'We Become What We Behold' Takes on Viral Divisiveness

by G. Christopher Williams

8 March 2017

We Become What We Behold looks at how social media magnifies small differences into gross monstrosities.
 
cover art

We Become What We Behold

US: 24 Oct 2016

We Become What We Behold is a non-partisan game about politics, which is hard to imagine in such a currently divisive American and European political landscape. This is exactly the point of We Become What We Behold, though, examining the horror of the viral nature of divisiveness and tribalism.

The game begins simply enough, asking its player to watch and then photograph a small group of randomly wandering individuals. Photographing “interesting” things results in a hashtagged photograph that ostensibly goes viral enough to affect parts of the group. If we photograph the one “interesting” person who has chosen to wear a hat when no one else is doing so, this results in others adopting the look. In other words, hats become cool for some people, and they join the hat tribe.
  
This is okay for awhile, but what this microcosmic view of the nature of media and social media suggests is that aberrant behaviors, not merely unusual styles, is what is truly interesting to people, and, thus, truly the best kind of viral marketing.

Most of the “peeps” that we view through the screen that frames We Become What We Behold are largely just normal folks doing mostly the same sorts of things as one another. However, when one incident of anger emerges in the tiny game world, it is rapidly magnified by focusing in on it and capturing it for others to view.

While the people that occupy We Become What We Behold largely seem fairly homogeneous,  they do have slight differences, some, for example, have square heads and some have circular heads. This is barely a noticeable quality until the player’s camera singles out the anger of a square head at a circle head, and suddenly, once that image is hashtagged, some circle heads begin to grow angry at square heads and vice versa. The more singular incidents of this sort are viewed, anger from one tribe at the other, snubbing members of the opposite tribe, and the like, the more images of incidents of anger proliferate. An underlying assumption emerges that this one moment defines the attitudes and dispositions of the other tribe causing other moments like it to emerge.

It isn’t the differences that provoke viral hatred. It is the perception that such incidents wholly define the other group that blinds the citizens of We Become What We Behold to one another. Thus, the game fixates, not on how terrible people are to one another, but how the perception and assumption that people are terrible to one another can go viral by focusing on and capturing incidents that reflect little about these groups initially in reality—that is until that perception becomes reality.

The unity of simply being comfortable with one another despite some unremarkable differences becomes distorted by the focus on small moments of extreme difference, and ironically, the only unity that emerges by the end becomes a shared feeling: “#Be scared. Be angry.”—an attitude that can only end in disaster. That is the only descriptor possible for a world, though, that can only be seen through this singular lens after the initial viral incident was shared in the first place and as it multiplies as assumptions and perceptions become the chief mode of “understanding” in such a world. 

In a sense, the message of We Become What We Behold is a simple one: a little bad press goes a long way. Additionally, though, it is a critique on how projecting an individual action onto a whole group leads to gross distortions of reality. What seems like a simple recording of a moment in reality soon overtakes reality itself, making one bad moment into a horrible universal truth.

In that context, maybe the message of the game is simpler still: Stop becoming what you behold —and maybe even start by simply beholding yourself.

We Become What We Behold can be played for free at the web site of its designer, game developer Nicky Case.

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