The Sky Is Falling (A Day in the Life...)
Previously published in Foundations of Digital Art and Design (Pearson/New Riders)

In 2010 I received a “Terminal: Internet Based Art” grant from Austin Peay State University toward the production of a proposed online art work that consisted of captured PlayStation 3 game footage from “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” The work would reflect the seamless passing of game time to contrast the audience’s external experience of real time. One minute of “real” time equaled approximately 30 minutes of game time, and the plan was to capture 24 two-minute long videos representing the passing of one game day. These videos would be programmed to play on a web browser with the particular two-minute clip referencing the viewer’s local time (for instance, if a viewer opened the page at 3:40pm local time, then video 15, containing game footage from 3:00 to 3:59pm game time, would play in the browser).

References to playable characters, AI characters, and accompanying sound effects would be edited from the video to focus on the notion of a virtual space with the possibility of non-virtual habitation, defined in part by the passing of game time during the observer’s “real” time. The health meter, magic meter, stamina meter, weapon and magic selections and the game compass would remain unedited as a digital referent in the hyperreal environment of the game engine.

The reason I chose “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” as my source material was twofold. First, the idea that game time consistently and uniformly progressed was an interesting one to me. As time was spent in the realm of the game, it more slowly passed in the real world. This was a radical departure from the kinds of games that I had played when younger, where the idea of diversion from the real world was paramount and any relationship to external reality was circumspect. The second reason for this choice related to the first, as “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” presents the player with a robustly detailed environment (apart from the fantasy elements), where the sun rises and sets, clouds cross the sky, and rain falls. Switching from third person to first person view and commanding your playable character to look up, one is presented with a nuanced and boundless panorama of the sky and space that changes with each passing minute.

The plan, and the problem...
The actual recording of the game footage was easy: a Haupauge HD PVR connected between my Mac and PlayStation 3 copied footage on the television screen. Finding a location from which to command my character to view the sky for 24 hours, however, proved somewhat more complicated. All attempts to find a safe place where my character could stand while looking upward proved hopeless as some creature or other would inevitably attack. It seemed the only safe harbor would be to stand on water, where neither the creatures on land nor under the sea could harm me. Doing that required I locate a particular enchanted item, a ring that allows walking on water.

Many hours later, with the ability to walk on water firmly under my control, I again set out to watch the sky for the next 24 hours of game time. While I was not harassed during this attempt, I found that after about fifteen minutes of real time spent looking up my character’s health began to drain. I was dead three minutes later. Knowing that I was not being attacked (as I was unreachable on the surface of the water), and thinking my death to be a system bug, I reset both the game and the Haupauge HD PVR and tried again. After another fifteen minutes I started dying once more. This continued for another three or four attempts before I found the consistent element: starting at game-time midnight, fifteen minutes of real time brought me to approximately 6am, or sunrise. At some point during my adventure to locate the magic ring I had been afflicted with vampirism. The rising sun was my undoing...

I found a cure for my vampirism (a drawn out period of collecting ingredients to give to a witch), and hence my demise at dawn, days later. Finally cured, I was able to stand still and gaze at the sky for the 24-hour game day duration. With my footage captured all that was left for the completion of the project was the video splicing and HTML coding. And some vampire payback.