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State of Mind hands-on — seeing through a tech utopia’s cracks

State of Mind searches for the truth somewhere between dystopia and utopia, exploring the idea of transhumanism and whether it’s better to know an ugly truth or live a beautiful lie. The narrative adventure is Daedalic Entertainment‘s latest title, and it will be out on August 16 on PC and Switch.

In a hands-on demo at the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), I spent some time as as Adam, one of the six playable characters. I walked around a futuristic park with my wife, Amy, adjusting things to my liking – I could change the kind of music that was playing and add lights and fog to the environment. Unbeknownst to him, Adam is an uploaded consciousness in a utopian virtual world. He soon begins experiencing glitches in his reality, strange distortions and people who appear for a moment before vanishing. These are his first clue that everything isn’t what it seems to be – and it’s also how he gets in touch with Richard, who lives in the dystopian real world.

Richard is chasing his own truths. After a horrible accident that has killed his wife and child, he’s been struggling with memory problems.

“What could happen if these two people get in touch, and what’s at stake then? That is, if you will, the central mechanism of the game, switching back and forth between these two worlds of the story,” said State of Mind’s creative lead, Martin Ganteföhr, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Those two worlds are actually disrupted, if you will, and this whole story is a story that’s kind of fragmented. Putting it together in your head is the same experience Richard has when he’s running around in this world and trying to put his life back together.”

Ganteföhr drew inspiration from ongoing conversations about topics like the technological singularity, the post-material world, artificial intelligence, immortality, and transhumanism. Though he can see the benefits of all the advances humanity is making, he is also concerned about the potential harm.

“As soon as we can augment ourselves, genetically engineer ourselves – as soon as some people can be more intelligent than others – then for the first time in history, humans will not be equal anymore,” said Ganteföhr. “There will be different kinds of humans, better and worse humans. I consider that fascist thought, I have to say. It’s going to be true, you know?”

He isn’t claiming that the game covers all aspects of these topics or that it’s an accurate prediction of how society will evolve. Instead, it’s the questions it asks that are important, and Ganteföhr wants players to draw their own conclusions.

It was difficult to dive too far into State of Mind during the demo – it’s a game that features a lot of conversation and exploration with minigames scattered throughout. You can’t slice it into neat segments that encapsulate all of its ideas. But humanity’s relationship with technology is a rich source of inspiration, and as long as it doesn’t fall into reductive sci-fi tropes, its story has the potential to be fascinating, or at the least, thought-provoking.

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