Event with No Fun Collective, Prague

Date: 13.05.2023
Beginning: 18:00


etc. galerie z.s.
Sarajevská 68/16
Praha 2 120 00
Czech Republic
IČ: 22738924

The project was financially supported by the City of Prague, the State Cultural Fund, and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.

Cis Penance is currently included in a fantastic exhibition of queer games at Etc Galerie in Prague, created by No Fun Collective. They’re organising an event this Saturday, which I’ll be joining remotely. I’m rather sad to be unable to join in Prague, but very excited to be trying out a new format for this event – Cis Penance will be performed live, with an actor reading out the dialogue!

More details about the event available here: https://etcgalerie.cz/en/performativni-prednaska-cis-penance-live/


DYCP Award

Amazingly, somehow I’ve gotten one of the coveted DYCP grants from Arts Council England! I’m really pleased as this almost sorts out the rest of my year, and takes away a lot of question marks about what I will be doing next.

The grant is going to allow me to spend a few months developing my skills and knowledge on accessible design for web and games, as well as adapting my practice to Multiple Sclerosis.

The problem

In 2022 I acquired new disabilities impacting my vision, mobility, and cognition, and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the height of my MS attacks I was not able to play the fringe indie games that used to be the centre of gravity of my practice, because they tend not to have built in text-to-speech or voice acting. Real-world art spaces are now much harder for me to access, because in addition to mobility problems, MS causes severe fatigue, and the disease modifying treatment suppresses my immune system.

On top of that, the visual arts sector is extremely chaotic, perhaps even moreso than indie games festivals. As an artist in that space, you are often having to roll with the punches, pick up the slack, and pull a few all-nighters to make things happen at short notice. Frankly, doing that kind of thing when you have MS is a great way to get permanent brain damage. One thing I have going for me is an existing connection to online digital spaces – doubling down on that, and really investing in online culture, seems like the best way to protect my health while staying creative.

However, the digital arts world as a whole seems to be covered in a foul stink, as a lot of artists whom I used to admire have gleefully gotten their hands dirty in the NFT bubble. I generally try to turn this kind of feeling of frustration or disgust into a positive, by identifying what I want to turn my attention towards in the process of turning away from the thing I dislike. The low-tech web and small internet has been a huge source of inspiration and solace, and I was excited to learn some new skills in that area. This too became inaccessible to me during the months when my eyes were not working properly – I need to create working practices that will allow me to nourish this interest even when MS switches things up on me.

There are also a bunch of things making my work less accessible to others than it could be – for example, the Interactive Portraits project is fairly exclusionary to visually-impaired people because of the 8-bit Pico-8 font, while a lot of my written work suffers due to my irritating proclivity to become sesquipedalian when left unsupervised. It would be nice to have some sort of a handle on how to balance the creative joy of mess and ambiguity with the inclusive benefits of universal design.

The plan

I aim to spend time improving my skills by studying accessible web design and game design, and building relationships with people who have valuable perspectives on this issue. I also aim to make my practice more accessible to collaborators, peers, and audiences, by learning how to create plain language versions of my work. Working with some mentors whom I really admire, I intend to carry out audits and revisions to four of my prior projects in order to make them more accessible.

Text-to-speech will play an important role in making my work more accessible. However, no existing text-to-speech service is suitable for my work, because they are structured by normative assumptions of binary gender. It is possible to create custom voices, but they are resource-intensive and expensive due to their use of neural networks. I therefore hope to learn how to make a custom synthetic voice the old-fashioned way, which produces robot voices that sound less natural but that could probably run on a potato. This would be based on my own voice, which is (for better and for worse) fairly androgynous, and also has the benefit of representing me as the artist rather than being something that I’m imposing on the people my non-fiction work represents.

I want to share as much of what I learn and make as possible – one way that I plan to do this is by starting a new podcast, which will include interviews with mentors as well as reflections on what I’m learning as I go along.

I’ll finish this off by giving a massive thanks to Arts Council England for giving me a chance, and to everyone who helped me to put together the application for this grant. It’s almost a year to the day since my immune system crashed into my brain stem and sent a flurry of chaos my way, and it means everything to have an opportunity to explore the perspective offered by this weird disease.

