A conversation with Justin Amirkhani, the Dyad-on-shrooms dude

Yesterday, we told you about Justin Amirkhani’s short documentary about playing Shawn McGrath’s hallucinatory game, Dyad, while on mushrooms. Today we chatted with Justin about his trip.

How did you get the idea for this project?

I did a crowd-funded project where I spent five months on the road backpacking to various vgame studios. On that trip I bumped into Shawn Mcgrath while I was in New York and we started talking and the idea hit me. When I got back to Toronto I set it up and he always thought it was a bad idea. I imagined that him being the creator would be a good force to have around.


It’s a very intense experience. I thought he could uniquely guide me through it. Being the creator he understands what it is going ot do to me better than anyone else. He can rationalize how the game is making me react. Though he thought it was a bad idea.

Above: Shawn McGrath

He doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would talk you out of doing drugs.

Appearances can be deceiving.

What quantity of mushrooms did you take?

About 14 grams.

Do you often do mushrooms?

No. The other times I’d never done with the intent of having a guided experience. I’d done them once before.

How high were you?

It took awhile to kick in but it affected me for quite awhile. Long after the shoot was finished. I’d probably say six to eight hours total. Then there is a weird period after when you feel… different. That lasts about a day.

On a scale of one to ten?

With mushrooms its very disassociative. The floor is vibrating and a wood grain pattern will slide and move. There were points when I’d look at Shawn and his motion would double blur, like he was being rotoscoped. And my mind is having trouble grasping concepts. Definitely in the upper scale – a ten.

Part of the point of the film is to help people understand the misconceptions about drugs better. Being Dyad is not like being on drugs. People on the internet say you should do drugs while playing Dyad; it’s kind of a bad idea.

Why is it not a good idea?

The experience left me shaken. The colors and shapes and sounds in Dyad are a little nonsensical — your brain already has a hard time understanding what’s going on. Mushrooms make everything exactly like that; you kind of feel like, if nothing I’m experiencing is real, what is left for the mind to cling to? In addition to providing that sense, the game is very much designed to make you feel certain things. Not through narrative but through the way the gameplay is designed. With that as the only thing your mind is interpreting as true, it’s intense, right? A real trip is not about funny hallucinations. It’s a very emotional experience.

What emotions did you experience?

It’s hard to describe. The key emotion was a very euphoric feeling but always just out of reach. So it’s bad, in a way.

That’s what Dyad feels like to me, not on drugs.

It became funny – because of the drugs, this barrier between Shawn and the game kind of eroded and I couldn’t tell whether the game was making me feel that way or he was making me feel that way. I think that Shawn found that emotion – that inatginable euphoria and he bottled it and put it into that game. But it’s a sad feeling because I knew he felt it too, but not beign able to disconnect him from the game, it was hard to know if we were both experiencing it or if he invented that feeling.

Were you good at Dyad on mushrooms?

I got lost in it. I didn’t think about levels or mechanics. Apparently as I finished levels I would turn and ask and I was doing average to above average. Up until I couldn’t go any further.

Why couldn’t you go any further?

It was too much.