James P. Carse wrote the wonderful book 'Finite and Infinite Games' in 1986. Considering the book's age, its ongoing relevance has been proven by contemporary artists such as Susanne Kennedy referencing it throughout her late body of work. Being also a great inspiration to AFTERLIFE, the book examines different models of play and game structures as we define them in our day-to-day lives, interactions and self-dialogue. A quote from the book:

"There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants..."

In the video above (2005), James Carse carefully makes use of his finite and infinite games model to analyze religious war, showcasing the model's flexibility in terms of describing highly diverse social contexts.

Using Carse's dichotomy for discussing the various immersive gameplay models above, we could say that games like 'Second Life', MMORPGs, The Stanley Parable and Deus Ex fall in the category of infinite games, while Half-Life 1, AFTERLIFE and the speed-run of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (if interpreted as a competitive act), fall into the category of finite games. The reason I consider AFTERLIFE a game and classify it as a finite game is its use of two players, its given linear structure and its reliance on an audience to function in its own right. In the context of contemporary stage works, arts and games today however, one could argue that AFTERLIFE presents a shift in how it breaks conventions of stage works and theatre in its integration of technology and the game engine in a staged format, and thus seeks to subvert established rules or 'areas of play' within the field of stage works; as such it could be considered a rule-breaking statement within the infinite game of staged productions.

Storytelling-wise, AFTERLIFE, just as countless other story-driven works, such as Susanne Kennedy's ULTRAWORLD, Half-Life 1 and the Wachowski's 'The Matrix', make use of the 'Hero's journey' narrative model as their core narrative composition blueprint. The Hero's journey model has been wondefully described on Rick and Morty-creator Dan Harmon's channel 101 website, and his take on the model has greatly influenced the AFTERLIFE script writing process.

Dan Harmon's take on the Hero's journey model is derived from Joseph Campbell's model as shown above. Simplified, the model would look as following:

  1. . You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
  2. . Need (but they want something)
  3. . Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
  4. . Search (adapt to it)
  5. . Find (find what they wanted)
  6. . Take (pay its price)
  7. . Return (and go back to where they started)
  8. . Change (now capable of change)

Based in the idea of transformation found in nature through the cyclical process of life and death, the model is meant to draw us into a narrative by subconsciously identifying with the characters presented, as they mirror core aspects of our own life-journey. AFTERLIFE simply has two heroes instead of one, but as shown earlier in the synopsis, follows the model quite rigorously.

Analyzing the Hero's journey model through James Carse's model of Finite and Infinite Games, it's interesting to note that the defining point for the hero in the Hero's Journey, is when the hero is able to identify and make conscious the rules they have been subconsciously following up until a certain point, thus being able to alter or change that rule and break out of the circular habits they were trapped in before their conscious realization. One could say that it is the hero's first realization and conscious interpretation of the world in the the story as an infinite game, a world of rules which can be changed, that lets them progress and transform in the storyline. In The Matrix this is famously depicted when Neo realizes that the Matrix is but a set of rules that can be altered by his perception of them. In AFTERLIFE this process is exaggeratedly exemplified in the main character's meeting with 'God', where they are given the possibility to evaluate their own lives and patterns from an outside perspective. The fact that this outside perspective allegorically coincides with the performer's and the audience's outside view on the characters post their in-story death, makes the piece exemplify the change of rules on both a narrative and a metaphorical level simultaneously, meant to strengthen the message of inner rule-breaking through a conscious departure from subconscious behavioural patterns. Alluding to Red Pine's careful reading of the core Buddhist text, 'The Heart Sutra', the age-old concept of making the subconscious conscius and thus rising into a sphere of higher existence is discussed: "When we're deluded, there's a world to escape. When we're aware, there's nothing to escape". Meaning: As long as the characters in the story, the audience or the performers for that sake, are deluded by the subconscious imprisonment of their ego and of their senses, they need escape, when the workings of the ego and the senses are explored, dissected and brought into the conscious, the (inner and outer) world inhabited and created by the brain becomes a playground for rule-bending and discovery, it becomes bliss.


