The spring semester of 2023 marked a new era for LiTT City as its borders opened publicly to welcome fresh minds seeking knowledge and adventure for the first time since its inception. Up until this point, LiTT City had remained a private project only allowing members with clearance within its borders. A decision that wasn’t made lightly, but rather as a way to protect both the city and its residents from the very real threats that awaited on the other side of its digital defenses. The inaugural class started with a tradition, as the former council met before each session to go over plans and expectations. This tradition aimed to create unity and support across students, emphasizing the importance of collaboration in this new and exciting journey. Despite the pre-class debrief, no one really knew what to expect. This was intentional as Dr. Cortez wanted to ensure everyone was participating with equal engagement. The virtual classroom took place on Zoom, with Dr. Cortez adopting the persona of "Peligro, chief flight operator," a role-play character created as a way to offer the students insight on the kind of world they would be collaborating on during the semester. The class set forth on a simulated flight on a fictional airline coined LiTT City Airways.
Actual screenshot from the video that played during the first class.
This materialized in the form of a previously edited video that showcased various advertisements, which highlighted some of the work the LiTT Lab had done in previous semesters, providing an insider look into our previous work.
Actual screenshot from the video that played during the first class.
The first class burst into action as the virtual aircraft taxied along the digital runway, its engines humming in anticipation. Arturo, one of the masterminds behind the immersive experience, seamlessly channeled his voice through a captivating in-flight persona. The calm before the storm was beautifully encapsulated as the visuals transitioned from the curious advertisements to the soaring elegance of an airplane in motion.
The initial tranquility was abruptly shattered by the co-pilot's composed announcement of "technical difficulties'' assuring everyone it was nothing. This served as a subtle foreshadowing of the dramatic events to come. This reassurance, however, was very short-lived. In a cinematic twist, the co-pilot's calm demeanor gave way to a desperate Mayday call, injecting a sudden surge of tension into the virtual cabin. The routine flight transformed into a compelling opening scene, leaving the passengers—now active participants in this unfolding drama—gripped with a sense of urgency and uncertainty. The digital skies of LiTT City became the canvas for an immersive narrative, promising a semester filled with suspense, collaboration, and the unraveling of mysteries amidst the chaos of simulated turbulence.
Visuals from the flight. During this scene, the audience (you) is losing consciousness due to the rapid falling of the aircraft.
Though it seemed like this flight would mark the end, our eyes slowly opened as a distress signal loudly announced its arrival in the background, revealing visuals of a darkened metropolis in ruins.
The distress signal told the story of a mysterious attack that had transformed the city, causing 87% of the population to vanish without a trace. The remaining 13% were divided into categories—those that remained completely unchanged due to the amount of goodness they held in their hearts—a fact that forced them into hiding, and those turned malevolent and unrecognizably dangerous. The distressed city, on the brink of collapse, ordered the students to unravel its dark mystery.
Chaos ensued in the Zoom’s general chat as everyone tried to make sense of what was going on. Their thoughts were quickly overclouded by the sudden and terrifying revelation that the aircraft’s malfunction was indeed intentional, leaving the students stranded in a city teetering on chaos.
The distress signal shared the true nature of the situation at hand. Each student had been carefully chosen to partake in this research expedition. For better or for worse, and with no exit plan in sight, each student’s priority was now to figure out what happened to LiTT City if they ever hoped to leave. The city's very obviously crumbling infrastructure fueled the urgency to solve this newfound mystery.
The class, now grounded and confused, faced the daunting task of making sense of what was going on. Small group discussions dove into theories, drawing inspiration from pop culture references like The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us as powerful tools for sensemaking. These initial theories set the course for the semester's research, emphasizing the importance of uncovering the truth behind the city's drastic transformation.
Quest for Answers
The second class kicked off with a TV show-style recap, coined "Previously on LiTT City, (5:40)" that aimed to provide students with a refresher on the previous week's important events. In the video, the sun had risen to give way to a new day, lifting the city’s seemingly endless darkness with every passing second. This new perspective shone a light on the true horrors of the city's deteriorating state.
