#1085: Site-Specific Immersive Audio Piece “Radio Ghost” Changed the Way I See Malls

Radio Ghost is a 70-minute, interactive and immersive audio piece for three people that’s site-specific to a mall. It’s meant to unpack the unseen stories of unethical consumption and deconstruct the design patterns of shopping malls. It’s has an upbeat and playful tone delivered by a radio DJ playing tunes from the 80s, and guiding each user on a ghost hunter journey as they cross thresholds into stores and discover unseen stories of oppression related to various items for sale. You report back your experiences to the other two players, who are simultaneously going on their own ghost hunting adventures. The experience also guides you through an embodied journey walking at different paces through the hallways, and invites you to pay attention to your surroundings in a new way. The end result was an immersive experience that I found to be both memorable and sticky for how it was able to change my perspective on how I see malls.

I was one of 30-40 people who had a chance to experience a Radio Ghost prototype at an Austin Mall during SXSW, and afterwards I was able to break down my experience and get an experiential design breakdown from ZU-UK’s Artistic Director Persis Jadé Maravala and Executive Producer Jorge Lopes Ramos. Radio Ghost will be showing at a number of other festivals during 2022, and keep an eye out on their website or social media for more details on a potential public release sometime later this year or next.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So in today's episode, we're covering the Radio Ghost, which was an immersive theater, audio guided tour that was part game, part immersive story that was showing at South by Southwest. So this was a piece that was a little bit of an adventure, actually, because they took me to a mall, and it was a site specific audio piece where I'm walking around the mall for around 70 minutes, there's two other people that are doing this experience, and so I'm going around listening to this immersive story that's got this really banging 80s track, and it's got this conceit where you're going to these different stores, you're taking pictures, and you end up hearing these stories around the unseen impacts of capitalism. So there wasn't a lot of people that actually got to see this piece, maybe 40 or 50 people or so. I mean, it was three people at a time, and then three or four days that people got to go out into what ended up being, for me, about a two and a half hour journey. So I actually really enjoyed this piece. It was one of my highlights from the festival, just because there were different things that they were having me do in terms of changing the way that I walk, or just the different social dynamics. My takeaway was that I am going to always remember this experience, whenever I go into another mall in the future. And so I think that's an interesting accomplishment to take something like a mall and to be able to do a story there that is going to stick with me with the larger message that they were trying to get across. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Zsa Zsa and Georgia happened on Thursday, March 17, 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:54.305] Jorge Lopes Ramos: My name is Georges Lopez-Ramos. I'm Executive Director of ZU UK, which produces a range of experiences, which are mostly in the public realm and using a type of interactive technology to engage people with one another. And I work with charging.

[00:02:15.997] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah, I'm Shalaji, I'm Artistic Director of ZEDU, and I create experiences across lots of different kinds of platforms. And not all of them use technology. Some of them are, you know, really quite analogy or quite basic. So I'm always looking at what the kind of raw product is around interaction and participation.

[00:02:40.033] Kent Bye: Okay. So maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing this type of interactive work.

[00:02:47.778] Jorge Lopes Ramos: Okay. So my journey started just over 20 years ago from theater, interactive theater, site-specific theater, contemporary performance, and then slowly moved towards today referred to as immersive theater in the UK. That was around 2006 when we made a project called Hotel Madea, which became one of the pioneers of immersive theatre, and since then have worked on two areas. One is against a lot of the issues around immersive as a trend and as an industry, but also looking at how we could find a sustainable model to use technology in order to enable people to meet one another in different ways.

[00:03:40.674] Persis Jadé Maravala: My background is a very corporal one. I come from a very body-based performance training. And I, I suppose really originally I kind of come from music and like a noise background or sort of post-punk interest. And I performance art, and then I trained in the legacy of Jacek Grotowski, who was a theatre Polish director, theatre practitioner. And from there, I started to look more closely at what, as George said, what then at that time, what was experimental theatre, but then went on to be known as immersive theatre. So very much at the first wave. of creating pieces that included audience members as casted members of an experience and continued from there to investigate less the artist to the audience relationship and more the audience to audience relationship. So I started to become very interested in like how bodies relate to other bodies in space and what intimacy looks like and particularly intimacy at scale, you know, whether that was something that was available when you have been privileged enough to be, you know, there's making work with no risk so sort of making very very DIY and radical punk sort of stuff where we didn't have any resources or money or funding or backing or support or partners or any of that sort of world you just kind of putting it all together in your own back shed as it were and then what you did have was time and freedom so you were able to really nurture understanding around human interaction and nonverbal communication and all the things that went into doing like one-on-one performances, for example. So there's a lot of background in various kind of deep rooted research in human to human interaction. So that's really my main, yeah, my main background.