AFTERLIFE attempts to make its audience identify with its two main characters, clearly exposing that those characters are made up of an outer part (a body) interacting with a world, and an inner part (a control mechanism and a controlling agency) represented by the irl performers. The first half of the piece is used for establishing and elaborating on this relationship between body and controlling agency, before severing the tie and dissecting the two agencies (i.e. mind or spirit; anima/animus and body) on their own. It is in the overt conscious-making of the mind-body dichotomy, by the breaking of the previously established use of control-response setup, that the audience is encouraged, and even directly confronted by 'God' and the Ghost character, to evaluate their own inner relationship between controlling and evaluating agency (ego), physical manifestation and interactive agency (body), interactive environment (world) and sense of inner development (self-narrative).

AFTERLIFE is traditional in the sense that it, like any theatre piece, movie or book, relies on mirror-neuron firing as part of the audience's emphatic, hardwired social behaviour in order to go through an inner journey adjacent to the surface-narrative of the piece. The piece relies on the audience's emphatic identification with the characters in order to experience a personal inner journey or transformation, as the story proceeds through stages of dissecting it's own game-world reality.

Model of the typical historical Greek Amphitheatre, which is elaborated on here. The audience is gathered in a circle, probably originally derived from fire-place gatherings in even more ancient times, to witness the enactment or performance of a story. The main building blocks and composition of this classic stage-audience relationship is maintained in most present-day theatre or stage works.

This is obviously in line with a whole history of theatre and aural and written storytelling, which allows the emotional responses of the audience to probe and simulate fictional events in a safe space devoid of consequences. Quoting Andreas Kotte's 'Theatre studies - Phenomena, Structures and Functions' , theatre or any scenic event constitutes a safe space for "emphasis and reduction of consequences", meaning a space where a potentially (socially or physically) riskful event can be simulated without risk. On an evolutionary level, we could rationalize that the collective unconscious of the audience, as a social group seeking mutual survival in a harsh world, can make use of stories as a collective simulation for probable events, thus strengthening the group's collective set of value systems, collective responses and collective decision-making in face of danger, threats or crisis. As Nietzsche exemplifies in 'Thus spoke Zarathustra', the constant renewal and redefinition of value systems and goals for humanity on a social and individual level, is necessary in defining a post-religious human experience.

Model of audience-performer-stage setup (here labeled machinery) feedback-loop in a standard stage piece. The audience is made aware of their own presence as they sense the performers adjusting to the felt audience feedback and the feedback from the stage ecosystem or machinery they are a part of. The audience's sense of presence and identification with the characters may determine their own investment in the narrative, and its transformative power on them.

The feedback-system of performer-avatar-audience-performer can here be seen as its own functioning microcosmos, within which collectively unconscious mechanisms may be brought into the light by the piece, and collectively examined through the story and the storytelling medium itself. In the piece's own definition of stake on the performer's side, in terms of what is socially dangerous or risky for them in staging the performance, the piece, as is elaborately discussed in Ayn Rand's 'The Romantic Manifesto',  inherently advocates for a value system which emphasises a sense of virtuosity in the skills required by the machinery and ecosystem of the piece itself. Wheres traditional dramatic theatre often emphasises realistic embodiment of the inner psychology of complex characters, or the virtuous expression and enactment of a character's felt emotions, a piece like AFTERLIFE requires a performative virtuosity in terms of the performer's sensitive interplay with technology (avateering and auto-tune singing) as a part of their fictional (virtual) body. The value system cherished in AFTERLIFE is one based in human-technology intimacy, and the use of technology to portray and express complex emotional states found in the contemporary Zeitgeist. Georg Hajdu puts it like this in 'Embodiment and Disembodiment in Networked Music Performance': "The mirror system [...] provides an intimate link between perception and action with the consequence that the brain does not form abstract representations of visual patterns that conform to various actions, but rather our comprehension of such actions depends on our own ability to perform those deeds." If we analyze audience mirror neuron behaviour in the process of watching AFTERLIFE, one could argue that all the actions performed on stage require no special training, constitute archetypical actions such as singing, jumping and gesticulation, and that they could potentially be embodied and performed by anyone. As the modern human is in constant interaction with technology, and struggles to find proper expression for their modern human experience, such as defining their own identity in the fragmented experience between their online, social media and irl-persona, a piece like AFTERLIFE strives to establish physical and narrative identification, an intimate relationship with the audience in a tech-dominated world: It strives to shed new light on and define new rules of intimate engagement with technology itself.