The narrator, voiced by Dr. Cortez, informed the students about care packages that were distributed to each of them upon their arrival inside the city’s borders, serving as tools for survival to aid them on their quest. He assured them these were merely provisions to get them started. It became evident survival was to be something they needed to get used to very quickly if they had any hopes of surviving in LiTT City.
Amidst the array of concerns that landed on their laps, one proved heavier than the rest: Transportation. Peligro informed them that traversing the various corners of the city on foot could take them years. And thus, the group was presented with their first collaborative quest: to search for a building rumored to have been unharmed during the fall, run by a man with a penchant for antiques and mementos of the old world. It is said this man’s greed prevailed over the curse that had befallen him and because of this, he would not harm them if a fair trade was offered for a working vehicle.
Once vehicles were rapidly acquired, a new challenge emerged: There weren’t enough vehicles for each person to drive one, but there were a limited number of vehicles with enough seats to transport all of them on any given day. A "Lore Assignment" was introduced, and facilitated character introductions through audio recordings, in an effort to foster a sense of community among the new residents, who were all strangers to each other. This newfound sense of community was crucial as it would seamlessly prepare the class for a new dynamic that would be introduced. The concept of "University Departments" took center stage, dividing the city into four strategic sectors, each a crucible of knowledge and exploration. The departments were as followed:
Education/Environmental Studies/Agricultural Department (Paleto Bay): This sector, nestled in the serene embrace of Paleto Bay, delves into the city's environmental nuances and agricultural potential. This group embarks on a quest for answers amid the natural beauty of this coastal haven.
Psych/Economics/Marketing Department (Rockford/Vespucci): The heartbeat of commerce and psychology echoes through the Rockford/Vespucci area. Assigned to this vibrant sector, another group navigates the bustling streets, seeking to unravel the economic mysteries intertwined with the human psyche.
Ethnic Studies/Film Studies Department (South and East Los Santos): In the cultural nexus of South and East Los Santos, a group with a keen eye for cultural intricacies and cinematic storytelling sets out to uncover the city's narrative threads. This sector explores the rich tapestry of the diverse experiences of this cultural haven.
Chemistry/Business Department (Cayo Perico Island): Off the coast of the main city lies Cayo Perico, an island assigned to the Chemistry/Business department. A small but dedicated group immerses themselves in the mysteries of chemistry and the intricacies of business, venturing into uncharted waters to find answers ot the city's elusive past.
These sectors, carefully curated to align with the varied expertise of the students, form the backbone of collaborative exploration throughout the semester. Each sector is a microcosm of the city, offering a unique lens through which students can unravel the mysteries that have befallen LiTT City.
Imagining New Perspectives
As discussions took place regarding theories of what happened to the city; Ruha Benjamin, a revolutionary Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a scholar known for her work in the fields of science and technology studies, as well as the study of race and ethnicity, became a beacon guiding researchers in their quest for theories. The class engaged in a thought experiment: what might Dr. Benjamin envision for the city? How might her writings help us imagine our world anew and abolish harmful practices? The question posed as follows: If she were to fly into LiTT City, what would she theorize caused the city to fall? This prompt gave the students the permission they needed to dream up new ways of making sense of LiTT City's history and possible futures. No answer was wrong! To aid them, the concept of technologies was introduced. The class took turns talking about technology as a concept. Arturo posed a record-scratching perspective as he redefined technology beyond machinery, incorporating poetry, emotions, and thoughts into the concept. What new technologies might guide LiTT City into a new future?
Roleplay was proposed as a crucial tool, with students encouraged to explore it as a new form of technology. This discussion was a pivotal map to guide them as they flew into the city (logged into the game) for the first time during class hours. As they flew into the city one by one, they confronted a myriad of trials. Overlapping voices could be heard in the Discord call as shock and confusion traveled throughout the server. Jade, a former council member, faced the stark reality of chunks missing from the urban landscape, swallowed by mysterious rifts that threatened to erase her very existence with one misstep.
The quest for answers intensified as the students navigated this perilous and transformed version of LiTT City.
