Building an entire universe from scratch by yourself is hard work. Just ask God. It took Him a week, and He’s omnipotent. But a little bit of help from the internet can go a long way, as artist Sia Abderezai found when he started building #the1stuniverse about six months ago.
Sia is the founder of Black Iron Kisses, an art group based in California, whose website is a kind of tongue-in-cheek occult philosophy emporium. There, you can find artwork, essays, and consistently revolving manifestos dealing with a metafictional cosmology which brings together elements of Philip K. Dick, H. P. Lovecraft, and David Icke.
#the1stuniverse is an open source space developed using World of Text, a universe-builder which allows visitors to edit existent worlds in real-time, using text as building blocks. According to a block of text found within the universe, itself, it is an “experiment in hivemind thinking,” that will be played out until it’s predetermined apocalypse, September 23, 2045.
According to their website, within hours of the world’s creation, “We saw a sudden explosion of people contributing a little bit of themselves, completely anonymously through this world.” The digital graffiti ranges from simple messages (“allworkandnoplaymakesjackadullboy”) to massive works of art, all done within the minimal medium of green text on a black field. The inherent message is hard to miss: this world is your playground. Play.
But even internet art worlds have their bogeymen. A few months ago, a troll with lots of time on their hands and a worn out backspace key took it upon themselves to erase the entire work, leaving nihilistic messages in the wake. Luckily version 1.5 is up and running.
Go ahead and visit #the1stuniverse. The interface is simple. To explore, simply drag your mouse across the screen. There’s also a menu bar at the top right, which includes a “Go to coordinates” function. To edit or add, just click and type.
Some tourist attractions to check out:
Message from the makers (x=5, y= -5)
The P.A.N. Library (x= -9, y=3)
The Hermit (x= -5, y=14)
Something I made (x=6, y= -7)
But #the1stuniverse is just one project the group has worked on, and is only a part of a much broader undertaking: “#whatiscode23,” an alternate reality game, “whose sole and primary purpose has been to overload your brain with so much sensory and symbolic information that could actually crack something in your own head and provide an ‘experience’ that is both sublime, and absolutely dreadful,” Sia says.
Alternate reality games (or ARGs) use the real world as a board, and utilize transmedia storytelling to deliver a dramatic gaming experience. Players network with each other and with in-game characters played by actual people.
The real-time experience of ARGs is summed up by the common refrain, “This is not a game,” used by designers and participants. An aesthetic of reality is cultivated, with fictional websites, e-mail, and telephone calls functioning in exactly the same manner as their real-world counterparts. Interactivity plays a pivotal role as a story unfolds, with player involvement dictating the direction of the plot.
But despite Sia’s claims to the contrary, #whatiscode23 doesn’t play like a game, at all. Trying to follow the “clues” (like #the1stuniverse) will likely leave you scratching your head furiously, wondering, “Where’s the plot?”
“#whatiscode23 an MMORPG in real life, the rule is simple, you try to find the #key to #code23 by #hacking your #mind and finding the answer. There is no winning or losing, only godhood and death. If you don’t know how to play, you can’t play. You have more hints than you will ever have. Game ends in 2045.”
“Crack the code, own the world. #whatiscode23 #realityhack #diy #ultimateuniverse #arg #mayday #wizards #crackthecode “
“#whatiscode23 #diyrealityhack #diy make your #rabbitholes, try hard enough, and #wonderland will find you… #crackthecode”
Spend some time digging through Black Iron Kisses’ website and Facebook page, and you find that the message behind the game seems to be that our reality is an ARG. The people you meet are just characters, and the plot is your life.
“This is not a game.”
Author’s note: Inspired by #the1stuniverse, I have given birth to our very own Right Where You Are Sitting Now text world. Enjoy.