The setting of the game is based on the interior of the Kiasma, but was slightly altered for its inclusion in the FACT exhibition States of Play: Roleplay Reality. The game deals with social dynamics, manipulation, and immunity challenges—replicating the structure of the Survivor reality show.
To play Survivor, I melted into a deep and comfortable fleshy pink colored chair, there were controls on both sides of the arm rests, and the sound of an overly joyous game host voice coming out of the speakers behind me. I was thrust into the game without knowing the end or the ultimate prize, but I still felt a tension and desire to win as soon as the character Jo won the first challenge. After speaking through the pre-determined dialogue with the character Sasha, I formed an alliance. While Jo was immune from being voted off, the other characters were still vulnerable. Feeling malicious, I walked into voting and cast my vote for the member of my newly formed alliance, Sasha. Voted off was another player and I was forced to sit with my qualms about casting a vote for Sasha.
I sit in the fleshy pink chair and remember from my, embarrassingly large, brain bank of reality television, that the competitive and malevolent contestants always make it far in game series. I continue to play the game with stern manipulation, choosing meaner dialogue options to interact with other players, and continuing to abandon my alliances to see how far I could take my character. I find myself receiving more and more votes to be eliminated, but I continue to stay in the game and watch other players leave the competition.
I grow frustrated with the game when it goes into challenges that no matter how hard I press the button in an attempt to win, my character is almost stagnant and unable to do anything. The host’s voice bellows at me that I made a pathetic attempt at the challenge. Eventually, my character becomes voted off. It becomes an infuriating moment as I cannot even find out if it is due to my maliciousness and manipulation or my utter inability to win at challenges. I knew going into it that even if I won, I wouldn’t walk away with a tangible prize like in the real Survivor, yet I am still burrowing my eyebrow in confusion and frustration as to why I couldn’t beat the final three players around me.
At home, I download the game to try playing from a sweeter angle. I stick with my alliances and choose the nicest possible dialogue options, even towards the depressed character Margo who stands as a somber presence throughout the duration of the game. I become less competitive and hurried. I even taking time to explore the terrain of the game, until the host grows frustrated with my lack of concentration.
I continue to play Survivor with different approaches to see what the outcomes may be. There are different scenarios, types of dialogue interactions based on who I speak with first, and ultimately newfound frustrations--but then I am confronted with the reality of my situation. I am subconsciously playing the game in the same manner that I play with my own life. I attack often unknowingly pre-determined situations with different approaches. Sometimes I approach with manipulation, sometimes with a ‘you catch more bees with honey’ attitude, and sometimes with an utter lack of care in the situation before me. I let the belittling dialogue of the unknown host impact my psyche, my social skills, and my character like I have let passersby in my own life do in the past. I have let myself be fueled by the drama of the unknown territory of a situation and how the people around me are choosing to navigate it.
The game Survivor seeps into a player’s mind and seemingly simple tasks of winning a few challenges and voting off people you may not like, turns into something depressing and defeating—yet once you are released from the game, whether a winner or a loser, you are transported back into the comfy chair in the gallery, or to the couch at home from which you are playing, and back into your own life to begin to survive in an entirely new game.
Play Surivor as part of our current exhibition States of Play: Rolelpaly Reality, showing until Sunday 17 June.
Annie Clark completed a placement in FACT's Exhibitions Team as part of the MA Art History & Curating course at Liverpool Hope University.