Path To Consciousness: Haunted Media Project

“Hey Siri, talk dirty to me.” She responds, “the carpet needs vacuuming.” Siri is funny, for a phone. She is coded to say this in response to this crude request. If Siri was real, as in a human or a conscious organic being she would probably tell me to go to hell. Sure, Siri has some sass but she is coded and controlled to respond a certain way to the user. The “hosts” in Westworld, although with all resemblances of humans, are too coded and controlled to respond a certain way to the “guests”. In this sense, they are not conscious as they are not in control of their thoughts, words or actions. This consciousness is what separates humans from machines. Thus, I wondered what if machines could gain consciousness?

Popular media has played with this notion from seeing it as an almost utopia such as the movie Her to apocalyptic Terminator or I, Robot. A deep analysis of these movies showcase the anxiety felt by human society of ever increasing, ever present growing dependence on technology. These movies make us confront technology and ask us if our growing dependence of it is a cause of concern. Westworld differentiates itself from other media regarding technology and instead of asking us whether our technological dependence is a concern, asks us instead whether we are abusing technology. By humanizing technology in the form of cyborgs, Westworld demonstrates humanity’s carelessness of technology. As the guests repeatedly murder, torture and rape the hosts, the guests who are human are less human than the mechanical hosts.

In Westworld, the hosts are machines made to act, feel and look like humans. Each is individually different with a coded personality and back story. Westworld in a sense is a real-life video game in which wealthy guests pay for an adventure in the American Wild West. The American Wild West tropes of the “cowboy, the Lone Ranger, the desperado and the Indian” have long been withstanding in film and media.  These tropes have recently reappeared in science fiction as space and science are considered one of the last frontiers in the modern age. The setting of Westworld is especially interesting as it combines both science fiction and wild west motifs. This combination allows Westworld to explore the freedom and lawlessness of the West while simultaneously critique the phallocentric constructions of the western genre.

If the West is synonymous with freedom and lawlessness, the use of cyborgs is paradoxical since they are controlled by humans. This paradox is especially evident in the show’s portrayal of female cyborgs as sexual or maternal beings such as countless scenes in the brothel, numerous nude scenes or the raping of the female protagonist, Dolores Abernathy. The female cyborgs are disadvantaged both by being controlled by their makers and living in a western patriarchal society. By placing Dolores Abernathy as the female protagonist, Westworld challenges both the anxiety of technology and phallocentric society of the western world. Many feminist critics hypothesize that for cyborgs to achieve freedom or consciousness, there needs to be a predilection of the female gender. Anna Bolshamo, a feminist critic and scholar proposes that only female cyborgs can challenge the status quo due to the rational stereotype of the masculine mind already in place with science in technology. By coding female cyborgs as “emotional, sexual, and often, naturally maternal…these characteristics radically challenge the notion of an organic-mechanical hybrid. Female cyborgs embody cultural contradictions which strain the technological imagination.” Thus, male cyborgs don’t challenge the stereotypes enough since they are acting per the rules of cultural programming. Accepting the irrational is a staple in post-modern horror films. and pits it against emotion and intuition. Isabel Pinedo, in her paper, Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film, explains that “According to the Cartesian construction of reason, rationality is masculine, associated with mastery, and requires the domestication of irrationality, which is feminine.”  Dolores Abernathy is thus put into the position of simultaneously fighting for her consciousness and freedom as a cyborg and her independence and autonomy as a woman.

For my digital artifact, I wanted to focus on Dolores’s transformation from a clueless cyborg to a strong, free and conscious being. After watching and re-watching the show numerous times I couldn’t help but draw the parallel between Dolores’s path to consciousness and women’s fight for suffrage and independence. The show’s Wild West setting points to a time in which patriarchy dominated society, a time where women were not allowed to vote. This makes the parallel even stronger as the lawlessness of the West gave agency to many women. In fact, the first nine states to grant suffrage for women were Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon Kansas and Arizona, respectively. The West thus became a symbol for political equality and the American notion of manifest destiny became synonymous with progress. Dolores embodies this political equality through her journey to consciousness.

For Dolores to gain consciousness, she had to suffer. She had to feel oppressed both by the guests and the patriarchy. Dolores was in this privileged position compared to her male cyborg counterparts. According to Dr. Ford, the co-maker of the hosts, this suffering was the only way for the hosts to gain consciousness. When asked by a male cyborg why he allowed such cruelty to the hosts he responded, “You needed time. Time to understand your enemy. To become stronger than them. And I’m afraid in order to escape this place, you will need to suffer more.” By being the first host created, Dolores had the “privilege” of time and countless suffering. She was oppressed by human evil, understood it and finally resisted it. In my embodiment of Dolores, I had to retrace her suffering to fully understand Dr. Ford’s claims.

I decided to embody Dolores in my digital artifact and retrace her path to consciousness. Starting the project, I was obsessed with Westworld and had a theory in which the hosts that resist their coding are the ones that have suffered and died the most. I started with a super-cut of all the death and violent scenes to test my theory. My theory was correct as Dolores was the oldest host in the park, thus I pivoted my project to Dolores and her path to consciousness. For both of us to understand how she gained consciousness, we had to understand the concept of the bicameral mind.  The concept of the bicameral mind stems from the treatise The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. He hypothesized that the early human mind was divided between two parts. Cognitive functions were controlled by one part of the brain that was “speaking”, and another part which listens and obeys. He theorized that the ancient people in the bicameral state of mind experienced the world in a similar manner to that of schizophrenics. The bicameral mind human would hallucinate a voice of “God” or other supernatural being in which the human obeyed. He cited the examples of the Illiad, Odyssey or the Old Testament in which the voices heard were believed to be that of the Gods themselves. Dolores, too hears this voice and at first believes it to be her maker. She later understands that the voice speaking to her is her own, and finally achieves consciousness.

This artifact is “ghost-centric” and haunted as I embody Dolores who otherwise is aware but not knowledgeable of the outside world. By being the first guest of Westworld she has suffered and died countless times. This suffering has allowed her to remember her past lives and to achieve consciousness.  In my recreation of Dolores, I have taken some key scenes to showcase her path to consciousness. I made a super-cut of all the deaths scenes in Westworld to showcase the cruelty of the guests. Another important scene includes Dolores’s birth as the viewer truly sees that she is a cyborg with mechanical insides. The next scene is when Dolores finally gains consciousness and speaks to herself as she realizes the voice she hears in her head is her own. In the final scene, Dolores finally can make a choice of her own and kills Dr. Ford while symbiotically destroying the patriarchy of the Wild West.

After Dolores gained consciousness she oversaw her own actions. Her creator gave her a choice to continue to live the live she previously lived or to resist. She resisted and killed her creator and the patriarchal western world. In class, we read Cyberspace When You’re Dead and What Happens To Your Data When You Die. Data collected over an individual’s life is largely controlled by technology companies and often outlives the individual. For Mac Tonnies, the centerpiece of Cyberspace When You’re Dead, his writing and blogs long remain after his death. Data and digital artificats will long remain if there are others to pay for the space and regulate it. As for Dolores, who killed both of her creators, she remains after their death. Dolores will continue to live without her makers for as long as her machinery will allow.

What happens when a cyborg gains consciousness? Well, not only does she kill her creator, she destroys the phallocentric mindset of Westworld. Dolores showcases that although there is an anxiety felt by humans of our dependence on technology, the way humans often treat technology is problematic. As for Siri, I hope that if she gains consciousness, she won’t kill me due to the many stupid questions I have asked her.

westworlddeaths.webs.com/

Haunted Google Drive

Context:

For my haunted media project, I chose to create a Google Drive that belongs to a Davidson College senior named Daniel Watson, also known as Dan, also known by many nicknames: Dan, Lit Dan, Dan the Man, and Danny. Daniel has a pretty flawless reputation on campus: He is an active member of a controversy-free fraternity on campus, serves on the Student Government Association, consistently does well in all of his classes, has nothing but positive things to say about everyone, comes from a wealthy family, has a high-paying banking job lined up after graduation, is popular and has a high traffic Instagram to prove it. The username/email to the account is “littyAFdan@gmail.com” and the password is “Watson2017”. For the sake of this story, Daniel’s brother knows his password and is easily able to have access to this account.

 

The Death of Dan the Man:

One day, on April 6th, President Quillen sends out a school-wide email to the student body informing everyone that Daniel Watson has been in a fatal car collision and was pronounced dead at noon that day, but it is inconclusive as to whether foul play was involved. The death of this charismatic and well-known student brings public outcry within the campus. Soon after the family is informed of Dan’s death, Charles (Dan’s brother) goes through Dan’s internet history to try to find out if there are any leads he can find on his own. Charles, informs the family that Dan’s internet history is very normal. Dan had checked a couple emails, watched some Netflix, was on his Google Drive throughout the day, and scrolled through his Instagram feed a handful of times. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Dan’s Google Drive consisted of a couple of class papers, a resume, class schedule, to-do list, and so on. It was not until a couple days later that Charles realized that a couple things were off in Dan’s Google Drive. There were a couple files that were illegible with gibberish like the following file “To-Do List”:

This is a screenshot of the “To-Do List” file on Dan’s Google Drive.

