Kill All The Humans: Plague Inc.

After reading Station Eleven, I became almost obsessed with an iPhone game called Plague Inc. The instructions are simple enough- you are a disease that seeks to infect and kill all the humans on earth. You get to choose your plague : bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, prion, nano-virus or a bio-weapon. Each plague type has different features and a different strategy to how you  will infect and eradicate all of humanity.

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For my first plague, I chose the virus as a “rapidly mutating pathogen which is extremely hard to control” sounded pretty fun. For the name of my virus, I chose “Davidson Bubble,” as that was the most infectious thing I could think of. The next step for me was to decide where to put my virus. The general rule of thumb is in a poorer country in the southern hemisphere, thus India was the perfect place for me. The game progresses as you infect more people you gain “DNA” points in which you can redeem to mutate your plague. You can choose to acquire symptoms from a runny nose to full on organ failure or you can make it so that livestock or rats can carry and transmit your disease. Other notable abilities include drug, heat or cold resistance. As you infect more people, scientists will catch on to the disease and a race to find a cure will start. As the plague, you have to carefully balance your symptoms and abilities to avoid detection and combat the cure. What makes this game even more interesting is the real-life scenarios that can impact your plague. Countries for instance will close their air and naval ports, stop migration and even eventually  collapse into chaos.

What makes this game so interesting is the very real life scenarios and parallels to the Georgia flu. After eliminating most of the humans, chaos sets in that allows for people like The Prophet to take control. There is no order, no government and other “no mores” that we discussed in class. What makes this game problematic is that you are the plague, and the goal is to eradicate all humans. Yes, it’s just a game but this game makes light of actual scary diseases and plagues of our history. But if you’re feeling evil today, Plague Inc. is the perfect catharsis for you.

My Somewhat Confused Approach to Death in the Digital Age

Lord Death is Confused by Cogs-Fixmore

Looking back at my past blog posts, I have a little trouble nailing down a unifying theme that encompasses my posts (other than death in the digital age, that is)–I mean, they ranged topics from Baudrillard’s simulacra (my first post) to radioactive wolves (my final post on the blog before this reflection) after all. The most accurate characterization that I can think of would be that, in writing my posts, I generally intended  to connect experiences I had with other works (often in other media) to our own course material.

But then again, any other student in our class could probably make the same claim; all the same, it is the only one that I feel can apply to my posts. What I can do to a greater capacity is track some of my thinking. I notice that my posts started out concentrating heavily on the intersections between other academic experiences that I have been through. With that first post, I noticed a connection between DIG 215, my documentary film class, and an earlier English class that I felt compelled to explore. Likewise, with my post on “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I found a connection between a favorite English reading in high school that I knew informed A Headful of Ghosts.

But as the semester went on, I realized from our in-class discussions, other blog posts, and Dead Set explicitly themselves that this class offered me the freedom to expand my scope out of the purely academic realm that I was used to, hence the my gradual embrace of the likes of Ghost Hunters, Fallout and the death of Club Penguin.

I can also identify some subjects that I particularly enjoyed writing about and would be interested in exploring. It may just be my inner nerd, but I definitely enjoyed bringing in interactive media (read: video games) into my writing and connecting them with works in other media, especially in my essay for our comparative horror project. I had hoped to integrate a similar mixing of media for our final paper–hoping to use Westworld (2016-) and a game called Soma (2014) to explore the value of artificial life–though I realized it would not be possible given the limits on the assignment. And of course, I would love to continue studying horror films and TV shows, and perhaps even expand into other medium  like comics as well.

Ultimately, I happily found myself covering a wealth of topics that caught my interest and tying them all back into my work for this class–an opportunity that I had never truly encountered before this class. 

