Disregarding the notion of ‘character’ in mixed reality horror

Throughout the prototype process an element of mixed reality performances that was incorporated to the work was the lack of a character for the immersant. The immersant is treated as themselves, and brought into the world of the work, with their personality, sensibilities and character tropes in tact.

3 participants experienced the initial prototype, we will name these participants A, B and C for the purpose of examination of their responses post-participation.

When asked ‘Do you think it was effective in treating you as yourself rather than say giving you a character before it began? Does it make it more personal?’ participant A stated;

‘Yeah, just being myself, yeah.’ … ‘I guess its like because I’m not expecting to do this today, I feel extremely anxious to do it but I’m in this position where I am there.’ Participant A (2017)

The participant was referring to the element of the interaction with the character played by performer who asks them specific questions relating to the narrative and themselves, as the experience progressed.

Conversely, when asked about whether they garnered any meaning such as a moral dialogue from the piece, participant B stated:

‘I like proper questioned whether I was like a good person or not. I don’t think I’ve done anything bad! I really questioned.’ Participant B (2017)

Interestingly, from both participants in the prototype, the nature of the lack of character was able to provide a sense of self within the coded performance environment. The question asked by the character to the participant at one point in the performance is ‘what is the most evil thing you have ever done?’ at which point, all participants hesitated, seemingly having been brought into a far more subjective reality within the piece.

‘Remembering is connected to retentionality in the following fashion: Since every retention brings with it a further retention, a chain of retentions stretches into the past like a ‘comet’s tail’ (PCT, 35-30). We are thus capable of representing past moments which are implicitly connected with the present moment through this chain of retentions, and we are able to do so without being aware of all the retentions that lie in between.’ Lewis, M and Staehler, T (2010). Phenomenology: An Introduction. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. p27.

If we apply phenomenology theory to this experience, we can consider retentionality the process at play. The participant has retained knowledge of their past experiences and their conscience to the present moment during the work. Their ‘chain’ of retentions adds to the performance, rather than presenting predetermined character notions, we are using the participant’s retentions of their life, and their self, in order to create discomfort. Interestingly, and conversely, this then creates a further retention of the experience of being within the coded system. Their responses post-experience, and their uneasy recollection of the experience, shows us that the chain of retention has continued through the use of an immersant focused environment.

This lasting personal affect is in interesting virtue of approaching work in this way, disregarding the notions of a given character in favour of a more personal narrative, interwoven in the given narrative of the piece. From an experiential standpoint, this provides us with a view into the subjective reality of the experience, as immersants bring their own real memories and perceptions of self to the narrative. This moral narrative is explored in video games, notably in horror in such games as Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) explored earlier in this study and blog. Due to the various plot twists and abstract nature of the narrative, it is only when confronted with the truth of the protagonists mercy killing of his wife prior to the narrative at the end of the game, that the player is left to reflect on the morals of the character.

The prototype instead places the immersant at the centre of this reflection, and in the case of participant B, raised moral questions in relation to their own character and past actions. In bringing together these sorts of narratives with branching experiences, and the immersant as self, phenomenologically this could be considered an effective merging of mixed reality and digital game design practice.

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