Ludonarracon panel April 23rd

Update 26 April: you can now watch this panel here!

I’m very excited to be on a panel at Ludonarracon next week about narrative structure and placemaking in games. Ludonarracon is a digital festival of indie videogame storytelling that I often referred to last year when looking for interesting and inspiring things to play and new ways of thinking about the medium, and you should definitely check it out if you are interested in stories or interactive media.

Friday April 23, 3pm PT

Stories are Structures, Videogames are Places

Claris Cyarron, Zoyander Street, Nathalie Lawhead, Jord Farrell

Videogames give us places to experience and explore. Stories offer us escape and example. The advantages and appeal of spending time in the many worlds or stories on offer through videogames has never been more clear, but the spaces where we spend our time shape us, even as they are shaped by us. Videogames are more than portals to other situations; they are places. At least, that is (part of) how these artists see them. Join videogame developers Nathalie Lawhead, Jord Farrell, Zoyander Street, and Claris Cyarron as they discuss the structural, material, and experiential aspects of their artforms.

Collaboration with Squinky as part of “New Conversations”

I’m delighted to announce that I’m starting a project in collaboration with Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer, as part of “New Conversations”, a programme funded and delivered by the British Council, Canada Council for the Arts, Farnham Maltings, and the High Commission of Canada in the UK. I’m excited to be part of a cohort of participants thinking about critical issues such as disability, land, gender, and racial justice.

Squinky is one of my favourite artists, and also someone I feel incredibly lucky to be able to call a friend. If you’re not familiar with their work, it’s difficult to know where to start, but we first connected when I was crowdfunding for Dreamcast Worlds, and they were crowdfunding for Dominique Pomplemoose, a stop-motion animated musical adventure game with a non-binary person of colour protagonist – all of this was a significant breath of fresh air in 2012. They were kind enough to agree to a bit of mutual cross-promotion, so some Dom Pam backers supported Dreamcast Worlds and vice versa. We’ve been friends since then, attending games events together and occasionally collaborating on organising or curating things for indie and queer games.

Among the many projects they’ve made over the past nine years, two in particular have had a major impact on me. One is you used to be someone – if you’ve seen me give a presentation about queer games, you already know that I’m deeply fascinated by this game’s portrayal of affect, temporality, urban space, and identity. The other is Coffee: A Misunderstanding, an interactive play that was performed in real-life settings, including on stage, in tents at festivals, and in actual real-life coffee shops. It was facilitated by network-connected mobile phones that allow two people to perform as “puppets” by performing a script shown on their phones, and two others to control their actions and dialogue by selecting options, video-game style, from two other phones. Seven years later, I still think and talk about this play pretty frequently, particularly when considering what the structuring of dialogue choices is doing to a story: one of Squinky’s remarkable insights that comes through in Coffee is how the awkwardness of digital interfaces can be integrated into the tone and pacing of their writing. The project we’re creating together on the New Conversations programme will draw heavily on Coffee: A Misunderstanding, but we’re writing new content that reflects our personal and collective experiences understanding gender and neurodiversity, and designing a digital staging environment that messes with the awkwardness of video calls.

One of my tentative hopes for this project is to learn something about how artists can mess with video calling to create environments that actually suit the creative outputs that they want to achieve. When artists run workshops in physical space, they often think carefully about how the space is going to be set up and used, perhaps bringing with them a lot of tools and materials required to inspire people and get them in the right frame of mind. When running activities on something like Zoom, you have very little ability to exert similar control over the space. I’ve used a few other platforms over the past year that have been very effective at getting people creative in some ways: is great for inspiring people to make things and giving them a place to share them together, PubPub is a lovely way for strangers to make written publications together in a relatively ad-hoc manner, and Discord has been a great way to host a video call within an environment where longer-term asynchronous conversations are also going on. But even when bringing one of these into play, you still have almost no ability to directly author the environment you’re working within, modify it, and use its aesthetic qualities in an intentional manner.

As always, I feel like what’s needed is an open-source, community-owned option that allows us to be autonomous and experimental, even if that means tolerating glitches and unexpected outcomes. The goal of this project isn’t to create a video calling platform for general use, but I’m looking forward to learning about what interventions into video calling are possible on a low budget and at a small scale.

30 characters now playable in the Cis Penance WIP update

To go with the launch of Space Studios London’s Art + Tech showcase, today I pushed a big update to Cis Penance! Check out the rest of the artworks on display here:

With today’s update, there are now 30 characters you can interact with in the work-in-progress build. Each one represents a different person I have interviewed – some going by names they use elsewhere, some going by pseudonyms I’ve assigned arbitrarily to preserve their anonymity. Each story is different, but there are many common themes, and I feel like at this scale you start to get a sense of the concerns and aspirations that we share as a community. I’m so proud of the way this project gets beyond the idea of transitioning as this solitary thing that one person goes through on their own, and gestures instead at a process that we all share as a community.