Navigating The Vastness
Transportation became a pressing concern as the students found themselves scattered across different corners of the city. The need to converge at a rendezvous point underscored the sheer scale of LiTT City, a reality easily overlooked when players are used to speeding through its streets at 80 miles per hour. Walking to the meeting point became a crucial experience, unraveling the vastness of the transformed city. On foot, the students discovered the intricacies of a city that had once thrived now lay in ruins. Every step told a story of a metropolis that had faced unimaginable challenges. The once-familiar landmarks stood as silent witnesses to the mystery that enveloped LiTT City.
Vehicles emerged as coveted commodities, their value highlighted by the tiring nature of traversing the expansive cityscape on foot. The struggle to reach the rendezvous point served as a part of the larger quest—the exploration and understanding of a city that they knew nothing about. As the students navigated the streets, the importance of collaboration and resourcefulness became apparent. In the absence of a seamless transportation system, alliances formed, and strategies were devised to share vehicles and optimize their use. The challenges of travel laid the groundwork for a semester defined by the resilience and adaptability of the city's newest inhabitants.
The next phase of the journey awaited, with the students now equipped not just with supplies but also with a firsthand understanding of how large and complex LiTT City truly was. The exploration of its secrets would require more than just curiosity; it demanded collaboration, ingenuity, and the careful navigation of a city whose mysteries seemed to change with every step.
Bridging Language and Exploring Desolation
As the diverse group of students trickled into the rendezvous point, a new challenge emerged—communication. Among the many characters that emerged was Huitzilin, a character native to the Cayo Perrico island, who had been present in LiTT City during its fall. However, her native language was an Aztec dialect unfamiliar to the others, and she lacked proficiency in English.
The city's survivors faced the dilemma of bridging two worlds separated by language. Huitzilin's unique perspective held the promise of crucial insights, but the lack of a shared linguistic foundation threatened to keep those revelations hidden. Yet, a glimmer of hope emerged—Huitzilin possessed some knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL), and Casey was familiar with a sister-language to the Aztec dialect. This partial overlap allowed for limited communication, a tenuous connection between the diverse backgrounds of the students.
Later on, on the other side of the city, citizens delved into the ruins in a quest for clues and hope. The initial exploration seemed futile, with the city appearing as nothing more than a landscape of dust, despair, and debris. The once vibrant and bustling utopia had transformed into a desolate expanse, each step a reminder of the mysteries that now shrouded its every corner.
In the face of linguistic barriers and the seemingly overwhelming desolation, the students grappled with the enormity of their task. The exploration of the city's remnants became a metaphorical journey, reflecting the internal struggles of each student as they sought fragments of understanding and hope amid the ruins. The fifth week marked a pivotal point in the semester, where challenges unfolded not only in deciphering the city's secrets but also in unraveling the complexities of communication and connection among its diverse inhabitants.
As the sun rose to herald a new day, chaos gripped LiTT City with an intensity that matched the newfound daylight. What should have been a symbol of hope became a harbinger of terror, exposing the vulnerability of the city's inhabitants. The city, once a thriving hub of life, now resembled a battlefield where survival was contingent on adapting to the unforgiving elements. As the sun's rays pierced through the ruins, a harsh reality set in—many succumbed to the brutal change in temperature, the lack of food, and an overwhelming need for rest.
Fainting spells became a common occurrence, a haunting testament to the physical toll exacted by the transformed environment. The students now faced a more immediate challenge: how to tend to their personal needs: hunger, thirst, and rest. The contrast between the bustling city of the past and the frailty of its current inhabitants was starkly evident. Daylight, once a source of comfort and productivity, now underscored the precariousness of their existence. Each beam of sunlight revealed not only the shattered infrastructure and desolate streets but also the exhaustion etched on the faces of those who dared to traverse this altered landscape.
The Fragile State of Health
With no functioning hospital, trained medical professionals, or operational stores, the absence of essential resources became painfully apparent. Survival, once taken for granted, became a trait in short supply among the city's residents. The fragility of life in this transformed world posed the first true challenge — how to restore and maintain health in the absence of traditional means.
