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We Dare You To Play This Google Chrome Game Of Russian Roulette

Last week, Bushwick gallery 319 Scholes brought together 60 artists for the second annual Art Hack Day—here, we take a look at some of the best work that came out of the exhibition.
March 8, 2013, 2:50pm

Last week, Bushwick gallery 319 Scholes brought together 60 artists for the second annual Art Hack Day—a three-day-long, bleary-eyed hackathon where teams created technology-based works around the theme of "God Mode," the gaming cheat that grants a player infinite power, omniscient eyesight, and other all-seeing awesomeness. Here, we take a look at a few of the most innovative and thought-provoking works to spin out of the ensuing exhibition.

We've all played this game before: waiting for your friend to leave the room, then jumping on her Facebook account to post a completely ludicrous status update to see who takes the bait.

Chanpory Rith, Dean Hunt, and Olof Mathé (incidentally, a co-founder of Art Hack Day) are three San Francisco-based designers who've taken this game to a whole new—and very creepy—level. Download Pantheon, their browser plugin for Google Chrome, and you'll have the power to fully access another person's Gmail, Facebook, and other password-protected sites, as long as the other person has also downloaded the plugin.

However, there is one catch: you only get ten seconds to send an email, post a tweet, or just snoop around, before the page fades out and is deactivated. In other words, your powers are omnipotent, but fleeting. And yes, this should remind you of Snapchat.

In their plugin's readme text, the team elaborated on their decision to interpret Art Hack Day's "God Mode" theme in this way: "We wanted to illustrate the principle of backdoor access in a way that was playful, artistic, and politically relevant…It's about how the NSA might eavesdrop or how a hardware manufacturer might backdoor into your device without your knowledge."

The plugin makes sure screens fade away ten seconds after a new tab is opened.

This plugin therefore also functions as an ingenious form of commentary—illustrating the power we often unknowingly hand over to other people or devices online. Which is not to say that the whole exercise is also pretty fun. Unsurprisingly, browsing through Olof's Facebook messages made me feel like a huge creep, but also gave me a huge adrenaline rush. I felt like a bona-fide hacker, intruding into a space where I knew I shouldn't be.

Pantheon's exhibition setup at 319 Scholes, where viewers could impersonate all three of the designers' internet identities.

The pleasure of voyeurism was also an idea that Chanpory, Dean and Olof were interested in exploring. As they put it, "the continuum of fear and delight that arises from unexpected intimacy" begs the question, "do people abuse their newfound power or does it evolve into play?" The answer probably lies somewhere in between those two spectrums.

Because Pantheon is based on cookies, a degree of anonymity endures in the game. You never know when someone is spying on you—and likewise, whoever you're impersonating won't know about you. "It's symmetrical and egalitarian," the team's statement said, "contrary to conventional backdoor access where one party generally abuses the other."

Pantheon is available for download on Github here. There's also a second version on the Chrome web store that lets you see the effects, but doesn't share your cookies—you know, if you're chicken.

Read about more works that came out of Art Hack Day here and here.


Images courtesy of Art Hack Day.