More info on test performance of It’s Just What You Do

The TL;DR is that at 7pm on 23rd March at Barnsley Civic Theatre, there is going to be a live reading of an interactive play that I’m working on. This is a hybrid event that you can also join online – either way it’s free, with an opportunity to donate. It’s part of a night of test performances covering themes such as Long COVID, mental health, and speculative fiction – I’ve pasted some information about the other pieces below, all of which I’m really excited to see.

I find it difficult to talk or write about the thing I’m working on right now without a) getting really deep into the theory, which is immediately offputting, or b) becoming overwhelmed and dysregulated, because this project brings up really big feelings and unrealistically big ambitions. Actually, that’s probably why I’m theorising it so much, it’s a defense mechanism. When that guy said “Start With Why” I don’t think he meant “start with a dozen paragraphs about social constructivism, neuroqueerness, justice-oriented affect theory, and transmedia intertextuality”.

So, to keep it simple: my dream is to eventually make a series of interactive stories about transdimensional anthropologists, who have been implanted in our world to observe how we humans are collectively constructing our present reality. Even the identity and conscious experience of the anthropologist is shaped by the society in which they have been implanted. I have a hunch that there’s something particularly rewarding about making these stories in the form of interactive theatre, where the audience is directly shaping the protagonist’s actions.

In this play, called “It’s Just What You Do’, Cass learns that they are one of these transdimensional beings, and makes contact with Iris, their supervisor at the research institute that put them here. Naturally, they are furious about being given the odious assignment of existing in our world. It’s a comedy, but it’s literally about not wanting to be here anymore, so please consider your mental health when engaging with this piece.


Joining via video call, the supervisor Iris is played by Francesca Forristal (they/them), also known as award-winning drag king Christian Adore. Forristal’s work ranges from period dramas (Netflix’s Blood, Sex, and Royalty, ’22 and BBC’s Marie Antoinette, season 2), feminist horror-movies, a queer Victorian animation series (for Amazon Prime), and a musical on the West End (Public Domain, ’21). They currently have shows in development with Disney Plus and Heartstopper’s SeeSaw. Learn more at Forristal.co.uk

On stage in Barnsley is the agent Cass, played by Xander Graves (he/him, they/them). Xander is an actor who loves to experiment with different mediums, and has most recently been involved with Sheffield Theatres as part of the Young Company (this is how I met them!) as well as Sheffield People’s Theatre. Xander is exploring opportunities to explore their art and discover new and exciting things to do within the industry, whether that be continuing on the stage or moving closer to TV and Film. Follow them at @xandergravesactor on Instagram.

Other performances

Beth Crackles – STABLE

STABLE is a true story about family, domestic abuse, mental health, horse dealing, vets… and uncontrollable laughter. It asks the audience to consider the lasting impact of domestic abuse on the adult that grows from the child who has experienced it.

Erin Marsh – Hopefully, Maybe

The universe is slowly freezing, all its energy burned out. Work together with other audience members to keep a constellation alight.

This interactive text-based performance explores community in an isolated world, working to achieve a common goal in the face of inevitability.

Alanna Wilson – Life 7.0

Life 7.0 mixes bouffon, movement and digital performance to explore an absurd dystopian reality where a group of people live and work in a simple utopia. This piece also draws on inspiration from classic 60s/70s sci-fi movies, the rise of tech start-up companies and the notion of Ayn Rand’s objectivism influence on the world today.

Verity Richards – Long

In the curious loophole of not being “disabled enough” sits Verity. And 2.3 million other people.

Using testimony and recordings from the Long Covid community, Long explores the ache of losing your identity, the whacky world of self-medication and the joy of finding a new life in the club no one wanted to join.

Test performance of new interactive play

I’m currently working on a new piece of interactive theatre that uses the tool that Squinky built in our collaboration together a couple of years ago. There will be a test performance on 23rd March at Barnsley Civic theatre, alongside other live works covering themes such as chronic illness and dystopian science fiction – the event is going to be hybrid online and in-person, and tickets are currently available for in-person attendees.

A short piece of interactive theatre about righteous queer anger, the psychosocial factors that contribute to chronic illness, and the utter absurdity of having to perform as a person. The protagonist has realised that they are not an ordinary human – they are a transdimensional being, who has been sent to live as a human for a while in order to carry out anthropological research. In this short play, they have their first meetings via video call with their supervisor, who explains their assignment and tries to train them in research methods. Unfortunately, the anthropologist is unhappy with their assignment, and demands to be reassigned to a different reality, ideally one where the dominant species does not seem to have lost the ability to solve its own problems.

