Getting in the Game: notes from a mixed reality

by Jeremy Waller Foreign Radical director

online surveillance
online surveillance

We’re all in the same boat, and as Leonard Cohen says, “everybody knows”.

If you’ve tuned into the news about cyberspace over the last couple of years, you realize we’re all being tracked, tagged, and titillated/distracted just enough to maintain the status quo. You’re still free to dismiss this as conspiracy but everyone knows that under the scrutiny of the puppeteers gerrymandering the Harpers, Obamas, Camerons and Merkels of the world, people displaying political agency outside the true party line are summarily placed in the ‘radical’ category and subjected to extraordinary surveillance and harassment.

Foreign Radical explores the role we all play in the erosion of personal freedoms like privacy and our government’s proposed mandate to protect its citizens by surveillance and cyber warfare. As co-creator of this piece, faced with the challenge of making cyberspace play on stage, it has been interesting to note the overlaps between technologies used in cyber warfare and Mixed Reality Performance – a technique that we have been looking at as a possible solution to staging.

Mixed Reality Performance (MRP) blurs the boundaries between real (physical) environments and the virtual, and between fiction and reality. It borrows ideas and technology from game theory, computer and social sciences – specifically HCI (human-computer interaction) and performance studies. It also often uses mobile and locative media technologies – among others ­– commonly used by spy agencies in meta-data collection for surveillance purposes.

An example of an MRP is A Machine to See With, a game/performance by Blast Theory "about cities and cinema, the financial crisis and the tyranny of choice."  Each participant is guided around a large public space through a story inspired by heist movies and film noir, which unfolds through mobile phone and real-life surveillance.

Blast Theory - A Machine To See With from British Council on Vimeo.

MRP often places audiences in the role of player and thus actively subverts performer/viewer paradigms of entertainment. This shift is perfect for the exploration of the average citizen’s part in the dangerous cyber fiasco quickly unfolding around us.

Star in a story you help create

The common desire to have a voice that’s actually heard is becoming a mass reality due to the exponential growth of the Internet. At the same time the increasing conflation of the media and entertainment goliaths means that our communications are controlled in fewer and fewer hands. And with the rapidly developing technologies mentioned above, Mixed Reality Performances are allowing audiences to become the stars of their own entertainment. In the context of Foreign Radical, audiences will have the opportunity to make informed decisions that affect people in real and virtual time, while holding up a private mirror to their own lives.

It’s your show but it doesn’t end with the curtain call. Once you enter the performance space you may well be implicated in an ongoing way. You too may find yourself on the CSIS or NSA naughty list.  You may find yourself in a mixed reality of your own design.