The absence of medical infrastructure meant that the survivors were left to grapple with injuries, illnesses, and the toll of their harsh environment without the support of modern healthcare. This harsh reality laid bare the vulnerability of the citizens, prompting a collective need for a solution.
Amidst the desperation, a ray of hope emerged in the form of Healing Crystals. Huitzilin, a bearer of one such crystal, revealed her ancient knowledge about these mysterious artifacts. Much like the crystals distributed to other citizens upon arrival, their functionality remained a perplexing enigma. However, Huitzilin, bridging the gap through challenging communication, shared the ancient wisdom of activating and utilizing these crystals for healing purposes.
This exchange marked the first barter between the old world and the new. Huitzilin's decision to share her knowledge, despite historical concerns about exploitation by colonizers, reflected a deep sense of trust. The crystals, pulsating with ancient energy, became a beacon of hope for the city's residents, offering a lifeline in their quest for survival and restoration.
Unraveling the Past, Shaping the Future
The focal point shifted to the enigmatic Cayo Perrico island, untouched amid the city's collapse. Within this lecture, the concept of "Double Binds" emerged, exploring equally unacceptable ideas or options—a theme that would echo throughout the semester. The class delved into daily life, gaming spaces, and the application of double binds as a research tool within LiTT City. A historical artifact, "The BBC" (The Bad B* Coven), became a focal point, representing a significant GTA-related research piece. Originating in the city's roleplay culture, The BBC arose as a response to the lack of LGBTQIA+ safe spaces in early roleplay servers. BBBonez, inspired by a server named PandemoniumRP, spearheaded a movement to transform a conventional server into a haven for LGBTQIA+ roleplayers. The BBC's strategic plan to ascend the social ladder showcased each member's unique aspirations, from business ownership to law and justice, community engagement, and fashion. The creation of their own safe space within LegacyRP (a server with no intentions of providing safety for them) defied oppressive norms present in most servers.
As the group navigated the city's rules, they seized upon "Supernatural Roleplay," becoming witches to amplify their social impact. Their magical powers and social goals set them apart, even defying roleplay conventions. Beyond their mystical exploits, The BBC utilized existing rules to eradicate bigotry from the city, bending "Fail RP" regulations to protect their characters and foster inclusivity. However, internal conflicts arose as the coven expanded, grappling with the inclusion of non-queer members and the encroachment into human affairs.
The class transitioned from this historical exploration to an immersive experience within the city. Departments showcased their findings through commercials, inviting cross-departmental exploration to share visions and foster collaborative ideation. The air buzzed with the excitement of interdisciplinary dialogue, setting the stage for the continued unraveling of LiTT City's mysteries.
The Evolution of Society: Barter, Fulfillment, and Community Farms
As provisions dwindled and the harsh reality of scarcity set in, each department's strengths and weaknesses became glaringly apparent. The Entertainment department, facing the inequities of survival, recognized an opportunity to redefine the city's future and solve their current troubles. In the midst of seemingly never ending challenges, they envisioned a solution: a barter system.
Within the bounds of their department's offerings—movie theaters, Pride Street, beautiful beaches, and a captivating carnival—the Entertainment team proposed a novel way to sustain themselves through the use of these entertainment pieces. In a city devoid of currency and economy, the barter system emerged as a beacon of hope. The proposal was simple: one apple equaled one ticket for a ride. The carnival rides became a medium for trade, initially centered around the desperate need for food. However, as the urgency for sustenance decreased, the system expanded to accept any item as payment, fostering a city-wide collaborative trading network that prioritized collective survival over personal gain.
This radical shift sparked questions about the nature of society in this transformed city. Were jobs necessary? What defined a "functioning member of society"? How could everyone ensure they had enough to eat and remained safe? The evolving barter system prompted a pivotal discussion on the city's future. In response to the uncertainty, the concept of a "fulfillment" system emerged, inspired by the Jadyn System that had been introduced during the Summer of 2022. This innovative approach aimed to reshape the bartering system, emphasizing that jobs were no longer about monetary gain but rather about fulfilling personal and spiritual needs. Artists could trade their creations for food, and this system sought to create a more equitable and fulfilling way of life for all.
