Go Army: A Virtual Event

Overview

Go Army is a guided tour which takes place on Erangle Island in PlayerUnknown’s Battleground(PUBG). The project examines the predatory attempts of the US military to use video games as a recruiting tactic. When war is presented as something to be played, the viewers perceive the political content, enter militarised virtual worlds, and become virtual soldiers and army recruitment targets without even notice. 

To stress the idea of “everyone is a virtual soldier and their image can be found in the military propaganda”, I take the livestream viewers on a tour of the island's photo spots, where they can take pictures of themselves imitating the images from US Army recruiting ads. During the tour, as an intervention against the default narrative of the game, I also communicate with the in-game players and try to team with them to build an army in PUBG. 



Tools

Twitch, OBS, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Lens Studio

Keywords

Virtual event, Livestreaming, Interaction, Militarised virtual world

Time

2020 Fall

Process

Studio 1 (Week 1-7): Digital as space

In Studio 1, we will also tour specialty, expert, or niche software interfaces that are often overlooked, hidden (sometimes on purpose), ugly, ‘undesigned’, and underrepresented within interaction design dialogs and critical software discussions. We will work to understand these digital spaces where ever-shifting relationships, behaviors, and powers are negotiated through windowed screens tethered to non-human and human actors tethered to physical bodies situated in both physical and digital geographies. Fully embracing software as a complex site of social distractions and attractions (wonderful, horrific, aimless, intentioned, wild and targeted), we will also examine the complicated cultural, political, and technological relations of identifying, sorting, and ordering its ‘users’ and ‘citizens’.
We will use our screens to explore, expose, and reimagine these software spaces, and through misuses, interventions, screen shares, screen records, and live streams, to research and design. The studio will focus on visiting, documenting and critically interrogating these spaces through investigative assignments and readings. Together, through discussions, critique, readings, lectures, and workshops, we cover the studio theme as well as the following topics from both applied and theoretical points of view. 

I. Kickoff: Software Perceptions

In a team of two with Zhuoyu Li, we conducted an observational study of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds(PUBG) as a multiplayer site. We spent 4+ hours in the place at different times of day, meeting people and playing with people. We tried to follow the rules and break the rules, and documented our observations and findings.

Main sites in Cheer Park

We picked the Cheer Park as the site to analysis the digital space since cheer park has the same assets as the battle mode, and it allows us to analysis the space without being distracted by the unexpected endings of "killing" in the game. Our findings are:

First, as an island scattered with towns, villages, and industrial complexes, the place is 90% nature + 10% manmade architecture. We did an visual analysis of the cheer park:

Visual Analysis

Then, we did an analysis of the players. We listed the keywords that can describe the players in cheer park: strong, slender, goodlooking, soldiers, naked. Their activities include: Play against friends to see who is the better marksman; Sit together; Jump on trampolines; Shooting games; Drive; Duel other players via Quick Draw; Take photos and selfies; Drink; Run...

Looking at their behaviors from a social world perspective: There is government moral principles. Gender is blurred as you can choose any genders you'd like to choose. There is no wealth gap, however, there is currency that allows players to buy special edition clothes, which in some way contradicts with the fact that most of the players wear nothing. In order to stay in the Cheer Park, only a minimum level of social interaction is necessary, yet players seek more.

Comparing to the game mode of PUBG where players enter competitions, Cheer Park has the following characteristics:

