5: Warped Reality: Playing With Time

The opening anecdote of this chapter is a visit to a Civil War "adventure camp" where participants in the program left behind all the trappings of modern life - change into clothing of the period, leave behind watches, cameras, and cell phones. While the culminating even (the battle) was staged with wooden rifles, everything up to that point - living in a camp, drilling and preparing, and the like - were all highly authentic to the era, which is the appeal of the experience.

In essence, this adventure camp "warped" time by taking participants out of the reality of the present day, removing virtually all reminders of it, and placed them in an environment that wasn't merely realistic, but real in the physical sense, and conveyed to participants a rich and detailed experience of the period.

In this way, the designers of the experience were treating time not as a fixed dimension, but a variable that could be adjusted, to effectively take people to a different point in history that, aside of it being a constructed and artificial replica situated within fixed boundaries of the present-day world, was highly engaging.

Getting into Flow

The notion of being "in flow" places a person in an activity that dominates their attention, such that they are no longer as aware of the passage of time. The old adage "time flies when you're having fun" is accurate, but it's perhaps more accurate to suggest that time flies when you're mentally engaged and protected from distractions.

People who are deeply engaged find that time seems to pass quickly at work as it does when they are engaged in a hobby or leisure interest. They become inured to or liberated from "the tyranny of time."

In designing an experience, the key to making time fly is finding the right level of balance between the requirements of the task and the skills of the actor. Too simple of a task becomes boring drudgery; too difficult of a task becomes an unpleasant struggle - but when the balance is just right, it becomes highly enjoyable and completely engaging.

Shifting into the Past

The author returns to the opening example of a Civil War adventure camp as a way to shift perception to a past time, and adds to it Renaissance fairs, reenactments groups, historical environments like Colonial Williamsburg, and the like. Live-Action role play and fantasy themed events and parks also take the user to a setting that never existed, but provides a similarly immersive experience.

The same idea is used, in a limited fashion, in historical districts of cities, where the architecture is frozen in time - the charm of these areas is that they are frozen in time. (EN: It's also quite an imposition on people who own homes and shops in these areas to maintain them in a specific period style.)

A few other examples are provided of experiences that attempt to leverage past by controlling props and behavior: a golf club that requires players to use equipment and play by rules that were in force when the club was founded (in 1884) and a vintage baseball league that requires players to wear replica uniforms, use old equipment, and play by nineteenth-century rules.

And to an even smaller degree, nearly everyone uses props to put them in a mental state of a time in the past: antique furniture, vintage clothing, even drinking from a tea set that their great-grandmother purchased a century ago, are all meant to evoke a sense, whether direct memory or imagined, of a time in the past.

(EN: A point the author misses is the necessity of the willing suspension of disbelief: this technique counts upon the subject to "forget" or ignore certain facts and accept the illusion presented to him. It follows, then, that the subject's mind is likely more critical than props created by the designer and, further, that the quality of mind dictates the degree to which the designer must replicate the environment: a reasonably intelligent and imaginative child can transport himself into the trenches of WWI if he has a stick to use as a pretend rifle; a less intelligent or imaginative person would require a more detailed replica, and an entire environment crafted to replicate the era, to let go of his present sense of reality and become immersed in the illusion.)

(EN: I think the author misses another important channel: video entertainment. While the real world around the viewer does not change, he remains focused on and captivated by the events and environment depicted on the screen. A person watching a costume drama is mentally, though not physically, in a historical environment. Perhaps the author means to stick to the realm of physical reality for now, but in case he doesn't later get to this, video is likely the most recognized and used "time machine" of the present era.

Shifting into the Future

While those who wish to replicate the past can turn to history to learn the details that will guide them, shifting to the future requires an act of complete fabrication. The future can be guessed by extrapolating present trends, or simply dreamt up entirely. This is not so much "warped reality" as "warped unreality."

Science fiction is largely based on fantasy of the future, but the techniques used to project a person into your vision of the future can leverage the same techniques: creating a fully immersive environment or using some aspect or element of the vision and counting on the imagination of the user to do the rest. The author terms this "pre-enactment."

A few examples of the immersive experience are given: the "Star Trek Experience" at the Las Vegas Hilton places participants on a set that resembles the bridge of a starship, surrounded by costumed actors who all act and speak in character.

On a less fantastic level, there was a museum exhibit of the "history of the future" that presented common objects from the present day and described them in a way that a historian might think of them hundreds of years in the future, often to comical effect.

May products also count upon fantasies of the future to sell products - the phrase "space age" was used to sell even common household items. While it's arguably a claim to a product's technical sophistication, the customer is being "sold" a vision of the future in which they own the product and things are better as a result.

Companies are intently interested in the future for much less fantastic reasons: they want to predict what will be so that they know what to do, and be well prepared to do it. Any strategy or plan involves envisioning a desired future state as a prerequisite to making detailed plans about how to achieve that state, or effect a condition that will make the firm prepared to be in that state when the time comes. However, they are less interested in fantasy visions of the distant future than in reasonable projections of the next few years.

Being Timeless

The author contrasts baseball and football as two sports that have different approaches to time. Football is played with a rigid time constraint of four fifteen-minute quarters, with limited flexibility: the clock is stopped at some times, and the game may go into overtime if the score is tied. There is no clock in baseball - you play as long as it takes to get through nine innings and extra ones if the score is tied. (EN: Grabbing some stats, the longest inning in MLB history was an hour and eight minutes - I couldn't find stats on the shortest inning, but there was one full game that lasted 51 minutes.) In effect, a baseball game could go on forever.

He mentions casinos as a place where time is stopped. A gambler is "in flow" and does not sense the passage of time when engrossed in a game; and to keep him in that state, casinos attempt to erase any environmental clues as to the time that has passed: there are no clocks on the walls, no windows to admit the telling passage of the sun, and the killing floor is open 24/7/365 - it doesn't even close down on Christmas Day. While critics are quick to point to the mercenary motive of the casino to keep players at the table, many players admit that they like the fact that they can pass so much time without feeling weary of the games: the timelessness is a value to the customer.

Slowing Down, Speeding Up

The author considers the fast pace of modern life, as people hurry from one thing to another, and seek leisure activities that enable them to experience "slow time," where they can take a break from the pressure of the moment to simply relax.

In other instances, people become frustrated because a slow experience seems to them a waste of time as they are wanting to get it over with and go onto other things. In some locations where people must spend time waiting, diversions can distract them from the boredom: consider the television set that plays in many waiting rooms.

(EN: I think the author misses a better example. There is some fascination in seeing a video of a normally-slow process that is shown quickly, such as showing the growth of a plant over a few seconds, or a normally-fast process that is shown slowly, such as a bullet fired through a playing card at sow motion. This can also be used for educational purposes - to change the speed at which time passes so a person can observe a fast event in minute detail or a slow process speeded up so that their attention is not lost.)

Next of kin to this is the concept of hyperlinking time: giving the user control over the sequence rather than putting them through a forced march through specific steps in a task. The example he provides seems a bit off: he speaks of the way that cars and places enable us to "teleport" ourselves from one location to another. (EN: This one is particularly odd - I get the concept, but no better example comes to mind.)

Applying Warped Reality

The chapter-end succotash of notes follows: