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Going Underground With Coffin Game Taphobos

James Brown setting up Taphobos for Rezzed

“Immersive coffin experience” Taphobos [official site] puts one player inside a real coffin and has them direct a partner at a computer, who’s trying to locate the coffin in a virtual environment.

It was created as part of a two-day hackathon involving the universities of Nottingham and Lincoln where the brief was to come up with an uncomfortable experience. Instead of jump scares the team (James Brown, Ida Marie Toft, Mike Kalyn, Andreas Taske and Linda McConnon) wanted a physically uncomfortable experience.

“We got a big cardboard box and an Oculus Rift and just put someone in it. They’d see a coffin and a few spiders and things and that would be that,” says Brown. “But because it was such an interesting idea about uncomfortable experiences I developed it into [Taphobos].”

Pip at rest

There are generally two responses to the game, he says. Either people really want to climb in and they love it or the never want to get in at all and are perfectly content being the player at the screen being guided by the coffin inhabitant.

Ben mentioned Taphobos last week and I’d say he falls very much into the latter category. I couldn’t wait to hop in.

For me the experience was a completely comfy one. Because we were at Rezzed – a public event with a lot of attendees – the coffin needed to be able to contain a variety of heights and body types. I’m pretty petite so, rather than inducing claustrophobia, I found the coffin to be pretty roomy. My feet were nowhere near the end and I had plenty of wiggle room for my elbows.

I think this photo is what I would look like as a happy ghost, rising from my grave

I’d say the experience was closer to being in a lovely warm bed with a lid and I could happily have dozed off if I hadn’t been reading clues from the Oculus screen to my partner at a nearby laptop.

When he located the right digital coffin amongst the many in a church crypt Brown removed the lid from the real coffin I was occupying, thus freeing me. Because of the way Oculus blocks out your vision the moment was marked by a sudden release of pressure – cool air rushed at my face and the muffled din of Rezzed sharpened to its normal level.

“Novelty and morbid curiosity” are the main factors to which Brown ascribes the queue which quickly built up for Taphobos at Rezzed. He also adds that some groups of friends – usually the younger ones – find the correct in-game coffin but then try not rescuing their friend.

The in-game church

As a point of comparison, the previous weekend I had attended Wellcome’s Forensics exhibition. One of the rooms contained Ab Uno Disce Omnes – an artwork by Šejla Kamerić which takes a repository of data relating to the identification and recovery of massacre victims and projects it inside a working mortuary fridge. Its a grim prospect and one which literally chills you as you experience it. By contrast, stepping inside Taphobos was – for me at least – a novelty and a cozy one at that.

Taphobos and the responses it elicits are forming part of Brown’s masters thesis on uncomfortable games.

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Philippa Warr

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