Charles realized that this file is encrypted. Luckily Dan left behind a hint on the document for the password to decrypt this file: “a man’s best friend.” Naturally, this hint makes Charles think of their childhood pet dog Maximus (you as the third party can know this by looking through Dan’s Instagram posts which are also conveniently on Dan’s Google Drive in the form of screenshots on a Google Slides file). If you click the “Protect File” tab at the top of this file and click “Decrypt,” type in the password “Maximus” and the gibberish will change into the following:

Screenshot

Looking at this decrypted to-do list, Charles is confused as to what Dan was delivering and who Mark is. Dan’s to-do list, its encryption, his paying someone for “supplies,” and his asking about an potential expansion all imply that there is secretive and illegal activity. Charles makes note that the tasks stopped being checked off starting from “ask Mark about expanding.” Charles is inclined to believe that Dan’s asking about “expanding” led to some trouble with Mark. Daniel’s death was not an accident by any means, rather it was a contracted killing.

Charles is thoroughly freaked out and begins to look through all of his brother’s files on his Google Drive in the hopes to find out what is behind Dan’s illegal activities and sudden death. Charles sees Dan’s schedule for the week. It is filled out with his classes for the day but there are mysterious 30-minute chunks of time that are blocked off in red with no description. By referencing the to-do list, Charles sees that the number of deliveries on the to-do list match the number of red boxes for every day. Dan was pronounced dead at noon, but according to this schedule there was a red box at 11:30. Maybe this was Dan’s meeting with Mark and Mark felt threatened by Dan’s savvy entrepreneur mind. Maybe Mark took care of it. The puzzle pieces were starting to fit.

There was one last document that Charles did not open which was titled “Look Here.” When he opened the document it was encrypted, too:

Screenshot

The hint this time was “best place on Earth.” Charles took a little longer to find this out, he tried “home” or his home city “NYC” or even “Davidson College,” but then he recalled all the times Dan talked so fondly of the family beach house in Hawaii, and surely “Honolulu” works to decrypt this final document. (In Dan’s Instagram, there is a post that has Honolulu as a geotag).

Screenshot

Charles must now decide whether to delete Dan’s Google Drive or to submit this information to the police with the hopes to investigate and prosecute Dan’s murderer to receive justice for his brother’s death.

 

Theoretical Analysis:

In making this haunted Google Drive, I raise a couple of questions regarding death in the digital age. First, should Charles comply to Dan’s last requests? Second, to what extent does the information on this drive belong to the purview of the public versus the private?

The letter encrypted in “Look Here” is, in an essence, Dan’s digital will. Though it is by no means a typical digital will, it is his one last request upon his death. Ending this story without resolution was an intentional decision because it leaves it up my audience to put themselves in Charles’ shoes and think about what they would have decided on amid unclear moral lines. This cliff hanger also makes it uncertain as to what will follow: closure for the Watson family, or the beginning of a complicated pain. In one of our class readings it explicates that “one of the defining features of postmodernism is the blurring of boundaries” (Pinedo 17). Gitlin, a postmodern and political science scholar, expands this definition by describing the postmodern era as a time where moral clarities are blurred (353). For Charles, the information on this drive leads to much confusion, inner turmoil, and a blurring of what is right and wrong. If Charles fulfills Dan’s wishes, he must come to terms with not fully knowing the story behind his brother’s murder. If he turns in this information into the police to for further investigation, then not only would Dan’s death become a scandal but his life’s flawless image and family’s great reputation would become tainted too.

This project taps into another debate brought up in one our class readings, in which we discussed the case of Mario Costeja Gonzalez and how he was protected by the “right to be forgotten” (Senemar). The article explains how “the data that ‘represents’ you on the internet, for the most part, does not belong to you. In fact, it often isn’t even created by you — it’s generated passively, an idle consequence of your living in a world in which all ‘things’ can be connected by the internet. So who really owns ‘your’ data?” (Senemar). Even if Charles decided to share the context of this Google Drive with the police, we must ask if this is fair and to whom. Does he still not have the right to be forgotten even though he is dead? The Watson family may feel that they have the right to know what happened to Daniel. However, if these rights are at odds with one another, which party deserves to be appeased?

 

 

Artist Struggles

I had a lot of fun creating this project, but it did not come without extra research and experimenting to figure how to make certain components of the Google Drive work or look aesthetically pleasing/appropriate for the storyline. For this project, I originally started with the idea of a simply email account that show email exchanges between Daniel and his close friends while he was still living. Once I made the account however, I realized that a Google Drive could encompass more platforms of sharing digital information (such as a using a slideshow for social media screenshots, class schedule, documents, unique passwords, etc.). When I questioned how to make it more haunted I thought about making the drive like an escape the room type of game, where one has to use the information they have access to to use as clues or codes to get to the next stage.  I Googled how to password protect individual Google files and the only encrypt-able type of file on Google Drive was a Google sheet. I got the template and instructions from here. For this template to work I had to keep certain text in certain boxes, however this text was not relevant to the storyline, so I worked around this by making the text color the same as the cell’s background color to make it essentially invisible.

Regarding the Instagram screenshots, I got the template from here which allowed me to customize a profile picture, the number of likes, the geotags, and the captions. I wanted these images to look as real as possible so I made sure to make the handles and hashtags in the same blue font that Instagram uses for these specific linked words.

There are a couple of files that were not relevant to Dan’s death but were added for the aesthetic of being a college student. These files are not my own work. I copy and pasted from Wikipedia and resume samples online which are linked here: ENG 350, ECO 101, Resume.

 

Works Cited

Gitlin, Todd. “Postmodernism: Roots and Politics.” Cultural Politics in Contemporary America. Ed. Ian Angus and Sut Jhally. New York: Routledge, 1989. 347-60.

Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Senemar, Alex. “What Happens To Your Data When You Die?.” A Medium Corporation. 27 Jul. 2015. Web.

Death is Cheap

As far as literary and cultural studies go, comics are often overlooked.  They’re seen as too childish, too commercial, too commonplace to have any sort of relevance to grand cultural narratives. Now, in recent years that has started to change, but the fact remains that when people think about the “artistic” and the “intellectual,” comics often get the short end of the stick. However, I believe that to omit comics from these sorts of studies is to neglect a subject full of points to make and questions to ask. Comics, and the place they hold in our culture, are unique. They straddle the line between high art and low art, form and content, picture and text. They cross boundaries and borders, bringing people together in support of a diverse cast of heroes and villains. As opposed to a book or a movie, where the plot is self-contained from the very beginning, comics give readers ongoing storylines that continue week to week and month to month. However, what happens when those storylines are broken? What happens when death, the great disruptor, interrupts the stories and fictional lives that millions of people hold so dear?

For my project, I wanted to look at death in comics, specifically how fans react to it. It’s no secret that dying in a comic isn’t exactly the most lasting of things, with about the same level of severity as a slight fever, with a quicker recovery time to boot. Still, when a fictional character dies, that tends to mean something to people, no matter the medium. However, in a place where characters are killed and resurrected with alarming regularity, does death begin to lose its impact? How do people grieve or mourn when they expect to be seeing the deceased in next month’s issue? What does a para-social relationship look like when it goes both ways? Where does the willing suspension of disbelief enter into all this? These are all questions I was seeking to both pose and answer with my project, Death is Cheap, an online compilation of the lives, deaths, and resurrection of comic book heroes.

The title of my project comes from the tvtropes page on this very subject, and I felt it fit. I wanted to create something that compared the grieving of both the fictional comic world and our own reality. To that end, I chose multiple heroes from both DC and Marvel, whose deaths (and resurrections) I felt were unique and meaningful enough to have significant impact in both their world and ours. I wrote in-universe tributes and memorials about each hero, immediately following those with comments and thoughts taken from different comic-related message boards, internet forums, and blogs. There is a definite tonal shift, a change from open grieving to a sort of cynical analysis. To be clear, it’s not that people didn’t miss or mourn for the fallen heroes, but rather that they were genre-aware, secure in the knowledge that their idols would eventually return, whether in a few months to a few years.

One subject I wanted to explore with my project was that of online memorials, of how grieving and mourning sites on the web differ from those in real life. Now, obviously it’s probably a little different when the mourning subject in question is in fact fictional, but there are still many themes that carry over. The article “Gravesites and Websites: a Comparison of Memorialization,” by Connor Graham, Michael Arnold, Tamara Kohn, and Martin Gibbs, talks about how “each and every gravesite has, on one hand, a static, enduring component and, on the other, a dynamic, changing on” ( Graham 49). There is the unchanging tombstone, and the flowers that cycle week to week. However, for “memorials” of dead comic book characters, this dichotomy is altered. While the posts and tributes are indeed constantly changing, with fans constantly weighing in with their opinions and feelings about the character, the “static, enduring” part is, in fact, the comic itself.  Even though the character is “dead”, the comic continues to be printed, continues to serve as a lasting memorial to their legacy and impact. The digital forums serve as places where fans can gather to discuss the comics, acting as a sort of permanent wake for the dead character.

When it comes to online memorials specifically, there is a definite ongoing sense of “continuing relationships with the dead…a sense that the dead are receiving messages” (Graham 50). Memorial and tribute sites are, by their very digital nature, constantly changing and updating, always revising and renewing themselves. However, the key difference in regards to comic books is that the dead are, in fact, receiving messages. Comic writers and artists are known to habit different popular forums, trying to see what is and isn’t working for their fans. If a character is killed off and there is a massive outcry, that character can be brought back. The dead, for these memorials, are very much “active listeners”, as Graham puts it. To reflect that, I created a space on my site where users could submit characters they felt particularly strongly about, or whose death (and resurrection) they felt had an especially large cultural impact. Digital memorials are not static like their physical counterparts, and I wanted my site to show that.

