Interview with Robin Arnott, Part Two
Robin Arnott, sound designer and lead developer, takes us through a very educated and radical journey about SoundSelf and its far-out origins and even more complex goals as a medium for self-discovery.
Read Part One of the interview here: http://n4g.com/user/blogpos...
Kyle: In general, what sort of “higher plane” forces influence your creative potential and how are they translated into your work?
Robin: Uhhh... it's an interesting question but I don't know how to answer it. I'm emphatically not a dualist, and when I talk about spiritual experiences I'm speaking of what I see as physical phenomena. By this, I don't mean to diminish spiritual experiences as being any more illusory than day-to-day experience is. I just have difficulty imagining a "higher plane" distinct from whatever "this plane" is as more than a metaphor. I have a great many friends who think of experiences like those that I'm trying to facilitate as being evidence of the supernatural. More power to them... but that's not really how I see it. For a while I tried describing SoundSelf as a "religious experience," but I've stopped doing that because the world "religious" is even more tangled with dualism than the word "spiritual" is.
Kyle: What of earthly forces that are less than tangible? Or, rather, those that are tangible but influence the intangible spaces of existence? Psychedelics, potentially, or using spiritually-driven physical activities like yoga to “open the third eye.”
Robin: I'm not a scientist, but I am an experimental skeptic, and I've been very fortunate to be in a position to use my art to experiment in spaces that are new and scary to me. You may imagine that, as the creator of SoundSelf, I'd have an established and confident relationship with spirituality, but this is not the case. I began working on SoundSelf around the same time I began a meditation practice. Creating a technology like this is the cold dissecting side of a study that also includes meditation, yoga, and a lot of reading. I can't pretend to be an expert in the workings of the brain or the cosmos, but I guess I've learned some things in creating and showing SoundSelf that reinforce my belief that perception is very very malleable. I'm fascinated by research on what consciousness is, but my understanding is so cursory that I can hardly vomit up the words for it and stamp my name next to it like I know what I'm talking about. I can offer a short reading list that I've found quite inspirational though:
- What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
- Thinkiing Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Way of Trance by Dennis Wier
- Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter (but I can't for the life of me get through it)
- Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe (movie)
Kyle: If someone were to use these kinds of methods to reach to higher planes and create something (say, an interactive experience like a game), do you feel this makes the experience less genuine for players who would normally refuse such practices and end up playing it anyway?
Robin: That depends on what the player cares about. I live with Davey Wreden (The Stanley Parable) - and he cares a great deal about the artist behind the work he's experiencing. When he reads a book or plays a game, he feels like he's having a conversation with its creator, and the art is more or less the facilitator of that conversation. For me though, I want to know as little as possible about the creator. I really don't care about them... when I engage with a piece of art, it's about my relationship with myself, about how the art makes me feel. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would hear my story and decide that SoundSelf's not for them, and that's fine, it's not for everybody. But if some people hear my story, don't identify with it but are curious anyway, then that's wonderful!
Kyle: Games are often tailored to be individual experiences, each person garnering their own perspective on every title, but do you feel that games and interactive mediums in general have reached a point where they have entered the collective consciousness of our society?
Robin: I guess that when a game passes a certain threshold of popularity - when everybody knows about it, when certain conversations are recycled again and again, when it's taught and certain interpretations are dominant and accepted, that the game loses a little bit of that individuated impact. But uh... I sort of don't worry about that happening with SoundSelf.
Kyle: Game development is an often turbulent scene with a lot of contention between groups and individuals. What do you feel are the most positively and negatively influential forces occurring at this time and why do you feel this way?
Robin: It can be cliquey. But it's overwhelmingly a very supportive place. There's no way I'd have invested this kind of energy into a project as niche as SoundSelf if I weren't surrounded by artists and taste-makers who are so damn encouraging. That I found a programmer, Evan Balster, who has invested so much of his time into such a weird project, knowing it's not likely to make him much money, speaks to the values of that community (and, uh... to him). It's an ecosystem, and as long as everybody recognizes it for that, people are loving and encouraging. You'd think, with a project as weird as SoundSelf, that someone in the game development world would think it's a waste of time. With VR on the rise, you'd think that someone would find this arty bullshit a distraction from whatever they consider the real value of the technology. I'm sure (and I hope that) there are people out there that think that! But nobody says so loudly enough for me to hear it above the roar of encouragement from independent developers (I'm watching you in the comments! Bring it!).
I think the biggest negative influence is easily the lack of diversity in the community. You've basically got a lot of white guys making a lot of really cool work, but it's almost all from the perspective of a white guy. It's stagnating and sad.
Kyle: What lessons did you draw from Antichamber that were applied to SoundSelf, whether it was visual or audial design?
Robin: In Antichamber's sound design, I tried to use lots of sounds that I knew would chill people out because they resonate with an evolutionary story. There's birdsong all over that game because I knew that when you hear birdsong, your body knows you're safe from predators. That's not really quite so relevant in the modern world, but that's how humans respond to birdsong! That was a step in a practice of learning how to hack the player's brain, and affect them in ways they don't recognize. That path has led me to the kind of hypnosis techniques I use in SoundSelf!
More importantly, Alex fell to pieces towards the end of creating Antichamber... it's not uncommon for game designers late in a project. I feel it happening to me - my confidence shriveling, my work ethic squeezed out, the joy just drying up. Having been closely involved on a project and observing a pattern of behavior that I now see happening to me is ironically comforting, it makes me feel less alone.
Kyle: With unlimited resources from an unnamed benefactor, what sort of dream game or experience would you craft?
Robin: I'm making it!
There's lots of biofeedback technology I'd like to explore in future projects - like EEG or heart rate variability. But really, SoundSelf is exactly the project I want to be making. It'd be nice to be able to work on it for ten extra years, but I'd be miserable, and so I'm not sure the unlimited resources would actually be of benefit to me in that case.
Kyle: Fill in the blank for us: Games make the world a _______________ place.
Robin: Games make the world a more magical place.
Day 28 | Robin Arnott