The Cave was originally dreamed up as an interactive exploration of visual culture and critical theory, a pedagogical tool as much as entertainment. The project went through a few permutations before ending up as it is now. The first plan was to build a pretty standard 2D fighter in Flash but infuse it with a lesson on some necessary figures in film theory and history. I’m interested in how film studies has been widely approached by the Academy since the 1990s, its postmodern turn away from theory marking a drastic reorganization of priorities both pedagogical and political. At this point student aversion to theory seems to render it “unteachable” as the Grand theories of Marxism, psychoanalysis, even semiotics have been maligned as ineffective in the context of the modern industry of film. I imagined using the interactive interface to approach film theory and history another way, to embed it in the actions of the player. Unfortunately the Fighter was abandoned due to some issues with the art direction, so I broadened the approach as I re-conceptualized it for Twine.
Inspired by the “database” and the possibilities it presents for the critical investigation of visual forms, I aimed to represent the evolution of visual media in a semi-linear semi-narrative. Lev Manovich’s discussion of Vertov’s demonstration of the database provided a guide: “…in the hands of Vertov, a database, this normally static and ‘objective’ form, becomes dynamic and subjective” (212). Although Vertov’s self-reflexive use of the database may not entirely encompass what Manovich means by “dynamic and subjective,” I believe a Vertovian self-referential consideration of medium is inscribed in the form of database art. The database is a remixer’s paradise – with every new combination, a new commentary on art, artifact, and ideology. So I thought it apt to treat my interactive “adventure” as a database itself, a subdivision of original database, the Internet, which offers a nearly infinite number of (anti-)narrative interactions with global media culture. I wanted to simulate the type of interactions – both real and metaphorical – produced by the transmedial interface, which doesn’t so much as contain all the visual arts inside itself as it does mimic them. I wanted the player to reflect on the ways different visual artistic forms behave as mimics – of themselves and of us.
I divided my chosen artifacts into three loosely tied categories. The artifacts of any given category are linked by theme or style, or some merging of the two. The first “track” or “path” is Realism, which referenced or evidenced the artistic tradition of realism, but also included political and social realism. The second track is Surrealism, which included any example of surrealist art or, in a larger sense, any explicitly meta dialogue on artistic form and “user” (i.e. audience, viewer, spectator, player) interaction. The final track began as a collection of scientific pursuits in the arts, a documentation of documentation. But as it slowly evolved I realized that all three of my paths dealt with the “uses” of visual media and none tackled head-on the “misuses,” the racism, classism, sexism, imperialism, hegemony, and simple self-infatuation evident throughout human creation. In this way I think the third category is probably the “truest” reflection of media and visual art I provide, offering the kinds of controversial, propagandistic artistic creations that most explicitly address the human condition.
The game itself is an allegory of Plato’s Cave, a thought experiment that addresses the mediated nature of knowledge. Player’s begin in the Cave, shackled to the wall with shadows projected in front of them. As the player’s “character” (“You are you” is used often in the text of the game to remind the player of who they are outside the game) becomes fascinated by the shadows, he/she is invited to enter a succession of visual representations. Second-person text guides the player and attempts to implicate the user directly, calling you out as each decision is made. But text has its limits, oftentimes leaving the player lost, turned around, or facing an abrupt end. There are dozens of “dead-ends” that serve to leave the player contemplating the series of decisions he/she has made as well as a number of “start-overs” that simulate visual culture’s process of self-reification. Quotes from artists and critics alike are sprinkled throughout the game, providing a kind of textual “citation” and lending clarity to the aims of the images and videos. Video clips and even sometimes full movies are embedded in the game, demonstrating the intertextuality of the database and allowing for a richer, more example-driven critical engagement with the interface. Other images and visual tricks accompany the videos as players move jaggedly from one media to the next. The “ultimate” ending is a single line of text describing the player as he/she sits at a computer and plays a game (that game being The Cave), suggesting that an awareness of our interactions with the computer interface is necessary in any critical dialogue with its programs.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001.