  1. Cheer Park is a wonderland. PUBG is a disturbing future war that mixes high-tech weaponry with scarcity and desperation, and players have to constantly look for resources to survive. However, in Cheer Park, supplies is inexhaustible. The only thing that is not infinite is time (1h30min).
  2. There is no death metaphor in Cheer Park. In PUBG, death is the label that has become attached to the condition of “game over” or “lose”. In Cheer Park, there is no “death”. Instead, there is WIN and LOSE, which is more of realism.
  3. There is no dichotomy between "me" and "other players". In the Cheer Park, players are not enemies like they are in the game mode.
  4. Cheer Park is an extension of the player's perception. In PUBG, players and avatars are separate entities. Players do not label themselves as the avatars. The avatars might get injured, or die, but the players do not. If you killed another avatar, it doesn’t mean you killed another player. The screen is a part of gaming device(like the right image shows). In comparison, identity in Cheer Park is not merely about labeling an avatar as being “you”. It’s about your avatar becomes yourself. In the Cheer Park, the avatars are extension of players and the screen becomes a entry / connection between the real world and digital place(like the left image shows.) When you are interacting with another avatar, you are actually interacting with another player.
Left: Cheer Park; Right: game mode.

For Huizinga, nothing can be a game if it involves moral consequence […] if some consequence really does matter in the end, the game is over. In fact, the only act of moral consequence that can happen within a game is the act of ending the game, denying its as-if character, spoiling the fantasy [...] (Castronova, The Right to Play, 2004, pp. 188-189)

Questions:

Is Cheer Park a game?
Where is the end of virtual world and where is the start of the real world? Are they the same?

II. Making Collections

In team of two with Iris/Yuanyuan Gong, we selected Animal Crossing New Horizons(ACNH) as the site and created 6 collections and 6 composites that can represent ACNH's worldview.

Collection 1: Coastline
Composite 1: The coastline indicates the island is an utopian society isolated from the world.
Collection 2: Plants
Composite 2: Naturalism; Parallel life.
Collection 3: Villagers
Composite 3: Diversity and harmony.
Collection 4: Labor
Composite 4
Collection 5: Consumption
Collection 5: Consumption
Composite 5
Collection 6: Neighborhood
Composite 6

III. Sited Interventions

Individually, I selected PUBG as the multiplayer platform, created 3 different design interventions(misuses, performances, protests, stagings, piling, collecting, sightseeing... ) with the following questions in mind:

What is the intended use of the multiplayer software/game? What is good or bad about that? What are basic tools and what else can you make with it? How can you use this misuse to emphasize or bring attention to something?
How does your intervention agree or disagree with the world? The politics, economics, or social structures of the place?
Representations of territories and cultural identities. Explore yours through these lenses. Who or what takes on these roles?

The three interventions I created are:

1) Death as victory

Original worldview: The one who survive the longest is the winner.

My intervention: The one who can find a best place to die is the winner. Now that 99/100 of the players are going to die, why don’t you find a place you like and wait for death to come?

> Martin Heideggerian: Being towards death is a way of being.

From this intervention, one important observation is: I still want to win.

From my in-class presentation

The question becomes - What does it mean to win? My answer is "winning" in the game means more time to get engaged through claiming the existence in the virtual world. From this observation I came to my second intervention.

2) Unnecessary Existence

Original worldview: In order to survive, every member in your team has value.

My intervention: Become an unnecessary existence to my teammates.

In this intervention, I made myself a burden to my teammates, which makes me unwilling to start a new game. This experience makes me aware of how important it is for people in a virtual community to  “speak” the same language. Those who don’t obey the rule will be excluded from the community.

3) Anti-war Protest

The original worldview: There’s a dichotomous relationship between “me” and “enemy”.

My intervention: I am not an enemy. People shouldn't be enemy to each other.

I turned on my audio and played anti-war music while aimlessly driving around. I try to communicate with other players in the game and see if they'll "kill" me. Almost every time I tried to approach another player, I would be killed. But unexpectedly during the critique, people were reacting to the form of driving + music.

IV. Software Guided Tours

Based on the feedback, I refined my intervention and tested five tour guiding options, using OBS + Twitch + Snap Camera.

Documentation of the five guiding options
Takeaways from the five guiding options.
My interest: how does medium specific technique enable us to construct mental images of narrative space?

I refined the livestream screen's composition. The upper part is my dashcam footage, and the bottom part is the game play.

