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 ( 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.