[00:05:53.795] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah, I can definitely see how that plays out in the experience that I did at South by Southwest called radio ghost, which I knew little to nothing about. Sometimes when I see these experiences, I don't even read the description. I'm just like, okay, I'm going to go on a 70 minute adventure. Okay. Let's see what this is. And it ended up being about a two and a half hour journey with traffic to go to out to the mall and then back. But it was definitely one of the highlights of my South by Southwest experience. And I'd love to dig into more of my experience of that. But before I do, I wanted to maybe have a broader, a little bit more spoiler-free discussion about the piece so that people do have an opportunity to see it on their own, then they can go do that. But At South by there was maybe 30 or 40 or 50 people that got to see it. So I was one of the few people who did get to see it. So I just wanted to share some of my experiences so that if people don't have the opportunity, they can learn about it. But before we dive into those, maybe you could describe what this experience is and what you were trying to do with it.

[00:06:53.208] Persis Jadé Maravala: Ooh. Okay. So this experience is a game or is it for three people? It definitely is for three people. It definitely has to happen in a mall. It's a sort of site specific game that happens in the mall for three people. And there are lots and lots and lots of influences. One of the huge ones is like my obsession with the 80s. And I don't mean that in a kind of kitsch sort of fashion way. I just mean that in a belief that a lot of our political issues that are happening now are rooted in the ideologies that were taking hold in the 80s. And I think moral culture really represents that kind of neoliberal state that was the seeds of which were being sown, you know, so heavily into us as kids, really, that, you know, that we would have been then. With Reaganomics and Thatchernomics at its height. And I'm interested in the format of the triad. So I've done a lot of one-to-one work and worked a lot with dyads, you know, forging relationships between two people, done a lot of small group work, done a lot of mass work, obviously worked with big audiences. But I never worked in threes. And I thought that three is a very, very interesting number. It's the smallest amount that a society can be. And it's a really interesting relationship of wanting to get to grips with what triads mean, you know, what a triad means. And then the other major point about Radio Ghost is about how consumerism is always known to be, you know, how capitalism sort of manifests itself in the in the individual, the smaller players and how sustainability has become co-opted again by capitalism in the sense that, you know, you get kind of told off, don't you go to hotels and they say, oh, please, do you mind, you know, reusing your towels? Because think of the planet. that always really pisses me off so much, because I just think, fuck you, pretending to give a fuck about the planet. So it's more or less a way of trying to stop blaming people, especially poor people, for the problems that the planet is suffering at the moment. Because I think that there is a lot of snobbery around consumer choices. And I think that people have been really blindsided by big corporations and kind of tricked and manipulated into not really being allowed to think about where things come from and how they are sourced and what might be going on in countries far away from us. And just for the record, I am from one of those countries. I'm from one of the poorest countries in the world, which is Yemen. So there's these ghosts that we talk about in Radio Ghost are these, you know, these invisible hands that literally everything that you have on your table right now will have been handled by someone really poor.

[00:10:07.943] Kent Bye: Yeah, my experience after going through this piece was that I'll never see them all in the same way, in the way that it's adding another contextual dimension of the ignorance is bliss idea. And if it's out of sight, it's out of mind and trying to take those things that are out of sight and put it into your mind and in a little bit more of an imaginal way because you're using audio. So there's a lot of ways in which our imagination is being activated in that way. And so it's interesting that you refer to this as a game because my experience of it, there was certainly some interactive components and it had a lot of agency to go around to different places. But also my primary experience of this piece was that it was sort of a narrative that was unfolding that was gated through my interactions in some ways, but that The larger experience was that it was, I was receiving a story of a lot of these and discovering things, but I'm curious to hear how you think about blending of the narrative with the game like elements and aspects of agency, which I think of as really having a lot of choice versus interactivity in the sense I was kind of engaging with the narrative. But my experience of it was that I was more receiving a story than playing a game. So I'd just love to hear some of the reflections of how you think about the game-like elements and the narrative story-like elements in an experience like this.

[00:11:28.020] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah, I mean... It sort of seems to me like a really controversial subject. I mean, because there are people that are, you know, proper game makers, like game designers or game theorists and kind of experts in the field who would really, you know, argue the toss really about whether it is a game or not. And the thing is, I don't care. I just don't care if it is a game or if it isn't a game or if it is an experience or if it isn't this experience. What I think is important is that it is a game-like experience, i.e. the way that people behave when they behave in a game is what I prefer than when they behave when they think they've gone to see something. So it's the behavior that's elicited from playing that is more important than being an obedient receiver of what's so-called art or a so-called experience or, you know, whatever. And that the notion of a player is more appropriate to this experience because it relies on you to move. It relies on you to action things. So therefore you are behaving more like a player, even if it's not technically a game, i.e. there's no win state, except actually there is a kind of win state because you win the moral game by losing all your points. So there's this sort of paradox about the game. So it's a kind of, you know, it's a sort of joke on the idea of it being a game, which is that you have to lose all your points, but you're a better person for it. You're a bigger person. Yeah I'm not, I mean and it's you know and it's actually, it's actually still being developed right, we're still rewriting it and taking it to another different level.

[00:13:14.472] Kent Bye: Yeah, I like the balance, the way that it is. And I wouldn't try to make it have more explicit choices because I felt like it was appropriate to have that type of interactivity. Just entering into a store in the mall, for example, there's almost like a series of procedural ritualistic steps that I have to go through that you could not do that. You could just have me walk into the mall, but there's something about doing all those actions that makes it have a certain different type of meaning, almost like you're painting a magic circle around the store that once you enter it, then you're in a different space. And so I found that to be kind of an interesting conceit, even though it wasn't technically necessary to do that. And so I was curious to hear you explain a little bit about that process of being in the corridors of the mall versus being inside of one of the stores.

