BROOKE GLADSTONE: A British company recently expressed some interest in a new video game developed by two German students for a class project -- the Pain Station. It's a simple concept, really. Two players face off in what looks like a standard bar room version of the video game Pong, but the Pain Station comes equipped with ominous-sounding pain execution units and pain amplification units. The damage comes in 3 forms: an electric shock, a blast of heat, or a rotating wire whip. The first player to pull his or her non-playing hand from the pain loses. The British company backed off when it found out that the Pain Station draws blood from many of its contestants. Joining me now from Cologne, Germany are the brains behind the Pain Station, Volker Morawe and Tilman Reiff. Welcome to OTM.
VOLKER MORAWE: Hello.
TILMAN REIFF: Hello.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Take me through your thought process when you came up with the pain station. Were you sitting around and playing Donkey Kong when you thought, gee this isn't as fun as it could be if the game were occasionally whipping or burning or shocking me.
VOLKER MORAWE: No! The original concept kind of was from this - child games -- in Germany they call it Falte Mau Mau [sp?] which is a game of cards, and the one who loses, he gets slashes with the remaining cards he has in his hand. And when we came up with the idea of making a video game that inflicts pain and then we were thinking about what kind of pain could we inflict, and obviously the electricity was the first, and then we came up with the whip and the heat and then we combined it to form the pain execution unit. It is fun, because you play against your opponent, and you will see him suffering, and, and the next time you will suffer, and the pain is not all that bad, so--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's the-- the pleasure/pain principle.
VOLKER MORAWE: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Does sound like fun. [LAUGHS]
VOLKER MORAWE: Mm-hm. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much pain are we talking about? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
TILMAN REIFF: It is!
VOLKER MORAWE:The heat will get very bad if you play for a long time, and the, the same with the whip, because the whip always hits you on the same spot.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And it's the whip that can get your hands bloody.
TILMAN REIFF: Yeah, that's the whip.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So if you dropped the whip and you kept the shock and the heat, do you think you could get a bigtime marketer for this product?
TILMAN REIFF: I don't know if we would really have to drop the whip. Maybe we would just have to make it a little less painful. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tilman, you really don't want to give up that whip, do you?
TILMAN REIFF:No! Because if you take away the pain, where is the original concept? And if the Pain Station does not force you to quit playing, the whole game gets stupid. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Are you targeting your game to sado-masochists? I mean who's interested in doing this?
TILMAN REIFF:A lot of people are interested in playing this! It's a really intense gaming experience because you have to concentrate on the game very much because you don't want to get hurt, and the game is accompanied by a lot of noises and the Pain Station would talk to you and say [SPEAKING IN OMINOUS VOICE] Ohhhh, come on, my friend. [LAUGHTER] And stuff like that, so you're really getting involved into the game.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Is this an acquired taste or do you think you can really just sort of sit down and have fun getting hurt just from -- right out of the box?
TILMAN REIFF: As we have experienced it from our - the exhibitions we've been to, the people that -they either love it or they hate it. Some people, they play it once and they never play it again. And other people, they play it once and they can't stop playing. They come back even though their hand looks really bad already -- they still keep playing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you think that is?
TILMAN REIFF:If there's danger involved, it's way more fun. It's a big thrill. Also winning is way more fun if it's combined with pain or this physical stress -- you can see this in all the extreme sports nowadays.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So the two of you are students, and you dreamed up the Pain Station as more of an artistic experiment than a practical video game, so what are you trying to tell us about the world through the Pain Station?
VOLKER MORAWE: We feel that there's more to video games than just doing better graphics or-- there could be much more feedback and the body could be way more involved.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well when you wanted to bring the body into the virtual world, what made you decide on pain? Is it harder to give pleasure?
TILMAN REIFF: Yeah, I think so. I mean it's, it's really easy to give pain. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did you mull over the idea of trying to give pleasure?
TILMAN REIFF: No, not really. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I don't know. It sounds to me like you're tapping into the age-old adolescent desire of playing chicken -- see who can withstand the most pain or take the biggest risks. Is this something we really need to be encouraging kids to do?
TILMAN REIFF: I'm not sure. I -- one guy came up to me and he said if his son would ever come to him on Christmas and say [SPEAKING IN CHILD VOICE] oh, daddy, I want to have a Pain Station for Christmas! [LAUGHTER] -- what, what would he do? I mean the Pain Station raises questions like this, and I think this is also a message -- to raise these questions and to discuss these questions. But it's not said that there has to be a Pain Station in every children's room. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Thank you very much, Tilman Reiff.
TILMAN REIFF: Yeah, you are welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Volker Morawe.
VOLKER MORAWE: Yes. [PRONOUNCES HIS OWN NAME] [FOLK er mor AH vuh]. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:[LAUGHS] Thank you. Tilman Reiff and Volker Morawe are students of the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne and co-creators of the Pain Station. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers with Sean Landis; engineered by Irene Trudel and Dylan Keefe, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Jim Colgan and Lu Olkowski. Our web master is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Capello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. PAIN STATION
MAN: [SPEAKING IN OMINOUS VOICE] Ohhhh, come on, my friend. [MUSIC TAG]
"Roused About (beginning)"
by Branford Marsalis Trio