AI Up Mi Duck – interactive fiction game exploring transhumanism

An interactive fiction game exploring transhumanism, poverty, and whether the Broadmarsh Centre will ever get finished.

It’s 2123 and life has got a bit rubbish. Humans are unemployed because AI does everything for them. This means there isn’t much to do other than sit inside and watch telly; Fortunately, there’s l-o-a-d-s of channels.  Lee Vitaht is a youth from Tip Valley, Nottingham, a slum area where the unemployed are forced to live until society can find a use for them. One day he enters a competition to appear on the Reality TV programme Live Island with the chance to win immortality. Lee Vitaht would love to live forever so he can finally witness Forest win the Prem and possibly see the Broadmarsh Centre flattened. But as Reality TV host Android Marr explains, ‘we work in immortality, not miracles.’

AI Up Mi Duck is an interactive fiction game that can be downloaded from It explores the impact of technology on our lives and issues of transhumanism – the idea that we can somehow become untethered from our flesh and live forever. Nobody is quite sure exactly what transhumanism means or how it will work, but it’s got a lot of people interested and generated a load of cults, with Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (2000), the alpha prophet.

The hope is that emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, AI, cryonics, and nanotechnology can somehow help humans stop ageing and relegate death as a 20th century inconvenience. One of the most extreme versions of this ideal is that our consciousness can be downloaded and rebooted into some kind of external mainframe computer. Let’s just hope the broadband connection is stronger than my Giff Gaff connection. But consciousness is not a tangible thing like a foot or finger and so whether you can download something that is difficult to define or locate is a bit of a challenge.

To help me research the game, I read Matt O’Connell’s To be a Machine (2017), and discovered that the idea of connecting ourselves to a wider network may not be that farfetched. The body, after all, is a series of electrical circuits. If this could be emulated somehow, it would completely redefine what it means to be human. For those who can’t wait for such innovations, fear not. You can get your frozen corpse stored in a massive cryogenic warehouse in the hope that one day medicine and technology will be able to reanimate the brain, thereby providing a second chance at life. Then there’s the hubris of the ‘life hack’ brigade who think that a strict diet and exercise will help prolong life. If getting up at 4a.m every day to do 1,000 press-ups while binging on raw food is the key to eternal life, it’s a no from me. It’s the quality rather than the quantity of life that matters.

In writing this game with animation students from Confetti, one thing became abundantly clear: I don’t want to live forever. It would be tedious. There’s only so many times you can get Homer Simpson socks for Christmas or watch fireworks over Trent Bridge before the novelty wears off. There’s something humbling about coming to terms with your mortality that helps you appreciate your allotted three score years and ten.

We live in precarious times and doom and gloom is everywhere. But nothing depresses me more than a social media post warning ‘watch till the end’. This is the end of civilisation, at least as I know it. The immediate gratification of digital has eroded our attention spans so much that even a fifteen second Tik Tok is too long. If you’re still reading this article, btw, well done. Your head must be absolutely throbbing.

The reason I find this future so alarming is because I have become an alien in my own life – a fate that awaits us all. I’m an analogue kid who grew up in a world of three TV channels, where people talked to each other rather than ‘liked’ each other, and the closest thing to the internet was teletext. The world – as wonderful as it may be – is completely unrecognisable. Imagine that feeling for eternity.

In some respects, we’ve entered a kind of Digital Dark Ages. We no longer know what ‘truth’ is, who is observing us, or what sophisticated algorithms are doing with our data. We now have two lives – a ‘real’ physical life and an online life. Is it any wonder so many people are anxious or suffering from mental health issues when our very being is split in two?

We’re digital pioneers in a Brave New World where AI will radically transform every aspect of life as we know it. This change will be as profound as the invention of fire, the wheel, and the industrial revolution. But future generations will look back on us as digital illiterates, who *scoff* communicated via a phone. Lol.

I may not want to live forever, but I do admire people who will do whatever they can to squeeze out a bit more juice. In this, the transhumanism movement is a symbol of optimism (or delusion) and may very well represent the next stage of evolution. Good luck to them.

Ai Up Mi Duck is free to download but a donation would be nice – just so I can eat.


All I want for Christmas is a new Broadmarsh Centre

As a youth, we would get the bus from Cotgrave to town every Saturday and hang about the Broadmarsh all day. Highlights included: jumping in trolleys and zooming down to the bus station, gawping at posters in Athena, wondering what a bender in a bap was at Wimpy (and why there weren’t more Wimpys) and causing havoc in the department stores to get chased by the security guard. In 2009 I tracked down the security guard who used to chase us (Eagon Chambers) and interviewed him for LeftLion.

I have no other fond memories of the Broadmarsh.

Today, it’s an ugly grey concrete lump that blocks your view of the city. I feel ashamed that it’s the first thing people see when they get off the train and head towards town. What message does this say about our city, our ambitions, our values? When the coronavirus lockdown brought a grinding halt to the intu redevelopment plan, I was ecstatic. The last thing Nottingham needed was another generic shopping centre like every other city. Now the council is forced to think differently and more imaginatively about city planning. Hallelujah.

The council is under enormous pressure at the moment as it faces bankruptcy after losing 38million in the failed Robin Hood Energy scheme and the various impacts of Covid on city life. Therefore, the temptation will (understandably) be focused on job creation and monetisation of public space. But we need to ride the storm. This is an incredible opportunity to do something different. We’re meant to be the rebel city, why not rebel against convention and tradition? We can do this by turning to our heritage.

A century before the industrial revolution, Nottingham was known as The Garden City due to its rich green landscape. We are home to Sherwood Forest and a certain bow selector. Let’s build on this heritage by striving to become a green city. Pop up markets and shops will provide the flexibility that covid demands as well as spaces for independents – many of whom will need support now that start-ups are becoming one of the most viable forms of employment as Arcadia etc headbutt the pavement.

The way we consume culture now is different. We stream, subscribe and share. Therefore, city space needs to reflect this fluidity. We need benches, trees, parks (think Henry Kirke White and Clifton Grove), places to commune, sit and reflect. Areas for gathering. Areas for communities. Yes, you can lob in a couple of coffee shops. Walls could be used to project artwork and films. But above all, keep it green. Replace pavements with pastures. Give us air we can breathe for once. In 2019, research found that poor air quality in Nottingham was responsible for more deaths than alcohol and road incidents combined.

My dream scenario would take inspiration from the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in Singapore. Creating something green, iconic, and unique would generate tourism, giving people a proper reason to visit Nottingham. And you can still have your shops, just not here. A promenade of trees leading up to Market Square would drive the masses to Primani et all, thereby drawing clear distinctions in city space. Listen to people like Sarah Manton and the People’s Forest project which aims to reconnect Sherwood Forest with Nottingham. They will help you create a green trail through the city.

The redesigned Central Library would be the epicentre of this design. A place that values ideas, community, and imagination, with the snout of the Contemporary poking out in the distance. Nottingham’s new anthem will be the Stealers Wheels, with tourists singing: “The castle to the left of me! Nottingham College to the right! Here I am stuck in the library with you.”

If I’d have had a great green lump of grass greeting me in the 1980s, and the colours and smells of nature enticing me to sit down and be calm, I doubt I’d have felt the need to be so chelpy with security guards as a youth.

You can have your say about the future of the Broadmarsh Centre by visiting the Creative Quarter website and completing the public survey or business survey. The surveys are open until the 27 December 2020