PainStation is reminiscent of the old familiar video tennis game Pong, but this time around it really hurts when you miss the ball. Each player's left hand rests on a sensor field and is tormented by extreme heat, electrical shocks and lashes of the whip. The first player who withdraws his or her hand first loses. This painful game experience is stored in the body and imprinted in the memory of the players who then become conditioned for the next game.
It is something that Emilio Largo and James Bond already knew in 1983 when they played Domination, the game of world power, in Never Say Never Again: victory tastes better when, as a player, you have had to suffer for it. With the game machine PainStation, Tillman Reiff and Volker Morawe – both students at the Academy for Media Art in Cologne, Germany – re-introduce the physical element in computer games. PainStation is a modern alternative for the 19th-century duel and teaches players how to deal with painful experiences together.
PainStation is based on the old familiar video tennis game Pong, with the marked difference that here it really hurts when you miss the ball. During the game, each player’s left hand rests on a sensor field, Pain Execution Unit (PEU), and is tormented by extreme heat, electrical shocks and lashes of the whip. The first player who can no longer stand the pain and withdraws their hand, loses. In this way the players are conditioned to prevent a humiliating defeat next time.
The mechanical torments are stored inside PainStation's black box (an Apple PowerPC) and are triggered by an analog-digital converter and homemade electronics. The Apple’s screen has been integrated in the metal box. On the left, beside the screen, we find the PEUs; on the right, the rotating dials for controlling the small bars of the tennis game. As soon as both players place their hands on the PEUs, an electronic contact is made and the game begins.
Initially, everything seems fine: the ball can be easily played back and forth. As soon as one of the players misses, however, Pain-Inflictor-Symbols appear on both sides of the screen, representing different types of pain. Whenever they hit one of the symbols, the players have to suffer the associated torture. Tension mounts, the ball picks up speed and the pain increases. All senses are on red alert. A Pavlov reaction occurs and, from now on, the visual stimuli of the video game are associated with pain. Pong has lost its innocence, just like the players of PainStation.