Sitting in my room one morning isolated, I am immersed in a small alternative reality that lives on my phone. On the bright little screen, I’m not a writer, but a young architect preparing for the job interview of a lifetime.
Looking through my phone like a new generation viewfinder, I look at my digital environment – a nice room in New York decorated with modern furniture, with an emergency exit and a few milk crates. This is far from my current environment, where I have not worn pants or real shoes for days. On my screen, I can see a chic wardrobe of jewelry-toned outfits, including what I learn is the same purple costume I wore during my college admission interview. On social networks, I upload a photo of the jacket, which my sister, Inez, finds absurd; I promise to buy new clothes with my first paycheck. She sends me a private and pleasant message saying that I will only be a rookie of diversity – the kind of family snipe with which siblings barely get by.
In the real world, I don’t have a sister and I don’t have a costume. In the world of the telephone, my name is Carmen and I am looking for a job in an enigmatic architecture firm called Mesmer & Braid. As I move my iPhone to see more of Carmen’s virtual room, I guess every object that appears on the screen, looking around my phone to make sure it’s not actually there. Even after a lifelong science fiction diet, this simple experience makes me feel like I am cognitively split in two.
This is HoloVista, a new type of mixed reality game from the new Aconite media storytelling platform. Although partially inspired by the 2016 cultural bomb that was Pokémon Go, HoloVista has a decidedly more experimental team, led by creative Nadya Lev and Star St. Germain fixtures, and the kind of aesthetic varnish you would normally find in a high-end fashion spread. Lev is an established photographer who co-founded alt-culture magazine Coilhouse, and St. Germain is an accomplished art director, illustrator and developer with training in theater design. The duo set out to create a great development team, including game veterans Jay Treat and Scott Jon Siegel, lead artist Blake Kathryn, award-winning narrative designer Whitney “Strix” Beltran and composer of 20 ans Mariode, who is part of the music collective DESKPOP inspired by the game.
The result is nothing less than a whole new world.
HoloVista is the first mobile game of its kind, and of course, it’s a social media simulator. Players need to find and photograph specific things in different environments, which you then upload to Carmen’s social media account. From there, the story unfolds in stages through replies and private messages. Aconite cleverly adopted one of our most egregious modern behaviors – consuming the world via our phones – and turned it into a basic game mechanism. The smartphone gyroscope is crucial for suspending disbelief. You can walk around this incredible house as if you were there and turn around the bar where you take photos with your friends.
During the game tests, Lev and St. Germain noticed how much people love cameras. “I think the consistent thing is that people turn on the first time they see a camera, and it sometimes takes them a while to register,” Lev told me during a video call. “My favorite is when people have in front of them something similar or identical to what the camera opens. I’ve had people test in a hotel, and it leads to an apartment, and they see a bed in front of them and there is also a bed in front of them. And it’s so stupid. ” HoloVista also does not require any additional materials or equipment. “The scenes are great in VR, but not everyone has a helmet,” says St. Germain, “and we wanted to create something that was accessible and that people who may not have been in America, or maybe who couldn’t afford an iPhone could do it. “
It’s incredibly easy to slip into Carmen’s life via the phone, which is set up in a familiar interface of square images and clickable heart icons. She manages an awkward romantic tension, a sibling rivalry and a growing sense of anxiety as she finds herself in Mesmer & Braid’s latest project, Autohaus, a flowery mansion that seems to challenge physics and structural principles on which architecture is based. Autohaus not only seems to know his memories, but it almost appeals to him. But even if HoloVista revolves around Carmen’s personal story, he has something much bigger to say. “Our game always questions a lot of difficult things, like what it’s like to survive under capitalism and keep your authenticity while having this permanent record of everything you do forever on the Internet, because you’re also trying to create a personal brand, ”says Lev.
HoloVista started as a paper prototype, fueled by an ugly dislocation. Lev had done what we all do – show off his best Instagram foot – while struggling privately with his feelings. “One night ago, I went out and got really drunk … and I saw my ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend,” she recalls. “I thought about how we perform on social media every day and how exhausting it is.” Later, at home, Lev ran into an article about how a former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, had prevented his children from using social media. “He knew his company was using gamification techniques for its products in a way that would make people dependent,” she said. Lev, dwelling on the myriad of ways that games and social media intersect, remembers thinking, “Why don’t we make a game of all these dysfunctional patterns and make them fun and fun and make a story of them ? ”
“Different actions you take on social media would cost you things,” says St. Germain of the original board game. “Everyone was really exhausted on social media at this point, really feeling the weight of the world that way, then Cambridge Analytica came along … the full version of the board game was just super awesome like, ‘You just stood there at night tracking down your ex’s Facebook page: lose two spaces. You have engaged in a political dispute with your mad uncle: go back three spaces. »»
While baby HoloVista came from a place of exhaustion that St. Germain jokingly described as “a really cranky version of things”, two years later, Lev thinks they have managed to find a balanced approach between reality and evasion. She recalled a first story that the team used to test in mechanics: “It was a girl canceled on social networks for writing a deaf article, and she was like an unhappy intern and she may have been thrown under the bus by its editors. And we strayed from this line of inquiry because we thought it was too real, and that after facing it in real life, people would like, if they play a social media simulator, be taken to a different place. “
