BT Residency, playing with reality

A bit more on Uncle Roy All Around You

Some more about Uncle Roy All Around You whilst talking to Ju.

Between CYSMN and Uncle Roy they did a research residency at Banff and produced a research project called Bystander.

  • This was to investigate what people would do in the street. Not what spectacular, or outlandish things, but how would and could they interact with other players or other people outside the piece/game. [again it is interesting to explore the idea that a set of seemingly mundane actions can fit together to form a situation that is far from mundane]
  • It wasn’t highly technical and used what they called paper trails, what seem like a form of paper prototyping for this experience. They ended up with cards and decks that could be shuffled.
  • They wanted to explore what it felt to be taking part or not. What is that line you cross when you take part? What does it feel like to cross that line? [liminal pay dirt for me]
Uncle Roy came about through a desire to put the players in the street, and in that was a natural progression from CYSMN.
  • It was about absence and presence
  • A quest to find a person who wasn’t going to be there
  • About trying to get the virtual and the real to work together [although it would really seem about getting online players to work with physical players]
  • Cinematic experience of cities
  • The feeling of success and failure – game-like reward systems
  • “Turning corners, moving you from one thing to the next.” [working with similar spatial metaphors to the concept of the liminal]
  • “You think you know where you are going but the carpet can be whipped out.”
  • “You agree to enter, but don’t know where you are going.”
  • How can people enjoy something that is not there
  • People probably felt confused or frustrated [i think this is probably a common response to liminal activities. Participants are presented with structures that are outside the ordinary and a lack of control.]
  • I asked what was the best bit – The contract at the end [where a player would commit to another player, for a year, to “be there” in a crisis]
    • the potential for real change and real world effect [this is the same real world change that occurs through the experience of liminal states, which are educational, reflective and transitional all at once]
    • But it needs a framework to lead up to it, the contract would not work without the rest of the experience [the anti-structure]
  • But also the limousine seems to be a favourite bit for all the artists
    • A fantasy vehicle, part of a collective imaginary [in tribal rituals myths are recited at the same time as the activities and he relationships between the symbols in both resonate]
    •  But slightly transgressive [as the actions in ritual often are taboo activities, ritual is a place to explore and also feel repulsed by the taboo]
    • A symbol of the high life [but the ford granada they use is a richer symbol than that, a reference to the past, a dilapidated symbol of previous wealth, a heavy touch of kitchiness. A white one, the colour of rebirth for neophytes and a vehicle back to the real world.]
We ended with a discussion on the idea of challenge which I found very fascinating. Opening up the space between competition, collaboration and challenge. Blast Theory’s goal is to challenge on a spiritual, mental and physical level and to ask questions [challenge] that other people would like to know the answers to. The word challenge has a richer, and more effective set of connotations for games than competition and when designing for challenge gives a very different set of possibilities that can play into the mental, spiritual and physical.
BT Residency, playing with reality

Nick Tandavanitj on Uncle Roy

More rough notes from another conversation with Nick Tandavantij, this time about Uncle Roy All Around You, a collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab and part of the Equator project.

Although it seems trivial to say, but one of the things that has struck me from various discussions was that the character of Uncle Roy was very important. A lot of effort went into creating him as a truly believable character with a rich emotional backstory. Although maybe the details are not there the feel of him as a person has been well worked through. He was like a remote family member, someone who told jokes that weren’t funny, good hearted, reliable. He says in the dialogue that he is not connected to people, that he misses that feeling of connection. He talks about strangers and walking past strangers on the street. He wants to make a connection, but can’t. He wants to help others make that connection, even if they can’t. (Uncle Roy may or may not be dead, he is a liminal character in the game, riding the players like a Loa. Instructing and guiding the player, talking to them from the telemediated lands of the possibly dead.)

  • An experiment with the physical and the real (leading on from Can You See Me Now, this has players/audience in both online and physical roles.)
  • At the front desk the players are given the task of finding Uncle Roy
  • Used GSM modems on PDAs
  • Performer at front desk sets the challenge and takes all the players personal effects, keys, wallet, phone, etc. For security and also removes identity. (this is a very ritualistic process, removing symbols of identity is a classic entry point into liminal spaces)
  • No GPS, all self reported locations on maps.
  • Uncle Roy’s clues are ambiguous to begin with but become clearer the longer you stay in one spot. Deliberately unclear, but not misleading. (rich, deep symbolic interpretation is part of the ritual structure. the meanings are inexact, but interpretable.)
  • Scripted interactions from performers to help debug and error catch. Up to 8 “debugging” performers available and certainly 4 at any one time.
  • The physical bit was ticketed, with up to 20 people per hour. Physical players took about 45 mins to an hour to play. There were bottlenecks in the phonebox and Uncle Roy’s office.
  • The online bit was available in the gallery and online, with many more online players than physical.
  • The online players could find Uncle Roy’s office much easier than the physical players.
  • At the end the players are invited to make a commitment. Would you be there in case of an emergency. Most physical players made commitment, not many online players did. (220 physical players and 443 online players made commitments, so not all matches could be between physical and online)
  • “Somewhere in the game there is a stranger who is also answering these questions. Are you willing to make a commitment to that person that you will be available for them if they have a crisis? The commitment will last for 12 months and, in return, they will commit to you for the same period.”
  • The project would extend beyond the event and somehow fit back into their lives. Something would last. (My take is that this commitment is part of that sense of communitas, that could be taken back into everyday life. Something that allows the spontaneous communitas to last beyond the experience.)
  • A lot of the work was set up theatrically, as an obvious contrivance. The players could walk behind the ‘set’ of Uncle Roy’s office built inside another office (most specifically the ICA version). (Many rituals seem like obvious contrivances, not trying to hide the fact that they are sets. They are not seamless, immersive experiences, they are liminal experiences and the fact of that blends the real, fictional and imaginary.)
  • The office was set up like a place for Uncle Roy to watch or observe, which was also what was obviously happening to the physical players, who were being streamed to online players. (the place feels like it was a location for vigil, a place to go away and reflect on one’s relationship to society)
  • A lot of attention went into constructing Uncle Roy’s office as an installation piece. More care and attention went into it than if it was merely a checkpoint. Uncle Roy’s office was also streamed live to the online players.
  • “navigating the city by a different set of rules”
  • “we wanted it to be like a game” (it is like a game, but also appears to have some very obvious departures)
  • “an area of uncertainty”
  • Uses a white Ford Grenada limo at the end. (This is very symbolic of the high and players getting in are both taking an ironic form of luxury transport, but also doing something transgressive by getting into a stranger’s car. It is a white limo which symbolises purity, maybe showing that the player has been through this journey and comes back purified somehow.)

Whilst exploring the connection between using 3D virtual worlds and reality they talked a lot about B-movies and made a video mood board as part of the production process. This had things like the body snatchers, ghosts and the lost highway in it. It was called the spooky video montage. This feeling of spookiness and uncertainty was what they wanted to recreate in Uncle Roy. People should be a little scared of the virtual (and the liminal).

Uncle Roy All Around You from Blast Theory on Vimeo.