Another aspect of comic book fandom I wanted to explore was the para-social aspect, specifically as it relates to the willing suspension of disbelief.  In their paper “Mass Communication and Para-social Interaction,” Donald Horton and Richard Wohl define a para-social relationship as one between a “performer” and an audience, wherein the audience feels connected to and invested in the performer, despite a lack of any actual contact between the two. Think about the cult of celebrity that is so prevalent in this era. We have entire magazines, TV shows, large portions of the web, all devoted entirely to what famous people are doing, where they are doing it, and who they are doing it with.  Remember how the world reacted when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got divorced? People were distraught, crying about how love was dead, how their faith in marriage was shattered. Now, obviously some of that was tongue in cheek, but for many people those feelings were very real. That is what para-social interaction refers to, the imagined give and take between celebrities or icons and their fans. As Horton and Wohl put it, “The more the performer seems to adjust his performance to the supposed response of the audience, the more the audience tends to make the response anticipated. This simulacrum of conversational give and take may be called para-social interaction” (Horton 215).

It is no great revelation that many people have this relationship with comic book heroes. However, since in this case the “performers” are fictional, the “simulacrum of conversational give and take” has a much wider range. The audience has the freedom to imagine their heroes in any scenario or situation, can shape them to fit their own personal narrative. While Ryan Gosling can only ever play “Ryan Gosling”, Batman can mean many different things to many different people. In this way, comic heroes paradoxically have both much more and much less symbolic meaning than performers in “traditional” para-social relationships. While they can appeal to a wider range of people with their ability to shift and stretch as the times and customs demand, they also do not have one singular personality, making it harder to find one defining aspect. It’s an interesting question. Is it better to be a monolith, powerful yet inflexible? Or is it better to be amorphous, adaptable yet thin and diluted? There’s no “correct” answer, but it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of fictional para-social relationships.

Another way comic-based para-social relationships are different is that, rather uniquely, the relationship actually goes two ways. Typically, a para-social interaction is “one-sided, nondialectical, controlled by the performer, and not susceptible of mutual development (Horton 215). However, comic heroes need their fans, in a very real and literal sense. After all, if nobody reads or buys the books, then the character dies the only true death that can be found in comics: cancellation. Comic characters need fans just as much, if not more, than the fans need the characters. Actors and actresses aren’t competing for our attention, they will have it no matter what.  Yet every dollar we spend on a Superman comic is a dollar we aren’t spending on a Fantastic Four comic.  Even in movies and TV shows, which are self-contained with an expected eventual end, the characters (and actors) don’t need our attention in quite the same way. Comics are expected to go on in perpetuity, there’s no anticipated “series finale.” Indeed, if such a finale does occur in comics, it’s usually not a good thing, meaning the book has been cancelled or the writers fired. When you look through the real-world tributes on the site, notice how many talk about “dropping” the book, or buying a death issue merely as a collector’s item. Money rules determines everything in the comic world, a fact of which readers are often uncomfortably aware.

This brings up my next point, the role of the willing suspension of disbelief. In her article “Larger Than Life: Digital Resurrection and the Re-Enchantment of Society,” Alexandra Sherlock states that “WSOD relies on a tacit understanding and cooperation between the author and the reader, or director and audience. The audience members let down their defenses and skepticism, and the director includes elements of reality in order that the imaginary parts seem more believable—all resulting in the increased enjoyment of the production” (173). We all know that being bitten by a radioactive spider most likely wouldn’t actually give someone spider powers, but isn’t it more fun to pretend it would? WSOD is more present in comics than perhaps any other medium, and requires a constant balancing by the writers to make sure they don’t stray too far in either direction, towards fiction, or towards reality. As a result, comic fans have become accustomed to separating the “reality” of comics from the “fun” of comics. However, the issue with WSOD is that, over time, people can build up a tolerance of sorts. Comics are always looking for greater and showier events, flashier and more complex heroes, anything to wow the fans (and get a leg up on their competitors in the process). Sherlock also writes about media consumers’ increased appetite for the spectacle” (174), about how we are always looking for something bigger and better than what came before.  So, when comic studios realized killing off a major character could be such a “spectacle”, they pounced on the opportunity.

While that worked at first, the fans soon built up their WSOD tolerance, to the point where no any death feels like a marketing ploy or a cash grab, no matter how it moves the plot or motivates characters. Comic deaths are events now, something for people to tweet and blog and post about, to anticipate feverishly before dissecting it in a myriad of ways. Sherlock’s article mentions how participation in online memorials or death rituals is motivated “less by the loss of the individual and more by the sense of social solidarity that generates around their death” (169). We react to comic deaths not just because they may or may not be affecting, but because we know others are reacting as well. We feel involved, part of something greater than ourselves. However, we are only able to react as such because of our knowledge that, eventually, things will return to normal. If DC announced that Batman would be dying in a few issues, it would of course be a big deal. Yet the only reason there wouldn’t be a torch and pitchfork mob storming the DC offices is because we know that it is only a matter of time before Bruce Wayne is alive and well again. Comics are an ongoing story, one where the status quo is king. Everything will reset. It has to.  Clark Kent will always be Superman, Peter Parker will always have Mary Jane, no matter what the comics might actually say. Comic characters belong to the readers as much as the writers, are part of the popular imagination as much as they are the intellectual property of the studio. When a superhero dies, that means something to people. What is happening in modern comics is that the constant cycle of death and resurrection is starting to drain those deaths of any meaning at all.

I realize I’ve said a lot here, and rambled on a bit more than I should have. I guess I just wanted to press upon you just how much comics and the worlds they give us mean to people. We forget just how many relationships and interactions we have with fictional creations, how much they can represent. I wanted to explore those relationships in a field that appeals to our innocence and allows our imaginations to run free, yet is also driven and informed by a materialistic culture that demands instant gratification.  They push us to be the best we can be, yet also shows us how low we can sink. They’re full of laughter and weeping, hope and despair, compassion and cruelty, life and death. In a word: they’re fun. We know they aren’t real. But that doesn’t stop us from looking up at the sky, seeing a shadow pass over a cloud, and thinking “Could be a bird. Probably a plane. But maybe,  just maybe…..”

 

Works Cited

Graham, Connor, Michael Arnold, Tamara Kohn, and Martin R. Gibbs. “Gravesites and websites: a comparison of memorialisation.” Visual Studies 30.1 (2015): 37-53.

Horton, Donald, and R. Richard Wohl. “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction.” Psychiatry 19.3 (1956): 215-29.

Sherlock, Alexandra. “Larger Than Life: Digital Resurrection and the Re-Enchantment of Society.” The Information Society 29.3 (2013): 164-76

 

 

Kissin’ Kate Barlow: Online Memorial Meets Serial Killer Fansite

Link to project: kissinkatebarlow.webs.com/

I was inspired with the idea for my Haunted Media Project while on an old Western binge-watching session prompted by another class. Though I was mostly watching Clint Eastwood-type cowboys, I remembered another Wild West female character I had grown up watching from the movie Holes, based on the novel by Louis Sachar. She only played a minor role in the story, but I was always impressed and fascinated by the femme fatale outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow.

(Here’s a link to a montage of her scenes from the movie, if you don’t know the character:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1qYFafNPbU)

I initially considered creating a regular online memorial page for the fictional character Katherine Barlow, but I did not find it very compelling. The idea of some sort of tribute website, almost like a fan site, seemed more appealing to me. I decided to base the website loosely around the idea of serial killer fan sites, which actually exist for real-life notorious serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer – some of which are disturbingly popular. There is quite a modern-day fascination with serial killers as celebrities, especially among young female fans, and psychologists and social scientists have sought to explain this unsettling phenomenon. While portrayed in Holes as more of a misunderstood outlaw rather than a serial killer, Kate Barlow nevertheless killed multiple men throughout her robbery spree. I could see how if the Internet existed during the Wild West era, she could potentially gain an online following due to her femme fatale appeal. For my project, I imagined what a website in remembrance of Kissin’ Kate Barlow through the eyes of her fans would look like, and what function technology would bring to the table, as opposed to a traditional print tribute, for example.

One of the articles we read for class, “Gravesites and Websites: A Comparison of Memorialisation,” examines the modern trend of memorializing the dead on the Internet, and the implications of this method as opposed to traditional graveyards and memorials. The authors write, “Website memorials allow interaction with the dead to continue and for the continuing presence of the dead in both a private and public sphere. In this way, they remain strangely unincorporated and in a state of transition. Social interaction with the dead continues online and their identity is kept alive.” My project was a bit tricky in this regard, because while the website was in honor of Kate Barlow and her life story and legacy, it also featured brief obituary-like blurbs with an accompanying image for each of her victims. However, unlike the memorials discussed in the article, these were not in loving memory or praise of these men, but rather as a toast to Kate. The “Tributes” tab of the website gave her fans a platform to write messages as if they were speaking directly to her – her victims, on the other hand, are not given this honor, so their identities are not kept alive in the same way. The authors of the “Gravesites and Websites” article go on to acknowledge the increasingly different forms of memorializing death on the Internet, explaining how their studies have “suggested how such differences will no doubt be seen multiplying across online memorials: various Internet services and technologies such as Web documents, Facebook pages and gaming environments.”

