A Machine To See With Heightens Visual Acuity

mobile phone masts
Mobile Telephone Masts Image by fsse8info via Flickr

The Brighton Digital Festival kicks off today with A Machine to See With, an interactive, living film that you star in!  It happens via your mobile phone and takes you on a mini-adventure through the streets of downtown Brighton.    No, you don’t end up on camera but the suggestion is there and, if you’re willing to play along, it’s an interesting diversion.

Artistic Pedigree

Created by Brighton’s Blast Theory, and commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival and Banff New Media, A Machine to See With is getting around and was most recently at the Edinburgh Festival. So it comes with an élite artistic pedigree!

I signed up to do the test runs.  Did the first a couple of weeks ago, then another on Tuesday.  You turn up at your appointed start-point and wait for a phone call which gives you instructions and directions.  Follow along, play the game, and you’ll enjoy yourself.  And if you’re anything like me, possibly come away a changed person.

Mini Adventure Tour Guide Activates Senses

Kind of an adventure tour guide, A Machine to See With creates suspense and excitement while also introducing streets and buildings around you. It took me to a couple of Brighton spots I’d never been to (and chances are will never go to again) although I’ve lived in Brighton for two years.  It also introduces landmarks, and reveals details that might otherwise be missed – making the player more conscious of what’s on the street: buildings, graffiti, restaurants, alley ways, walkways, stair cases, etc.  So it serves not only as an alternative tour guide for someone who doesn’t know the city they’re playing the game in, but it also activates the senses of someone who lives there, hopefully awakening a different way of seeing.  In that way it creates a unique experience of Brighton.

Impressive Co-opting of Call Centre Technology

The use of both call centre and mobile technology to execute a complex artistic vision is impressive.   Call centre software permits simultaneous access to a telephone number and makes simultaneous phone calls to many phones, delivering a range of recorded responses dependent upon your responses.  (You’re asked to key in numerical responses from time to time.)  Normally this kind of interaction with phones is annoying, in A Machine to See With it’s productive and enjoyable.  Definitely an example of artists improving reality.

Works Well even tho Content a Bit Thin

The content could use a little tweaking. A soundtrack and a multiple choice ending (both of which I suggested during feedback after the tests) would deepen the experience, but A Machine to See With is effective just as it is!  It gave me a heightened sense of visual perception.  In fact, after finishing the test run on Tuesday I saw inside a building I’ve walked past countless times, and until A Machine to See With, it had been just another grey stone building.  After A Machine to See With, I noticed what was inside and thought it would be a nice place to take my mother (aw shucks!)

Bravo to Blast Theory!  A Machine to See With works very well as an interactive tool to show you around town and increase visual acuity.   But you’ve got to play along.  It is an interactive game, after all.

If you’ve got a few extra minutes on your phone (I only used about 10 of my own!), a few extra quid in your pocket, and are up for an alternative tour of Brighton’s core, then get yourself a ticket.  Comfortable walking shoes recommended.  Be prepared to walk for about 50 minutes. One toilet break included and, if you’re on the ball, a chance to sit down!


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