Check out the latest version of the Cis Penance work in progress build here:

DEEP PLAY: Art + Tech Residency Showcase

I’m updating the Cis Penance work in progress build for next week, when it will be featured as part of the showcase of work created during the Art + Tech residency organised by Space Studios, London. I’ll also be on a panel hosted in Mozilla Hubs, which is currently one of my favourite ways to be in online spaces!

Showcase: DEEP PLAY
4 – 19 Mar 2021
Launching: Thu 4 Mar, 12pm GMT here

Event programme:

Fri 5 Mar, 6.30 – 8.30pm GMT
Panel Discussion: (online, livestream). 
Free but booking needed. Book your place here

Fri 19 Mar, 6.30 – 8.30pm GMT
Closing night party: Algorave (online, livestream) 
Free but you need to your place here

The other work being shown is really exciting. There’s a lot of work that looks at the natural environment, and does great work challenging our figurations of the natural while creating a new sense of wonder and curiosity. I’ve never been as excited about rocks and clouds as I have been when hearing the other artists on this residency talk about their work. I can’t recommend this little online exhibition and series of events enough, and I hope you at least find a moment to take a look.

Event: Social Gold – MONUMENTS & MEMORIAL. Social Art Network, Sheffield

(Featured/header image is from Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s Black Trans Archive)

Next week I’ll be showing a preview of a video essay about monuments and memorials in some recent indie games (Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Black Trans Archive; Origame studio, Umurangi Generation; Cardboard Computer, Kentucky Route Zero; Finji, Night in the Woods).

Wed, 24 February 2021
18:30 – 20:30 GMT

This is part of an online event showing early work created as part of the Social Art Network’s “Monuments and Memorials” project, which “responds to current debate and action in the context of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, Decolonisation, and efforts to memorialise under-represented and persecuted communities and civil rights activists.” Also showing work will be Yuen Fong Ling (“Towards Memorial” project on Sheffield’s 19th-century pioneering gay socialist sandal-wearer Edward Carpenter), Sile Sibanda (Zimbabwean spoken-word artist based in Rotherham), and Maria Chrisá (“Between Times” project on checkpoints, controlled passage, and time in Palestine).

Yuen Fong Ling, “Towards Memorial

Book Launch: Old Land New Waters, Freelands Foundation

I have a chapter in this forthcoming book, which features work by artists selected for the first year of the Freelands Artist Programme. The book launch is being held online on 17th February 2021.

Alongside excellent, insightful critical writing by curator Edward Ball, contributors to the book write about, and create visual works reflecting on, topics such as the materiality of media, historical memory, and the performance of identity. Details of the book launch event can be found below.

Join us for an evening of online readings and performances to celebrate the launch of Old Land New Waters.

This new publication celebrates two years of activity by the first cohort of artists participating in the Freelands Artist Programme. Old Land New Waters is a slowly unfolding and intimate conversation with a broad range of artistic practices from across the UK. The volume takes its title from an installation by the Vietnamese filmmaker and postcolonial theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha and is influenced by her wider body of work.

This launch event has been conceived as an online broadcast. Contributing artists and writers from the book will be presenting short readings, films and performances. The evening will be introduced by the publication editor and Freelands Artist Programme Curator, Edward Ball.

Book your free place via Eventbrite here.

Contributors include:

Kelly Best, Alison J Carr, Jan Carson, Eileen Daly, Janie Doherty, Wendy Erskine, Natalie Ann Holborow, Julie Lovett, Andrew McMillan, Zoyander Street, Jennifer Taylor, Lucy Vann, Siân Williams and Ian Watson

More information:

More characters added to Cis Penance

I just pushed a new update to Cis Penance, doubling the number of characters. It feels very satisfying to see a “queue” of people begin to form.

Including the 13 that are now shown in the work-in-progress, I have collected 45 interviews – this is the minimum I planned for, but I think more interviews would better show the scale of the issues that this piece aims to highlight. I want people who see the finished piece to be overwhelmed by the length of this queue, because it represents the waiting times that trans people face in the UK, and I want players to encounter more experiences of gender and life paths than they can possibly hold in their mind at once. Please check out the participant information and share this project with anyone who you think might be interested in contributing.

Cis Penance update – seven characters, one world

I pushed a big update to Cis Penance today! Not only is the number of characters now up from 3 to 7, but also, the first hint of the main motif is finally coming through – the long queue of people, representing social and bureaucratic structures such as the waiting lists for Gender Identity Clinics. Also, there are now three different pieces of background music. Please give the new version a play and let me know what you think, especially if something looks wrong.

Also, I’m still looking for more interviewees, so please reach out (zoyander at gmail) if you’re a trans person in the UK (or from the UK, even if you’re currently living abroad).