
For the project, students in a Los Angeles elementary school class and a Montreal media workshop teamed up to send Laika, a small female robot scientist, from Canada to California. As a team of award-winning photographers drove the robot across country, the 42 students fueled Laika’s journey with stories, videos and letters. Photographers and other artists brought the children’s work to life and, in turn, uploaded their work to the website.
While this ambitious project focused on the two groups of students, aspects of the campaign were open to the world. Anyone could create a heartpack, origami robots that could be painted, colored or photographed in different settings. Those images were also uploaded to the Robot Heart Stories website. Other classes used the project for experiential learning projects. This collaboration had virtual and real world implications. The website notes that “everything you submit helps the robot’s heart meter reach full strength, AND it helps raise money for underpriveledged [sic] students.”
There is an empty lot in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Madison Avenue, located at 41.410806° North, 75.654259° West. Despite its wholly unremarkable appearance, the site may be ground zero for a pandemic that will consume the planet. To find out the truth, exercise this opportunity to make the trek to Park City, Utah, where Lance Weiler’s short film Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259 will grace the silver screen for the first time on January 24th at the Sundance Film Festival. However, keep in mind that the nine-minute short film is only a small part of Pandemic 1.0, a “storyworld experience” playing out at the film festival from January 20th to 30th. Sundance has already released the Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259 short film in its entirety online, which serves as an extended teaser trailer for the full fright-filled experience. After watching the video embedded below, read on to learn more about the context for this universe that is equal parts compelling and terrifying.
Artwork by Reinier Clabbers.
Between January 21-31, cinephiles and celebrities will converge on Park City Utah for the annual Sundance Film Festival, immersing themselves in a rich tapestry of stories from independent filmmakers around the world. However, the immersion will start a few days early for Lance Weiler. Seize the Media’s upcoming transmedia project HiM was selected as one of twelve projects for the Sundance Institute’s Screewriters Lab. Weiler and his co-writer Chuck Wendig will spend the five days leading up to the Festival at the Sundance Resort honing their writing.
Over the course of the workshop, writers meet one-on-one with a distinguished group of creative advisors. Reflecting on his experience, 2009 Sundance Lab Fellow Avi Weider explains that the Lab served as “a great opportunity for everyone who got to go to really work intensively on the script and not to be able to hide from any of the soft spots that are lurking in all of our writing.” Weiler notes that he looks forward to the one-on-one sessions as a chance “to not only be able to workshop the script, but to be able to talk about ideas about how [to] deal with pacing and focus, and how [to] execute across multiple platforms effectively.”
Michelle Satter, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, notes that this is the first time the Lab will support a transmedia project. The Sundance Institute Screenwriter’s Lab has supported an extensive list of award-winning independent films in the past including John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry and Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs.
HiM has attracted attention at CineMart and Power to the Pixel for the elaborate transmedia narrative planned. Weiler admits that some of the game’s content has been out in the wild since the end of Hope is Missing in 2007. Sometime in 2010, these assets will be complemented by the release of geo-locative applications for the iPhone and Android tied to the experience. Later in 2010, Weiler hopes to begin shooting the feature film, which will serve as “just one larger component within [the] whole story world.”
May 21: “N” sent us in the following game tip which he found on “this new site online”: I found this article below on this new site online. There have been random texts with riddles going around about it. What do you guys make of it? I figure this is your area. ——————————— Is When they were Pharaohs really an A.R.G. in disguise? by E.A. Wallis First there was The Beast, then there was I Love Bees and Lost Experience, now an A.R.G. in a story on ancient Egypt? In an age where alternate reality gaming has taken on many forms, there are practically no limits in the way that mass online adventures are now being played, but in the novelization of an upcoming theatrical stage play? In a way When they were Pharaohs might represent the ultimate in reality fact finding, puzzle-solving missions, in what is looking to be another world-hopping adventure, but you’ll need to be an Egyptologist or hieroglyphics expert to crack some of these modern takes on ancient riddles, because though some clues are hidden out in plain sight with hieroglyphic translations conveniently included, others are presented completely without. Of course the ancient Egyptians themselves had games and other leisurely pastimes to remedy their boredom (although without Facebook) but a modern-day reenactment of the mythological quest of Horus and Isis to revenge Osiris? With the re-discovery of the mummy of Hatshepsut in 2007, this real life saga has enough drama and irony, worthy of a Greek Tragedy. I may have found the eye of Horus, but if you can tell me where Osiris is laid, you might as well solve the riddle of the Sphinx. We did a little Google-fu and found this exact text (save for one line) on Craigslist ads from Los Angeles and Baltimore. After looking at the web site from the ad, I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, not an ARG in disguise. However, prove me wrong and earn a place in my heart.
May 21: The good and wonderful Tony Walsh send in this tidbit about an upcoming event: Hi guys, just wanted to let you know about this upcoming event in San Francisco. Tony Walsh (Phantom Compass), Lance Weiler (the WorkBook Project), and Ken Ecklund (sic) (World Without Oil) will all be appearing at KQED in San Francisco next Saturday. http://www.bavc.org/index.php?option=com_registrationpro&Itemid=935&func=details&did=903 On Saturday, May 30 at 1:30PM Pacific in the KQED ATRIUM, Tony Walsh (Phantom Compass) and Ken Eklund (World Without Oil) will present on the topic of games for change: Games for Change has turned into its own movement of creatives, technologists and gamers who are developing interactive and game projects driven by social issues.Tony Walsh, CEO of Canadian game design firm Phantom Compass, and Ken Eklund, developer of the award-winning ARG World Without Oil unpack some of the most successful social change games and related creative experiments and provide a blueprint for filmmakers looking to get into “game space.” Hey, that’s only three days from now! Hopefully this meas that some of our Bay-area readers can make it down to see this presentation!