I’m having a lot of fun designing the interface for this one so that it looks like we’re seeing the protagonist’s laptop screen – here’s a preview of the current work in progress

Reviewing my practice in 2022

In this post, I share an overview of my art practice in 2022 – what I got done, where you can find it, and some of the stuff that happens that doesn’t lead to public outputs. Additionally, I share some thoughts on adapting my practice to new disabilities — in my case this is due to MS, but I feel far from alone in navigating this, as a lot of other people have had to do the same as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals itself to be a mass-disabling event.


Websites / web apps

Audience interaction app developed with Squinky for play “Maybe I Will” with Sheffield Theatres Young Company, allowing the audience to cast votes and shape the story

New Neocities site for the Desperate Living archive of materials by and for trans people with Raju Rage (http://desperatelivin.com)

Minisite to display results of early R&D on mapping and microscopy of river and canal life in Parkgate, Rotherham (https://zoyander.cc/p/symbiosis/)

New Zonelets blog for rough ideas, interesting links, and late-night thoughts (https://zoyander.cc/zonelets/)

Also, I created a CSS theme that allows me to write slide presentations in html and host them on my Neocities site. I figured that this would reduce the faff associated with giving presentations, but tbh I’m not sure that this was borne out in practice, as I inevitably ended up doing something to break the damn thing right before I had to give a presentation. That said, I did fix it in time, and I like the fact that people can review the slides easily without needing to download anything.


Co-edited Sickness, Systems, & Solidarity book with Joey Eschrich at Arizona State University with Critical Distance (https://csi.asu.edu/books/sss/)

Carnage (2017) review in Imaginary Papers Issue 12, November 2022 (https://mailchi.mp/asu.edu/imaginary-papers-issue-12-nov-2022)

‘Essay Jams and Collaborative Writing as a Community Event’, Commonplace November 2022 (https://commonplace.knowledgefutures.org/pub/ww9grt9c/release/1?readingCollection=6d0221f4)

Digital Art and Activism Network zine (forthcoming)

Also, I edited part of my PhD thesis for an academic publication that has now been cancelled.

Displays of my work

My mini-site of microscopy and maps (http://zoyander.cc/p/symbiosis) was part of the SYMBIOSIS exhibition at ArtBomb Doncaster and ROAR

Cis Penance (http://zoy.itch.io/cispenance) was shown at Games in Action, University of British Columbia, Canada

Interactive Portrait Cushions (http://zoy.itch.io/iportraits) was shown at Bitbash / Chicago Humanities Festival


Comparing the display of Pacman at different museums, for DiGRA 2022 Japan Game Centres workshop (https://zoyander.cc/p/pac-man/)

“Videogames as Social Art: or, why I hate explaining what I do” talk for Social Art Network Sheffield (https://zoyander.cc/p/why/)

Panellist at Multiplatform symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University

Game design and agency presentation at Brightblack workshop (https://zoyander.cc/p/games-limited-agency.pdf)

Panellist at Transforming and Activating Places workshop on identities, Sheffield University

Also, I attended Cultural Democracy Creative Conversation workshop at Wentworth Woodhouse as part of Rotherham’s Flux programme.

Access support for Arts Council England applications

I helped two people to apply for funding with Arts Council England, submitting a total of three applications in my capacity as an access support worker.

FWIW, I would love to do this for more people, so if you are someone who would like to apply for funding from Arts Council England but faces barriers in doing so, please get in touch!


Typeset CIC

  • Barnsley College work experience venue
  • Sheffield University Transforming and Activating Places venue: students organised three arts workshops and volunteered in the bookshop for 3 months
  • Several Rotherham Council RELOAD programme community events, including indie tabletop games, creative writing, and performance art
  • Hosted creative writing workshop with Workers’ Educational Association
  • WoW festival Rotherham stall holder
  • Secured funding for computers and podcasting equipment
  • Bookshop has been in hibernation since October, will return for at least a temporary pop-up this year

Critical Distance

Consulting and research services

As well as working as a games consultant for Sheffield Theatres Young Company, I did some research and consulting work for a VR theatre company and a AAA client.

Applications for funding and support

This year I applied for 8 things in relation to my own art practice (this doesn’t include funding applications for Typeset). I normally submit far more applications than this in a year – for example, I applied for at least 18 things in 2021, and received at least 13 rejections.