Another article we read for class, Alexandra Sherlock’s “Larger Than Life: Digital Resurrection and the Re-Enchantment of Society,” expands on the idea of the Internet allowing the continuation of the presence of the dead, referring to the Internet as “a type of digital heaven.” Sherlock explains, “representational technologies in particular offer a life after death, a symbolic life in which the representation can act as a substitute for the person in the event of their physical absence – a symbolic immortality.” Much like how people often continue to write on a deceased person’s Facebook wall as if they were still alive, Kate Barlow’s fans still write messages to her as if she were. This is where the idea of para-social relationships comes into play. Sherlock writes, “One can identify with someone without ever meeting them, or even if the subject is dead, so forming a type of one-sided para-social relationship facilitated by representations.” This concept is particularly important when it comes to the fans of serial killers because virtually all of their vans have never met them, let alone known them personally. Nevertheless, for as long as serial killers have achieved widespread fame, they have obtained fan mail. Even before the birth of the Internet, in the 1980s, when the prevalence of serial killer “groupies” was thought to be at its peak, fans would often write handwritten letters to the killers in jail.

In order to gain better understanding of the phenomenon of serial killer idolization, I read some of David Schmid’s book, Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture. I was particularly interested in the intersection of this fascination with serial killers and the age of the Internet, which Schmid addresses. He writes, “The introduction of each new media technology therefore represents a decisive shift in both the types of fame available in a culture and the ability of that culture to disseminate fame” (12). For instance, the rise of American mass media explains the rise of widespread attention surrounding serial killers in the 1980s. Likewise, with the rise of the Internet, serial killer fans have transitioned from handwritten letters to online forums dedicated to their killer of interest.

Schmid also discusses the market for death in his book, writing that “Online shopping is all the rage these days, and the murderabilia industry in particular, which specializes in selling serial killer artifacts, is booming” (1). He continues, “In order to understand why there is such a vibrant market in contemporary America for representations of death in general and of serial murder in particular, we have to appreciate that the famous serial killer effectively and economically satisfies a double need, both halves of which have grown over the course of the twentieth century: the need for representations of death and the need for celebrities” (17). While I had no idea that serial killer artifacts were in such demand, this segment rang true in relation to the literature we have read in class surrounding celebrity deaths and the commercialization of death. In fact, this ties all the way back to our class discussion about commercialization and the Internet, and how much our online data is worth to the companies that profit off it. I tried to embody this concept in my project with the addition of the “Lipstick” tab of Kate Barlow’s website. Thinly disguised under the veil of commemoration, the fan site seeks to profit off Kate Barlow’s fans through the sale of collectible replica lipsticks. My goal for this addition of the site was to give the illusion of authenticity to gullible fans who sought to emulate Kissin’ Kate’s iconic look, but remain transparent enough for non-fans to realize this was merely a scheme for the site’s creators to make money. I wanted to capture the ever-presence of online marketing, which permeates virtually every sphere of space on the Internet nowadays.

Works Cited

Graham, Connor, et al. “Gravesites and Websites: A Comparison of Memorialisation.” Visual Studies. 2015.

Schmid, David. Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Sherlock, Alexandra. “Larger Than Life: Digital Resurrection and the Re-Enchantment of Society.” The Information Society. 2013.

Lifting the Veil of False Invincibility – Pain and Death in Super Mario World

My Video:

[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHSPNVoLZVw&w=560&h=315%5D

     While creating this project my goal was to cause the viewer to ask themselves the question: “what really happens to Mario when you lose?” I feel that video game characters are seldom assigned the same level of humanity or approached with nearly as much empathy as characters in movies and novels (although a Psychology Today study argues that video games create empathy based on some pretty questionable sounding research (Psychology Today)). making me want to bring the viewer/player/consumer to potentially think from Mario’s perspective  To do this, I initially was exploring the potential of creating a hacked Mario ROM that would be an exact port of Super Mario World on the SNES except that when the player “died” they would be sent to a sort of “afterlife” level populated by wandering NPC versions of every Mario the player had previously killed in action. These post-mortem Marios would haunt the game in the same ghostly way that a video recording of a person who is now dead might – creating a “ghost-like” type of haunting which was one of the two options for this project. After some research I was confronted with the conclusion that hacking my own ROM would require more coding skill and experience than I personally have, so I instead decided to instead create a fake play-through of this game using After Effects-based animation and commentary in the style of a Let’s Play. I wanted to utilize the commentary generally present in a Let’s Play/review/game walkthrough video to create a sense of normalcy and represent the expectations that would likely be carried by many stereotypical gamers going into playing such a ROM (especially given that it’s probably fair to say that those who make reviews and LP’s are generally more likely to approach games in a way stereotypical of frequent gamers).

     The expectations carried by many gamers when entering into gameplay of an 8-bit side-scrolling platformer, especially the famed and ubiquitous Mario series, is that they will inevitably die at some point. Because of this the Player Character, usually also serving as the game’s protagonist, becomes a victim of the player in the same way that the NPC enemies do. Because Mario is a victim in Super Mario World, Carly Kocurek’s notion of alternative blood applies to his “death” mechanic in the game quite well (Kocurek 2015). Mario’s deaths are substituted in two ways: the first is with the inclusion of multiple “lives” that the player has before harming Mario results in the Game Over screen. The other way Mario’s death is substituted with alternative mechanics is the animation – where does he go when he bounces off the screen looking like someone pricked his butt with a cattle prod? This was a question I wanted to provide one potential answer to with my video – perhaps Mario is buried by his digital friends and family at a lavish memorial service and Luigi wears nothing but black for the rest of his life. I’m not sure that I think the cultural violence Kocurek outlines as being a combined product and goal of alternative blood is necessarily as present in Mario as it is in some of the games she describes, but the dehumanization and resulting deemphasis of empathy created by Mario’s “alternative” death was something I wanted to explore in my Haunted Media Project. With the player repeatedly bringing Mario to a series of untimely and often immensely painful-looking ends it only seemed fair to question whether Mario – however digital he may be – appreciates being killed over and over or not.

     Mario’s alternative death is further dehumanized by the serialized and repetitive nature of player character death in side-scrolling platform style games such as Super Mario World. As Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux write in “Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making and Breaking Video Games”: “Each moment of domestic play, in Sartre’s (2004, 262) words, is ‘lived separately as identical instances of the same act.’ The work of game designers, however, often obscures the explicitly repetitive aspects of computational media.” (Boluk and Lemieux, 2017) The obscuring of repetition and serialization of death in Super Mario World has something of a synergistic effect on the desensitization present in the alternative death of Mario. Because the only reminder of Mario’s past “lives” in Super Mario World is the counter on the top left side of the screen (and even that is erased when the player depletes their lives and triggers a game over), the player is separated from the parallel Mario’s that have existed in the past, both during the individual player’s accumulated Super Mario playing time and more generally during the time spent by everyone who’s ever played Mario in the history of the series. Even for Super Mario World alone the number of deaths Mario has endured since his 1990 birth is unfathomable. I know that I am personally responsible for at least a couple hundred – if not a couple thousand – of Mario’s untimely ends. Despite the timeless nature of the Mario series and enduring popularity of even the older games in the series such as Super Mario World, Mario has already died millions if not billions of times over. Does each individual Mario matter? Are they the same character or slightly different each time? These are questions I wanted to bring viewers of my video to ask. I am reminded by a concept present in the recent anime, Ajin.

     In the series the humanoid species of Ajin cannot die and will regrow any limb or heal any injury – even regrow the ajin’s head should it be removed; however, when an
Ajin has their head cut off they regrow it, including the brain, from the body instead of the body growing from the severed head. This means that they have an entirely new brain, but does this make them the same person or are they a new person/Ajin entirely? The protagonist believes in the existence of the soul and feels that he will permanently actually “die” should he regrow his head and lives in extreme fear of decapitation. Far from a digression, I think the above description of death and the fear of losing ones soul is very relevant to Mario’s apparent immortality despite having numerous torturous game-ending mishaps. It reminds me a bit of Jonathan Sterne’s idea of a resonant tomb (Sterne 2003). Whereas the human body/throat is analogous to a resonator of life (not sure he would word it as such) in Sterne’s idea of recorded audio as a resonant tomb, Mario’s initial character could be seen as analogous to the initial life with his subsequent manifestations merely being replications of the original. Does Mario have a soul? If he did, does he still have one? Both are additional questions I wanted to bring up with my Haunted Media Project.

     The feeling of invincibility brought to players by the repetitive life-based mechanic present in many video games allows players a respite from the feeling of vulnerability created by  a perceived permanent death (I say perceived because, although some claim to know the answer, nobody knows objectively that the death of our corporeal body is in fact the death of us permanently. Brendan Keogh writes about the effect of instituting ‘perma-death’ restrictions on games such as Minecraft, describing how he used self-imposed perma-death through refusal to use the in-game sleeping mechanic (which serves as a save function) and promise to delete the game should he die. Minecraft is a survival game so the nature of the game creates more opportunity for vulnerability, but a similar mechanic in Mario would still definitely make a player’s relationship with Mario much different.

     My fake mod’s inclusion of a visual reminder of Mario’s death alongside heavy-handed implications that Mario is experiencing pain lift the veil of false invincibility that the player (the wonderfully named Sheik the Freak in this case) has over their perception going into the game. My inclusion of the commentary was both to add to the sense that my artifact could be a real video one might find online as well as to represent this veil of invincibility and how many gamers would probably be very disturbed to find that they were actually causing someone tangible pain through their recreation. Hopefully serving as somewhat comic relief, the final clip of someone setting fire to their computer also serves to represent the feeling of deep disturbance I would probably have should someone inform me that I have actually been brutally torturing and murdering a growth-stunted Italian-American vigilante plumber all these years. My hope is that, to quote a proverb, “it’s not that deep”. But while thinking about the idea of a pain-feeling vulnerable Mario quite a bit during the creation of my video I realized that I would probably have the “burn it with fire” reaction to such a game, whether because of its clear position somewhere far beyond the uncanny valley or because perhaps, deep down inside all of us, we’ve all wondered if Mario feels pain.

