In the Future, Everyone Will Be Heroic for 15 Minutes

“In The Future, Everyone Will Be Heroic for 15 Minutes” was presented at Karaköy Greek School as part of 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial: “The Future Is Not What It Used to Be”.

This interactive installation questions the possibility of self-realization in an increasingly mediated world. Are manifestos enacted by heroes or antiheroes? Which one are you? This installation art was conceived as a short, ergodic game with a linear narrative. The player embarks a treadmill and makes selection using three buttons on the front console. The three choices they are instructed to make lead them to one of the twenty-seven individual storylines.

The multimedia installation places the visitor in a series of scenarios that are often found in video games, heroic moments in which taking independent action might save the day. Through its treadmill-based interactive system, however, the installation radically transforms the rules of this game, suggesting new dynamics for interaction. The game is an invitation to reflection on personal identity, everyday choices, and depictions of the “hero” in media from video games to cinema, from literature to journalism, from urban legend to social media and content aggregation portals.

Participants stand on a treadmill, and a dark screen comes to life, displaying a series of multiple-choice questions. “Who are you?” invites you to choose your avatar, “Where are you?” sets the backdrop for your story, and “What do you see?” presents possible dangers in your fictional environment. From these interrelated questions a story is generated for the participants, as they are drawn into the game through the movement of the treadmill.

Each story culminates in the participant “unflinchingly” walking away from a digitally rendered explosion, a glorious ball of fire (think Terminator or Wolverine). The use of this trope prompts participants to reflect on their experience, to consider what their choices revealed. Moreover, with its participant – directed format, the project offers an alternative to the singular voice we often associate with the manifesto. After all, good video games give the players a chance to act in a heroic manner, but great video games cut away.

The treadmill contraption which was the heart of the installation itself was custom made and utilized a real yet “hacked” exercise treadmill. The platform is made of steel tubing and plywood to sustain months of use from thousands of biennial-goers and was illuminated with led strips in an otherwise dark room.

The small program runs on a computer hidden inside the machine and interacts with a programmable Arduino board, which in turn interacts with the buttons and a DC motor driver that controls the treadmill motor. The program displays on two screens. One is the “interaction screen” which presents the player with the narrative and the choices they are allowed to make. The other screen, called the “explosion screen” is hidden in plain sight and behind the player.

The players are invited to the room with the faint light emanating from this contraption, along with a loud, deep bass ambiance sound. As a player starts pushing the buttons to play the game, the text-based narrative of their gaming experience is eerily accompanied by a loud typewriter sound effect. The story itself is presented in Courier, the default font of American style screenplays.

After the final text is displayed and the player’s story is concluded, the treadmill starts running and brings the player to a gentle walking pace and the “explosion screen” displays a huge, digitally rendered rolling wall of flame along with a booming, fiery sound. This explosion was also custom generated and was the result of countless volumetric simulations.

Conceptualized and created by:
M. Can Tanyeli and E. Seda Kayım

Sound design by:
Erhun Erdoğan

Programming and integration by:
Sinan Taviloğlu