Best Before (Macintosh)

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Four real live human beings (a multimedia artist, a traffic flagger, a politician, and a onetime EA game tester) take the stage and deliver existential monologues about their real-life careers, then instruct the 200 people in the audience to remove the joysticks from the seat backs before them and direct their attention to the projection screen at the back of the stage.

For over two hours the group plays a game midway between Ayn Rand's interactive play The Night of January 16th , Peter J. Favaro's Alter Ego, and American Idol audience polls. Every audience member is assigned a blobby avatar on-screen at all times. Right from the get-go they are given questions to answer -- do we want our avatars to be male or female? gents on the left, ladies on the right -- then the same mass polling technique is applied to further questions defining not just personal avatars but the rules of the game world of BestLand: do "we" want to have abilities evenly distributed or to have a society where some members excel while others are disabled? Majority rules OK! Meanwhile, the floor tips as though the two halves of the screen are the two trays of a balance scale.

Time passes, triggered by the on-stage game facilitator, accompanied by further monologues and more cutting questions: your avatars are 15 now! Who wants to celebrate by experimenting sexually? We'll just shunt the late bloomers off to the side for a moment and the male avatars for that matter... meanwhile, it is calculated that 50% of the adventurous female avatars didn't employ effective contraception, and are now pregnant. They get a further prompt: keep the baby or abort it? Not a choice many are expecting to have to make in a game, and not in front of an audience of two hundred.

Other lifestyle choices made throughout the avatars' lives (about two hours) influence their careers (four to choose from, same as the speakers on stage) and, relatedly, their financial assets, as well as their appearance (parent avatars have mini blobbies orbiting around them; ex-cons grow devil horns; homeowners are graced with a roof appearing over their head. And so forth.) Some of them go abroad, are jailed (by the laws decided by their peers) or hospitalised and are temporarily taken out of play. Meanwhile the players grow familiar with the four buttons on the joystick in addition to navigation of the 2D plane; jump, drop (return to one's initial position on the screen), bond (find a romantic partner in the vicinity) and split (shed a romantic partner... and lose 1 Besto, the local unit of currency.)

In adulthood the option presents itself for avatars to stand for public office; mounting the pedestal, their indicting record of choices (or worse, their failure to vote) is plainly presented for all to see -- a player's history on subjects of compassion, justice, patriotism, drug criminalization, immigration, gun ownership -- and terrifyingly the microcosm gets to vote arena-style, blobs mobbing the pedestal most appealing to the most players. The President gets to make a few choices on everyone's behalf (including the choice to suspend future elections -- tempered by a group poll on whether to mount a coup d'etat) but mostly they just meekly back down on unpopular matters of taxation and roll with the punches when an actor rolls a random disaster on giant novelty dice during sporadic news breaks delivered live on stage and appearing simultaneously on-screen through a videocast.

The years tick on through dozens of personal decisions and eventually almost all the avatars on screen have IV bags following them around in their dotage. Following a last huzzah of a user-created snowstorm (if one flake falls every time an avatar jumps...) a pit opens in the centre of the screen, allowing world-weary avatars to hurl themselves into the abyss; survivors can hang on a bit longer but past age 100 the winds of change ultimately blow everyone off-screen.

The speakers share their final pieces; the players put their joysticks back in the seatback pouches and leave the theatre.


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Pseudo_Intellectual (60898) added Best Before (Macintosh) on Jan 26, 2010