Today, we take it for granted. We step into an elevator half-full of people and, with an almost Pavlovian immediacy, we slip our smartphones out of our pockets and lock our eyes on our screens. There’s not a whole lot you can do on a smartphone in the span of an elevator ride, but that’s not the point. The point is not having to look at the other people in the elevator.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In the years before smartphones, riders were forced to inspect their clothes, study their visage in reflective ceiling above, and when all else failed, simply stare fixedly at the floor–all in the name of avoiding the dreaded chit chat. Rachel Knoll, a student at the Royal College of Art in London, was worried that we were at risk of losing these time-honored tactics, so she built a videogame to help us practice them.
Avoidance Training, which sadly only exists as a proof of concept, puts you in a virtual elevator, shared with a changing cast of blocky co-workers. Using the computer’s webcam, the game tracks the direction you’re facing and where you’re looking. So long as you avert your gaze, you stay alive.
The game, built with programmer and friend Matte Szklarz, is more of a commentary on changing behaviors than a true training regimen. “I find myself often thinking of how our way of interacting and experiencing is changing,” she says, “being a generation that is first-handedly experiencing a technological shift with increasing feelings of reliance on devices and gadgets. The idea for the project came up while I was thinking of skills that the current generation is gaining or losing as a result of this shift.”
Playing the game, Knoll says, forces you to recognize the absurdity of strenuously avoiding human interaction in the first place. For one, you can’t help but notice the parallels of escaping into a video game and escaping into some invented digital distraction in an elevator car. The game, she writes, “deals with a withdrawal of self that is as instinctive in virtual gameplay as it is in the tense experience of sharing the small space of an elevator.”