[00:14:01.487] Persis Jadé Maravala: Hmm. Yeah, I mean, from a narrative point of view, it's I think it's fun, right, to have this. I don't know. I mean, I'm like harking back to the 80s. I think I'm quite influenced by things that are well, I'm very influenced by hauntology and this idea of sort of parallel dimensions that one accesses through portals, et cetera. So I wanted to make it actually a bit more sci fi, but then it wasn't really feeling very right. But I wanted to keep the idea of thresholds and the idea that you cross thresholds into dangerous territory and when you're going into a shop it's a territory of danger, but we just don't realise because we're like smothered in sugar and icing and new things and shiny shiny so we just like we're just slaves, like we'd stopped thinking because we're kind of, you know, in sort of diabetic comas of consumerism. And bringing back this like really big threshold moment is kind of exciting as well. It's a little bit Indiana Jones and kind of like crossing into things. And so I think that with the narrative being set up like how kids set up zones, you know, like, OK, this is the this zone. And, you know, if you see kids players like so it's just so part of our psyche to have zones and to divide things up. You know, once we started living in caves, right, we were already dividing up. We were already dividing space as there's something about crossing thresholds that became really important. And then the worlds of like how DJ Iva could control the mall, but couldn't get into the shop, wasn't able to get into the shop. And so that's why she needs you to go into these shops and get the stories, meant that the mall became actually a safe place. Because I'm not against malls, really. I mean, I think that people, if they're very lazy with this, they might go like, oh, it's like anti-mall, anti-consumerism. And actually, it's none of those things. The mall was originally thought about by Victor Gruen, who is an Austrian, well, was a Jewish immigrant who was escaping Nazis and went to live in the States. and had this idea, saw these cities, these very like suburban, sprawling suburban cities where lots of people were like completely atomized. They were brought together by the factories and the industry that were being built up in those areas. But there was nothing, there was no, you know, and he comes from Austria, this like tiny, tiny country with lots of plazas and squares and collectivity and places where people meet. So for him, the mall was this idea of how can I introduce this very European sense of being social with each other, create a mall that everyone comes to and you should be able to live a cultural life. So it's very interesting because Victor Gruen was very angry about how malls turned out and he disowned them. He didn't want anything to do with them. And yeah, he was famously quoted as saying, I reject paternity of this monstrosity or something like that. And I was really touched by that. And I started to myself see them all as somewhere different. I started to see the kids that hang out there. I started to see the old people who go there and do like this walking thing. to keep fit and like these communities of use for the mall which is not just shopping because that was the thing that went wrong is that you were supposed to go to the malls and then do a bit of shopping on your way home or do a bit of shopping on your way out and now it's like you go there to shop hardcore shop, and then you might grab a coffee or you might grab something to eat. So it's like the balance is completely twisted. So I wanted to really emphasize that social aspect with making the mall itself a place where you could see people, you can look at other people, you know, there's a kind of collectivity and the shops being these shark infested waters.

[00:18:04.732] Kent Bye: I see. Yeah. And in your description of this piece, you had mentioned this concept of ethical consumption and wondering if you can maybe expand on that as an idea.

[00:18:12.697] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. So the piece is really about being mindful and slowing down. And so we have the deceleration throughout the whole piece. I don't know if you remember, but it starts very fast and then it ends in like a still point. And that is really about this idea of, we can't just stop consuming because actually it's going to be, if we suddenly did that in the West, that would be very hurtful and very damaging to other societies that are kind of hanging on by their threads to our needs and desires and greed and consumptive behaviors. So it was never a game that should say like, stop buying, you know, because I know other radical groups, they do do that. They have like, don't stop buying this, stop buying that. But we wanted to talk about how the whole system could still be in place as long as everyone was paid fairly, as long as people weren't exploited, as long as the thing wasn't going to harm the planet. So it was made of renewable materials, you know, just like actually we can tweak this system. It's not a lobbying for doing away with the whole being able to trade and buy things and want things. It's more about what is the real cost to those things. Like we might know the price of them, but what's the cost of them? And to put pressure on companies and shops to be more transparent. So that's the main thing that the game as a lobbying aspect has, which is we need to pressurize corporations and companies to be accountable for where they source their materials. Because now most companies and corporations are, and are forced to be by government, accountable for when, you know, if I have to make something, then I have to say like where it comes from. I have to abide by certain laws, European or otherwise. But what actually happens is there's so much outsourcing that that's a way of being able to get around. So a company like whoever it is, Primark or whatever it is, Topshop or whatever, can say, oh, we're 100%, we use renewable because they do, because they are responsible for producing like a tiny amount, like 5% amount of that product. But everyone else who's involved in that product, 95% of the people that were involved in that product, they have no say over because they're like, oh, It's not my company, that was them. You know, we've got our ethics in check. So it's like super dodgy, really dubious and necessary to slow down the thinking around how much we need. And, you know, and it's like part of a bigger picture, isn't it, as well? Just like, when's it going to end? Like, how much does one person need in their life? How brainwashed can we be before it just all goes up in smoke, as it is anyway already? Did you want to jump in on the ethical consumption?