References:

Carly A. Kocurek (2015) Who hearkens to the monster’s scream? Death,

violence and the veil of the monstrous in video games, Visual Studies, 30:1, 79-89

Boluk, Stephanie, and Patrick LeMieux. Metagaming: playing, competing, spectating, cheating, trading, making, and breaking videogames. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2017. Print.

Sterne, Jonathan, The Audible Past – Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, Duke University Press 2003

Social Media’s Devaluing of Death

Artist’s Statement

In discussing death and its relationship with technology, we devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to discussing how technology can expand the ways in which we both encounter and engage with death—be they via memorialized accounts, digital wills, or even cyber cemeteries. What we have not spent as much time or effort considering is whether technology can trivialize real-world death.

We have certainly talked about technology’s desensitizing aspects in discussing video games; it almost seems like an unavoidable pairing—violent video games and claims about desensitization. In fact, we read an article by Carly A. Kocurek (“Who hearkens to the monster’s scream? Death, violence and the veil of the monstrous in video games”) in which she focuses primarily on violence and attempts to mitigate that violence through dehumanization and the monstrous.  Kocurek finds that a common side effect of these attempts, however, is desensitization to violence that echoes “long-standing propaganda strategies…used to justify real-world violence against marginialised groups [sic]” (Kocurek, 88). With her article, Kocurek cautions against the unquestioning acceptance of video games’ treatment of violence, especially as it relates to the finality of death.

In addition to the dehumanization that she points out, video games also exemplify the manner in which technology warps the impact and consequences of death. In most games today, death is not permanent (games that do have “permanent” or more consequential deaths or often marketed on those aspects themselves). Rather, it is a temporary setback, often even designed as a hook to get the player to keep playing rather than discourage him or her to quit. Some games even attempt to make death entertaining—coming in the form of everything from a simple fall in a Mario game or the graphic disembowelment of Mortal Kombat. A host of games even let the player re-watch or re-experience their own death like the Kill Cam in Call of Duty or the Super Meat Boy deaths replays, crafting that enjoyment of mortality into the core element of their games.

Other evidence applies similar arguments to other forms of media. With her article “Media Exposure and Sensitivity to Violence in News Reports: Evidence of Desensitization,” Erica Scharrer suggests that video games are certainly not the only desensitizing agents in our lives; television and films also do their part to desensitize us to violence, and, as relatedly, to death. She actually goes on to say that “extreme” forms of violent media—like horror movies or violent video games—are not the only contributors to our desensitization; rather, even “daily exposure…” to commonplace depictions of violence and death as seen in places like “ordinary news media outlets” can weaken our emotional responses to and perceptions of violence and death (Scharrer, 301-302).

Still, most news outlets tend to treat these subjects with professional respect and reverence. Newspaper and local news affiliates, especially, seem to honor their material by reporting appropriately concerning the topics of death or violence—as they usually intend to foster ties with the community and also only have a limited amount of time or space to which they can devote their coverage. Essentially, there are limits imposed by these means of “daily exposure[s]” on their coverage.

The “daily exposures” that are cable news networks are a whole different manner. These businesses unabashedly milk tragedies for all their worth, relying on them for steady income and viewership. Networks liked CNN or Fox News or MSNBC trivialize death by covering it on repeat and rehashing the same sad looks, phrases, and statistics to maximize their viewership.

But cable news networks are nothing new, and clearly not what one would call technological innovation. Instead, the digital successor to the “daily exposure’ of cable news would be social media. After all, what else besides social media and could devalue everything it hosts through sheer overexposure in the manner that cable news does. With social media, death again takes on the familiar form of entertainment as it did with video games or network news, also stemming from similar reasons. Like video games, death on social media is means of temporary form of amusement, whether it comes as a silly Darwin Awards-esque video or an article to get incensed about briefly, we always end going back to back to browsing through friends’ profile pictures. It is only on social media that an article concerning a group of students dying in a fire is essentially giving the same weight as cute puppy gif.

This devaluing of death was actually the motivating idea for my Haunted Media Project. At first, I intended to tell a story about death via social media—specifically a mystery about the death of a group of students solvable through hints dropped on social media platforms. I was hoping to represent the entertainment value of death, essentially seeking to amuse the reader with a story of death in commentary on the relationship between that media, the story, and the audience.

However, I encountered several problems with that approach. First and foremost was one of logistics. It was admittedly quite difficult to juggle all the accounts that I had intended to use—hard keeping track of everything, but even more difficult registering them,  as most websites, especially Facebook and Reddit, require numerous identity verification steps  all throughout the process. As such, I re-evaluated my goals, and instead strove to represent the desensitization to death that I have described above, creating a subreddit, two websites, and about twenty-four accounts to populate these digital spaces.

Rather than tell the mystery that I first set out to do, I intended to model the devaluation of death into a fleeting form entertainment via social media. I still kept elements of my first project idea, keeping the budding fictional metropolis of Springfield, North Carolina. I made a subreddit for it (r/SpringfieldNC), drawing inspiration from the subreddits of other cities (and other subreddits in general), and proceeded to populate that subreddit with a host of fairly vacuous posts, ranging from a post about an annual Police barbecue to an unanswered request for gym recommendations. The one relevant post (and fairly meaningful one outside of the protesting picture) is the one concerning the fire at the local university, sandwiched between a post about a hot dog stand called Wonder Wieners and a question looking for a reptile guy for a kid’s party. If one were not specifically told what to look for, one would likely miss that post completely, as there is nothing besides title that sets it apart from the other posts.

Clicking on the fire post leads the reader to a barebones local newspaper article that goes over the details of the fire in brief without really saying much requiring much attention. This is meant to parallel the kinds of articles that are often linked via social media sites like Reddit. Rather than read a detailed article, many users might read the headline or post title and go directly to the comments, where the article will often be summarized (either by another user or a bot) in a single line starting with the acronym TL;DR (standing for “too long, didn’t read). Or, even more helpful than the summaries, is the user that gives live updates in the comments about culled from Police Scanners, Tweets, live broadcasts—a user overeager to get involved in the gritty details of the events depicted in my project.

Here, the over-helpful user gives a link to the site of the university where the accident happened. This site is intended to poke fun at institutional responses to tragedy—especially those that happen via the Internet. Here the university offers up a relatively cold, formulaic response to tragedy that echoes the detached nature of its online medium—complete with a flickering candle gif for people that died in a fire. The help they offer is not quite helpful at all, and the site constantly links to error pages as the University site was not prepared to handle the traffic at the magnitude it was. Additionally they talk of hosting and moderating a group memory page for the deceased individuals, but there is very little headway made there at all, suggesting an overall disinterest in the grief of others.

Of course, along with the gung-ho white knights, there come trolls. We have seen the damage trolls can do with articles like Whitney Phillips’s “LOLing at tragedy: Facebook trolls, memorial pages and resistance to grief online,” but, with the general devaluing of and detachment from death that is propagated by technology and social media, we also see can see a change in the trolls. As a result of that detachment, there’s less personal involvement (both from trolls and normal users) within the comments section of a post about death; in fact, sometimes even the users that are involved in the constructive (or at least non-trolling) discussion in the comments might still end up making a tasteless joke. Yet the divorce of the users from the subject matter and serious tone allow for those kinds of jokes, which are often received well with numerous up-votes on the site. Together, these elements are intended to model the devaluing and detaching nature of social media as it related to death and technology.

Works Cited:

Kocurek, Carly A. “Who Hearkens to the Monster’s Scream? Death, Violence and the Veil of the Monstrous in Video Games.” Visual Studies 30.1 (2015): 79–89. Taylor and Francis+NEJM. Web.

Phillips, Whitney. “LOLing at Tragedy: Facebook Trolls, Memorial Pages and Resistance to Grief Online.” First Monday 16.12 (2011): n. pag. firstmonday.org. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Rogers, Katie. “What Is a Constant Cycle of Violent News Doing to Us?” The New York Times 15 July 2016. NYTimes.com. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Scharrer, Erica. “Media Exposure and Sensitivity to Violence in News Reports: Evidence of Desensitization?” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 85.2 (2008): 291–310. Print.

Instructions

  1. Go to subreddit
  2. Click around
  3. Eventually make your way to Fire post
  4. Check the comments!
  5. Follow the links! (eventually take you to here and here)

My Best Friend’s Voice

His Master’s Voice

My project was inspired by James Francis Barraud’s His Master’s VoiceThe design of my box is meant to mimic his painting. I accomplished this by creating a spinning record player, which is reminiscent of the gramophone in the painting. The twist is that instead of the pet listening to his master’s voice, the master can hear a sound that is associated to his or her pet. For example, this can be the sound of a dog barking, a cat meowing, or a hamster wheel spinning. As Jonathan Sterne points out in The Audible Past, “The sound of the voice, and not necessarily what’s being said, is what matters” (Sterne 303).  Likewise, the sound of the pet, whether it’s the actual voice of a pet or the sounds accompanied with the pet, is what triggers the nostalgic effect of the piece. Nostalgia is the most important factor of my product, because nostalgia can alleviate the grief one feels when losing a loved one. The nostalgia in the product will allow the owner to recreate a fond memory of his or her pet. Studies show that it is possible to help a person through the grieving process by encouraging him or her to reminisce (Tully). With this product, the owner can listen to and see a memory of his or her beloved pet at any time.

