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"Save the Baby?"


 

"Save the Baby?" is a large-scale video game where the participants use their shadow as well as numerous tools such as bicycle wheels, tennis rackets, and ladders to manipulate the characters of the game. The audience must discover the objective on their own, and as they do, there are a few surprises in stock for them.



The participants enter into a room full of projectors with objects such as pipes and wood suspended from the ceiling casting shadows on the projection walls.

However, they are not given any instructions!

 

On one side of the room they discover cute little green aliens that walk on top of shadows.
 



On the right, they find that a baby is in trouble, apparently tied down by Lilliputs.

 

The participants learn to move the little green aliens by manipulating the shadows.

For example, here someone is balancing an alien on top of their head while moving an overhead pipe.
 



Using the tools they find like bicycle wheels and boards they problem-solve their way around various obstacles. 

Here someone is using a ladder and board to get the alien over a fire obstacle.

 

Inevitably (without being told to do so) they lead the little green aliens towards the baby.

    But...

When the aliens reach the baby, they don't save the baby as everyone assumes - they eat the baby!
 


Had they done nothing for ten minutes, the baby would have escaped on its own!

But no one ever waits for ten minutes; given an obstacle, it is human nature to overcome it - even when the implications are unknown.

And thus the moral of the story:
"Sometimes the only way to win is not to play."

   
"Save the Baby?" is a subversive parody of game playing and by extension, life in general.  It shamelessly exploits people's assumptions that game-playing has no "real" consequences.  However, I submit that the human nature which inevitably compels participants to advance the aliens towards the baby is a force outside of the game mechanic.  How much human history is, for both good or evil, attributable to people's blind pursuit in overcoming that which they perceive as an obstacle?  And furthermore, does not the definition of "obstacle" often degrade into "that which fails to act as expected" instead of "that which impedes my ability to do that which is right"?

"Save the Baby?" reminds participants that they, like anyone, can be easily led to take actions the consequences of which they may find repugnant and was inspired by Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments.  I hope that the piece results not only in personal reflection on one's decision-making process, but also reminds participants that when it comes to critiquing collective human action throughout history that they perhaps live in glass houses.

More obliquely, "Save the Baby?" is also a satire of the attempts to qualify video game violence.  It was inspired by Nintendo's guidelines for product licensing which endeavor (at least when I last read them in the early 90's) to define unacceptable content by enumerating a list of inappropriate elements such as blood, corpses, sexual organs, smoking, alcohol, etc.  (Incidentally, conspicuously absent from the list was [is?] a prohibition on depictions of racial stereotypes - after all, such regulations would preclude selling their most profitable product line: Super Mario - the eponymous character of which is a pizza-tossing, outrageously accented, Italian stereotype.)  "Save the Baby?" was designed to meet the guidelines for the most junior grades of game content and thus it depicts no actual violence.  The aliens themselves are never injured and, when they reach the baby, they merely pull out a fork and knife implying that they are hungry; what happens after scene fades out is left to the imagination.  And thus the point: just because the action isn't shown, is it really less violent?  I don't think so.  "Save the Baby?" is simultaneously both the least violent game measured by aforementioned metrics and the most violent game measured by the repugnancy of the action.  And this, I hope, demonstrates the intractability of stamping content labels on fictional worlds be they games or books.

 -Zack Booth Simpson
Jan 2003               

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