At SXSW 2018, I was invited to participate in a four-day immersion experience called "SimuLife". Mounted by the creative laboratory of Austin Interactive Deep Dive, SimuLife aims to blur the line between fantasy and reality by letting me 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.
It began with a meeting with a new Verge intern, and ended with plans to destroy a mysterious device that exchanges matter between dimensions. Only your typical Saturday.
On Friday, the editor of The Verge & # 39; s Silicon Valley, Casey Newton, sent me a message, letting me know that a woman named Paige Keane would join our technical team during the summer, and was interested in talking about experimental entertainment here. in SXSW. It's an area that I've been covering for the last two years, which has taken me through savage horror experiences and immersive alternative reality games in which I got involved in a 70s paranoid thriller. It turned out that Paige was a friend from a Meow Wolf producer, the immersive art collective from Santa Fe, New Mexico who was working with Austin Deep Dive on my SimuLife experience. Since I was with the same producer on Saturday, Paige suggested we have coffee beforehand, and then we asked if she could go to the meeting.
The truth is that covering festivals like SXSW can be intense, and I was not in love with the idea of bringing an intern to what I thought was going to be the beginning of my immersive experience of history.
It turns out that I really did not have to worry, and the story itself had already begun.
The moment I sat down for our coffee appointment on Saturday morning, two men in suits rushed me. I had never seen them before, but they clearly recognized me: they enthusiastically called me "the mind behind the mind" and told me that I had received unfair treatment about something that happened in December. I thought it was the beginning of the immersive show, so I played while they mentioned a great match for Monday. Then a blonde woman in professional attire appeared with an assistant. The two men addressed her as "senator," and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek. (Apparently she also knew me.) Then the four hurried. I heard a strange noise, which sounded like a telephone ring tone, and suddenly Paige Keane, a future intern, appeared and introduced herself.
It seemed a bad idea to accuse a possible new Verge employee of being a fictional character
The moment was suspicious. The actors in the show that appeared at the exact moment that Paige and I were meeting suggested that she was involved. But if it was, that would mean that Casey was also involved, which seemed unlikely. And it's generally a bad idea to accuse a possible new Verge employee of being a fictional character, so I made a mistake on the side of caution and did not say anything. Paige and I talked about her interview process, she said she had talked with our managing editor, TC Sottek, which seemed to establish her good faith, and then we headed to our meeting.
We arrived late and could not find the producer. Finally, Paige cried out that he had seen her and ran around the corner to beckon her. I followed him, but Paige was gone. Instead, there was an older gentleman looking at me, a man with kind eyes and a gray mustache. He seemed to know me too, just that he thought I was one of his former students.
Dr. Everett brought me to a classroom on the campus of the University of Texas for a proper conversation. I was surprised that he was willing to talk to him, we had a fight, he said. Then he asked for the senator. In the process, I knew that her name was Faith, and Dr. Everett was convinced that she was my wife.
Dr. Everett quickly called me. The Bishop of Bryan he knew was not a journalist, he was a genius who founded a company called OpenMind. (The comment of the two men that morning suddenly clicked in their place: they had wanted to say "You are the mind behind the Mind").
He was convinced that he could exchange physical matter from one dimension to another
OpenMind had created a technology that allowed access and store thoughts in the human brain, which generated big data advances that generated tremendous benefits for society. But the man that Dr. Everett knew, everyone seemed to refer to him as "Bishop", while my friends and relatives in the real world simply call me Bryan, he had also been too solicitous for his own good, experimenting with himself early on the last century. OpenMind days, when it could not get the proper regulatory approval. And Bishop also saw a greater potential in OpenMind's core technology. He worked from the assumption that we live in a multiverse, with an infinite number of possible timelines that coexist. He thought that if he pushed technology enough, he could exchange physical matter from one timeline to another.
And as we talked, Dr. Everett became increasingly convinced that his former student had succeeded, and that I periodically exchanged places with Bishop. I entered the OpenMind timeline and took the place of the founder of the company, while he entered Verge's timeline and took mine.
I am fully aware that this sounds like the madness of a madman, but that is what most of the characters say when something strange or fantastic happens to them, right?
The doctor and I exchanged numbers, and then went to a class. While waiting for the elevator, I heard another sound: a strange ticking from the nearby water fountain. And my mind started to run.
What happens with immersive stories like this is that they work best when it is not clear what is real, what is fiction and what combination of the two users generate. The trick of these pieces is that the players are investing emotionally as themselves, which brings a level of immediacy to storytelling that is not really possible when you are watching a movie or a television show. It is not a superhero dressed in spandex or a big screen actor in front of these scenarios; it's really you, so every emotional beat and twist of the plot intensifies, because it's inevitably personal.
The dark side of not being able to distinguish reality from fiction, however, is that you begin to see connections everywhere, like a conspiracy theorist with too much time and a red chain in your hands. Was the source marking a sound effect? A trick of plumbing? Or was he starting to lose it? Fortunately, the elevator doors opened, and soon, I was outside.
Paige was there. And she was not happy.
While he was hanging out in the OpenMind timeline, Bishop apparently encountered Paige and the producer, and looked at them with evil eyes before running away. Which meant that Paige was clearly part of the story, and I definitely could not trust my Verge colleagues. Now that I had learned about the multiverse theory, should I share it? If I shared it, how would I not sound like a lunatic?
The only option was to succumb to the story
It was a Jenga stack of conflicting emotions and impulses. There are multiple ways to approach an immersive story like this. You can try to play it, find out what you think the narrators are looking for, and play with what you expect to be the best possible outcome. And you can always try to keep it safe, with the hope that you will never be fooled, played or betrayed by someone who ends up being a character. But what I have found to be the most rewarding approach is to really fall into the story emotionally, without reservation. The world of Michael Douglas turned to The Game because he believed that everything was real, after all, not because he tried to work in the system. And here I was, being emotionally challenged both inside and outside the game, and finally I dropped those Jenga blocks to the ground.
There was no point in trying to be aware of himself; there was nothing to gain trying to design a next "play". The best and only option was to succumb to the story, completely and honestly. I told Paige everything that had happened. I still felt like a lunatic. But at least she believed me. (Or pretended to do it)
We finally parted, after scheduling another coffee conversation for Sunday. But Paige also told me that the producer I never met wanted to do a photo shoot in my hotel room that night. Meow Wolf is famous for its colorful and eccentric facilities, and said that they wanted to give my room the same treatment, and that I should stay out of my room from 7 to 8 p. M.
Wait until 8 p.m. Sure, there's no problem. What could go wrong?
Join us for the next installment of The SimuLife Diaries, where I find myself on a romantic evening with Bishop's wife, Senator.