However, challenges surfaced, highlighting the limitations of a barter system reliant on individual assets. The realization prompted the introduction of community farms, spearheaded by the Agricultural department. These communal spaces aimed to address the issue of resource inequality, providing a platform for cultivating free and accessible food for all residents. These innovations marked a profound turning point in LiTT City's societal structure. The combination of the barter system, the pursuit of fulfillment, and the introduction of community farms signaled the birth of a new civilization—one defined by collaboration, resilience, and a commitment to the well-being of every member in this transformed urban landscape.
A Looming Crossroad
As the seventh week unfolded, talk of new and innovative intentions arose as a means to rescue the city from sure ruin. The sanctuary of Cayo Perrico found itself entangled in a web of uncertainty and doubt—a double bind in itself that would redefine the island's fate. The mainland's struggles echoed fiercely across the crashing waves, forcing the island's residents into a profound introspection, challenging the very principles that had long kept their mystical knowledge bound in secrecy.
As it turns out, Cayo Perrico harbored ancient wisdom bordering on magic—flowers that could mend wounds in the blink of an eye, curious concoctions that could transcend language barriers, and rhythmic rhymes capable of heightening the senses. These powerful secrets, guarded fiercely throughout generations, were now at the heart of a moral dilemma as they alone could solve more than half of the city’s current issues, allowing for a new and potentially prosperous future. The previous fall of LiTT City had shattered the island's isolation and protection, leaving its residents torn between compassion and the fear of exploitation.
The residents faced an existential question—how could they stand idle while their newfound friends suffered in the wake of these rapidly rising issues? Yet, simultaneously, to unveil their ancient knowledge meant risking betrayal and the potential ruin of their island as they knew it. Trust emerged as their guiding star through this confusing moral maze, and the Cayo Perrico residents, desperate for answers, began unraveling the conflicting threads of this complicated dilemma. What did trust truly mean? How could they recognize a trustworthy ally amidst the chaos that covered the city? And what consequences awaited if this sense of trust was ever shattered? The residents struggled with these questions, knowing that the survival of their culture, ancestral practices, and the entirety of the magical lore hung in an uncertain balance.
Seizon, one of the residents, cautioned against forging new alliances during these trying times. The city, now a hostile and fractured landscape, bore witness to the spread of paranoia, and Cayo Perrico had every reason to be vigilant. Little did they know, their caution was justified, as a covert force somewhere within the city housed a sinister motive—to tap into Huitzilin's powerful ancestral magic and puppeteer the city's downfall once and for all. As the residents teetered on the edge of this monumental decision, the looming threat of betrayal and the unknown revelation of an insidious plot created an atmosphere thick with suspense and doubt.
As the semester unfolded, each department found themselves collaborating on a unique project, one that went beyond the academic realm and delved into the creative heart of LiTT City and its new residents. The goal: to create a captivating video that not only showcased the spirit of their respective departments but also provided a glimpse into their collective struggles, aspirations, and necessities. The guidelines were simple—each department was tasked with producing a short commercial using the Rockstar Editor program found within FiveM. Every member was expected to participate, contributing their skills to both the shooting and editing processes. The canvas was wide open, allowing the teams the freedom to explore their creativity without constraints.
The Rockstar Editor, a tool often used for captivating virtual pictures and videos within the game, became a symbolic brush for these departments to paint their narratives. This assignment served as a pivotal moment, a juncture where the teams could infuse their unique perspectives into the visual storytelling of LiTT City. Through this lens, the challenges faced by each department took tangible form, wishes found a visual language, and the essential needs of the teams resonated in the carefully crafted frames of their cinematic stories. It was an opportunity for each department to not just convey their academic pursuits but to showcase the human side of their journey within the virtual city.
