PsXXYborg (2013-2014)

w. Hannah Epstein (Project Lead) + Alex Leitch (Tech)


When it was first discovered, arrayed across a series of mislabeled floppy disks in a forgotten basement storage box, they didn't know what it was. But they saw what it later became: A semi-mythological, dual-screened techno-artifact, circulating endlessly among concentric underground circles whose members' esotericism increased with proximity to the center.

Was it merely a game, as some on the outer rings of initiation dared to suggest? A practical joke, invented specifically to provoke academic gossip? Or was the ritualistic act of engagement with the device itself a portal to human enlightenment- an invitation for worthy players to replicate themselves into an immortal digital consciousness?

Seriously though, what is it?

Simply put, PsXXYborg was a experimental interactive art installation by Hannah Epstein, inspired by Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. It was a dual-screened game played on an iPad with a secondary screen projection, in which the player had to navigate a series of nightmarish psychedelic tests to see if they were worthy of being absorbed into an omnipotent digital entity called the Nous. Also, players were enclosed in the back of a big yellow van Hannah purchased off Craiglist.

How was it made?

Hannah and I had a bunch of brainstorming sessions, and then I did some writing and a lot of After Effects collaging, and it all got mashed up into the constantly evolving narrative that was Hannah Epstein's PsXXYborg. There was a Youtube prototype, and a lot of material that didn't make the final cut. You'd have to ask Alex Leitch about the technical aspects as she pretty much handled the bulk of the back-end; I think it had something to do with Node.

The original PsXXYborg van. Paint job by Hannah Epstein.

"Alternating between traditional mini-games, which were compared to those of WarioWare, a large portion of the game will have the player answering volleys of increasingly absurd questions in an effort to wear down on the player’s psyche through a process of depersonalization, making them ripe for a paradigm shift of consciousnesses. Example questions included “How many opinions does Kenya have?”, “Which of these chairs is more sexually arousing?” and “Which of these land masses has the most irritating contours?” and all were spoken by an oddly meditative robotic voice reminiscent of GLaDOS from Valve’s PORTAL games. The questions were furthermore accompanied by lo-fi trippy video rife with artifacts and digital distortion. The aesthetic is meant to replicate how the creators perceive a computer might try to conjure human concepts of its own volition."

-Original write-up for TIFF.Nexus by Peter Kuplowsky

Sightings and Appearances

Queer Arcade (July 2013)

PsXXYborg made its debut appearance as part of Team Vector and Videofag's Queer Arcade, held in Toronto's Kensington Market. For one summer weekend, we invited random passersby to climb inside the van and upload their consciousness into a new digital reality. After the event, the van was towed and scrapped, its job as a temporary physical vessel for PsXXYborg having been accomplished.

You can read more about it on the Queer Arcade blog here.

Videofag in Kensington Market

Toronto Long Winter (Dec 2013)

We showcased the downsized edition of PsXXYborg at the Toronto Long Winter arcade, at the Great Hall. Obviously we couldn't fit a van indoors, so Hannah came up with this handy portable alternative. Curious observers could look through the top and see the current player's mind being gradually absorbed in real-time.

The original PsXXYborg tent. Paint job by Hannah Epstein.

Sight & Sound Festival (May 2014)

The PsXXYborg team was invited to participate in Montreal's Sight & Sound Festival, where we were given a rental van and placed in an alley across from a children's juggling act and some graffiti performance artists. Peter Kuplowsky played our cult leader, a sort of techno-mystic guru who helped us lure people into the van. Hannah and Alex also led a workshop for artists interested in the dual-screen technology used in the game.

Here's the artist statement from the festival page:

"PsXXYborg is a game art exploration of the ironic cyborg theory presented by Donna Haraway in her seminal 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto.” PsXXYborg ironically represents the inherent structures of power that mediate our individual moments of collision with technocratic hierarchies. The experimental, dual-screen FMV game takes place in the back of a van, through which the host system, PsXXYborg, draws you deep into the "Mirror Land Forest", posing a series of absurdist, psychologically probing questions in order to map and situate each player’s psyche within the infinite dimensions of the digital world. Critical players are rewarded with access to an array of unique game content located "off the beaten path". PsXXYborg is a way to confirm your ultimate personal value, to replicate and upload your unique consciousness into the infinite digital "we"—to achieve immortality through the wonders of technology! This installation is presented in the context of Printemps St-Denis, organised by the SDC rue St-Denis."

Free Mind Uploads! From left to right: Alex Leitch, Hannah Epstein, Cyborg Military Queen (Sagan Yee).

Using Format