Part of this difference is simply due to significantly reduced work hours. But there are also more subtle costs imposed by my new disabilities. Applying for funding is very difficult when facing problems with vision, fatigue, and cognitive processing, so the time required per application was far higher when I was most impacted by these issues. Moreover, it was difficult to confidently commit to a specific timeline of work when my health was at its most unpredictable. Since starting a new treatment in September, these issues have been considerably easier to manage. Nevertheless, I’ve also found that when I look at calls for applications nowadays, I tend to scrutinise them for signs of low organisational capacity, because I have become wary of the risk of ending up in a situation where my access needs cannot be accommodated, or where the work required is likely to exceed the scope of the work being commissioned due to an unpredictable and chaotic environment. I can no longer afford to pull all-nighters or suffer a couple of high-stress weeks in order to make up for organisational shortcomings, because this can have lasting effects on my health. For these reasons, I self-select out of more programmes than I used to.

Despite all of this, when looking back over the year I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had a good success rate with the few applications that I was able to complete. In fact, my total number of successful applications in 2022 was roughly the same as 2021. This certainly gives me a glimmer of hope as I move forward on adapting to work with new disabilities.

Applications accepted

4/8 of my applications this year were accepted:

  • Bank Cohort, Sheffield Theatres
    (I think I probably actually applied for this at the end of the previous year, but I want to celebrate it here regardless because this was a really cool opportunity)
  • SYMBIOSIS, ArtBomb Doncaster
  • Theatre development programme TBA
  • Academic conference TBA

Applications rejected

4/8 of my applications this year were rejected. I feel a bit weird about naming the specific programmes or organisations, so I’m just going to give them short descriptions here:

  • R&D funding grant
  • Festival commission with mentoring
  • Grant for working-class writers
  • Two-year salaried position as a writer-in-residence

Quality rejections

Two organisations rejected applications I had submitted in December 2021, and then followed up in early 2022 with a constructive discussion highlighting other possible routes for funding or support. Both of these applications concerned the same possible future project about post-industrial waterways of northern England inspired by Kentucky Route Zero.

Personally, I think this kind of followup should happen more often, and it’s a shame that arts organisations usually don’t have the capacity to do this. I feel like it makes the process far less alienating, and contributes significantly to nourishing creative communities, which is presumably within the remit of most of the organisations that view applications for commissions or artist development programmes.

Developing my skills

Training received and webinars attended

  • New developments in trans theory, Gendered Intelligence GIANTS programme
  • Anti-racism, Sheffield University Transforming and Activating Places
  • Audio description for visual artists, Freelands Foundation
  • As part of SYMBIOSIS programme I learned about:
    • Material and cultural history of the river Don
    • River ecosystems, sewage, mudlarking, etc. when I went wading in the Don with Don Canals and Rivers Trust, learned about
    • Public databases of information about ecosystems
    • History of field recording as sound art
  • 2x Arts Council England training on Project Grants and DYCP applications

Tools that I played / worked with for the first time

  • Tiktok (@zoyzone in case you’re interested in following me there)
  • Empress ZOIA effects pedal
  • Tally.so (survey creation tool)
  • Zonelets (small blogging tool)
  • React.js (i.e. Squinky built our web app in React.js and I learned a little bit from working with them)
  • Ink/Stitch software for creating electronic embroidery files
  • Also, I moved onto a different Mastodon instance and became more active there (@zoy@merveilles.town)

Final notes

It feels a little gauche to share my year review publicly, but some people like to see the things I’ve made, and this gives a single place to list links to everything I finished this year. I certainly appreciate it when other people share similar lists of what they’ve done in the past year – please send me yours!

More importantly, I find it very very helpful to see this kind of thing on other artists’ blogs, because there is a lot of mystification about the practical reality of being a practising artist, and you don’t normally get much insight into it unless you basically live with someone who does this kind of work. The general silence about this can contribute to classist outcomes in the arts and creative sectors, as the publicly visible part of what an artist (or curator, or critic) does is unlikely to represent where their livelihood comes from – I seem to remember Josie Giles doing a fantastic piece on this a few years ago.

I have been on significantly reduced hours since the end of March 2022 for health reasons, so I was reticent about doing this kind of review of my year. However, it’s been a pleasant surprise to put all of this stuff down in one place and see that although I might sometimes feel pessimistic about what MS means for my career, I’ve actually been able to do a lot of things that I am proud of, even during the period of time when I was still awaiting treatment. A lot of this is due to kind people who have been proactive about finding ways that we can work together and coming up with practical accommodations; I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Joey Eschrich at Arizona State University, Tommi Bryson at Sheffield Theatres, and Jennifer Booth at Typeset.

