At SXSW 2018, I was invited to participate in a four-day immersion experience called SimuLife. Mounted by the creative laboratory based on Austin Interactive Deep Dive, SimuLife is destined to blur the line between fantasy and reality by allowing me to interact with history as part of everyday life. It's like the movie The Game by David Fincher, executed in the real world. Apart from those extensive edicts, they did not give me advance information about the experience. I am documenting my journey through history, wherever I drive.
The story begins with Part 1: I am a transdimensional dopplegänger.
My adventure of immersive history began with a flurry of revelations. Due to an advanced technology known as OpenMind, I started skipping dimensions. In a moment I would be walking through SXSW, covering the festival as a journalist with The Verge. The next, he would be on an alternate timeline, having exchanged places with Bryan Bishop, the inventor of that world's OpenMind technology. His friends, his colleagues and, most importantly, his wife, Faith, a senator, could not distinguish between the man they knew and me, the imposter.
I had just crossed to the OpenMind timeline
After the end of that first morning, I found out that they were waiting for me in my hotel room at 8 o'clock at night to participate in a photo session in my hotel room organized by the collective art collective based in Santa Fe , Meow Wolf. But during the intervening hours, the great rarity of the experience began to gnaw at me. I scanned faces in the SXSW crowd to see if I recognized the people I had met: Dr. Everett, the inmate of Paige the Verge, or Faith. And since I had never given my room key to anyone, how exactly was Meow Wolf going to install an art installation there?
I walked back to my hotel at 8 and went to the elevators. Suddenly I heard the same chirping sound I had noticed before. I turned around-it may have come out of the bin in the lobby-but I knew immediately what it meant: I had just moved on to the OpenMind timeline.
When I opened the door to my hotel room, there was no kaleidoscopic art installation waiting, just the scent of perfume and a set of women's clothes lying on the bed. Faith, the senator, was in my bathroom, wrapped only in a towel. In this timeline, this was the hotel room that she and her husband shared. Apparently, Bishop had promised her an appointment, but she hurried to jump over my confusion and hesitation. It was clear that things were not going well in their marriage, and a nice night together was precisely what they needed.
It was another moment of truth: should I pretend to be the husband or be clean? I still had no idea how to fix the situation or stop the transfers, so I played along with my Bishop identity. We had plans to have a drink at a nearby bar, so at Faith's insistence, I put on a nicer shirt and shoes and helped her fasten her dress. She grabbed my hand as we walked the few blocks to the bar.
Should I pretend that I am the husband, or should I make it clean?
The details that came up along the way seemed beautiful and incredibly sad. Faith and Bishop met at the University of Texas, at a time in their lives where they were full of hope. Now, his dynamic was tense, full of secrets and constant mistrust. When we had a drink at the bar, it was known that he had been flirting with a fellow senator, all in the name of the political game, he said, but a warning sign for a marriage in distress.
In the middle of our conversation, a man who approached us thought that he had recognized me as the founder of OpenMind. His partner had had an accident a few years ago, he told us, and the doctors assumed he was brain dead. But OpenMind technology allowed them to understand that their brain was still working, which led to treatment and final recovery.
This is where the membrane that separated fantasy and reality became thin: he was pretending to be another man, taking credit for achievements that were not mine. However, when that stranger thanked me, I still felt damn good.
As with Dr. Everett that same day, however, Faith began to realize that she was being vague about certain things and did not seem to remember the vital details that her husband would know without hesitation. Worse still, I found out that he had talked to Dr. Everett, who told him something was wrong.
When he confronted me about my identity, I struggled and stammered, asking myself once again how to explain the inexplicable. It's one thing to see a movie in which a character tries to explain a strange truth, knowing that they probably will not believe it. It is harder to do it yourself. But when I explained the problem of transdimensional transference, Faith was really happy.
What does it mean to find a way to stay on the OpenMind timeline and never go back to mine?
She had lost her husband a long time ago, she told me; his constant experiments became an addiction and ruined his mind. The time we spent together that night was the closest thing she had felt to their previous relationship in years. In fact, he said, he did not want his husband to go back to his timeline.
At that time, it was a tempting prospect. The bar was overflowing, but Faith and I were hiding in a quiet corner, and in the privacy of that moment, I was completely immersed in the fictional world, without any sense of my true self. I was wondering: what would it mean to stay on the OpenMind timeline permanently and never go back to mine? That was not a "movement" I could make in the world of this story, of course, but I could see the contours of what it would be like. It was another sign that the walls between truth and fiction were falling. I was not alone present in this alternative world; I was imagining what it would be like to never leave it.
Finally, I resorted to more reasonable solutions. I suggested that if we could stop Bishop's experiments, maybe his mind would return, and maybe Faith's husband would not be lost forever.
Faith said she carries a device, a "gadget" that seemed to be the cause of her transdimensional leap. We decided that I would try to steal and destroy him, hoping to end his experiments and my presence in his world. She wanted to go and take a walk, to understand everything she had just learned. It was a melancholy moment, we both felt that we had discovered some truth and a real connection in that crowded bar, and at the same time we realized that, depending on how things worked, we might never meet again. We said goodbye, and then she left.
I walked back to the hotel through the SXSW crowd, not knowing if the day's story was over or was still in progress. I had not heard another sound signal to tell me that the sequence was over. I was not sure what timeline I was in or who I might expect to meet.
When I finally returned to my room, it was empty; Faith's belongings were gone. It was as if no one else had ever been in the room. Not on this timeline, anyway.
Join us for the next installment of The SimuLife Diaries, where I will be kidnapped by a steel resistance group dedicated to overthrowing OpenMind at all costs.