Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Plague Doctor

So far in my research I have been focusing on methods of interactivity and the affective nature of space. This is because I consider it to be the fundamental framework behind the construction of this sort of media and at this point I am most interested in the make up of this assemblage as it will provide a strong foundation to develop my own work from. Never the less, I have also been thinking about context and content of possible projects. 

Purely out of personal interest I have been reading about plague doctors, a special kind of doctor who, as the name suggests, 'treated' the plague in Europe during the middle ages. Most interesting to me have been the doctors of the 15th and 16th centuries who wore distinctive costumes consisting of a bird mask, goggles, a top hat, a thick coat and gloves. The people of the time believed the plague traveled through the air and so the doctor's beaks were stuffed with herbs to prevent them becoming infected. Their methods of treatment were equally based in superstition including putting frogs on the boils and trying to clean out the disease by blood letting. Generally these beak doctors were either washed up medical practitioners who weren't good enough for general practice or people with no medical training at all. The work was dangerous, the doctors were segregated from most of society and often preformed other death associated tasks such as record keeping and autopsies.

I found a table showing some other methods that really highlights the futility of their work:
Suggested Preventions and Cures How they were supposed to work What they actually did
 Carry Flowers or wear a strong perfume  The smells would help to ward away the disease  Nothing
 Drink hot drinks  The victim would then sweat out the disease  Nothing
 Carry a lucky charm  The charm would ward off the disease  Nothing
 Use leeches to bleed the victim  This would remove infected blood  Nothing
 Smoke a pipe of tobacco  The smoke would ward off the disease  Nothing
 Give a strong dose of laxatives  This would cause the victim to completely empty his bowels, thus removing the disease.  Strong doses of laxatives can cause death from dehydration.
 Coat the victims with mercury and place them in the oven.  The combination of mercury and heat from the oven would kill off the disease.  This could actually increase the likelihood of death - mercury is poisonous and the heat from the oven caused serious burns.

To me this historical context could translate really well to something interactive because the whole concept is so rich with imagery. There is something almost surreal about the figure of the plague doctor, made all the more haunting by the fact that the heritage of such was real. Some of the cures are so absurd that they are hard to believe, there is a great opportunity for black humor in this idea while still remaining historically credible. Even preforming some of these cures in an interactive form would make for unique content as well as mechanics. The character has an anamorphic vibe to it as well, it would be cool to play with this idea - perhaps the plague turns the doctor more and more bird like.

Playing around with the plague doctor concept with retro aesthetics
I began mocking up a scene in which could be used in a game about plague doctors though I'm not sure if this method would be the best way of presenting the idea yet. I'm working in a retro graphic style at the moment both because I like the nostalgic aesthetic, but also because it makes production a lot faster since I don't want to invest too much time into elements which I might not end up developing any further. I discovered a poem from the seventeenth century which made me think of other avenues such a project could take:
As may be seen on picture here,
In Rome the doctors do appear,
When to their patients they are called,
In places by the plague appalled,
Their hats and cloaks, of fashion new,
Are made of oilcloth, dark of hue,
Their caps with glasses are designed,
Their bills with antidotes all lined,
That foulsome air may do no harm,
Nor cause the doctor man alarm,
The staff in hand must serve to show
Their noble trade where'er they go.
I have seen interactive media expressed in the form of films, games and music videos so why not a poem? Could be an interesting catalyst. Regardless of how  I develop this idea, it seems like something which holds an abundance of potential both visually and thematically that could complement a skeleton of affective triggers.

No comments:

Post a Comment