At SXSW 2018, I was invited to take part in a four-day immersive story experience called a “SimuLife.“ Mounted by the Austin-based creative lab Interactive Deep Dive, SimuLife is meant to blur the line between fantasy and reality by letting me interact with the story as part of daily life. It’s like David Fincher’s movie The Game, executed in the real world. Other than those broad edicts, I wasn’t given any advance information about the experience. I’m documenting my journey through the story — wherever it leads.
The story starts with Part 1: I’m a transdimensional dopplegänger.
In taking part in various immersive experiences over the past few years, I’ve been able to try a lot of outlandish things. I’ve been blackmailed, fought vampires, visited Westworld, and even crawled through the storage space of recently deceased family member. Throughout all those experiences, I’d like to think I remained a good, morally centered person — one who wouldn’t let a sense of power or delusions of grandeur get into his head.
It turns out that when more than a billion dollars is on the table, that internal moral calculus can change awfully quick.
From the very beginning of my SimuLife story adventure, Monday had been flagged as a big day: the moment where the conglomerate Cooder & Cooder would try to finalize its acquisition of tech company OpenMind, and bring my transdimensional doppelgänger back into the fold. But there had been some hiccups along the way. I’d learned about a resistance group that strongly opposed the ethics of a device that could read people’s minds, and discovered that Bishop’s wife Faith had her own misgivings about the technology, given that it had irrevocably damaged her husband’s mind.
But I still wasn’t sure what the right way to handle such a moment would be — nor if I’d even be sucked into the alternate timeline to see it go down in the first place. But before I could even get there, things took a quick detour Monday morning when I got a call from Paige, The Verge’s intern-in-waiting. She was crying, and wondered if I was available to talk.
We met up outside the hotel where I was staying. The day before, she’d admitted to me that her parents didn’t know she was in Austin, and that she’d lied about her visit because they didn’t support her ambitions to become a writer and journalist. It was clearly bothering her, so I suggested she come clean to her father when the time was right. She had — and it didn’t go well.
And I did what anyone would do for a friend: I tried to talk her down. I told her that her parents might be angry, but she could cut her own path through life, no matter what they wanted. And if she wanted to write, she just had to write, making time for it every day until it became part of her daily routine. That seemed to help calm her, and she suggested we do another round of blind walking — only this time, in busy downtown Austin, instead. Then her phone rang: it was her dad, and she quickly ducked inside the hotel to take the call where it wasn’t so noisy.
That’s when it happened — wub-wub-wub-WHOOSH — that now-familiar sound that told me I’d swapped into the world of OpenMind.
Almost immediately, I heard the two Cooder & Cooder executives I’d met when this whole thing first began. They rushed toward me, telling me I was late for the big meeting, and that they were there to make sure I got there on time. I looked around, and tried to stall — the day before, I promised Nikita from the resistance group that I would let her come to the meeting to gather intel. But the two execs wouldn’t take no for an answer. They led me through downtown Austin, bragging about the big numbers they were seeing on E*trade as the markets got wind of the fact that the creator of OpenMind might be rejoining the company.
We arrived at their building and took the elevator up to their offices, full of open-floorplan working stations and floor-to-ceiling windows. Our destination was the conference room, where the head of Cooder & Cooder and the board of OpenMind waited.
The room was filled with apprehension and awe; some members of the board couldn’t believe Bishop was there, while others worried about what would happen next. A woman — I believe her name was Hayden; it was a lot to take in — approached me and quietly told me how happy she was that I was back. The decision to kick Bishop out of OpenMind had been hers alone, she acknowledged, but she hoped we’d be able to work together moving forward.
In an earlier chapter, I mentioned that immersive experiences afford audiences the opportunity to act outside their comfort zone, and do things they normally wouldn’t. A side benefit can sometimes be unexpected self-illumination — a peek at the parts of your own personality that you’d…