WWe have been told to bring a blindfold and headphones for a “terrifying sonic experience”In Zoom. There is an activation warning of its “adult content” by a faceless voice called Master, telling us that emotions will intensify for the next two hours, so that we can remove the blindfolds and take a breath if we feel overwhelmed. Now the nerves are really tingling.
But they jingle in a good way over the course of this interactive digital drama, devised by Morpheus and produced by Yana Greene, who also adapted her script from the Russian original. We, its participants, are its actors, says the Master (Dominic McChesney), and everything will pass in our minds.
He guides us to imagine the story initially: a benign tale of a group of friends and a meeting before we get into a car accident and wake up in a hospital ward to find that the world has changed – a deadly virus is on the loose. and the government has been overthrown by the militia. There is also a people’s army. There are Big Brother-style Tannoy commandos outside our building and bloodcurdling screams from the infected or dying inside.
If it sounds too close for your comfort, it isn’t. In fact, it was created as a physical theater before the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic, in 2018, by Russian artists. Then the game was transferred to Zoom.
Master gives us options on how to build the story by deciding what steps to take next together. We meet guards and survivors along the way (all played by Simon Kingsley). The scenarios that are built are a cross between the dystopian drama of 28 days later and the epidemic mystery of La ceguera by José Saramago. It feels like an escapism on the edge of the seat, despite the real-life resonance of a deadly virus and a race to find a vaccine.
But the most exhilarating part is the human connection and the collective decision-making necessary to make the game work. The show admits up to six participants and is billed as the “perfect team-building experience for the workplace.” Blinded in our virtual world, we are certainly thinking and acting as a group. Communicating with these strangers feels strangely intimate in this sensory deprived setting and is also a lot of fun, despite the blood and gunfire.
Stranded in our dystopia, we have only trinkets (a cup of coffee, a KitKat, a pen) and our wits to protect ourselves from the dark forces around us. It is amazing self-knowledge to know that in no time, we are all ready to set the elevators on fire and cut our enemies with scalpels.
They inject me with adrenaline when my knees weaken, despite the scarcity of the injection. A fellow adventurer sacrifices his share of the KitKat for the group; we support each other.
This group action feels good, a cuter version of The Hunger Games, although we are never tested against each other and it could have turned into a darker, bolder game if we had been. However, it invites an indirect reflection on the well-being of the group in relation to individual survival and on how to survive “ethically”, without causing harm to the collective, perhaps a lesson for our real-life pandemic situation.
There is also the catharsis of a happy ending, at least for us. My comrades and I “make a lot of correct decisions,” Master tells us at the end, and thus we save the world. We work well as a group, he adds. The Master is right and I would happily meet the gang again in another virtual hell, for one last great job.
• Tickets available here.
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