What do Trump and Holograms Have in Common? (PART 1)

Designing a ‘serious’ game for an interactive lightfield display prototype

Part I — From Concept to Creation

Looking Glass was kind enough to let me write some words about a recent interactive game I had made with their latest prototype —HoloPlayer One. Before beginning, I’d like to take the time to thank them for their support, the technology they’ve been inventing in the lab, and how grand it was to see out a project that was gnawing at my lobes in midst of timeliness and that chased a nuanced visual that wandered in my thoughts. The dream of the hologram comes closer every day and I’m glad to be a part of it. With that said, I think I have created a project that may seem outside of what you would expect from a mainstream tech motif.

A very early hacked together first prototype of the aerial display

The project is Marshall’s Theory, a game with the central theme of paranoia. In Marshall’s Theory, you as player assume the role of our nation’s Commander-in-Chief. Your character falls asleep, but only to dream of the reality which comes from lies spread in the waking world. “Alternative facts”, if you will. The characters in your dream — fabricated in form of distinctive protesters, a picture of surrealist Washington D.C. streets — want your head. However, the Commander-in-Chief (i.e. you) has something at his arsenal: his image. For the image or his projected image of himself will be more powerful than his politics will ever be. He will battle to the death in his nightmare with images that he used to perforate the institution of democracy. Whether that be Putin slamming down a shockwave from the skies, the press secretary as a disposable human shield, or a weaponized tweet, the Commander-in-Chief will use what he simply does in real life to rescue himself — avoid reality and run.

It all sounds like a nightmare; but one not so distant where we stand. It is a representation of what the namesake Marshall McLuhan said 45 years ago that leads us to where the titular namesake comes in — Marshall, and of course, his theory.

The Inception

I feel it is important to elaborate on where the initial inspiration and meaning of the work plays out before speaking on the technical details of the game’s development. The idea was fermented by a couple of key ingredients: (1) A visit my wife and I did to Washington D.C. the weekend of the travel ban’s creation and (2) a re-visitation of my old library book after considering another “serious game”. What is a “serious game”? For me, serious games are ones that address a social or political concern, one where fun is not the immediate gesture in lieu of morals or education. Of course, “serious games” should still be fun as to initiate the type of vanguardism they seek in this writer’s opinion.

As my wife and I were set to depart on a Sunday after a nice weekend visit and lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill back towards NYC, we were swept up in an impromptu protest in the streets leading up to the footsteps of the White House. It was unexpected and also quite the spectacle. Since I spent the last 18 months prior living in Beijing, China, I forgot what it meant to have that kind of voice.

At the time, I had just begun to revisit a book titled ‘Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy’ by Stephen Duncombe. Duncombe fashioned this concept of the ‘Dreampolitik’: where Western culture as a whole, even unrelated to social or political topics, has this way of inadvertently clashing with the possible dream of better constituent representation. Such as how the simulated world of a game is a depiction of utopia/dystopia that the real world could try emulating itself given the right guidance. Artists I find inspiring me in this light include The Yes Men, Molleindustria, Joseph DeLappe, and far more.

In ‘Dream’, I came across the titular quote from Marshall McLuhan — well- renowned Canadian mass media writer and critic who may as well predicted several elements of the current American atmosphere. Along with some very poignant technological notes, including predicting the internet, linking the coming motion of technology into art, and the idea of the ‘global tribe’, McLuhan writes:

“The successor to politics will be propaganda, not in the sense of a message or ideology, but the impact of the whole technology of the times. Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will only be too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”

In a time where facts or words lose their impact, the image is next in line to communicate. Lies need the projected image to survive. The blood of a lie is image (read: propaganda). It is a time where artistic representation comes into the limelight: an image, artwork, visual coding, or creation as distinct as it may be has as good an opportunity at depicting an social issue as the static carving or etching.

The barriers that once regulated ‘what artworks should achieve normalcy and what should appease the lighter senses’ have long since denigrated. Thus, the ‘game’ is apt to address politics. It is a simulated world talking about another simulated world. I have a history of creating this type of game: including In a Permanent Save State that addressed labor and death issues in Asia to be subsequently nominated for ‘Best Serious Game’ at the 2013 International Mobile Gaming Awards and The Dreamer which was a political experiment situated in Debordian philosophy developed far back as 2011 that placed the previous Commander-in-Chief as the protagonist in a similar plot device to Marshall’s Theory.

PART TWO… Coming Soon.