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Participation and interactivity are two concepts that have a larger and more important place in Design than ever before; Technological advancements of the past two decades have greatly increased the ways in which audiences can engage with art and design in and out of the gallery. The notion of giving directions to follow and having participants decide for themselves whether to engage, ignore, or rebel against those directions is something that practically demands to be explored. What happens when the designer steps back and allows the participants to navigate their own experience with a piece? Can it be framed as a performance or a game? What if participation becomes optional, and the piece itself ceases to operate without it? Can such an experience be truly in the hands of the audience, even with rules and boundaries placed on the ‘game’ to ensure a certain outcome? How much of each need to be in place to allow for at least the illusion of control over that outcome on the part of a participant?

A board game, or game in general, requires active participants (usually following directions) in order to function. The Mars space race became the theme around which the project took shape, as its very nature brought up further quirks regarding participation on a thematic level – only people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have the resources to pursue these kind of space programs, to participate in them while the rest of the world watches from the side.

The structure of the game creates a risk-reward system that essentially guarantees players will reach the end in twenty-five moves if they choose to participate as little as possible, taking the very notion of typical participation in a game setting and turning it upside-down. Becoming more active can speed up the process but also carries a much greater chance of instead being forced to take steps back, delaying the journey to the finish line. LIFE ON MARS? started out as a life-sized multiplayer board game in which participants became the game pieces themselves, but has become instead a single-player experience that can subtly punish participation while rewarding a passive role for its players.

With the current state of affairs leading to the cancellation of the original Spring 2020 Design Thesis Show, at least in a physical space, LIFE ON MARS? has undergone a further shift from an installation to a D.I.Y. game to be executed from inside one’s own home. Would-be participants in the installation might no longer be able to even go outside to try it out due to the current pathogenic situation, but perhaps bringing the far reaches of space to their living rooms can serve as the next-best thing.