Pre- and Post-Apocalypse Narratives and their Exposition of Human Fear

After our in-class discussion about the morbid fascination with post-apocalyptic narratives in a lot of modern media I’ve noticed an increasing amount of post-apocalyptic games, movies and TV shows. I’ve noticed two distinct archetypes many films/TV shows use to design post-apocalyptic narratives – the “post apocalypse” narrative and the “apocalypse discoverer/beginning-of-apocalypse” narrative. The former begins in the middle of a preexisting timeline and the narrative arc is generally contextualized as an individual narrative in a larger event or as a sequel to whatever happened prior to the apocalypse, while the latter is usually either done in a current events-based style that attempts to convey a sense of scale or in a “small group of people uncovers something dark that will end the world” sort of deal. I think that the pre-apocalypse movies seem to post-modernly convey fears of scientific progress overreaching medical progress as well as the fear that science will not progress as fast as nature and there will be some sort of violent reclamation of the world from humanity. Examples of this are almost the entire genre of zombie movies as well as films like Blood Glacier, the movie that prompted this post. Blood Glacier additionally contains post-modern fears of human overprogress in the form of global warming symbolism, making me think that this style of narrative is an attempt to play on the human fear of the potential that planet earth might eventually reject us (or that a god or gods will reject us, but the end result is the same). In the other style of narrative, the “post-apocalypse” one, fear of rejection is more implicitly religious in my opinion. Two post-apocalptic anime shows/movies in this style are Ergo Proxy and the infamous Neon Genesis Evangelion, both narratives that are both explicitly and implicitly tied to Gnostic theology and the post-apocalyptic departure of God.

 

Death of the Aura in the Digital World

While thinking about celebrity and Walter Benjamin’s post-modern “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (which I read for my documentary film class this semester) and writing my final paper for this class, it occurred to me that his distaste of what he feels is a backwards, archaic attachment to “aura” in art may be quite at home in our digital world. Benjamin’s postmodern rejection of the adherence to historical context seems to be carried out quite frequently in our modern treatment of celebrity, with decontextualized representations of celebrities appearing in potentially post-modernly incongruent positions in relation to their actions or personality during life. The Tupac hologram and the aspects of it I wrote about in my final paper come to mind, but post-modern works such as Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) are also seminal in defining the nature of celebrity in our digitally revolutionary world. This Is The End (2013) also has the same style of decontextualization of real celebrity figures playing caricatures of themselves in a fictional world. Because most of the people in both these films are actors, directors, musicians, comedians and screenwriters, viewers might make an implicit association with their work when watching the film. When celebrity artists die they now know that their legacy and work will live on and representations or caricatures of them may be used in films, memes, and other forms of media that can completely turn the original context of their work on its head. This irreverent elimination of aura and context is especially present in memes, with Bob Ross’ show being a great example of a work of media that had the original intentions held by the auteur removed or altered after the creator’s death. It makes me wonder, though, if a new form of aura may develop in association with aspects of our newfound digital world. The culture of SoundCloud’s hip-hop community and its meme-saturated stereotypical connotations may provide their own context in a way that creates a new, somewhat more abstract form of aura than a the context a wall or room interior might provide a painting hung in that room.

Hachiko, the Faithful

Reading about the story behind His Master’s Voice brought a question to mind.

Do out pets mourn and remember us after we are gone?

If you’ve ever watched Futurama’s Jurassic Bark episode, then you probably think YES, THEY LOVE US JUST AS MUCH AS WE LOVE THEM. At least, that’s what I believe. The story of Hachiko could prove that this sentiment is true.

 Hachiko

Hachiko and his best friend and owner Eizaburo
Hachiko and his owner Eizaburo

Eizaburo Ueno, a professor at Tokyo University, adopted Hachiko from the Odate city in the Akita prefecture. Hachiko, or Hachi, and his new owner soon became inseparable. For the next two years, Hachi would walk in the morning with Eizaburo to the Shibuya Train Station and return in the afternoon to walk Eizeburo back home. On May 21, 1925, Hachi waited at the usual spot for Eizeburo to return but… Eizeburo never showed up.

Unbeknownst to Hachi, Eizaburo had suffered an unexpected cerebral haemorrhage at work and died at his desk. After Eizaburo’s death, Hachi moved in with another family. For the next ten years of his long life, Hachi continued to go to the Shibuya Train Station every morning and afternoon waiting in vain for the return of his beloved owner.

A major Japanese newspaper reporter published Hachi’s story in 1932 making Hachi a national hero in Japan. People started calling Hachi, “Chuken-Hachiko,” meaning, “Hachiko – the faithful dog.” The story of the dog that never gave up gained a lot of attention, and people from all over the world came to visit Hachi and offer him treats at the Shibuya station.