[00:21:14.732] Jorge Lopes Ramos: No, I think it was about maybe just giving a sense of how long we work on the piece. This one started in 2016, and there's been two key relationships. One is TAG in Montreal, Techno, Culture, Arts and Games, headed by Lynn Hughes. And a couple of years ago, we also worked with the Business and Human Rights Research Group and the Environment Research Group. So we worked with lawyers and researchers, so each stage of iteration of the project. We are also testing, A, the game design approach to something that gets dialed up or dialed down, but B, to what extent are we making non-fiction claims about the work that have an actual repercussion in the real world? So is the metaphor well-aligned, such as Jade has just said? This is not an activist piece to stop shopping. The very opposite is about just seeing them all in a different light, being aware and slower when noticing the various stimuli around you from the speed of music, the brightness of a place the architecture was trying to guide you and getting kind of a bit of control back and understanding what's pulling you and your supposed desires.

[00:22:34.341] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to maybe share some of my own experiences of the piece, but before I do, do you plan on making this widely available for people to experience as an app that people might be able to download? Or is this going to be more of a site specific thing that is only distributed amongst to like in a festival context?

[00:22:52.715] Persis Jadé Maravala: No, it's definitely going to be an app.

[00:22:54.716] Jorge Lopes Ramos: It's yeah. It's starting with festivals and then it will be released as an app. So it starts in July in London with Lyft festival, and then it goes to Germany and then. And then, and then, and then. So hopefully we should be working with festivals on a slow release. And then within a year or so, when we're really, really happy with the quality of the app and probably no more tweaks required, then it goes up onto the App Store and Google for download anymore, anywhere.

[00:23:25.867] Kent Bye: Okay. Well, I, you know, I'll, I'll give a heads up at the beginning to, if people want to experience it, they will have an opportunity, maybe a year from now, but they, if they do want to hear some of my own experiences and reflections, then I'll start to dive into some of my experiences of the app, because I really, really enjoyed this piece. I think I'm part, because I appreciated the ways in which that you were inviting me and instructing me to move my body and new and different ways. but also the interactivity parts of these, creating these specials and the actual game-like elements of listening to a story and repeating it, which we can get into. But I wanted to start with the overall arc of the embodied movements of asking me to walk faster than everybody else, and then kind of slowly get down to be a pace that was pretty normal for wall walking and then slow that down. And so because of that, I felt like in some ways you've created an embodied arc of the way that I'm moving my body through space over 70 minutes, changing that to see the contrast for what it feels like at the beginning, middle, and end of that. Well, in the midst of that, there's these three different opportunities to go into stores and get these stories about the things that are unseen in terms of the unintended consequences of these capitalistic mechanisms. But I think it's so rememberable for me is because of the way that you were inviting me to move my body first and foremost, without this piece and that by ending. Almost by like walking at a painfully awkward case in public to really surrender to that. moment and to just see what it felt like to not do what everybody else was doing, but also to change the way that I'm looking at the mall. My end result was that as I'm coming out of this experience, it's changed the way that I see the malls. And I don't know if that would be the same case if I was just to hear and do the interactions without changing and modulating my body movements throughout this piece. It's hard to say because I only experienced what I experienced, but there was something that was particularly memorable of creating memories of Amal that left me with saying, now, whenever I go into Amal, I'm going to be remembering this experience and the different things that you were saying about this experience, which I think is not an easy thing to always do to like change my forever experience of something like Amal. But yeah, I'd love to hear the evolution of that as an idea because it was quite provocative.