It is a goal for the piece to contribute to building this very language for technology-based interaction, both consciously and unconsciously, which can contribute to defining and shaping the future platforms of virtual interconnectedness that inevitably will become increasingly more substantial parts of our future day-to-day lives.


A personal next artistic step after making a piece like AFTERLIFE, in line with the immersive game storytelling strategies discussed in the chapters above, will be the use of player-driven storytelling techniques in a virtual game engine environment, potentially in VR.

The question arises, not whether, but how the traditional performance-audience model can be reimagined in such works. As immersive virtual environments essentially can be explored by interconnected audiences around the world, in multiplayer- and singleplayer forms, it is simply a question of time and widespread availability of immersive systems like VR in the standard modern household, before our theatre stages may all face hard competition, not just on an entertainment level, but also on a philosophical and experience quality-level, by new forms of virtual story-driven immersive theatre and role-play.

Model of player-Immersive-interface-virtual-world-feedback-loop in an immersive VR piece structure. The player is given the chance to embody a virtual avatar, and interface with that avatar through their own body. The more immersive the system (i.e. the lower the discrepancy between irl body feedback and virtual body feedback), the higher the world-to-avatar-to-ego transparency of the system. These systems have the potential to discover new modes of intimacy or relationships between player (ego) and avatar (body), thereby letting the ego explore potentially healing or enlightening modes of interaction, which could be allegorical of or transferred to their relationship with own irl body and/or self-image.

I believe that immersive storytelling, as I have myself experienced in games and VR pieces, present a paradigm shift in contemporary narration, and will expose new modes of emotionality and intimacy based in technology and the modern human in future immersive narrative-driven works, such as my personal experience at Lervik Brygge described in chapter 5 of this text.

The fact that immersive storytelling does not necessarily rely on identification with an external character, but lets the player experience fictional events as their de-facto selves through their avatars, presents an opportunity to explore the personal intimacy between controller and character, or metaphorically speaking, ego and virtual self-image or body. It is in this very dissolution of the self as one coherent entity, and in its fragmentation into interconnected parts that are all building blocks of a larger organism or intelligent system, that I see a huge spiritual and philosophical potential in the use of immersive mediums in future works. Similar to the practice of meditation, which in some forms advocates for a meta-observational mode of the workings of the mind, I believe that immersive mediums may give us new meta-perspectives and experiential knowledge on what being human constitutes.

Based in models of the self and of humanity described in Timothy Morton's 'Humankind: Solidarity with Non-Human People', I believe that a manifold and porous notion of self could be the prevailing sustainable model of self-identification for the future.

If we are collectively and individually able to nourish identification with the the self not as an unchangeable, static whole, but a dynamic system of interconnected parts, whose inner workings and relationships can be explored, developed and should be treated with care and respect, just as we treat each other in a well-functioning society or virtual world, I believe that we are one step closer to identifying and cherishing an image of the modern human: An entity, both whole and fragmented, in constant inner flux and development, living not one but in a network of possible lives, in a web of interconnected realities. I believe future immersive works and technologies can advocate for and make such formative or perspective-changing experiences accessible. In accessing and living inside a multitude of different bodies and a multitude of different worlds, we may be able to 'bend the rules' of our own irl selves, and see our world in a new light. As the Ghost in AFTERLIFE proclaims in its outro monologue- 'I am absolutely convinced that when this [the piece] is over, you can step out into the fresh evening air, look up, and discover something new about this world that you've never thought about before.'
I believe that immersive storytelling, through avatar embodiment and exploration, has the power to invite that kind of transformative perspective change.

AFTERLIFE - Ghost outro monologue