The Cooper Union

PARDON OUR DUST asks a critical question: “Where are we?” “Where” is an acutely relevant word today due to our ever-accelerating digital existence, pushing humanity to, as Hito Steyerl1 describes, a point of determinate freefall. This thesis inhabits two sites in reference to this question: 1) the production line of computer hardware, revealing global systems of pollution, poverty, and displacement; 2) the video game as hyperobject, recognizing the capacity for a video game to be a space for empathetic exchanges. The project begins with studies into emotional cognition and the “carnivalization” that occurs when physical sites are translated into the digital realm. This research culminated in a plan re-drawing of the computer production line, but collapsed and combined, based on the carnivalization of space employed in video game design. PARDON OUR DUST constructs from this drawing its own video game that translates the physical sites of the production line into game space, allowing players to experience these sites in first-person viscerally, offering them the possibility to recognize their own culpability in the damage that the birth, life, and death their digital hardware inflicts. The game presents a blurring of the physical sites with their digital counterparts and a spatial doubling. The thesis has a more immediate objective, however, achieved through gameplay, aesthetics, and the supporting work: defining digital empathy in reference to the Ludic Century2. The game is played in an endless cycle between two players that examine, collect, and use “kipple.” As the players interact with kipple, spaces of the production line begin to merge and collapse upon each other, and the strange, magically realist narrative of our digital humanity begins to reveal itself. PARDON OUR DUST is founded upon questioning our location, even if our surroundings are accelerating into an oppressive, invisible vertigo.