CSI Skill Tree: Kentucky Route Zero

On 27th July, as part of a series of online events run by Arizona State University’s Centre for Science and the Imagination, I will be talking about Kentucky Route Zero with Rachel Carr, a scholar of Southern U.S. and Modernist literature, as well as Women’s and Gender Studies, at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. We’ll be talking about gothic motifs of places that carry trauma, figurations of rural and post-industrial landscapes,  and the role of play and art in how the game imagines post-capitalist ways of living. Details here!

In the CSI Skill Tree series, we examine and celebrate how video games envision possible futures, build rich and thought-provoking worlds, and engage people as active participants in unfolding and interpreting stories.

For our latest event, we’ll take a close look at Kentucky Route Zero, a magical realist adventure game about a secret, paranormal highway running through the caves beneath Kentucky. The game was released in five “acts” between 2013 and 2020, and it takes a mind-bending artistic and philosophical approach to themes of labor, debt, alienation, rural disinvestment, automation, the collision of the digital and physical worlds, and how history haunts our experience of the present and our possible futures.

Our special guests are Zoyander Street, an artist, researcher, critic, and ethnographer who works on video games, media art, and other (mis)uses of technology, and Rachel Carr, a scholar of Southern U.S. and Modernist literature, as well as Women’s and Gender Studies, at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky.

The event will be broadcast live on Zoom, and is free and open to everyone—register today!

Reclaiming the Rainbow Photo Challenge

I am one of three judges on Andro & Eve’s Reclaiming the Rainbow Photo Challenge – details below. Please send in your weirdest visual experiments with rainbows!

Reclaiming the Rainbow Photo Challenge is a way to raise awareness of the Pride flag as a symbol of safety, build connections, and celebrate the strength of the South Yorkshire LGBTQ+ community through this difficult time.

Are you LGBTQ+ and living in South Yorkshire? Then get involved with our photo challenge!

To enter our photo challenge all you need to do is to take a photo on your phone or camera.

Entries close on midnight on Sunday 1st August.

The photo challenge entries will be judged by South Yorkshire creatives, Nelly Naylor, Yuen Fong Ling, and Zoyander Street.

The winner will receive a bumper pack of goodies from local independents including Vulgar Vintage, Showroom Cinema, Birdhouse Tea, Beer Central, Truffle Pig Vegan and Artisan and Eco. There’ll also be prizes for runners up too from Moss and Clover florists and treats by Elly Joy.

Winners announced in early August. Have fun and good luck!

Joining NEoN’s trustees

I recently had the joy of becoming one of 8 new trustees of digital arts festival North East of North (NEoN). At a time when arts and culture organisations are under extraordinary pressure, I’m excited to play even a small role in this fantastic organisation’s work supporting and showcasing digital art, elevating marginalised voices, and exploring new ways to serve audiences that are often excluded from art spaces. Learn more about NEoN and the other trustees at the link below!

Raju Rage with the Right Lube: Desperate Living

Cis Penance is currently on display online at Studio Voltaire, as part of artist Raju Rage’s research project with trans writing project The Right Lube. They are doing work around trans self-medding and bodily autonomy, under the following statement:

“We stand for self-agency in determining our own heath requirements and gender definitions and not having to rely on a medical system that is often a barrier for trans people for multiple reasons, such as not meeting requirements and fitting definitions that are cis gender determined, not having access to services, gatekeeping and waiting on a national health service that has been cut, wanting autonomy from medical recognition, plus more.”

https://www.studiovoltaire.org/whats-on/raju-rage-with-the-right-lube-online-research-desperate-living/

The Studio Voltaire page for the Desperate Living programme shows Raju Rage’s 2017 video collage Pyramid Revealed By A Sandstorm, an immersive, layered, textured piece of video art meditating on hormones as a kind of meeting point between the body and big sociotechnical structures.

If you are a trans or non-binary person considering self-medding, harm reduction workshops are available as part of the Desperate Living programme, which you can learn more about by following @raju_rage on Instagram.

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: itch.io 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: https://spacestudios.org.uk/art-technology/deep-play-showcase/

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: https://zoy.itch.io/cispenance

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: https://freelandsfoundation.co.uk/event/launch-old-land-new-waters-book-launch