Giant Virtual Casinos

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Branded “experiences” become more pervasive and more diffuse. Walking the stretch of one city block, you might encounter what feels like endless branded experiences, ranging from physical forms of marketing embedded in the environment to a digital panorama of opt-out, members-only, or aggressively promoted AR, VR, XR, and mixed-reality experiences. Just as the neoliberal city comprises surfaces bought and sold for advertising, the “smart city” comprises privately owned vectors for embodied forms of advertising, immediate transactions, and data collection—all performed through various hybrids of mixed and extended reality. Nearly everywhere you go, you have the opportunity to virtually transport into some form of experiential marketing stunt. You’re never fully sure who else is “there” with you in a hybrid physical-virtual space—or of their intentions. Endless opportunities for user-to-user interactions blur distinctions between any stable notions of “here” and “now.” Because the economic incentive for most of these experiences is a hybrid of marketing and data extraction, the option to be left undisturbed or to mute these experiences requires purchasing “opt-out subscriptions” (which are also available through brand memberships). Everyday life in public urban spaces begins to resemble a giant virtual casino.