Half-Life VR but the AI is Self-Aware might be the birth of the longform online live improvised comedy narrative.
Half-Life VR but the AI is Self-Aware is an appropriately silly name for a livestreaming project that produced over the past few months some of the purest silliness I’ve recently seen. The conceit of the series is right there in the title: Twitch streamer and online personality wayneradiotv plays from start to finish the video game Half-Life, all the while being hounded by a host of usually anonymous characters who seem to have taken on a life of their own. Of course, they’re not actually the program taking its revenge, tormenting the player who usually causes such havok in its world, they’re an assortment of comedians, voice actors, and friends of the star — employed to create as much mayhem as possible.
They succeed admirably. The childish Dr. Tommy diverting the crew on wild flights of fancy, the officious security guard Benry permanently annoyed by the lead’s inability to present proper documentation, or Dr. Coomer, who appears to be malfuctioning, repeating his stock responses and inarticulate nonsense at the worst possible moments. With their malleable characters and manic intensity at the best moments, they come to share the energy of a Marx Brothers skit. More violent certainly, and the limitations of the video game engine means they’re unable to achieve the same level of precision in physical comedy, but the frewheeling sense of shared absurdity is present thoughout.
Our worlds have become increasingly online as of late. Being born in 1994, I suppose mine always was to some extent or another, my family first got AOL when I was six. But recently we’ve transitioned. We’re now working online, relaxing online, the majority of our socialising is happening online too. The internet’s not the same place as it was in the early 2000s, but our protections as its users haven’t exactly grown to match.
A tech writer I follow recently tweeted about our concerning inability to no longer say ‘no’ to the machines in our houses. The option has been replaced with a variety of ‘not-right-now’s and ‘ask-me-later’s that assume consent, even if it is entirely absent on our part, may someday be cajoled out of us. I know it’s happened to me, one too many websites asking me to uncheck 100 boxes worth of tracking data, and I sigh and click accept, and in some data centre, somewhere, some little part of my digital soul is sold off.
Computers were supposed to be our new beasts of burden. As the car replaced the carriage, so too was the spreadsheet supposed to replace the actual physical literal spread sheets of paper they used to use for accounting. But then Microsoft walled it off and got a monopoly, and now every business and most households have to pay a yearly subscription for access to the paper they keep their budget on.
Half-Life was first released in 1998 to critical acclaim. The dot-com bubble had not yet burst and the milennium bug was not yet a fear on the horizon, we were living in a age of techno-utopianism. This fictionalised version takes a look back on that legacy and how at some point over the past two decades it soured. Its identity as a derivative work itself a critique of our culture’s obsession with derivation, adaptation, spin-off and franchise. What is the point of an empowerment fantasy in a world designed to render the individual subject powerless?
Youtube, livestreaming, these platforms are generally considered ephemeral: video produced to be consumed and discarded as readily as possible. Some people do attempt to do something meaningful with the form, but usually they’re in the minority. No matter how sincere the attempt to create something meaningful, it’s hard to gain traction in such an environment. As the old computing term goes, ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Sometimes earnestly intended trash can be more truthful than any attempt at artistry.
And I’m not going to mislead you here. It is trash. Frequently stupid, frustrating, and hard to follow. I’ve played the game they’re basing it on, and even then sometimes I get lost. The moments of unalloyed greatness are often few and far between. But it’s made me laugh, a lot, and perfectly captures that energy of late nights with friends spent doing something useless and idiotic. As improvised comedy goes, I’ve honestly seen a lot worse. There’s certainly something interesting going on under the suface of this scratchy and ill-formed thing, if you can find yourself putting up with it, for all its flaws, you’ll might find something rewarding there.
Be among the first to receive our monthly updates with film news, movie-inspired recipes and exclusive content! You’ll only hear from us once a month. #nospam