The statistics are bleak. In 1998, there were over 47 million adult (18+) smokers in the U.S. Prevalence of tobacco use was highest among 18-24 year olds at 27.9 percent. There are 4.5 million adolescents who smoke and 3,000 teens who begin smoking each day. Of those 3,000 teens, 1,000 will die from a disease caused by smoking because of a decision made as a child.
In an effort to educate the public of the consequences of tobacco use, the California Department of Health, Tobacco Control Section in consultation with the CA Arts Council, created a special grant program to combat these statistics. The groups wanted to create a non-traditional anti-tobacco project that would enlist arts and cultural institutions. The project consists of a series of six online computer games, an interactive virtual reality exhibit and artwork by a commissioned artist, all of which are intended to increase visitors’ knowledge regarding tobacco use.
The first facet of the project is a series of six online computer games, called Sucked-In. The games are accessible via the Fleet’s web site at www.rhfleet.org. Players take on the role of a secret agent sent on a mission to uncover and defeat a covert army of killers that has been destroying people for years.
In each game the player confronts a different adversary in the form of a villainous agent representing one of the deadly chemicals found in cigarette smoke. The player gains special powers, acquired by learning scientific information about the chemicals, to defeat the adversary. Players are able to accumulate points as they work their way through the various games. In January 2003, an IBM flat-screen computer will be awarded to the player with the most points.
The Internet games are designed by Mark Daggett, an artist and professional freelance game developer, who has produced games and DVD’s for major motion pictures including The Matrix, Proof of Life, The Exorcist and Chicken Run.
A virtual reality experience is the second phase of the project. Names Smoke and Mirrors, it was created by commissioned artist Sheldon Brown, who is a professor of Visual Arts at UCSD and project leader at Cal-(IT2). This exhibit allows two to six visitors at a time to enter into a shared virtual environment through their own projected computer graphic media portal. Each visitor first has their face 3-dimensionally scanned, and the scan is then affixed to an avatar (computer-generated persona). The avatars are each constructed from isolated biological systems from the human body (i.e., respiratory system, circulatory system, the brain, cellular mitosis, etc.). Visitors navigate these bodies through a series of maze-like environments, immersing them in an active engagement with the historically shifting image of tobacco usage.
This virtual world is intended to deconstruct and reveal how consumers, specifically adolescents and young adults, are the unwitting participants in a tobacco conspiracy that carefully re-crafts an image of its products to maximize their consumption, with callous disregard for either the truth or the lives of its customers.
Smoke and Mirrors is intended to convey to its audience the sophistication that the industry has applied to the construction of its image over time, and that the lingering images and attitudes from the past provide the basis for contemporary tactics used to deploy its products into the hands of the youth, despite increasing regulatory restrictions. The project has been developed over the past 18 months by artist Sheldon Brown with assistance from Craig Donner, Wes Middleton and Chris Berg.
Artist Sheperd Fairey created the final phase of the project - the artwork titled “Pack of Lies.” The piece will be mass-produced in the form of stickers, temporary tattoos and T-shirts and will be distributed at concerts and events attended by San Diegans ages 12 to 24. Fairey is best known for his nationwide, grassroots art campaign - Obey Giant. His viral marketing efforts began in 1989 with stickers, and have grown to a clothing line and openings at art museums across the country. He recently relocated his design and marketing firm, BLK/MRKT Inc., from San Diego to Los Angeles.
All components of the anti-smoking project can be viewed at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, a non-profit science museum, is located at 1875 El Prado, San Diego, California. or visit www.rhfleet.org.