I also refined the soundtrack based on the analysis below.

Studio 1 Final Deliverable Description:

Sound and Vision: On the Wheel is a travel show in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds(PUBG). Using the cars available for the players to chase after their enemies or run away, the project is an intervention around driving, investigating personal memory and experience through the collage of sound and vision, trying to speak to the imaginative space of the audience. 

The travel show happens on PUBG's island, which is a location where all of us share an universal perception of reality: vegetations, rocks, rivers, weather, sunlight... These natural assets allow us to shape an environment in different ways. To add personal attachment to this space, I layered my car’s dash cam footage on the top of livestream, and kept their original soundtrack to connect ‘real driving’ and ‘virtual driving.’ I also hum with the songs recorded by the dash cam, positioning myself on the intersection of real and virtual. In the livestream, sound becomes a dominant factor in seeing, turning the space into a distant backdrop, a palette that allows everyone to find their own colors on it.

Studio 2 (Week 8-14): Interaction as Event

In Studio 2, we will examine small and big, short and long events, both historical, cultural, and technological through the topical lens of your Studio 1 project. We will build upon your work from Studio 1 to create an event of/within your crafted site based intervention. You will determine the event, the type/genre, and goal, focusing on the designed form, refinement, and craft of the event’s artefacts: time, flow, interactions, behaviors, visual language, and materials for a live streamed exhibition. Studio 2 discussions and critique will be focused on design form, helping you experiment visual craft and refine your formal communication to your intended audience.

I. Ideation

Using my research from Studio 1, I conceptualized a series of multiplayer event iterations using the following genre/time types:

1. A habit, routine, or ritual

2. A catastrophe or crisis

3. A season (nature or fashion)

4. A competition, sporting, workout, or war

5. An apology

6. An album, song, or performance

7. A talent show, musical, or play

8. A press briefing 

9. Shopping 

10. An recommendation algorithm 

11. Cooking or cleaning 

12. A party 

13. An accident, fire, or crash 

14. A seance

I selected the "Instagram photo trip" iteration for further development.

From my in-class presentation: A fashion / PUBG Instagram Trend

II. Forming Visual Reference

I created a collection of visual/image references and associations of the event type, formed visual languag, and sketched 5 artifacts that might exist in the event.

III. Refinement

To select sites in PUBG, I did a visual analysis of the US Army's YouTube Channel about the military representation in video propaganda including the environment, lifestyle, and nature.

Visual Analysis of the army propaganda & video games

Based on the analysis above, I selected a series of sites and gave them names and descriptions, including Celebrity Wall, The Airport, Forest of Marching, Warrior Building, The Grant Field.

I experimented with the format of map, tour guide outfit, and background music.

Branding Elements
Camera Filter(Made with Lens Studio & After Effects)

III. Final Livestream

The final livestream was conducted with OBS + Twitch.

Final description:

Go Army is a guided tour which takes place on Erangle Island in PlayerUnknown’s Battleground(PUBG). The project examines the predatory attempts of the US military to use video games as a recruiting tactic. When war is presented as something to be played, the viewers perceive the political content, enter militarised virtual worlds, and become virtual soldiers and army recruitment targets without even notice.

To stress the idea of “everyone is a virtual soldier and their image can be found in the military propaganda”, I take the livestream viewers on a tour of the island's photo spots, where they can take pictures of themselves imitating the images from US Army recruiting ads. During the tour, as an intervention against the default narrative of the game, I also communicate with the in-game players and try to team with them to build an army in PUBG.

Outcome & Reflection

This project was conducted during the pandemic, transferring observations from the real world to the virtual spaces.

During the process I had some discomfort and self-doubt, but after completing it, my heart was filled with gratitude that we were able to adjust to the ever-changing real world. I am grateful for the optimism and resilience shown by the instructor and students in this class, which I believe are the traits that make a future-ready designer.

Next project

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