After talking about fabricated bodies last week, I stumbled upon Reflect by Mike Treanor while investigating the Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) program at UC Santa Cruz. It’s his master’s thesis work, so it’s got an accompanying written thesis that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. The experience is about slowing down and thinking about what we take for granted when we move through the world. You take on the perspective of a series of animals as you explore a cliff-side landscape.
It hits close to home for me for a couple of reasons. I’ve always had an unwavering curiosity in the inner worlds of others – especially animals. You could find me squatting over my driveway as a kid and scrutinizing the ants as they scrambled around after a storm, or you could find me reading Thomas Nagel’s thoughts about bats and subjective experience in college. More recently, I’ve kicked around similar ideas with a friend for exploring different perspectives.
Our experience of the world changes so drastically by a shift in perspective. It’s a point that gets reiterated in various works, and rightfully so, because we forget it so quickly when we go about our daily lives. If you are unconvinced, here’s Michael H. Rohde‘s fantastical take on something familiar:
Reflect is an exploration of this idea in the context of movement – in what ways can different bodies move through the same space and how does that change your perception of the space? You start out as an immobile fixture. You have to observe an animal’s movements and then mimic them before you can add their movements to your repertoire. In Reflect’s world, this means sharing the animal’s gaze and fascination with, say, a particular patch of grass that you’ve probably ‘marked’ as your own territory.
Reflect has a jagged charm. It’s low-poly models, sparsely detailed textures and glitch-y movements might be hard to get past. Admittedly, it took me a couple times of loading it before I got past the first few minutes. The game demands that you relax and experience it for what it is. You start out by learning to move like an inchworm and then traverse the equivalent of an inchworm marathon. It’s deliberately slow in order to let you know that the important bit to pay attention to is your experience of the world through the lens of a different body.
I think that there are alternatives for getting that same introspective point across without having to slow the pacing to a painful crawl. And there is a depth to the concept in Reflect that is left unexplored, but the core idea is undeniably there.