Hachiko in the Japanese newspaper
Hachi in the newspaper

In 1934, a statue of Hachi was unveiled at a grand ceremony in front of  the Shibuya train station.

Haichiko in front of his statue

One year later, Hachi passed away on the street near the train station at the age of twelve. There is a monument of Hachi next to his owner’s tomb in the Aoyama cemetery located in Tokyo, Japan.

grave

Today, the Hachiko bronze statue is a popular attraction; reminding us all of the unconditional love and loyalty our pets can give.

There is also and enormous mosaic dedicated to Hachi in front of the Shibuya train station.

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Works Cited:

Dinh, Michelle Lynn. “The Last Photo of Faithful Dog Hachiko Breaks Our Hearts.” SoraNews24. SoraNews24, 06 Dec. 2013. Web.

Maria. “The Amazing And True Story Of Hachiko The Dog.” Nerd Nomads. N.p., 06 Aug. 2016. Web.

Messenger, Stephen. “Rare Photo Surfaces Of Hachiko, The World’s Most Loyal Dog.” The Dodo. The Dodo, 09 Nov. 2015. Web.

Post-Apocalypse in Video Games

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With the modification for ARMA called DayZ and arguably the introduction of Minecraft to the gaming world, we witnessed a surge of post-apocalyptic themed video games. The surge in these video games is a direct result of the huge demand these games were producing. These games are widely successful and considered the most immersive video games across all genres (the ones that were finished and done properly). Most of the times, they are also very simplistic in nature. There are usually no actual goals other than surviving for as long as possible. The player has a bunch of variables (hunger, thirst, health, sometimes temperature, and rarely sanity meters) which have to be maintained for the video game character to survive, and that’s pretty much it. There are only backstories in these video games. The narrative being directly derived from the experience of the game itself. The visuals (with the exception of the referenced screenshot from Nether, which truly has stunning visuals) are usually sub par, focusing on quantity versus quality (worlds are usually huge).

What these games have going for them however is atmosphere and immersion. Atmosphere comes form sound design, which is mostly minimalist, having the player constantly aware of potential threatening sounds amidst the usual calm ambient. The immersion is rooted in the fact that people actually love the post-apocalyptic rulebook (or the lack of a rulebook (in that the rules are that there aren’t many rules, other than your survival)). Similarly to my comment on Philip’s post, I argue that it’s exactly that no rules approach that is so appealing about these games, and why people keep coming back to them. It’s a chance for escapism, except the character is a reflection of some anarchistic instinctual and primal version of yourself (or something like that (it’s basically a playground where you can get away with any crime)). It’s a little scary how badly we want games like these and how huge their following is then. If we think about it, it’s like, there’s a lot of pent up anarchistic energy in people and we’ve finally been given a place to exhaust it, and it’s crazy how high the demand is.

You know, the reason I say it’s scary is when you’re playing one of these games with a friend, and that friend befriends another person from the game world, and they spend hours working together, and then your friend shoots that other friend in the back and collects all the hours worth of collected loot – and you sit there wondering if this is going to happen to you as well. And you never see your friend the same way again, because now you KNOW they’re capable of backstabbing in virtual reality – it says something about them doesn’t it? Jokes aside, it’s a fascinating thing to watch people show a much darker and sinister version of themselves when granted the opportunity where the results aren’t actually real.

Death Post Digital Age?

Although we have talked about death in this digital age we are in now all semester, it is interesting to now think about post-digital age death. While it might not be a true visualization of future generations and how their deaths are remembered, it is interesting to see how death is portrayed and people’s lives are remembered (or not) in Station Eleven.

In flashbacks to when Kirsten is 15 and in her first year with the Symphony, we see a man that comes on too strong and is implied to have a want to assault her when she kills him. Two years later, Kirsten and the sixth guitar each kill a gunman in order to survive. For both lives she takes, Kirsten gets a little knife tattoo to remember them by.

Dagger Tattoos found here

On page 296, Kirsten takes a third life, the life of an archer, while August takes his first life ever. The advice we read going through Kirsten’s head after seems to be pretty telling of how killing and death is seen in this post apocalyptic world: it alters you but you will survive.

