An interactive installation that offers a view of a persistent online space that holds a cenotaph (shrine) that can be cared for or desecrated through game actions. The shrine is a database object that carries a history and media objects that serve as mementos for the dead who are represented by the cenotaph.
Mud Room is a site-specific installation that focuses on a single room in in a larger work called Dušičky. It’s a work about family suicide, hidden labor, and ideas about a dichotomy of play and work.
Dušičky (Little Souls) is the Czech name for the November 2nd observance of All Souls’ Day.
Dušičky is a larger-scale project that presents a multiplayer space made of many rooms built from family tree data. It focuses on a branch of my family who were Czech emigres to Texas, their cultural identity and assimilation.
Grotto is a web application built to handle data for both projects. It creates a web page for each room and tracks the movement of items and characters between those rooms. There are text-only, graphical, and webXR views of rooms that allow for different UI schemas and interactions. The maze has a history and layers, it’s not a pure conceptual space that comes from a single authorial voice. To a player carrying out acts in rooms that represent their own family it may feel like a “real” place, backed by data. To a player without this context, exploring rooms as an assumed “character”, it may feel like a superficial game-space filled with videogame tropes and autogenerated content.
Content Warning: Family Suicide, Alcohol Dependency
The Mud Room is a transitional area between inside and outside. “Mud Room” for me also recalls a room in a Multi User Dungeon. At my grandmother Dorothy’s house the mud room was also a children’s room where my cousins and I played Atari 2600. When I was ten, my grandfather Bob shot himself in the Mud Room as he was succumbing to bone cancer. My mother was his stepdaughter, and to spare his own daughters the experience, she cleaned the room (the first of several deaths and suicides she would have to clean after). My Uncle Rodney, a Vietnam war vet who struggled with alcoholism, somehow accidentally set the room on fire once. During the work of planning my grandfather’s funeral, the family left my cousins and I with the Atari to keep us occupied. “Thank God for Pac-Man,” I remember my grandmother saying afterwards. Strangely I don’t have memories from this time other than playing Atari. The second family Atari we spent time playing belonged to my uncle Ron, who also committed suicide in 2008. At my grandmother’s house I remember playing a clunky, curious game called Sneak ‘n Peek that was a terrible approximation of hide and seek. At my uncle Ron’s I remember playing a game called Swordquest, that frightened me. At Ron’s funeral I revisited memories of 1985, of dilligently playing these two games which both had themes of inside and outside, of disappearing and searching, and both of which I now look back on as a sort of ritualistic children’s work. With so many pandemic-era suicides and disappearances, I am thinking about these precedents for new ways to create space and ritual to process grief and honor the dead, and how the banal and the commercial can be reconfigured to occupy a spiritual place when other traditions are lost or discarded. One day social networks like Facebook, should they persist in some form, will be more pages left for the dead than those occupied by the living. The future necro-web 2.0, like Mud Room, could serve as reclaimed or abandoned places where we can choose to process history, grief, and perform rituals of repair.
The Mud Room is a room in a Grotto-generated maze. This specific room holds a cenotaph memorializing Robert and Dorothy Biggs, my maternal grandmother and her husband. Exits to adjoining rooms are open and can be explored, but other rooms may currently be dark and dangerous. This room and other rooms have public urls that can be visited by anyone via Grotto.
Once logged into grotto, you can get an api view of your current room at http://grotto.wileywiggins.com/api/v1/tableau/
A text-only ui for Grotto mazes is already built. I’m currently completing an icon based version that allows for navigating with an Atari VCS joystick for Mud Room, which is preoccupied with videogames and my embodied memories of using this specific game controller, which was cheap and caused pain in the hands after long periods of play. Cenotaph items in rooms could have a 3D representation, either via a web view using A-Frame, or as a separate Unity app that loads room data via the Grotto API. Both methods would allow for a VR headset view. For installation I would like to provide a projection mapped representation of the space. While I’ve worked extensively using projection mapping in other projects, I haven’t done projection mapped output from a web application or from unity before, so this is still an area of research. The reason I am exploring multiple parallel ways to represent a 3d space is that it’s unclear if the installation will be in person or online, also there may be different iterations of the installation over time.
Currently rooms have attributes such as light level, cleanliness and sanctity. Some actions associated with items (candles, incense, scrub brush) effect these attributes.
In Grotto items have actions that can be carried out by activating a link. In the installation space I’d like to find ways to use embodied actions, kneeling, scrubbing the floor, lighting candles, and other actions could be carried out in different ways phsycially. I’m also interested in creating a repetitive ritual with the Atari joystick that might mimic actions like counting rosary beads. All of these actions add to a history of actions stored in the cenotaph object.
Cenotaphs also act as containers for text and media files, which can be viewed and played in the 3d or projection space. These are artifacts created by me to help tell the story of my experience in the mud room and to memorialize the subjects of this particular cenotaph. Images and video in this context have a specific visual style that is informed by both the graphics of the Atari VCS and by pencil sketch. A p5.js custom tool is used to render images and video in this style, as well as icons in the Grotto GUI view.