[00:25:51.774] Persis Jadé Maravala: So I guess we've always been interested in the codes of public spaces and creating mini acts of disruption to understand better the codes. And so there are lots of pieces that do that in very simple ways, in very beautiful ways. So I was looking for something like that, you know, just little things, but What's interesting in the mall is that you don't have to do very much to get in trouble. So I remember once like sitting outside a shop and being told by this security guard, he came over and he said, I'm really sorry, you can't sit there. And I said, well, why? I'm not in the way, I'm just waiting for a friend to turn up and I just want to read this book. And then he said, no, you can't. And then I realized that he was being fed lines. He was being fed from some other entity who could see me and was talking to him, to me. And I just thought, oh, man, this is like bizarre and sort of really, you know, so I couldn't see where the person was. And we just started to have this like very strange play about whether or not I was really sitting on the floor or not, because then I started to hover off the floor. And then it was this bizarre game where he was literally looking at my arse to know if I was sitting on the floor. I was just messing about with them because I wanted to show to them how stupid the codes were. Okay, because if you say I can't sit on the floor, do you also mean I can't crouch to the floor with my arse one inch off of it? Like, what are we talking about? What do you mean by sitting? What's that? What's the actual problem? And so that was a lot of fun. And he had the decency to be really embarrassed about it as well, I remember. So that was very interesting to me, this like code breaking. The other thing is, is that music, obviously, is quite involved in malls, Muzak. and also more music, which I was really like quite fascinated by. Not only more music, but also those kinds of tracks that used to get in places like Walmart, which I found like loads and loads of these audio tapes that were on somebody had uploaded, which were like Walmart through the 80s. Just this like insane amount of these songs. And then the person saying, you know today if you feel like buying a lawnmower go to aisle eight or whatever and it was just like really so I knew that this was even before I think we had the radio so I knew that music would have to be a really big part of it and we didn't really have the concept of the radio I think but I was looking for a a carrier for music, like how that could be. I mean, now it seems absurd to have got a piece called Radio Goes that didn't start with a radio, but didn't, it was called Datum. We changed the name really recently because up until now, we didn't recently, we didn't work with them. The radio station didn't exist. That's quite late in the process, which sounds a bit bizarre. So we changed the title to reflect the radio station. But it was also about how do people relate spontaneously to music while walking in real outdoor environments. And the temporal aspect of walking while listening to music is something that's really kind of normalized but not looked at. It's very normal for people to do that, but we don't look at it. And malls, of course, famously, and shops rather, use music to try to coerce people into buying more. So there's been lots of research, but I had to get to it via business. So researchers paid by corporations to work out what's the best music to play in a wine shop to get more people to buy wines. There's all this like crazy fucking research out there that I was looking at that then I thought, OK, I'm going to use that own research and subvert it. So what I noticed was that there's lots of For particular products, you know, you might need the music to be more upbeat or for other things, you want the music to be slower because you need them to walk slowly past things, get the smells of things. It's all kind of very, very, very manipulative. And so I wanted to subvert that manipulation. And of course, the interesting thing about the walking slowly and moving slowly is that you're suddenly really embodied. You're really in your body. whereas a lot of the time we're not and on all of our work has really been obsessed with bodies. In the beginning it used to be like our own bodies because we were the performers and then later it was the audience's bodies and I don't think there's a single piece where the positions that we put people in whether we lie them down or put their feet in water or you know have them climb things, for example, and just trying to think about, oh, you know, answer phones at random in the street, things like that. It's always, always starting with the body because in my opinion, I think it would be hard to argue against this opinion. Everything that you experience is mediated through your body. There's no other way of being in the world. It's impossible. So a sensory experience is how we live. And I think I wanted to really make it as embodied as possible.

[00:31:27.208] Kent Bye: Yeah. I felt like the music not only had like a level of nostalgia for me, but also I was in marching band. So I was very obedient of trying to move around and march to the beat that you're giving me. And just to see the different reactions that came up. I did also really appreciate the bliss points you'd mentioned those earlier. So, well, maybe before I get into the bliss points, I also, I enjoyed going into each of these stores. There's three stores that I went into. There's a bit of a task for me to go find a certain object and then to take a photo of it and document it. And then by doing that, then I unlock this ghost story being that there's these different dimensions of. the unseen costs of either labor or people or the environment or the unintended consequences that are hidden and out of sight and out of mind. And then as I leave the store and cross back over the threshold, there's kind of a procedural dance of entering and exiting that we mentioned. And then I'm asked to record what I just heard, which I thought was a very interesting conceit to the point where I'm doing this with three other people that are throughout them all, we're each are kind of going on our own journey and adventure, but there's an opportunity to hear from the other people that are also in this adventure to hear what they are learning. And so I felt that changed the way that I was listening, because now that I knew that I needed to both listen and summarize, then that changed the way that I was hearing it from there on out, which I thought was a very. interesting way of catalyzing that level of engagement. It's almost like the pop quiz after I've heard this little bit of the story. Now I have to stand up and report what I just heard, which is 20 seconds. I found that that was a little maybe short. I would have liked to have 30 seconds maybe, but I understand if you're trying to have people boil down to the essence of what is essentially a lot more complicated story that could be summarized in that amount of time, but to try to really cut down to the essence, of what the main points were that the other people who were doing it alongside of me can then hear a broadcast. So like a call in, like a radio show, hearing what these other dispatches are from other people who are on the front lines of recovering these ghost stories. So I really enjoyed that. And I felt like that was like a gamified element, even though it was that I was receiving the story, there was something that I had to do with that story to share it to the people that I'd be doing it with.

[00:33:48.404] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah.

[00:33:49.645] Jorge Lopes Ramos: Yeah, and interesting because as we are talking today, this is a frozen moment in time of one version of what we are nearly about to launch. And so there are still various versions of how the bliss points might work and various iterations of the reporting that we still want to experiment with and improve on. So for instance, one of the recording levels is that in the three shops, we're interested in kind of growing the sense of who you're focusing on, where you focus on yourself as a consumer first, your group in that mall, and then later all the other players of all the other malls now and before, and so there's a sense of scale and community, almost like historians that have come here and dug up these things, and so a variety of voices. So that's one example of how we're still playing around with some of those functions to try and find more nuanced ways and also opportunities to link up to the potential scale of the game, which is on one hand, we looked at South by Southwest, but logistically, we were really narrowing down the amount of people that could see it only because it hasn't been launched. Because once it is, it's the absolute opposite, right? You can have any variation of the number three anywhere where the shops are open anymore. And so that's what we're also trying to think forward to that, so that the game structure and the narrative structure builds on those new links that will emerge out of various groups playing.

