mixed-reality fighting game

PUNCH OPTION 4 is a mixed reality performance, 8-bit throwback fighting video game made in collaboration with Alice Alexandrescu, Kevin O'Keefe, and Marc Tomko.

The real has become increasingly abstracted by the virtual. We are concerned that the resultant dissociation between virtual action and real consequence has begun to eclipse humanity's capacity for empathy.

PUNCH OPTION 4 intends to demonstrate the sociopolitical ramifications of such a trajectory through mixed-reality performance. By utilizing classic Nintendo controllers linked through indicators and sensors to our performers, audience members will be given an opportunity to play what appears to be an 80's era video fighting game, replete with low-resolution graphics, vulgar sound effects, and ample blood spatter. Once engaged, players will see only digitized representations of their fighters on a TV screen, but will be able to hear the impacts, grunts, and exclamations of pain from the actual human combatants obscured behind the blind. Audience members, however, will be privy to both the virtual and actual experiences.

As both the Yale Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment illustrate, people have a cumulative capacity for callousness in response to a strong authority. But, as demonstrated in our scenario, this behavior can also be provoked by the sense of satisfaction that occurs when one is playing a game. Gaming has created its own legitimizing ideology, in turn precipitating a substantial shift in our moral ground.

Participants use NES controllers to play what looks like an old video game. Obscured behind the TV set, trained actors respond to the buttons pressed on the controllers by moving forward, backward and punching left or right. The actors cannot see anything other than lights indicating which action to perform. They are then digitized by a camera and placed within the video game screen. A health bar on the TV tracks the health of each player which responds to switches in each actor's mask to detect a hit. The hardware interface uses two BasicStamps and the video game software is made with processing.