A goddess with Andean airs, the Jaguara, welcomes you at the gates of a mysterious Bolivian prison for which you need a magical mask. Welcome to “Prison X”, the gateway to the virtual “cholaverse”.
“Prison X” is a video game created by a Bolivian director, Violeta Ayala, using virtual reality techniques.
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A filmmaker by training, of Quechua ethnicity, Ayala, 44, began in 2010 to shoot a documentary about San Sebastian prison in Cochabamba, where a thousand prisoners live crowded with their families in a space where there is a market, a chapel and even a school.
Ayala wanted to reflect the internal chaos of the prison and the sensations that were winning over four years. And reality was not enough.
Flat cinema is boring
“I realized that ‘flat’ cinema is boring, and I know how games are changing realities”, he explained in an interview with AFP in Paris, where he presented “Prison X” at the NewImages festival.
“Prison X” was the fruit of this technological leap, also starring a multinational and multiracial teamin which indigenous women predominate.
The game, for which special lenses are needed, evolved as technology did.
With the help of artificial intelligence, Ayala created together with the illustrator Rilda Paco two jaguars that react based on the player’s behavior. As in most of those games, the path changes as the user makes their own decisions.
“Prison X”, 35 minutes long, was presented at the Sundance festival (United States) and at Cannes last year. “The best non-linear storytelling presented this year at Sundance”, commented after the presentation Ken Bye, a well-known blogger in the world of virtual reality.
The game merges Andean characters with drug traffickers, women with their multicolored “polleras” (skirts) with a somewhat disoriented western film director…
“I can’t stop the future”
But Ayala does not stop there. “I am working with artificial intelligence to create the ‘cholaverse’, create a robot that speaks Quechua“, Explain.
The “cholaverse” would be the mestizo and indigenous version of the metaverse, the virtual space parallel to reality that is being built at the cost of billions of dollars by technological giants such as Meta or Google.
“I cannot stop the future, what is happening”, reflects Ayala. And as an indigenous person, “I don’t want to be in the queue again.”
“It is important to use all our technological capacity and our intuitive knowledge, to understand ourselves” in this new space destined to revolutionize the internet, he explains.
But to navigate through “Prison X”, which is currently being presented in Spanish and English versions, you need a few expensive lenses, inaccessible to those users who are precisely the protagonists of the story.
“The glasses are something temporary, we are in a process of transition to what is coming, which is augmented reality,” emphasizes Ayala. “Our main market is our people, reaching Bolivia. Right now it doesn’t work, I’m very honest” admits this creator, who has lived in Australia.
“Any person in Bolivia recognizes himself” in “Prison X”, adds the character designer, María Corvera.
“We want to tell those myths and legends that are created in the daily environment of each person, without them coming to tell us from outside,” says illustrator Rilda Paco, of Quechua and Aymara origin.
Technology is changing so rapidly that Ayala says he would now re-create “Prison X” in a different way, just a year after it was released.
The three creators are enthusiastic about the crypto art, or digital clothing, which the user can wear and discard with a “click” on the phone. But Corvera, who lives in Berlin, also created a clothing recycling company.
“We are going to develop a different neuroplasticity” when augmented reality becomes widespread, Ayala emphasizes.
And what will be the impact on the children, who will grow up with this new situation?
“The fear I feel is irrelevant. I am more afraid that my culture will not survive, that they will continue to tell me who I am”, replies Ayala.