Humans have come up with a lot of ways to explore our consciousness—you’ve got drugs, great works of art, psychoanalysis, and reality TV recaps, to name a few—but Alan Kwan, a recent graduate at the City University School of Creative Media in Hong Kong, has come up with another: the Xbox 360 controller. For his recent project, Bad Trip, Kwan created a haunting virtual world, filled it with his own memories, and invited others to see what they could find.
As far as video game universes go, it’s a disturbing one. Bad Trip takes place in a nondescript mountain range rendered in glowing outline—a knobby wilderness with a Tron-like digital aesthetic. The sense of dread is heightened by an ominous soundscape mixed by Kwan himself. Using a standard console controller, players traverse the desolate world, occasionally stumbling across buildings with piles of blocks that represent Kwan’s memories. Actually, represent might not be quite the right word—they are Kwan’s memories, hazy collages of sights and sounds that Kwan has actually experienced, captured by a small HD video camera he bought on eBay and mounted to his glasses last year.
The artist has worn the life-capturing rig continuously since November 2011, collecting over 820 GB of data, and he’s been expanding his virtual world to accommodate the new neural info every night along the way. And while Bad Trip’s geography might seem haphazard, as Kwan explained in an lengthy interview with GameScenes.org, the layout of the mindscape is dictated by a sort of chilling logic:
In the demo video you may notice the flying houses in which players would have no possible way to reach, and in fact they are the ones that store my secret memories. Although not being able to see them, players could actually climb up the mountains, and listen to the little echo sound of my secret memories when the houses fly over. The house that stores my childhood memories is also particularly difficult to reach. Players would have to walk up the surreal long spiral stairs, and to my experience, they normally have to retry multiple times in order to successfully reach the house.
Knowing that Kwan has designed the game with such deliberation, players might feel a bit more comfortable about prodding into his life. But the fact that the juiciest memories are the hardest to get to only serves to heighten the voyeuristic element of the experience. Kwan admitted to GameScenes that he was reluctant to include clips that revealed his slight stutter, but he settled for hiding those memory blocks around the corners of the structures which dot the landscape.
In the next version of the game, however, Kwan hopes to let the rest of us get in on the secret-spilling action; he’s working with a team of people to make it easy for other life-loggers to create their own virtual worlds. In this new multiverse, he envisions a Memory Market where players could swap experiences, or buy weapons that would let them to destroy other users’ memory clusters. Of course you have to throw a little violence in there. Why else will kids want to play it?
[Hat tip: The Creators Project]