[This post follows on from part one, which explains the genesis of the Dreams Of Your Life project. Links to the film, and to our digital project, are at the end of the post]
The power of games is the problem of games. As Tom wrote earlier in the week, games gate progress: if you want to feel successful or find out the end of the story or have better stuff or see wilder worlds, you need to do what the game asks of you. This makes them powerful motivators, and people operate – well – dishonestly in their presence.
Carol’s film handles Joyce’s story with not just honesty, but delicacy & discretion, and we wanted our experience to cover the same emotional territory in a way that felt personal to everyone who encountered it.
It turned out, in fact, that starting by asking players to act honestly meant we couldn’t ask them to be players: chasing after goals and overcoming obstacles were actions that we didn’t feel appropriate in this context. So we had to look outside of games for our inspiration, to an interactive structure that operated on different terms.
We found it on the floor of Chartres cathedral. The 13th century labyrinth inlaid on the floor has been a tool for contemplation and self-examination for centuries. Labyrinth and maze used to be words I’d use interchangeably: not any more.
Mazes are games: junctions and choices that stand between you and the exit. In other words, goal, motivation, choice. Labyrinths are entirely linear. There is only one path, looping around and inside and alongside itself. There isn’t even a goal: on reaching the centre, your job is to turn round and come back the way you came, till you arrive back at where you started, having accomplished nothing.
And by walking a copy of that labyrinth for ourselves, we found was that within that no-choice structure, lots of tiny choices lurked, elevated to greater significance by the choice-vacuum in which they existed.
When to start? How fast to walk? How to walk, even? Slow, measured paces? Smooth perpetual shuffle? How long to wait at the centre? What to do at the centre? Sit? Stand? Facing in? Facing out? Arms folded or not? What to think about? Oh boy, what to think about.
And even though all that you were doing was walking and thinking, the doing of it was critical. Labyrinths are extraordinarily tricksy. All you’re doing is starting here and going five yards over there and then coming back. But the route you’re given takes 30 minutes to pace. When you pass a person coming the other way on an adjacent track, you have no way of telling if they’re ahead of you or behind you – and if they’re 30 seconds ahead or 10 minutes behind. Labyrinths fold time and space, and the doing of them is all. It’s not interactivity the way games mean interactivity, but – having walked one – I couldn’t call it anything else.
And it was with those thoughts that we started working with photographer Lottie Davies writer A.L. Kennedy, and programmer Phil Gyford. The third and final post will explain how our collaborators transformed our ideas into the experience that’s now online.
This multiplatform commission was designed to be approached from multiple angles. You might like to start with an essay about Joyce, or a review of the film, or a trailer, or by booking for a screening, or by playing the thing we made. We’d love to hear what you think.
Image of the Chartres Labyrinth by Flickr user Dumbo.