[00:35:22.545] Kent Bye: Yeah. And the bliss points I appreciated because, you know, there is that saying that ignorance is bliss and that even though I was losing my bliss points, I was thinking to myself, well, I'm gaining the knowledge, but there is this other thing that I've also run into a lot, which is that I'm a huge fan of documentary and I watch them all the time. But I also know that. There's a process of bearing witness that isn't always fun or enjoyable, but it's also, I feel like important and almost like a moral responsibility to know the harms that are happening in the world, to just be aware of them, to see how I can perhaps change my behavior. So there was an experience of using the bliss points, even though it wasn't like necessarily like a game, like I didn't care about. the bliss points in the context of the game, but I appreciated it from a narrative perspective because it was pointing to these larger dynamics, meaning that it's almost like a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the type of stories that we're hearing are not necessarily like joyful in a way, but they're also a different kind of importance that feels like in the same level of a documentary that's really important to watch and consume. However, This is putting it into like a humorous and fun and engaging narrative that people enjoy playing. So it's like giving the hard medicine, but wrapping it in something that is a little bit easier to consume. So for that, I appreciated it from the narrative perspective and I'd love to hear some thoughts. Cause I heard that you may be considering deleting the bliss points and I was kind of upset if that was going to happen.

[00:36:52.087] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah. Um, so. So there was another thing, let me ask you actually, because you sound like an intelligent guy. There was another really key, important moment for me that I was very attached to, that I was like doubling down on, I think when other people in the team were a bit like, oh, why are you being so stubborn about this? But it was this moment where you're asked, do you want to hear a ghost story? And you have to say, yes. or no. And I think that was like a really important moment for me to contract an audience member in, to get their buy-in, to onboard them, to say like, are you in this with me? Are you going to come with me? Because here's your chance to get out. Like here's your chance to say no. So there's a sort of double handedness there where there's the first part where you're, I'm inviting the audience really to say yes. And then once they've said yes, there's this kind of ironic punishment, you know, where you lose the bliss points. I don't exactly remember how, why we've gotten to the stage where we have now, we have now actually removed them and we're going to see how that works. I haven't done it yet with the new version and I am really worried that it will lose This kind of comes back to this thing of working with game designers and staff who are saying that the Blitz ones are very confusing. They're very confusing. And I don't know. I mean, taking them out, what that means is that we care. So one of the biggest things is if people say no, then what do we do with those people? because you could just play them some horrible adverts for five minutes or as long as the game, the stories aren't that long, are they? Like two minutes, but like horrible adverts to kind of punish them for not picking up the stories. That was one idea, which I kind of thought was kind of fun, but no one else was into it. Or what we could do is find a way of giving them the story anyway. So they would say no. they would keep their bliss points. And then we would have some kind of maybe Susan the bot say, oh, you know, oh, we're hacked anyway. Or, oh, too bad, you didn't want to hear the ghost story because it was all about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then tell them the ghost story anyway. So I find a way of getting the information to them, even if they hadn't said yes. But that felt just very sort of manipulative and kind of, yeah, I didn't really want to. I didn't really like the idea. But I didn't want to lose people through the no option. So we've changed that. So what happens is that I'm already taking for granted that you're going to do that. The other reason why I hate that is because I hate that in immersive theatre now, this wave of immersive theatre, not immersive theatre first wave, where people just are so used to turning up to immersive that you can go to see something and then they'll immediately do really bad acting at you and go, oh, thank God you're here because, you know, we've got to defeat the aliens and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you're supposed to go, oh, okay then, show me the way, you know? And I'm like, fuck off. You need to fucking earn this shit. Don't just expect me to play your stupid game with your stupid dramaturgy and your horrible acting. Like, earn it, earn. my buy-in like you know do something that makes me like and there's just nothing there's just this automatic your audience member that's bought a ticket to this so you must want to play that and it's just so lazy it's just really lazy which is why I wanted to have that buy-in on on even on the app so that it wasn't just expected of like hi Great, thanks for coming. You're a hunter. You're here. I'm here. And I've just told people that that's what they're doing. And then you don't have any choice in it. And I sort of feel like, yeah, I mean, I'm not really that happy with like, yes, it's a kind of we're just experimenting outwards with that, with changing that aspect.