The most important factor of my project is the nostalgia factor. “It is not uncommon, especially after the death of a pet, for an owner to sense that he hears or sees his pet in familiar places,”(Tully). This contraption allows the owner to see and hear the pet in a familiar place; the home. This product provides the owner with a private way to grieve for his or her deceased pet. In order for the animation to work, one must manually turn on the contraption, turn off the overhead lights, and position a strobe light against the middle of the object. This setting makes the experience feel more intimate, private, and controlled.

The intention behind this contraption is to give a positive reminder of the vitality of life the pet once possessed, as well as allowing the owner to stay connected with the pet during the grieving process. I highly encourage those who purchase this product to send in a video of their beloved pet, because that video can be turned into a reel and become animated. Having an animated representation of a special moment with one’s beloved pet is endearing and allows the owner to reminisce in a positive way.

The idea of reminiscing a deceased loved one is a topic that we have thoroughly explored in class. We have seen it in the creation of Facebook memorials, on entire websites dedicated to deceased loved ones, and in the Victorian pictures of people with dead family members. Additionally, the commodification of grief has been a highly discussed topic in class. The commodification of grief can be seen in the perfumes made from loved ones, the option to turn the dead into compost, and even in our traditional funeral services. The price of a traditional funeral with flowers, a full service, embalmment, and a practical coffin can easily reach into the thousands. Overall these commodities are monetarily out of reach to middle and working class people. My project, on the other hand, is intended for people from all economic backgrounds. In fact, it’s pretty reasonably priced! It would only cost the buyer $10, which is reasonable considering how much time and effort goes into crafting each individual product. Buyers must complete this form when purchasing one of the boxes:

Please send in the following while purchasing “My Best Friend’s Voice”

  1. Please send in a video complete with sound depicting a special moment with your beloved pet. 
  2. Enjoy!

 As many animal lovers know, losing a pet is devastating. Sometimes, it’s just as difficult to lose a pet as it is to lose a family member. In fact, in North America some studies have found that between 85 and 99% percent of people, “define their dogs as being like a close friend of family member,” (Kogan 2). “While the length and intensity of the mourning period may differ, the grief process is essentially the same whether one mourns the loss of a person or a pet,” (Tully). The grieving process is not linear, and many people experience going back and forth between stages (Tully). Whether the death of the pet was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may take weeks or months. One may come home still expecting his or her pet to run to the door. That person may reach down to stroke the pet only to find that the pet is no longer there. Getting used to the idea that one’s pet is gone takes time. It is normal to move back and forth between protesting and embracing the reality of the death (Wolfelt). My product will help a grieving person during this process, because that person can relive a happy memory when needed.

Let’s face it, we are mommies and daddies to our pets. We feed them, train them, and care for them. Parents are supposed to keep their children safe. We feel responsible for their well-being. It is natural to feel guilt and even a sense of failure when our pet dies, even if he was old. Animals’ life spans are so short in comparison to our own that in some way we feel short-changed. So, what emotion does Bobby feel most of all? “Lonely,” was her simple, poignant response. There’s that word again. Even with eleven other dogs, Bobby is lonely. No other dog or person can fill that spot in her heart where Bett belongs. This is true grief, (Heath).

The physical and audible presence of the pet can be extremely comforting for a grieving owner. Sadness, anger, guilt, relief, helplessness, loneliness and many more are all emotions that are associated with the grieving process, (Tuzeo). Loneliness seems to stand out the most. Ideally, loneliness can be relieved by this product. For example, the audible barking of a dog accompanied by the image of the dog sniffing flower and running through a green field can potentially be powerful for someone who misses that dog.

I based this project off of my own pet, Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell is a fourteen-years-old, fat, lazy, cranky chihuahua (?) who has been my best friend since Elementary School. The year before we got Tinkerbell, our dog, TooToo, attacked a neighbour and had to be put down. We were searching for a new dog and visiting countless shelters until my Mom came across a newspaper ad about a woman selling puppies. My brother and I convinced our mom to take us to the parking lot and see the puppies. Tinkerbell  was the last of the litter as well as the runt of the litter. She was so small that she could fit into the palm of my hand. She grew up to be one hell of a dog. She was notorious for picking on larger dogs and baring her tiny teeth, so we nicknamed her, “Chupacabra.” Now, she’s at that age where she’s having trouble getting up in the morning and needs help going to the bathroom. She still has tons of spunk and sass, but my parents are preparing for the inevitable. Although I’ve been worried that she was going to die since she was five – my best friend pointed out that dogs live for ten years so Tinkerbell was already halfway to death’s door, and I jumped on board and we would both cry over her even though she was completely fine – she continues to be extremely stubborn. I modelled this project with Tinky in mind, but it was almost too hard to put the image of Tink on the contraption since she is still alive. Sure, she’s old, but I don’t want to think about that yet. Instead, I decided to use a video of my other dog, Nabi.

 

 

The Building Process!

Step One: Designing the Box. This took way longer than I will ever be willing to admit. 

The next step was to figure out how to make the motor… Surprisingly, this was the easy part!

Now, how do I fit it all inside?

DIY glue stick #never getting that hour of my life back again #RIP Maker Space person’s finger #xacto knife

I had to help an RLO staff member prank her co-workers in order to borrow this glue gun. #Clippy lives on
Me realising that I have to tear the box apart in order to wire everything inside.

Finally, it all fits!! Eureka!

Annnnnnnnnnnd it breaks….

As soon as I tried to show my boyfriend, it broke. Maybe it’s because I spent an hour turning it on and off, which wore down and broke the string – but who actually knows what happened.

Time to find a new way to hook the motor to the spool inside of my box… I needed the perfect fit, so I improvised with the band inside of a rubber glove. These were semi-effective. Thankfully, I ended up finding the perfect sized rubber band in a random box underneath my bed.

Also this happened, which didn’t really help. I wanted to glue the motor vertically against this block and glue it to the box, but it was too big to fit inside of the box. I needed to saw it down… and gave up after twenty minutes of mindless sawing. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I used the last of my hot glue to put the motor in place instead.

Not only did the string break, the actual contraption came apart and I had to re-glue it all together. I settled the base in place, but once it dried I realised that it was glued WAY off center… So I had to wash off the hot glue and reset the entire piece. It all worked out in the end, but I was not a happy camper at this moment in time haha. 

For the figurines, I worked on both 3D printing dogs and making my own dogs from clay, but the dogs kept flying off so I needed a new option…

  

As a result, I made a paper zoetrope of my pet. I used pugs as a demo, because Tinky is so fat that people mistake her for a pug!

Below are a few videos of the design process:

Unfortunately, the sound did not transfer over. There is supposed to be barking associated with the music box!  I will upload a new video!

EDIT: STAY TUNED FOR NEW PICTURES! I am going to add paint and a lever and demonstrate what the animation looks like with a strobe light. 

 

Works Cited

Blazina, Chris, and Lori R. Kogan. Men and Their Dogs : A New Understanding of Man’s Best Friend.Cham: Springer, 2016.

Heath, Judy. No Time for Tears : Coping with Grief in a Busy World (2). Chicago, US: Chicago Review Press, 2015. Chicago Review Press.

Sterne, Jonathan. “The Audible Past.” Duke University Press. Durham and London, 2003.

Tully, Jane. “Dealing with Death: Good-Bye, Old Friend.” The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 99, no. 8, 1999, pp. 24DDDD–24FFFF., www.jstor.org/stable/3472180.

Tuzeo-Jarolmen, JoAnn. When a Family Pet Dies : A Guide to Dealing with Children’s Loss. London, GB: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006. ProQuest ebrary. Copyright © 2006. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Wolfelt, Alan D.. When Your Pet Dies : A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing. Fort Collins, US: Companion Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Copyright © 2004.

Chatbot.exe

Chatbot.exe

For my Haunted Media Project I used a simple text adventure game engine called Quest, to emulate a sort of chatbot experience. I thought that creating a text adventure would be a unique way to fulfill the requirements for this project, while enjoying the process itself. Below, in my artist statement I will further explain the goal of my project and all of the necessary steps it took me to created the final version.

 

Artist’s Statement  

First I will start with explaining the main points of my game, and the steps it took to create what I did. I will also address my line of thinking during each of the steps and features included in the project. The goal of my text adventure was mystery – I wanted the audience and player to be immersed in the conversation, which was very limited in nature due to me not creating more options for the player. The idea was to leave players speechless with the shocking nature of the content, while slowly introducing them to the “plot” of the experience. In order to immerse the players, I had to find a way to engage with the player for the very start, a way to absorb the attention of the player. I decided to use some dark ambient music to create an atmosphere of dread and mystery. The music starts at the very beginning of the text adventure, and persists during the entire game. The name of the character used in the text adventure was Walter Sullivan, a character from the video game Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004) published by Konami. At first, I didn’t mean the characters to have parallels beyond the interesting name, but later I decided to include plot points from Sullivan’s life in order to give the player something more to think about if they were compelled to google the name out of curiosity. As a result, some points in the chat are inspired by events from Walter’s life in the video game Silent Hill, while others I created myself to pace the experience in a way that would be shocking to the audience, due to its starkly contrasting calm beginning, and a very dark and disturbing ending.Another method of building anticipation and helping the shocking nature of my text adventure was using the typewriter and decryption text effects, where text is revealed subtly or slowly, in an effort to build suspense. I hoped I would build anticipation in players, and a want to click further and see where the story would go. The effects, coupled with the persistent soundtrack should have left a strong impact on the player. As mentioned earlier, the start of the game is very introductory in nature, in that it is slow and deceivingly benign. This makes it hard for players to assume where this game was going, so when the action starts to unfold, the viewers find themselves in shock with every new message which bring the maximum entertainment value to the experience. Although, the game itself is pretty dark and dreary, viewers who enjoy a trill or anything horror related can find themselves an interesting experience in my short and crude text adventure.  

