the disobedience paradox

Playing at the boundary of physical and digital

The disobedience paradox is an interactive experience which explores notions of time and memory. Set in a fictional past, the experience is rooted in a real life event, the Oaks Explosion. It imagines what would happen if a tragedy caused time to break, and what we might need to do to repair it. The piece asks questions about what it is to meaningfully recognise our past, how we can reconcile ourselves with it, and then what it means to move forward. 

Made over the past three months, during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the process of making the disobedience paradox was one of rendering our standard ‘live’ practices into a digital form. 

The disobedience paradox takes place over a week. You begin by meeting key characters, through messages, emails, voicenotes… they give you challenges, and tell you more about the world you are in, and the town Stairfoot in which the story takes place. This builds to an escape room, which takes place in the middle of the week. The escape room plays out on zoom, and uses 360 film, powerpoint, twine and animations to lead the players to the centre of time. The players are then given space to reflect on, and deconstruct their experience, before attending a debrief and reflection a few days later. 

In undertaking this process of translating our practice online, I have found that much of our work has been rooted in finding ways to tether our ‘virtual’ reality to physical space. Here, I have found myself constructing a parallel between the digital and the virtual, and the physical and the real. In this new online environment, the physical space you inhabit remains your own, and the digital space you move into is virtual – this is where the story takes place. 

A particular challenge in this case has been understanding how to take a form that relies heavily on spatialised storytelling and facilitate that digitally. Our experimentations have led us to both make ‘physical’ spaces online, for example, creating 360 films that allow parts of the virtual world to become inhabitable, and to find ways to bring the ‘digital’ space offline, and create opportunities for the digital to enter your environment, for example, tying plot moments to items found in your home, or even using AR to physically alter the room the player is in. 

In navigating the virtual and the real, we find ourselves playing with time. The durational nature of the piece allows it to spread across your time, and entwine with your daily experiences. As the piece plays out across the week, you listen to recordings sat in your living room, you receive a message while cooking. By leaving the time bound constraints of a zoom call, suddenly the piece can entwine much more actively with your daily experiences. 

The more we play at this boundary, the more digital space can spill into our physical environments, and the more the virtual blurs into the real. While I by no means have found the best way to enact this ‘tethering’ of realities, for me it is the key to building a practice that is fully ‘online’.

This opportunity to play at the boundaries, where realities spill into one another, goes beyond experiencing the digital in your physical, the physical in your digital, it allows us to further and more deeply explore the dialogues between our virtual realities and our ‘real’ ones. As the boundary blurs, our audiences and players carry things out of their experience; the points of ‘tether’ allow the piece to move beyond an artistic experience, into something that has capacity to alter your lived reality.

You can read more about the background to this project and my work with Dr Nicola Abraham here.