[00:41:08.242] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have a number of thoughts on this and I think it goes back to why I was asking whether or not you considered this to be a game or a story, because if it is a game, then you do provide choices and they're legitimate choices and you have options for both of those choices. I think when I did the experience, I think it was more like, do you want to hear the ghost story? And I don't know if there was even a no button. I just like pushed Yes, but I probably would have pushed that I wanted to hear it anyway, because the whole experience is about ghost stories. And so as a journalist, I felt like I would have missed the experience if I would have opted out. So for me, that was not even a question as to whether I was going to do it. But I think you had also built up enough trust that I wanted to see where this engagement, this interaction, this narrative was going. And so I wanted to hear what it was. And I liked the bliss points because it was like, I didn't care about the bliss points because I didn't see it as a game. I saw it as a narrative experience. And so like, I'm not trying to do anything with the bliss points. There's nothing better that I want to hear other than listening to what you have to say. So I think that there's a spectrum of agency across different axes. And so there's embodied agency. So I'm choosing where to go and I'm making the choice of where to go through the mall and how I'm moving through that mall. But narrative agency is in terms of how the narrative is unfolding, where this is really kind of a linear narrative. So there's not like a branching that. you're necessarily exploring here. And if you are exploring that, then it becomes more of this, you know, if you do offer that as an opportunity for people to say no, and they end up missing the main point, then at the end of the experience, you know, what their experience of this piece is going to be, is going to be some completely different than someone who actually did through those points. And I thought that, I don't know, I just feel like they would be missing it. They miss a point of the piece. If you gave them that option. So, so in that sense, do you really want to give them that sense of narrative agency? And if not, then. there's this kind of like difference between agency where there's actual choice and interactivity, meaning that you are engaging with it, but more gating the narrative that's coming in in a way that is engaging your body in a way, but isn't like engaging any actual choice in that matter. So I feel like by casting it as a game, you may be setting a context where people are expecting that they're going to have this type of choice reality. They're not having that choice because it's more of a story because So from my experience, at least it was like, I'm happy with the way that was, I'm happy with the bliss points. I liked that it was serving a narrative purpose, which was to talk about this dialectic between ignorance and bliss where like, by having ignorance, I don't know about, but as I know more information, it actually is this inverse relationship to the bliss because it is Understanding that there's harms that are happening and things that are unseen and out of sight and out of mind with these different things that are throughout the mall. So, yeah, well, so I guess the, just to start to wrap up here, you know, I really enjoyed this piece and I'm just curious, like what's next. You said you're going to be taking it to different festivals and kind of continue to tinker and hear different feedback.

[00:44:17.372] Jorge Lopes Ramos: Yeah, it's 2nd and 3rd of July Lift Festival in London. then Theater Fuhrman in Germany the week after that, and then a number of other venues which we'll announce in the usual channels that you announce. But we usually create pieces that even when they're launched, the work doesn't stop. And Jade will continue, no doubt, to be working on them for years and refining and adjusting and adapting through the experiencing of others experiencing it. So I think that's the usual way that we work.

[00:44:55.920] Persis Jadé Maravala: Yeah. Yeah, I just just wanted to say that I remembered something which was about I was having problems in my brain because you asked me a question. I felt like there was something about deceleration that I didn't really answer how I wanted to. When I started working on this, one of the first things that I looked at was the work of this guy that had changed really how we see Wales, the animal, not the country. So he always liked whales, didn't he? So he grew up like really liking whales. And then he was on a accidentally on a submarine ship. And his colleague said, oh, there are these sounds. And we found them on this sonar radar. And we don't know what they are. And anyway, long story short, it was whale song that they were picking up. And the guy just could not believe it and basically took that sound and dedicated his life to trying to save the whales which he just ended up doing because what he did was he created a record out of those sounds and then he started to sell this record as music and he went to singers and he tried to get it really well known. He was just touting it as a way to make people understand that this is what whales sound like. We need to stop killing them. So what he did was he took something very big and he made it very small. and he found a way of making people care about that issue because up until that point no one gave a shit about Wales because they didn't know what it was, they didn't know what they were, they didn't care, it was just something that you got blubber from, you learned about it in science, at school, you didn't give a shit, you know, no one knew until he made sure that everyone knew that this is what they sound like. And then it got harder for us to damage them, to hurt them, to kill them, to keep being culpable in that system of extermination, because that's what happened. They were becoming extinct. And I was so touched by this story because what he managed to do was find a way of making things palpable, you know, knowable, because humans, we have a very narrow range. In order to care about something, we have to relate to it. So it took a long time to find a way of looking for our own whale song. But there was something about creating a relationship with slowing down that made it feel like understanding the speed of capitalism and putting that in our bodies and slowing things down meant that we could put things in a speed that we related to. So this big thing that was a whale had to kind of be reduced to be on our scale. And similarly, the way that we live our life and the kind of the speed at which the unthinkingness had to just be slowed down for us to be able to see it. So how do you make things that they are able to be seen? I don't know if that makes sense, but I feel like.