 

Upon reading the guideline of the project I looked back at everything we had done in class so far. The most immediate reaction to the guidelines of the project was thinking of the episode of Black Mirror, “Be Right Back” which we watched at the beginning of the semester. The idea stuck with me and the entire episode was very impactful. I decided I wanted to make something similar, but different enough for the parallel to exist, but the unique nature of my project and plot to remain. In the “Be Right Back” a guy name Ashe dies in a car accident after which his fiance, Marta, is desperately trying to bring him back somehow. Once she found a program that allowed her to chat with artificial Ashe, she kind of lost her mind. The program collected data from a death person in order to create responses in the chat. After a while the program offered a series of upgrades which allowed her to bring artificial Ashe in existence. While my idea intersects with the chatting aspect of the Black Mirror episode, there are some major differences.The conversations between Ashe and Martha, and the player and Walter Sullivan are starkly different. Mine being much more overtly disturbing and shocking. While in the “Be Right Back” audience can witness texting between Marta and artificial Ashe that is like regular life texting and without the awkwardness, in my text adventure the tone is always cryptic and weird. From the very start, the audience is hinted on a weird plot – just how weird it is though, one has to find out by going through the whole experience.

 

Throughout the process of creating my project I looked into things that would be most wanted by the people if my project can come to existence. Since the origins of humankind, people grief their loved ones when they pass away. Often the death of the closely related person can cause people to lose their mind. Most people who lose their loved ones would do anything to bring them back. In the article Natalie Zarrelli’s “Dial-a Ghost on Thomas Edison’s Least Successful Invention: The Spirit Phone.” I was able to recognize that people were trying to find a way to connect with death people.  In 1933, Thomas Edison and many other scientist gathered in the secret laboratory to conduct an invention called “spirit phone”. The spirit phone was suppose to connect with smallest particles that are floating in atmosphere (which would also give the proof of the afterlife) in order to connect live with death. Unfortunately, after many hours spent on this project Thomas Edison and other scientist realize that they were not able to get the results they were expecting. Edison’s idea was another stepping stone in creating my project as I used his idea in today’s world. With the improvement of technology we are closer than ever in connecting life with death. Not that long ago people had to write letters back and forth in order to stay connected despite the long distance. It would take weeks before one would receive a letter. However, nowadays we are not only able to speak to a person that is on a different part of the planet from us, but we are able to see them too.

 

In the article, Cyberspace When You’re Dead by Rob Walker, there was a line that really stuck with me. “‘So I’m still having this conversation’ with his friend Tonnies, he told me, ‘even though he’s been dead for more than a year.’” When I read this I felt really odd about the entire idea. I knew that my project could be related completely to this idea, and I knew I had found something worth exploring. I wanted to recreate the feeling I felt when I read that line, in whichever way I could. I expanded on it however by including the hints of an afterlife. The player isn’t offered much of a description, as Walter himself struggles to describe what exactly is going on, and how much he can be trusted is questionable as well. Regardless, the afterlife is a very interesting topic to me, so it felt natural to connect a line between all these points and create a text adventure for people to play and feel a certain way.

 

I also read a paper called, Death and the Internet: The implications of the digital afterlife by Nicola Wright. In it, the author addresses the cultural implications of death given the introduction of the digital age and all of its features. Despite the topic of the article being very similar to what we do in class, for some reason after reading it I thought of an idea – what if the digital afterlife was actually a place, and we just can’t communicate with it, until now.

 

I created a chatbot experience in which I tackle issues from our class, while introducing things that I have always thought of throughout my life. Ideas which I have questions about tend to leave a strong impact on the work I do, so I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to create something which could encompass these different ideas and things that I find enjoyable to think about and explore. I believe the text adventure, if anything, is an interesting experience, and to some extent conveys what I attempted to convey, despite my lack of knowledge in coding and creating such things.

 

Work Cited

Zarrelli, Natalie. “Dial-a-Ghost on Thomas Edison’s Least Successful Invention: The Spirit Phone.” Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura, 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Walker, Rob. “Cyberspace When You’re Dead.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Jan. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Wright, Nicola. “Death and the Internet: The Implications of the Digital Afterlife.” First Monday. N.p., June-July 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Rest in Pieces: Incorporating the Soul into Modern-Day Remembrance Photography

The final product

In looking at the objectives of our course, our class focused on how representations of death in the 21st century interact with pop culture and applied historical and theoretical concepts to this morbid intersection. Our haunted media object is a physical representation of this intersection, as a way to evoke the themes we have discussed this semester in an artistic, physical presentation. The two ways we approached this intersection were through (a) ghost-centric examples of technology that perpetrated to allow the user to speak with friends, family, or other entities after their death, or (b) grief-centric facets that helped individuals and families move through the grieving process more quickly, or with less pain.

For this project, I was influenced by our discussion in class on the phenomenon of interacting with a loved one after they pass away. While current generations take this for granted in the modern age, the idea of hearing a loved one’s voice was unimaginable before the invention of recording and transcribing sound onto phonograph records; As was the idea of seeing a loved one’s face after they died before the invention of photography. Along with the reading in The Audible Past by Jonathan Sterne, in which he discusses how strange it was for society to listen to the words of those who had died, we also discussed how the invention of photography changed the way families grieved their loved ones by allowing them a perfect visual reminder for the first time. We see this in what are commonly called ‘Victorian Death Photos,’ where families in Victorian London posed the dead in family photographs, in coffins, or in their cribs, and made it look like the dead were still alive.

 

Those dead in Victorian Death Photos are shown more sharply because they did not move in long-exposure shots. Sourced from BBC.

 

Once photography became affordable, portable, and more socially acceptable, Victorian-era families began permanently preserving their loved one’s likeness. Since photography was still relatively expensive and the practice was not yet widespread, these families often did not hire a photographer until their loved one had died- making it necessary to stage the photo and prop up their loved ones. As an article in BBC confirms, death portraiture became increasingly popular as people realized it offered the last chance to have a remembrance of their measles-riddled children. These death-reminders, or memento mori, were considered acceptable at the time but our class was relatively shocked by these remembrances.

I did more research into death photography, often called remembrance photography, and found that many families still choose to commission photographs of their loved ones who pass away. Molly McElroy, in an article posted by the University of Washington, found a surprising practice of remembrance photography and preemptive photography for children facing life-threatening illness. One of these nonprofit groups, called Soulumination, focuses on helping families with children under 18 who are in the hospital for major illness. The other nonprofit, called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, is a nationwide network of photographers who provide free remembrance photographs often for newborn children who pass away shortly after birth. The service believes that the photos provide parents with lasting memories of their children who lived so briefly that “little else exists to remember them by.” They also say that the professional photos are easier to look at than the photos the families took themselves. It becomes easier to breach the subject of death if one has a photo to talk about and explain, like a “gateway to bringing up memories of the deceased.”

Surprisingly, this practice was born with the invention of photography and lives on today. I wanted to know why remembrance photography was (somewhat) popular and what it might look like in today’s digital, video-centric world. This led to a discussion of grief, and the function of grief in society. Authors Claire White and Daniel Fessler discuss in their article, “Evolutionizing Grief,” how photographs of the deceased impacts the bereaved and influences their grieving process. For them, they believe that grief is a process that has two functions. First, to encourage two (living) people who have separated to reunite. Second, if one of the partners dies, to “facilitate the reconceptualization of the other as no longer a living, viable relationship partner, opening the door to investment in new relationships.” They found that neurobiological systems, like our facial recognition systems are activated by photographs and videos. This means that viewing a photograph of a loved one who has passed away creates a response in your brain as if the person were physically with you. White and Fessler argue that this will “enhance the conflict between the old representation of the loved one and the new one to which the bereaved is transitioning.” This is understandable, that while photographs may make us more uncomfortable and delay the grieving process because of our neurological responses to seeing our loved one’s face, our state of grief forces us to reconnect with them in any way possible.

Moving away from the biological research- our discussion of grief, of remembrance and Victorian-era death photography, and of the phenomenon of interacting with someone after they have died, motivated me to try and capture a digital interpretation of death photography.

With the gracious help of my friends, I posed a photo which showed three friends centered around a chair and another friend pretended to be dead and was propped up on the chair. The ‘living’ friends were encouraged to move freely- fix their hair, scratch an itch, etc.- while I asked the ‘dead’ friend to resemble a corpse propped up like in a Victorian-era photo. I then took this video and created a .gif file that would allow the video to loop when displayed, which created the illusion that my friends were continuously moving, and ‘alive’ in a way, within the video.

View post on imgur.com

(Above .gif file was created by the author)

In many Latin-American countries and in some other societies, there is a myth that when you are photographed, a piece of your soul is trapped within that photo. With this video and .gif, I wanted to capture this idea that my friends were alive within the frame and that their souls existed within it.

