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Attention Economy Meets Climate Action: The Innovative World of ‘Focus, But Where?’


By Unveilral

@unveilral






Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

‘Focus, But Where?’ scene design from ‘Chapter 1: Lost in The Flood’.

In stark contrast to the bright, loud, and emotional realm of protest, the monochrome world of 'Focus, But Where?' is a thoughtful exploration of the attention economy and climate action, run by adorable cubes. Sitting at the intersection of art and technology, the web-based game 'Focus, But Where?' makes media literacy fun by controlling game interaction through the player's eye movements.


Led by Kexin Liu, now Project Director, as part of her commission for Grounding Technologies, artists, designers, and researchers in Bristol collaborated to create a hidden object genre game. The game is still in its prototype stage, but a beta version can now be played online.


'Focus, But Where?' uses novel technology to engage its audience. This is not only a way to educate people outside of traditional methods, but by using technology that relies on facial movements instead of the typical movements we subconsciously use, the player is more aware of what their attention is drawn to. Xingzhi Zheng, the Game Designer and Programmer, has incorporated Google's TensorFlow face landmark detection framework into the game framework to make this interaction mode a reality. However, this may be a barrier to their target audience as they may be boycotting Google or do not want their biometrics logged for security reasons. The team are aware of this and provides an option for cursor or trackpad controls instead.


Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

‘Focus, But Where?’ Hidden object game, Chapter 1.


I wink at my computer screen; the game reacts with a contemplative "hmm" as it takes me to the first Chapter. Along with the soundtrack, created by Sound Designer Jake Wild, this sets the tone of the game as one of quiet reflection on our day-to-day lives. I feel an awareness of being a body interacting with a screen instead of mind-numbingly absorbed into whatever I am consuming.


The game begins as I navigate multiple news articles flashing through phones strewn across a messy desk that I'm sure many will be familiar with. Symbols at the bottom of the screen hint for the player to find headlines on protests about climate change amidst a barrage of entertainment articles.


Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

‘Focus, But Where?’ Animation cut scene.


The Gen Z humour throughout the headlines seen in 'Chapter One', such as "Elongated Muskrat announces adoption of Alien baby. Plans to raise it on Mars." is witty and perfectly aimed at engaging their target audience of the young and chronically online generation. It is also the generation targeted by climate action groups such as Just Stop Oil and Green New Deal Rising. 'Focus, But Where?' aims to increase media literacy and show how important taking action against climate change is whilst making sure that we critically examine the organisations that are often at the forefront of eco-activism.


Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

‘Focus, But Where?’ scene design from ‘Chapter 2: The Soup and Van Gogh’.


From the rage-baiting articles on Just Stop Oil to lesser-known acts of self-sacrifice by environmentalists, 'Chapter One' asks the audience to consider why some actions or articles receive more attention than others. The game then delves deeper into analysing the controversy surrounding the souping of Van Gogh's Sunflower painting by Just Stop Oil. As an activist who has written critiques of Just Stop Oil in the past, it is exciting to see people who also believe in the power of climate activism shed light on Just Stop Oil's techniques and guide the audience to make up their own minds about their actions, that are not just reactive. It also examines why protest groups might choose to take action that elicits strong emotional reactions such as outrage.


Kai Charles' vision, the game's Writer and Researcher, for the box-shaped characters that Illustrator Inigo Hartas has created are perfect vectors for the human experience under capitalism. The cubes also mean the game is relatable for anyone as it defies identity politics.


Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

‘Focus, But Where?’ scene design from ‘Chapter 3: Addict Factory’.


In 'Chapter Three' the cubes, or eye monsters, are hollow, uniformed workers in the 'Addict Factory' but we still empathise with them. In the 'Addict Factory', we see how they are manipulated by persuasive technology. This Chapter seeks to show how persuasive technology is deliberately created to change the behaviours, attitudes and opinions of its users and how this can be dangerous.


In 'Chapter Four', we reach an attic with a giant spider, representing the looming anxiety many people feel knowing that there are powers greater than them pushing propaganda and aiming to control the media. After this Chapter, the game carefully handles how climate systems breakdown might look for its Western audience. Backed by scientific studies about what Bristol might look like in the future, we experience consequences of climate systems breakdown as the paper house falls apart. However, the game does not succumb to nihilism. Instead, 'Focus, But Where?' ends with a message of hope, empowering the player and directing them to external resource pages and interesting real-world applications that can help them make informed decisions on how they want to act to safeguard their future.

This game could not come at a more prescient time when many feel anxiety about our changing environment and the misinformation surrounding it. 'Focus, But Where?' does not condemn anyone for their actions or even the media for driving profits; instead, it provides the player with an experience that gives them pause for thought in an attention economy driven by reactionary feelings. I am excited to be able to play 'Focus, But Where?' in full, and its release cannot come soon enough.



Illustration from the climate action game, 'Focus, But Where?'

 ‘Focus, But Where?’ Main menu inventory design.


The initial narrative and concept design of 'Focus, But Where?' was created during Kexin Liu's Research Residency at Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio from February 1st, 2023, until April 13th, 2023. The game was then further developed with the generous support of Grounding Technologies from August 1st, 2023, until December 1st, 2023, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Department for Media, Culture and Sport.



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