[00:48:05.717] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, totally. And just to reflect on my own experience of that is that the way I'm moving my body while I'm hearing all these other stories is also deviating from the world around me. And it's things that I've never done before. I've never walked really fast or really slow in a mall and to go on that whole journey over 70 minutes with like songs from the eighties that are really, you know, by the way, the mix that you did was really sound like a DJ mix that like radio one from BBC. I just, it was like, reminding me of like hearing those types of shows and with the British accent, the DJ, I understand you did the voice acting, which you did an amazing job, by the way, of being this radio DJ. So yeah, it just, the whole thing together created this visceral experience that because of the novelty of the way that I was moving my body, it helped ground it in, in ways that also made the deeper message of what you were saying, kind of stick a little bit more sticky. So yeah, definitely appreciated that. Well, just to start to wrap up things here, I'm curious what each of you think the ultimate potential of immersive storytelling and these different types of interactive games might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:49:17.357] Persis Jadé Maravala: I don't know. It depends. If we keep making things for rich people, then not very much. So I hope that the important thing about it is like make things for ordinary people, you know, make things everything that we do to just trying to make things that there's no barriers to it. There's nothing that anyone would need a fancy kit for. There's nothing that anyone would need to know how to operate that. I mean, that is my personal wish for this industry to take on board is to make things that can Because the technology works, you know, it can be really moving if it's able to be accessed and really accessible.

[00:49:55.782] Jorge Lopes Ramos: What do you think? Just second that. And we've made the commitment to work in spaces where people don't feel put off by being spaces of privilege. And so we invite other makers to find their own ways of finding ways to co-create work, which is with, by and for the people they feel their targets and engage them in the process of making, thinking, testing from a very, very early stage.

[00:50:28.206] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast and unpacking your experience, Radio Ghost. Yeah, I really enjoyed this piece and also just enjoyed talking a little bit more here.

[00:50:38.190] Persis Jadé Maravala: Thank you. It was really lovely to talk to you. Thank you. Thanks for getting it. It was great. It's great to hear your thoughts on it. Really, really nice.

[00:50:45.621] Kent Bye: So that was Persia's Zsa Zsa Marla Vala. She's the artistic director of ZU UK as well as Georgia Lopez Hamos, who's the executive director of ZU UK. So I've remembered my takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, the experience of Radio Ghost was one of my highlights from SXSW, just because it was such an immersive adventure. I guess it's kind of like an audio walk, where I see it more of an immersive story, but there were different game-like elements, where you had a lot of embodied agency as to where you went and what you did within the context of the mall. But you're hearing somewhat linear audio interactions, where you're given these different tasks, and then you are going into these stores, you're asked to take a picture. And then, as you take a picture, then there is certain aspects of the process of creating whatever object that you're taking a picture of, the unseen costs of capitalism, these ghost stories. With those ghost stories, then you are going outside of that store and then reporting back in a 20-second dispatch. Then you hear other people's dispatches. There's a way in which you are listening to the stories that you're being told and then sharing them again. This is a piece that's really deconstructing different aspects of capitalism and marketing. Zsa Zsa had said that she got a hold of some of the research for the different types of music that are playing in these malls and different locations. You're being asked to walk really extra fast at the beginning, and then it goes down to middle speed, and then at the end, over the course of this 70-minute journey, you end up walking extra slowly. So for me when I did that it was awkward to walk extra fast and walk extra slow But it was just trying to slow me down to be able to metaphorically have me reflect upon Ethical consumerism, but also really paying attention to the different things that I was noticing There's certain things that when you do an experience like this when you're walking around a mall where there's just archetypal experiences like there's one moment when you have you walk around and really pay attention to the world around you and The narration is saying, oh, you may be passing in a security guard. And then I had just passed a security guard just moments before that. So there was moments of synchronicity there that are totally random. My internal experience of this is being reflected with what I'm seeing in the external reality. So lots of really interesting little moments that they have with you paying attention to not only your body, but also the people around you, but also the different messages that are being transmitted with these contexts of these malls. Yeah, and the whole aspect of the bliss points, I thought for me it worked, but you know, there is this way in which that they're casting it as a game. And as I think about it as a game, you know, I was thinking I was going to be like playing this game with two other people, but it ends up, you kind of go off on your own for most of the time and any interactions are coming. mostly asynchronously as you're doing these different dispatches and hearing from them. But I guess thinking about the sense of where you're going in a space of this embodied agency, similar to something like Sleep No More, where you're able to go around into these different spaces. But in this case, there's only one narrative rather than you running into the narrative. But there is a sense of you have control over where you're going and what you're doing in the context of them all. But in terms of the actual story that you're hearing, there's not much choices that you're making that is dictating different branches. So it's pretty linear overall. But when I did it, I'm getting different messages and ghost stories from two other people that are doing this experience. And so when I started to hear some of the different dispatches, I was like, oh, wow, did I miss something? But then learned afterwards that each person is getting their own unique ghost story. As you do this type of experience, if you actually end up going into a mall and doing it with two other people, when you get done with it, then you can start to unpack it more and talk about the different experiences that each person had. Like I said, I really enjoyed the experience just because I feel like there was a way in which it was creating these different thresholds and magic circles of really having you pay attention to certain things, but also having you report back, I thought really worked quite well. But also just the way that I'm changing my embodied movement within a space like a mall. meant that the different aspects of the story really landed with me, especially with the music and everything else just was kind of like a fun, well-produced experience that was very emotionally evocative as I went through all these different aspects. And there's an element of mystery as you're going through all this, as well. So that's all I have for today and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of your podcast And if you enjoyed the podcast and please do spread the word tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the patreon This is a business board podcast and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash which is VR. Thanks listening

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