Cyber-Soothed

Call it pixellated peaking. Or a halcyon habit. Or Hyper-hypnosis. Time Warner Interactive's newest computer game, Endorfun, offers not only challenging screen play and engaging graphics but also a world-beat soundtrack that includes a litany of 100 subliminal messages "designed to help you feel good about yourself and the world around you," according to the game's manual. The game comes with a printed list of the inaudible sound bites. Among them are statements such as, "I trust in myself;" "I love doing my work;" "I intend joyous survival;" "I use my power wisely and well." The game is the work of onesong partners, inc. a group of artists who say their mission is to create powerful, life-enhancing media products. "Our goal with Endorfun was to create a challenging and uplifting game that would provide an alternative to the stress, tension and violence of our modern world," Michael Feinberg, onesong's creative director, said in press materials. Feinberg has been a Zen student, a successful New Age entrepreneur and zealous computer buff. He designed the computer/video games Ishido (Accolade, Inc.) and Heaven & Earth (Buena Vista). Subliminal messages were banned from print and broadcast media in the U.S., Britain and Austria in the 1970s, but those regulations don't cover the computer industry. The game's recent U.S. release hasn't caused much of a ripple. Rolling Stone called Endorfun "addictive, hypnotic and insidious." CD World gave it a 5-CD rating, saying "....It's designed with one point in mind: to make you feel good. The scary part is that it works. Play this game and life suddenly seems a whole lot more bearable...." But the London Sunday Times gave the game's October release front page play and raised questions of ethics and responsibility. The paper quoted a University of Michigan psychology professor who warned, "It does not pay to fool around with subliminal messages. The results may not be good if you are the wrong person for the wrong message." According to the TimesThe Skeptical Inquirer, Pratkanis said his studies found that the tapes "produced no effect on self-esteem or memory." Pratkanis said it is more likely that "What people expect is what they believe [happens]--but not necessarily what they get." Ralph Giuffre, vice-president of marketing for Time Warner Interactive, says that the subliminal component of Endorfun is an integral part of its creator's game concept, not a marketing ploy. "The messages are nothing more than the artistic expressions of those who created this game," Giuffre said in an interview. "We have no intention to put any subliminal messages in any of our other games." Giuffre said the game incorporates the two essential components for a successful game--"compelling gameplay and good re-play ability." He said Time Warner Interactive tried to assuage possible discomfort over the messages by listing them in the user's manual and providing game players with the option to turn off the subliminal messages. He adds that Endorfun mirrors a positive attitude that Time Warner Interactive believes in. "There's no hitting or slashing," Giuffre said. "There's no ripping the spine out of somebody, like in Mortal Kombat III. Still, there's some apprehension--people who don't believe we've printed all the messages. But we've done this with complete integrity. What you see is all that's in there."

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