Circus-Circus ReBoot Ride and Science Space
By James Decker
Once we lived vicariously through the lives of great men and women:
emperors and queens, lords, priests and pardoners, robber barons and
rock stars. They led by building fires that could consume the attention
and the labor of thousands. These fires were at first the threat of
violence which grabs attention and obedience like nothing else, but
increasingly violence was refined to spectacle and eventual took more
subtle turns violence and fear shaded into other feelings, hopes as
well as fears. The palaces, tombs, and libraries along with the lives
of these men and women were storybook spectacles, lived for their
audiences, to inspire their subjects, to surround their employees,
to arouse their fans, and of course to serve their customers. When
we talk about digital enhancements to location based entertainment
then, we are talking about a tradition as old as history itself. But
the tradition seems in many ways to be turning inside out insofar
as rulers now seek to contain their spectacle, to ride on the coattails
of bland spectacle, the move along there's nothing of interesting
here model. The palaces are now family homes in walled communities
and public parks have been erected, spectacles with an admission fee.
Las Vegas serves the people as a kind of time-share property where
rent is measured by the minute rather than the month.
Caesar's Palaces delivers plaster and leaves the alchemy to people's
imaginations. And the success of Las Vegas has thus far boundless.
Today, the people press their Reebok soles against real Italian marble
in The Bellagio. If they can't exactly stop to smell the flowers,
they at least shuffle past ten thousand flowers, then back to the
slots. The surrogate Caesar continues to issue coins into the hands
of the masses, microviolence to purse and pride; but now shades of
fear and hope want to aggregate back into full scale fear and violence.
Jackpots! A shark reef at Mandalay Bay lets you confront the toothy
demise nature spent billions of years designing for you. The problem
is you never take your hands out of your pockets. Now, we demand rides
such as Circus-Circus' ReBoot Ride. In this IMAX theater the inner-workings
of solid-state electronics are neither explained nor sold but inhabited
by characters imagined to live within the circuits. They spring from
these unknowably small spaces, from our imaginings of these spaces,
and if you think about it
from the circuitry itself which shakes
your seat as it paints the screen surrounding you. Ok, no doubt the
storyline sucks, but the message calling attention to the medium is
a kind of folding, a reflective thinking, that immersive experiences
in general seem to need to engage. It may not be so different from
the folding that The Bellagio realizes as it tampers with real/simulated
wealth. It's wisdom is to treat people's desires as real. ReBoot tampers
with media and imagines how it too could become real.
And yet, media is real. The spectacle that governs or at least organizes
our lives now involves television, film, adver-clothing, email, telephone,
and mobile wireless wear. The ability to synchronize these media is
a first step in the direction of re-realizing the spectacles which
media can make. Sure, violence will be first, and it will continue
to flower in a million and one genres from Shuttle Liftoff simulators
to Murder Mysteries that ring your home telephone. But, eventually,
couldn't these synchronized media tell true stories as well? My visit
to the World's Fair in 1992 included a trip to the Fujitsu pavilion
where IMAX was coupled to goggles with LCD lenses that opened and
shut your left and right eyes at different moments to render a sickeningly
realistic 3d space. Every audience member could be seen involuntarily
reaching out to touch the giant bunch of grapes that hung before us.
A virtual trip through the circulatory system of the racoon that ate
the grapes was science class and a roller coaster all rolled into
one. Are ReBoot Back to the future stories to lame to survive the
future? Let's hope.
ScienceSpace is George Mason University's project (http://www.virtual.gmu.edu/)
exploring VR applications in science education. This project suggests
that virtual experiences of the physical world according to scientific
principles could avert our naïve misconceptions about gravity,
mass, energy which are little different from the beliefs of our ancient,
medieval, and pre-Copernican ancestors. What might we be capable of?
Who knows, maybe in the long run the spectacle will come to serve
the people rather than the reverse. True stories could even become
more popular than pure fantasies, especially if it turns out that
by learning them, you could learn skills that mean you don't need
to go begging at Caesar's Place for your coins.