Finally, a quick note about the financial reality of all this: by 2020 I had just reached the point where my art practice covered more than half of my living costs as a single person with no dependents living in South Yorkshire. Although I would normally supplement this with work as a freelance translator and researcher, I have been largely unable to do that since late March, and I have also had to considerably reduce the work hours that I spend on artistic work. My income protection insurance paid out just enough to save me from total financial catastrophe when I became too ill to work full-time, and I’m also now receiving benefits that help me to keep my head above water while dealing with the extra costs of being disabled. All that is to say that if you are reading this as an example case in the practicalities of art practice, you should bear in mind that the work I have listed here does not represent the full scope of what is required to pay the bills.

Climate playmakers focus group

I’m involved in a research project supporting the development of an episodic game about climate change, and we are looking for people involved in climate activism, research, and advocacy to participate in a focus group. For more details please see the full call for participants.

Purpose of the study
The study is designed to understand what experts in climate science, game design and climate activism understand to be the priorities for climate change communication and action, and how these ideas might be brought to life through a live episodic online game.

What would this mean for you
Taking part in this study would involve participating in a 60 minute online focus group held on Zoom. The focus group will be audio recorded. If you prefer, you may instead participate in a one-to-one interview.

Critical Distance Fundraiser

Critical Distance, a non-profit I volunteer for on the board of directors, needs help. We have been archiving and contextualising online games writing for 13 years. We are asking for help to allow us to continue operating, and perhaps even invest in building longer term resilience. I’d be very grateful for any help spreading the word:


This is one of my favourite organisations in general, not just because I got to be their Senior Curator for a little while. While so much of the games industry is driven by cynical profit motives, and games academia suffers from the same exploitation and classism that affect the rest of the sector as a whole, Critical Distance is one of the few things that keeps me passionate and hopeful. There are only a handful of other organisations that provide this kind of bridge between academic writing and popular writing, and almost none that offer a space to signal boost and contextualise online writing outside the realm of algorithms and influencer bullshit.

Critical Distance is basically the reason I was able to become a games person at all – when I was first interested in writing a paper on game design, Critical Distance got me up to speed on the thinking in the field really fast. To this day, whenever I am starting research on any topic relating to games, Critical Distance is my first stop, and it provides a perspective that no other resource can. If you’ve appreciated anything I’ve said or written about games, media, or arts criticism, you’ve indirectly benefitted from Critical Distance’s work.

Essay Jams and Collaborative Writing as a Community Event

Last year I worked with Joey Eschrich on a collaborate writing event with Critical Distance, and we recently wrote an article about it that has just been published. Here we consider how the essay jam, and Critical Distance’s larger editorial structure, capture productive tensions in community-led, community-responsive publishing. We also suggest future directions for structuring collaborative writing activities, from figuring out incentives for participating authors to creating a culture of dialogue around drafts and ideas in progress.


Imaginary Papers Issue 12

I wrote a short essay in the “Science Fiction Frames” format for Arizona State University Centre for Science and the Imagination’s newsletter Imaginary Papers. Building on a presentation I gave a few years ago, it’s a discussion of how speculative wearable devices support the narrative of Simon Amstell’s 2017 mockumentary Carnage, including a quick comparison with Donna Haraway’s Camille Stories.

Check it out here:


Fun side-note: until I rewatched Carnage, I have completely forgotten that Amstell had actually anticipated a global pandemic and written it into the timeline that leads up to a utopian future society where animal exploitation has ended. His thinking was that a zoonotic virus would challenge us to reconsider the harms caused by intensive agriculture, and lead to new laws banning the worst excesses of the industry. Why that didn’t happen in our timeline is a question that would probably take a lot of unpacking.

Interactive Portrait Cushions at BitBash Chicago / Chicago Humanities Festival

An installation of Interactive Portraits: Trans People in Japan will be hosted at BitBash Chicago’s event on 12th November as part of the Chicao Humanities Festival. This is the afterparty for The Social Mind, an afternoon of talks and discussion on big tech, algorithms, and mental health, created in partnership with The Verge. Find out more and get tickets from the Chicago Humanities Festival website.