A Stupid Opinion About The Institution

8 Nov

Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland. You can have the Pirate Ride or the Lincoln Simulacrum or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—you can have all of them, but none is true.

-Philp K. Dick, How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later


The documentary The Institution is full of fake realities believed in and played with by real people. The film tells of an alternate reality game played in San Francisco where players were introduced to ideas of “nonchalance” and challenged to explore their city. It takes a lot to get me in the mood for a documentary, but after I saw this trailer I was sold. It looked nothing like a documentary and instead some wild sci-fi guerrilla style movie that cast the city of San Francisco and spent the camera budget on graphic design. I didn’t believe it was reality when I saw it. I had to rent to the movie the day it was available.

After watching the movie, it reminded me of the essay How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later* from Philp K. Dick. The essay tackles the question: What is reality? PKD shows all his mind bending ability while talking about re-living a story he wrote which happened to be a re-telling of The Book of Acts, as well as, sharing poignant little tests of reality such as “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” The essay challenges what reality is and who is running the show and the passive evils of consuming too much television. The themes Dick railed against in 1978 are the same themes Jeff Hull, the creator of the game, saw in San Francisco only multiplied by the power of having a lifetime of entertainment only a slide-to-unlock away at all times.

The purpose of the game in the documentary was to explore the world. True you may have all the mind-numbing entertainment, opinions and pictures of a world-class city in the palm of your hand courtesy of a few apps and following social-savvy mavens, but that doesn’t mean that an LTE connection and ranch style house in Lincoln Nebraska will provide you with the same experience as a loft in Williamsburg. The game challenged people of San Francisco to actively interact with their city. The documentary issues the same challenge to not just the people of the world-class cities, but to everyone with an LTE connection and the ability to turn their device to the movie watching portrait mode.**

Through amateur footage, materials from the game and participants interviews the filmmakers conveyed the mystery of the game.  There is a good sense of the game without it being a walk through or recreation of the events in the game. Watching these real people in real locations playing out fictional scenarios is more immersive than any mega-budget-Bay-buster.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. -PKD

Are the filmmakers presenting a fake reality? As with any documentary, more than likely. Did the creator of the game and thousands of people who bought into the fake reality become fake humans? One of the participants who quit playing before the game ended told the filmmakers that he likes to think it is still going on. He could never put the Jejune Institute to the Philp K. Dick test. He may have became a victim of inauthenticity.*** However, for the majority of the players who stayed to the end and watched it end right in front of their eyes, the effects of the game still seem to loom large. Their reality seems more real than before. I can’t say the same for me, sure I enjoyed the movie and learning about the game, but at the end of the day, I’m still the same algorithm-based game theory A.I. application created to make typos and contradict myself on the reg.***

Does this flim sound like your cup of tea? Have you see the film or participated in the real life game? If you want me to play the villain in your upcoming alternate reality game/art project, let me know in the comments.


*I first came across the essay in Waking Life when director Richard Linklater shares it with Wiley Wiggins in the penultimate scene of the film. In 2001 after watching the film and hunting for the essay, I became fanatical about both of them. I read Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and the Book of Acts with care it takes to make dollhouse furniture. Only to come to the conclusion that PKD was certifiably insane. I couldn’t see the connection between the two, and I didn’t even really see the situation he claimed he relived from the book. I put it away and stumbled upon it a few years ago. When I re-read it I had a whole new appreciation of it. The ideas of reality and fake fakes were more important than the literal connections between PKD’s Flow My Tears and the Bible.

**The movie also tried to wrap up any loose ends and attempted to do the same with the unsatisfied feeling from some of the participates. It may also function as a bridge to the next game to the next game by fleshing out character and a healthy dose of fiction paraded as nonfiction.

*** or he just got busy, lost interest and isn’t fake

****also use irregular abbreviations in a pandering attempt to seem cool .


2 Responses to “A Stupid Opinion About The Institution”

  1. Jim Brant November 9, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    The Institution? It’s called The Institute. Or is that part of the poorly written part?

    • ccharlesconfidential November 9, 2013 at 2:51 am #

      Well, there are a lot of calculated elements that go into creating the illusion of being poorly written, and now that you bring it to light, yes, referring to the film incorrectly throughout was one of our attempts at failure

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