A lot of my winter break was spent doing genealogy on the Czech side of my family, since these are the relatives I was exposed to going furthest back (I often visited my great aunts and uncles on their farm in Kurten, Texas) and it’s the branch of the family that is the most storied, through my mother. While doing supplemental reading on Bohemian/Moravian immigrants in Brazos Texas, I found accounts of the minister who enticed them to make the journey, to serve as laborers under the promise of large expanses of cheap and fertile land. This started a chain migration that my Czech family followed in 1872. This was my grandmother Dorothy’s family- and it was Dorothy’s house that held the Mud Room that serves as our conceptual entryway into the maze of cenotaphs.More ➜
Good day of work with @thismatters today, we installed the django-rest-framework which enabled api pages for rooms. This will enable abstracting the grotto data out into new UI’s. I had hoped to get the new html/css/vanilla js UI I started working on in time for Monday’s review, but it seems unlikely.More ➜
I talked to Jenna yesterday broadly about the transition between the introduction video and gameplay. There was a suggestion that the player start in Bob’s cenotaph, where they must figure out how to light (and maybe even place) a candle to proceed. I’m onboard with this. Jenna also suggested the idea of having bob’s actual note and blood in the cenotaph which I went with for a second but really don’t like. At first I thought I didn’t like how explicit it was, but gradually I realized that what I didn’t like was that it didn’t make sense in the game context. When I initially thought there would be a note in the room I was thinking of like, an obituary or something because these are constructed gravesites, not like…. a place where a death happened. These are crude pages in some forgotten and repurposed game, like a facebook page after the end of facebook used to memorialize someone. They’re data with a strange but appropriate new topology overlaid on it that suggests actions over time. Someone barging through would just see the game, and just see me carrying out tasks in a room in this maze as an npc, but I have motivations because this is a new landscape that was shaped by historical data. What the game isn’t is a polemical story about family suicide by way of environmental storytelling. Those deaths happened outside the game world. It’s true that they created this place, but it’s not that direct and stagey. It did seem convenient to leave clues like a conventional videogame to lead people through onboarding, but I think cleaning in the cenotaphs is just cleaning “something”… digital entropy and neglect. If there’s a note it would be a note from me that I leave as part of my work that is candid about what happened. Maybe you could have the best of both worlds if the appearance of blood was a sort of phantasm- you think you are cleaning up blood initially but its just the dirt of time. Or wumpus blood that you make a mental connection to real death with before learning it’s just another peice of rotting videogame mechanics.More ➜
I caught this quick talk at roguelike celebration about Ursula K. Leguin’s The Tombs of Atuan, and how it was kind of a better fictional prototype for roguelike games like Nethack than the Tolkien stuff that’s usually referenced. I had coincidentally just listened to the audiobook on a drive from Oregon to California, and the book has been on my mind a lot as I’ve been thinking about Mud Room- I like the idea of performing as an NPC in my own game, as a priest or caretaker of a network of cenotaphs (empty tombs, the bodies are in the indexical ‘real’ world) of my family and ancestors. Instead of blindly attacking anyone who comes into the cenotaphs to loot or desecrate, my relationship with the places I am guarding is being questioned and re-evaluated, like the priestess in Tombs of Atuan. Cenotaphs might be abandoned or cared for. The maze of tombs is as vast as all life that has ever lived on earth, though many connections are barricaded or destroyed.More ➜
One of the things that having all text links for exits in Grotto accomplished was that any amount of exits could be added to a room and there was no need to figure out where to place them spatially. Mud Room is returning to a spatial representation of a room and exits, so this problem will need to be dealt with. Generally in a videogame we would make a room bigger to accommodate more exits. This makes me think that, like swordquest, there will be an “outer” side of a room, which shows exits, and then an “inner” side, which is the cenotaph, and is a more 2d conception that holds objects. This frees up the outer version to be shown and traversed in any way we like. This is the most poorly defined part of the game so far.More ➜
play.p5 has both sprites and animations that can be added to sprites. The sprite is what can be scaled, not the animation. Was able to remove the confusing push/pop scaling and positioning by directly positioning the sprites. Using sprites also alleviates the need to slow the frameDelay.More ➜
I’ve expressed this to Jenna, but I want this project to get its look from its processes and materials. Obelisk was a weird project where I strained to make unity look like a 1 bit Mac with some kind of big monitor and great processor and it was obviously dishonest, the comments on the itch page that I asked for where obviously fake, there was a winking fakeness about it that came from not having the resources to just write a Taskmaker-style game in Pascal or whatever on an actual old Mac. It’s ok to straddle time periods and refer to things, but I think there’s a way do do it, even with humor involved, that honestly inherits an aesthetic from actual processes instead of straining to make something look like what it isn’t.More ➜
Tried pseudocoding/sorta coding the initial gui for a room today in p5.js… I got about 50% there real quick and then everything ground to a halt as I tried to apply any juice to the play.p5 animated sprites (like zooming them a little to show which one was selected). You have to do all sorts of weird stuff in p5, like increasing the animation frameDelay by how many animated sprites are on screen :/ I didn’t think what I wanted to do was very complicated and I really liked the idea of having each room be an individual real webpage with some accessibility, but maybe I really do need to just make a unity game with an online database after all. ¯\(ツ)/¯ Or use something more complicated like phaser?More ➜
The python GedCom parser is maintained by Brigham Young University, The Mormon Church being famously obsessed with genealogy and the retroactive baptism of the dead. I wonder if its something I should engage with. Do cloaked figures need to be chased away from cenotaphs before they baptize my ancestors into an unfamiliar faith?More ➜