Survival is a main theme in the face of death in this post- digital age in Station Eleven. Are tattoos and altered lives of the surviving the only remembrance a life receives or can potentially receive in that type of age?   In the prophets old town there were the graves and all of those markers but s that truly remembering those who died if no one who stumbles upon those markers in the future knows who they were?

We may say that there is so much oversharing and lives are wasted on the internet nowadays, but at least there is something to go back and see parts of their lives if someone dies in the digital age, unlike with Kirsten and her friends who merely have the tattoos and the memories of those who have died. Who’s version of death is better? I like to think the digital age gives us access to people’s lives and lets them leave a legacy and a digital fingerprint in a world where they otherwise wold be a forgotten grave marker on the outskirts of town.

Facing Death Via Technology: A Reflection

This blog over the course of the past semester has, in a way, served as a personal journal in which I’ve been able to detail my learning, how I began to make connections between relevant academic concepts, and how I integrated my learning into my real-world understanding of life around me. While I didn’t notice any trends in terms of how the nature of my blog posts changed throughout the semester, I did find a number of themes that ran throughout my writing.

One thing I touched on a few times was how we use technology to mediate our interactions with the world around us. “How else have we intentionally designed technology to mediate or fuel our fear?” I ask in my post regarding Merry’s use of her video camera to mitigate her fear in Head Full of Ghosts . This question was rather prescient, as it turns out I later address how we might use technology to fuel our fear of things in my post on virtual reality military technology in the Black Mirror episode: “Men Against Fire.”

My blog posts are peppered with my own personal reactions to various assignments, books, articles, and other media. I discussed how the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back” “prompted me with a number of questions regarding how I myself might approach a situation in which I could interact with a reconstructed version of a dearly departed loved one.” I examined and questioned my personal reaction to the concept of the “Grief Police” when I asked “So why is grief something we (maybe just read: I) are (am) so judgmental about — especially when we have all experienced it?” In reflecting upon the reading and writing this response, I was able to critically examine my own judgements and biases that affect my non-academic life.

I also spend some time addressing the social ramifications of the technology with which we engage, referring to how things might go horribly wrong in the future if we aren’t careful about how we utilize technology. In “a world that in some ways is becoming more and more like a video game — things get scary.” 

 

 

“As we continue to study the “death of technology,” I’m inclined to argue that technology never really dies, as it is simply a product of humankind.” I think it is absolutely key that we keep this in mind moving forward into unknown technological territory. Technology is only as dangerous or helpful as we, humans, make it, and it isn’t going away any time soon.

Main character in Men Against Fire confronts a “roach”; Funny enough, this is also a selfie of me — staring down the remainder of finals after completing this reflective blog post. Source: The MancUnion

 

Death *of* the Digital Age

The first 12 chapters of Station Eleven left me thinking quite hard about what I would miss most about the Digital Age we are in now. I know that as a child who grew up surrounded with technology and easy access to the internet, I would have an immediate gut reaction of saying my phone or wifi or something to that effect. After this original reaction though, Station Eleven brought up all of the things that are 100 times more important than just one silly phone in the event of a catastrophe. Things like our cell phones are just a part of a past that is now contained in the wasteland of what I imagine to be city-wide landfills. I think things like not having access to medicine or having a permanent home might take the place of the most missed things of the pre-apocalyptic digital era in this book if I were to have lived in this type of scene with Kristen.

What really is intriguing in the chapters of 20 years post fall, is that there are so many still alive that don’t remember all this digital era nonsense. What would it be like to have almost no recollection of it and not be dependent on it like our society is today? If we aren’t dependent on technology and have somehow managed to figure out how to live without medics and pharmaceuticals, then I believe that things like food, safety, and water would be at the top of everyone’s priority list. However, Kristen and so many others don’t even live in houses! I understand the traveling theater and then giving life and beauty and joy to a landscape devoid of any type of happiness or other more digital type of entertainment, but what happened to all the houses? America is filled with suburbs and I don’t think those would’ve disappeared in this world, yet people are living in abandoned gas stations and Wendy’s and such. Why??? I want to know what happened to all the homes and houses!

Abandoned Wendy’s found here

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.