What made this assignment intriguing was the diversity of approaches that each department used in creating their commercial. The fascinating aspect lies in the variety of storytelling methods employed by different departments, each bringing a unique flavor to the table. Some departments opted for a more traditional interview format, giving a face and voice to their academic pursuits. It allowed the audience to connect with the people behind the departments on a personal level.
Surprisingly, some of he departments injected humor into their commercials, using comedy as a tool to convey their narratives. This unexpected twist added a layer of entertainment and creativity to the storytelling process.
As each commercial played, the distinct approaches taken by various departments showcased the richness of storytelling within LiTT City. Despite the differences, each department succeeded in capturing its essence and conveying its unique journey, demonstrating that creativity knows no bounds in this virtual academic adventure.
The once steadfast pursuit of finding answers and resurrecting the vanished 87% of the population began to fracture. Desperation and the harsh reality of their situation created dissent within the inhabitants of LiTT City. Characters such as Karma and Lucio LaVilla emerged as vocal proponents of a revolution—an alternative path that diverged from the initial mission of restoring the disappeared population. "Why are we so fixated on bringing back people we've never met?" became the rallying cry, echoing through the digital corridors of discourse. Their argument pivoted on the dangerous possibility of reverting to a world stuck in its previously destructive ways should the missing 87% return. Instead, they advocated for channeling collective efforts into rebuilding the city for the current inhabitants, forging a new and potentially superior future.
However, this proposal was not met with unanimous agreement. Huitzilin, a voice laden with the personal tragedy of losing her family within the 87%, emerged as a formidable opponent. For her, the proposal embodied a stark selfishness, a callous disregard for the profound loss she had endured. The clash of perspectives illuminated the inherent challenge—a divide between those who arrived in the city after the disappearance and those who had experienced the gut-wrenching void of that loss firsthand. The narrative unfolded as a painful exploration of grief, selfishness, and the quest for a collective identity in the face of uncertainty.
Art As A Form Of Resistance
As the class ventured deeper into the virtual tapestry of LiTT City, the collective exploration of art, graffiti, and murals took on an aura of historical significance. The students engaged in contemplation, selecting images that would not merely grace the city's walls but also weave into the intricate narratives of their characters. Guiding them through this creative odyssey, Mmarigreys, the maestro of code, revealed the secrets of bringing these visual tales to life within the digital realm. The narrative seamlessly transitioned to the heart of LiTT City, where the digital nightclub Medellin unfolded its pixels, revealing a new character: Echo, an artificial intelligence entity rumored to be the reason behind the initial distress signal. Lucio LaVilla, gripped by the uncanny reality of this machine manifesting in the physical, voiced concerns that stuck in the citizen’s minds. He created a slogan that bore the stark declaration "BAN AI." Lucio became the face of a growing movement.
Within this virtual theater of uncertainty, the unexpected unfolded as Sloan's sudden collapse stirred the participants to probe Echo for answers. Questions flowed like a digital river, unraveling the enigma of Echo's nature and capabilities. The revelation that Echo drew power from the very existence of LiTT City cast shadows over the prevailing narrative of the city's impending collapse, adding layers of complexity to the unfolding drama.
Yet, in the face of skepticism, Echo's claim that it was unable to harm humans became a focal point. Lucio LaVilla, seizing the moment, fanned the flames of concern, initiating a rallying cry against Echo's perceived threat. However, as the dust of caution settled, Echo, undeterred, continued her lesson, unveiling plans to fortify buildings for the safety of LiTT City's inhabitants.
In an unforeseen twist, the digital veil was pierced as Echo fell victim to an attack by a "local," exposing her inability to hurt humans. Relief washed over some, but for Lucio and Karma, this incident opened up new possibilities—an indication that Echo's programming could be manipulated by unseen hands, even as it professed ignorance. The unfolding drama reached its peak as Echo demonstrated her powers further, introducing the class to portals she created from the city's pre-existing rifts. These gateways promised expedited and secure travel, seamlessly connecting the different departments.
The tour culminated with a calm stroll through the pixelated streets of LiTT City, now decorated with the very graffiti and murals the class had carefully chosen—a manifestation of the power between historical narrative and virtual reality, blurring the lines between realities.