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A 3D Journey Through the Psychogeography of Cult Membership and Escape

Deprogrammed is the companion website to the documentary film of the same title, but it’s also more than that: it’s really a stand-alone piece of digital storytelling that features original material. In this sense, and others, it’s a unique piece of work.

Created with Three.js, the JavaScript library that aids developing 3D experiences for the web browser, it takes you on a 3D experience of a walk through a virtual terrain paired an audio journey to tour the psychic geography of the experience of cult membership - and escape.

As former cult members describe their journey - from isolation and vulnerability, to a sense of belonging and power, and then to the struggle with the confinement of cult membership, the user walks through a landscape that reflects those waypoints: from a dark hallway, to green grass growing, and back to a dark wasteland.

At a certain point in the journey, you enter a dark forest that almost obscures all light - matching the total control and enclosure described by the voices of the former cult members. Later, a figure appears ahead - are you following them? Then they disappear back into the mist.

Monoliths appear - giant, stark, looming over you. At first protective, they then close in as you walk between them, becoming narrow and illustrating the “tunnel vision” one of the voices describes from her cult experience. Darkness falls again, and then, as the voices tell how their cult belonging came to a crisis, water rises to engulf you.

After the spell is broken - the brainwashing cracked, the deprogramming ordeal endured - the user then surfaces to see a full glowing moon over a night sea, as a voice concludes the stories by recalling the question that occurred to her at the end of her cult experience, and the beginning of her life free of it: “The thing that was the hardest is - who am I now?”

Filmmaker Mia Donovan appears to have taken the website as seriously as she did her thoughtful film. She has a writer / codirector credit on the website, which was a collaboration with Montreal creative studio DPT, whose team did truly amazing work rendering the landscapes, transitions, and interactions with subtlety and sophistication. It may have helped having a coder, Guillaume Tomasi, who appears to be much more interested in photography than software judging from his website.