Aconite tried dozens of prototype experiments before landing on the current form of HoloVista. And helping to shape its final form, St. Germain drew on its experience in theater design. “When we came to the idea that the character was going to be an architect, I launched myself face to face in this idea of creating a palace of memory”, explains St. Germain, referring to an old technique of mnemonic visualization used to help improve memory. . “Because it’s a hidden object game, it just seemed like a very natural fit to me… so that was one of my major inspirations in the project, it’s how to have a conversation with space and the things that ‘it contains, and how it relates to your own inner feelings, thoughts and memories. “
As transmedia veterans, Lev and St. Germain have a multitude of inspirations for HoloVista, including that of Spike Jonze Her, Black mirrorand games like The Red Strings Club and Deny: Automata. One of Lev’s biggest screams is a 2016 short film called Hyper-reality where everyone has an interactive head-up display in a version close to Medellin, Colombia. ” I appreciate [media depictions of the future] in which things are underestimated and representations in which everything is not literally done to look futuristic, because most of the time they are the ones that end up looking dated… I have the impression that many representations in the near future are copies of copies of copies. There is certainly a formula that delves a little into the old Blade Runner territory, and a bit in all the trends we have today. And you know it when you see it and it’s boring. Saint-Germain, an avid gamer, noted various other games that plunged into the waters of social media issues – Orwell, A normal lost phone, Simulacra – but think Aconite is technologically ahead of the curve. “There are certainly other people exploring this space in games,” she said. “But none of them has an element of mixed reality. I would say that is probably the thing we are adding to the mix which is like a new kick. “
Although HoloVistaThe call rests on a loop of familiar design patterns – the routine of reacting to recognizable tastes and icons – it is imperative to make things happen. “I feel like the way we create new ways to interact with each other online is just to invent new design models and adopt them,” wonders St. Germain. “And I think that will change a lot with the hardware too … there are people who are creating new, really experimental user interface models, like the guys at Radial Games when they did it” Fantastic Contraption. They put the inventory in a cat that followed you and you pet it, pick it up and take it out. It’s this type of creativity and willingness to explore new territories that will save us from the same patterns over and over again. “
Familiar design breeds familiar behavior, and this comfortable intimacy is a big part of HoloVistaThe call. But his beating heart is the ghost of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan – one of Aconite’s promotional emails includes a video of his Mirror Stage theory – adding a new layer of meaning to how we see ourselves and the world around us. And with technology at the forefront of modern life, it is infinitely more complicated to understand who we are with so many refracted versions of ourselves in different apps, social channels and platforms. In the game, Carmen’s sister, Inez, is a “fitpo” yoga influencer with strong support, but she seems restless and unhappy. Dependence on social media as a tool for understanding ourselves has created a quivering race of resentment and anxiety that a writer has dubbed a “techxistential crisis.” Through Carmen’s messages with her popular and successful friends, it’s clear that everyone has a treasure trove of private anxiety.
HoloVistaOne of its most prescient narrative forces is the kinship of the culture of influence, especially with regard to virtual influencers. While dozens of digital celebrities, including Liam Nikuro and Noonoouri, have appeared in recent years, Lil Miquela, an Instagram sensation created by the transmedia agency Brud, reigns supreme with more than 2 million followers. “We are actually good friends with the people who make Lil Miquela, and we see ourselves as allies with them in telling the story,” said Lev, noting that Miquela’s team was inspired by HG Wells. War of the Worlds. First released in 1897, the classic of the alien invasion made history when a radio adaptation of the story in 1938 sparked mass hysteria. “When it aired, people thought it was real,” said St. Germain. “This goes to the heart of what our two companies are trying to do: take the most interesting things about storytelling and the most interesting things about reality, and put them together in a container that allows you to suspend your disbelief. “
By experiencing the type of future we want to have, Aconite has big plans to build new worlds, whether in pixels or in a physical place. But even with this platform based on emerging technologies, Lev’s vision for the future of storytelling has its roots in good old-school role-playing (live role-playing) – in particular, the genre suspended suspicion which is only possible under the veil of fiction.
“When I grew up in the Soviet Union, my parents … had it like J.R.R. Tolkien Middle Earth LARP Club,” she recalls. “There was no guide on how to LARP because they were behind the Iron Curtain. Everything was very homemade. In this Middle Earth bootleg microcosm, in the midst of a largely homophobic culture, were two characters in a queer relationship. “Everyone was like, it’s good, cool, no problem,” she said. “It was a very nice romance with a lot of real tender feelings behind it that would never have had the support of the community in Russia otherwise … but in the magic circle of the game, things became OK which are not OK in the real life. ”
With regard to mixed reality, it seems that all roads lead to the large-scale impact of Pokemon Gobecause the little magic circle of a homemade GN can now easily be extended to millions of people with a smartphone and an Internet connection. In the vanity of a game or a fictional reality, maybe we can imagine a better world for ourselves – Lev certainly does.
“I think if we have network gameplay that is on a large enough scale, I imagine something like what my parents had in Russia as a GN, but a hundred times bigger. I think we can try new experiences to find out how to coexist as a society in this magic circle, “she said.” Because there are a lot of systems that are broken, that are not sustainable, that do not respond not the needs of some people in a society. But hopefully, whether it’s Aconite or someone else, we have such complex, big, cross-cultural playful experiences in which people can try new pruning systems in a playful and experimental way. . “
Correction. This article originally claimed that the game would arrive on Android in June; it is currently only available for iOS without a specific release date.