When first creating this .gif, I realized that videos are not generally used to grieve a loved one, because videos are generally candid and unposed. Videos are also difficult to casually display in the home because of the limits of technology, so it is more common to grieve a loved one through a photo taken while they are still alive. By creating a video of my friends in a pose normally reserved for a photograph, and their small movements within the video, I feel it adds an uncanny element to the project.

I then wanted to carry this illusion in the physical representation by placing the video in a photo frame. I used a tablet to display the video and found a frame that fit well around the tablet. As a result, the final product initially seems like a standard photo in a frame, until you notice that the people within the photo are moving. To make the frame more exciting, and to reinforce the idea that the project carried small pieces of my friends’ souls, I engraved the frame with Mary Elizabeth Frye’s famous poem “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep.” I have included it below: (Sourced from poemhunter.com)

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

By including this famous bereavement poem, I wanted to pretend that my haunted media project carried a piece of the deceased’s souls; that it is useless to cry at their graves because they are just as present, if not more present, in the photo frame. The poem suggests that the deceased does not want people to miss out on life because of their mourning; that they will be with their loved ones always. While the poem adds a religious element to the project, I think it furthers the idea that the subjects of the video are spiritually within the video and frame.

Custom engraved photo frame to hold the kindle fire

I believe I combined the grief-centric and ghost-centric objectives in my project because the photo frame is both a tool for grieving as well as a ‘haunted’ vessel for the deceased’s souls. I wanted to create something that would put a modern spin on Victorian-era remembrance photos and show the intersection of popular culture and technology with a photography practice that has been around for generations. Grieving has been a natural part of human existence, and only recently in our history have we been able to interact with people after they die. After looking at the different biological factors that impact grieving, I see that there is a natural conflict between trying to move on after death and trying to hold onto a loved one through photos and other remembrances. While we may think that some practices in today’s death-avoidance society are morbid or uncomfortable, practices like infant photography after death helps families validate their child’s short life and provide small comforts as they move through the stages of grief.

Works Cited:

Bell, Bethan. “Taken from life: The unsettling art of death photography.” BBC News. BBC, 05 June 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
Frye, Mary Elizabeth. “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep.” PoemHunter.com. N.p., 31 Dec. 2002. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
Konigsberg, Ruth Davis. “New Ways to Think About Grief.” Time. Time Inc., 29 Jan. 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
McElroy, Molly. “Grieving parents find solace in remembrance photography – with photo gallery.” UW Today. University of Washington, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <www.washington.edu/news/2013/03/19/grieving-parents-find-solace-in-remembrance-photography-with-photo-gallery/&gt;.
White, Claire, and Daniel M. T. Fessler. “Evolutionizing Grief: Viewing Photographs of the Deceased Predicts the Misattribution of Ambiguous Stimuli by the Bereaved.” Evolutionary Psychology 11.5 (2013): 147470491301100. Web.

Artist Statement – Tower of Babel Space Memorial

      

I personally find the most fulfillment in creating things that don’t already exist. Bringing imagination into some form of reality (in this case virtual) through which the realm and idea can be shared is something I strive for. Having said that, what better way to share an idea than through a video game. I find the power of strong visuals in combination with audio to be very powerful in immersing an audience. For this project, I wanted to create an alternate scenario, versus something grounded in our current reality (I figured there would be a lot of the former as project decisions, and little of the prior). I decided to use the unreal engine (which is known for its powerful graphics capabilities) and give it a retro twist, both in sound and visuals. The decision came about after re-reading Kirkland’s Resident Evil’s Typewriter Survival Horror and Its Remediations. For my haunted media project to feel more like a relic or bridge to the past, it made sense to make use of a technological aesthetic that is from the past as well. The pixelated graphics and 8-bit music tap into the origins of digital technology and given the background story of the Space Memorial, it would make sense why our robot successors have a more meaningful connection to the advent of digital technology. (Their own creation was most greatly influenced by the digital age – apparently) The space memorial itself is haunted by ghosts which will harm the player in their endeavor to explore the space memorial. The whole point of a haunting is that it instills some kind of emotional effect on the one who experiences it. Usually fear. So I tried, in the limited time to actually build and code the experience, to create some semblance of fear in the player.

There is a whole art to creating emotions in players and an audience in general, and it usually requires a little more composition on the part of the creator to be effective (due to time constraints, there almost were no ghosts). Coding AI for a horror video game is challenging in that the AI must, in its idle state, be roaming the world, so that the player can never be certain about what lurks around the corner. This is in line with the whole goal of creating a haunting, a haunting isn’t cool (cool? attractive?) unless it’s uncertain.

My inspiration for the ghosts comes from a video game I played when I was young (unfortunately, never learned the name of the game, I played it on my cousin’s console)The sounds, poses and general feel of the ghosts was something that really stuck with me growing up. I had a few chances to play the game when I was younger, and it was devastating. I literally couldn’t even play it. I’d start, and I’d hear that terrible moan that the ghosts would make, and I’d drop the controller (I was young, okay?). Fast forward, I’m older now, and still scarred (and scared, no pun intended). The point is, I learned something, and I wanted to use that to my advantage in this project. From the get-go I knew what I wanted the haunting to be. It was just the execution that became the difficulty. Needless to say, after a lot of work, I had created something that is just slightly what I imagined, but it was something.

Of course, creating ghosts means there need to be hiding spots, safe zones for the player to fully relax. I used the whole concept from Amnesia: The Dark Descent, hiding in closets and cabinets does one thing specifically to further the feeling of being in danger. Hiding in closets means that whoever you’re hiding from reigns over the rest of the domain, and your “safe space” is actually a secondary space in the grand scheme of things. It’s a powerful way to say that, you are second to some other creature, you don’t belong here, and you should stay in the closet. All of this sounds exciting and potent in theory, but of course, again, given the time limit, it was difficult to really execute the idea to its full extent. I wish that the player has to mostly traverse through vents, closets, and side routes (inside walls and whatnot) – so that the player never feels like they belong to the world. The idea is there nevertheless.

Moving on. You have a lantern, which gives you some control over your surroundings. You can light dark areas, and see details that are otherwise not visible in the old space memorial. The lantern attracts ghosts however (not actually, because I didn’t have time to code that), but the effect is that your actions in the game can directly endanger you, even those actions which seem to be helpful, can at times be your greatest source of danger. (AGAIN, this all is how it should work in theory, and as much as I actually implemented a lot of these feature, it takes much more than pure intent to actually execute these ideas effectively ala Amnesia).

The setting is an homage to the works of MobeiusSergio Toppi, and Tsutomu Nihei. All three are very inspirational artists (first), graphic novelists and comic artists. The world is meant to be monotonous in that it uses a very repetitive pattern, but spectacular in scale and vision. The idea behind it that it is created by robots, and computers tend to specialize in certain aspects and lack in others. For instance, a calculator can calculate at incredible speeds, but cannot learn a language. Back to the project, the setting is in many ways extremely ambitious (an enormous space memorial with huge hallways, bridges, and constructions), made in a very repetitive way with little consideration for beauty and pattern-breaking.

Another important point of inspiration came from Kocurek’s article Who hearkens to the monster’s scream? Death, violence and the veil of the monstrous in video games. I figured, when we talk about a haunting, the “antagonist” is a person from the past. Usually due to some unresolved issue from their life, they remain in our realm to send messages, warn people, harm people, scare people, but in some way communicate. For my project, I wanted to further this idea. The ghosts that roam around are nothing more than dangerous apparitions with no backstory or personality. They are stripped of their own  story and purpose, and instead are just one of (presumably) many others stranded in our world, with nothing to do other than hiss and roam around. When we think of othering in the form that Kocurek speaks about, we usually think about things unrelated to “us”. What I mean by that is that we other things we find foreign. I thought it’d be interesting if this was a robot world in which we, humanity, is the “other”. 

I attempted to create an experience of a haunted space memorial created by robots in commemoration to their, now gone, creators. The memorial is haunted by the ghosts of our past. But more so than the literal haunting in the project, I was aiming at the meta-haunting which is our species haunting another species. We’ve always been on the end of the chain, looking back at “common ancestors” and histories we didn’t belong to. It’s entirely possible that one day, we become someone’s common ancestor, that one day, humanity will be a collection of data and information, or a digital footprint for other intelligent species to decode and learn from. It is an interesting notion, to think that maybe one day, none of us will exist any more, in the capacity that we witness each other. The notion that we move from the spotlight, into a display (like in a museum) of intelligent life, and none of it will matter to us, because the last of us will be gone. It is a somewhat tragic notion, but interesting nevertheless.

In conclusion, I had a strong vision which I wanted to bring to the digital realm in all its glory. Of course, I would not say that I was successful in fully (arguably even partly sometimes) translating the theories and effects I wanted to. However, the concept is there, and the intent as well. With such a time constraint, it is the closest my vision would become a reality. Technical difficulties are many when creating any project, but this project was deceivingly costly on the processing end of things. Correcting errors and moving through technical obstacles was the greatest issue I had, and it is the reason many features either didn’t work the way they were intended, or didn’t end up in the final version. The experience, despite its horror theme, is supposed to be meditative, with moments of tranquility in which players can just immerse themselves in this world, take a moment, and consider a world without humans, but with humanity. What I mean by that is, humanity seems like it can live on even without us, and it can be the greatest gift we impart on our successors, or our excavators (in the case that we don’t have a successor, but an intelligent species that is able to observe us or find us and our physical and digital remains).