How gaming nostalgia can open up conversations about trans rights – Just Geek Stuff

Stephanie Farnsworth was kind enough to interview me about the interactive portraits project. Check it out here:


Rotherham display of interactive portraits: transgender people in Japan

Today is the first day of a three-week display of my transgender interactive portraits installation at Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance! More information here: Interactive Portraits Show in Rotherham

I’m particularly keen to get groups in to have discussions about the work, so let me know (Zoyander at Gmail) if you have a group that would like to come see this.

Pattern Swatches for Pico-8

A while ago I made myself a kind of digital haberdashery for Pico-8, that allows me to sample randomly-generated patterns and colour combinations. It is very simple, and mostly just looks like this:

pattern swatches_0

This is a useful tool when making other things in Pico-8, as it lets me choose from “ready-made” fill patterns and colour combinations, rather than designing them myself from scratch or having them be randomly generated in whatever cart I’m building.

Fill patterns probably have some legit reason for existing that has to do with “dithering” and pseudo-3D shading, but I like them because they look like fabric or knitting. They’re very easy to use in Pico-8 code. Here’s an example, using one of the patterns generated in the sampler above:


Also, it turns out that when you set a colour in Pico-8, you’re actually setting two colours at once: an “on” colour and an “off” colour. In the example above I set the colour to “8”, which is really “8 and 0” (red and black). The pattern swatch generator uses the full range of possible colour combinations, and then gives you a number that translates into that pairing of colours.

The use of fill patterns and “off” colours – including how to set “off” colours directly, using a hex bitfield – is explained here:

How to get it

Mozilla Festival

My work is being displayed at Mozilla festival, for the Art + Data exhibition.

The Art+Data experience — part of the Mozilla Artists Open Web project — engages artists, designers, technologists, and researchers in an artistic exploration of a healthy web. With an online gallery ( and an exhibition during MozFest, Art+Data will also feature artists in residencies (on site and online) and creative, interactive sessions. Thirty-six art projects will be showcased, and all (including digital and analogue processes) will focus on data knowledge and usage. They also link to the five festival issues of privacy & security, digital inclusion, web-literacy, open innovation, and decentralisation.

They’ll be showing three of my interactive portraits of trans people in Japan – lo-fi experiences made in 8-bit fantasy console Pico-8 that represent real interviews that I carried out during a residency earlier this year. They were also displayed at Festival of the Mind recently, so to learn more you should check out my blog post about that. Also relevant to my interests is the Queering Mozfest experience, which brings together a number of pieces related to the queer internet.


You can check out all of the exhibited pieces in person at Ravensbourne University London, near the O2 arena, 26 – 28 Oct 2018. Or, check them out online, along with the gorgeous exhibition catalogue, right here:


Freelands Artist Programme


In an amazing piece of good news, I’ve been selected for a new programme supporting artists in the UK! It’s a two-year residency that includes some financial support as well as mentoring, access to archive collections, and exhibition space in London as well as at the Site Gallery in Sheffield.

The other artists selected in Sheffield this year are Alison J Carr, Yuen Fong Ling, Sian Williams and Lucy Vann. We’re already starting to feel like a bit of a cohort, and I’m looking forward to us finding ways to work together and make weird stuff. In total, there will be 20 artists supported by this programme in Sheffield over the next five years, and another 20 in three other cities: Cardiff, Belfast, and Edinburgh.


Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter

This winter, some of my work is going to be shown in the Schwules Museum in Berlin, the oldest and largest LGBTQ-related museum in the world! The show is really important, as it not only puts videogames in the context of queer history, but also is (if I have this right) the first time that Adrienne Shaw’s LGBTQ games archive will manifest in a public, physical space.

Today they launched a crowdfunding campaign for the exhibition catalogue, which would include essays by the contemporary queer games creators included in the exhibition, so that’s me, and some of my favourite games folks: Squinky, Robert Yang, and Naomi Clark.

There are lots of great reasons to support this Kickstarter, and I think the reward tiers are fantastic – the €70 tier comes with tickets to not one, but two museums in Berlin as well as a copy of the catalogue, the €100 tier comes with a custom avatar made by me using some of the art tools I’ve built in Pico-8, and the particularly remarkable €300 tier comes with a copy of Naomi Clark’s Consentacle, a lushly-illustrated game about negotiating sex with a giant tentacled alien, which you can’t buy anywhere!

Creator Ikusei Residency for International Creators with Exploratory Projects in Tokyo, Japan

This is a little last-minute, but the residency programme in Tokyo that I took part in at the start of this year is taking applications until September 10th. You can learn more and apply here:

It’s not particularly common for me to come out of a creative development experience feeling positive and ready to recommend it to others, as I’m kind of sensitive to institutional inequities and the cult-like insider-group bullshit that surrounds creative fields. But this residency was just brilliant. I don’t think it could have gone better. I can’t recommend it enough – especially to anyone whose work is a bit weird.

I used this residency to start work on a project I’m calling “interactive portraits”, interviewing transgender people and turning those interviews into abstract, lo-fi, short-form interactive dialogues made in Pico-8, an 8-bit platform which is developed in Tokyo. I don’t think I can overstate how enjoyable and fruitful this residency was for me. I went in with tempered goals and expectations, and came out with much more than I dared expect – 13 recorded interviews with transgender people, carried out in two different locations in Japan, and lots of useful lessons learned from interactions and dialogues with artists and curators I’d met in various settings. The folks running this residency put a lot of work into connecting me with useful contacts so that I could achieve the goals I set out in my project proposal. Whenever I had an idea of something I’d like to do or somebody I’d like to meet, they had a way to help me to get there. They provide plenty of cash for day-to-day expenses, and there was even a travel budget to get me out to Kansai and get a comparative look at trans communities in different parts of Japan.

This two-month residency for overseas artists is sort of an offshoot built from a larger, year-long residency associated with the annual Media Arts Festival. It is a slightly odd one to explain to people, because although you’re an artist-in-residence, you’re not resident in a publicly-visible institution as such – people kept asking me what university I was with, so I just said I was on a programme funded by the Ministry of Culture. However, the organisers provide accommodation and studio space in the centre of Tokyo, and also allow residents to make use of their permanent office in Ginza if you want to bring someone to a fancy space for a meeting or interview.

The advisors are all extremely impressive people whom it has been a real joy to know. They all have their own interests and specialisms, and each contribute something unique to the programme’s selection panel, critiques, and events. This is not necessarily a programme that involves close contact with an advisor, though I think it’s something that you might be able to get out of it if it’s important to you.

Based on my cohort, and conversations I had with a couple of people, this programme seemed to be particularly good for the following:

  • Self-directed projects: This is not a program with a strict predetermined structure. Everyone set their own schedule and plans for the residency, and we were all very independent. There were only a handful of mandatory events – everything else was up to the artists’ desires and interests. The organisers sent along a lot of ideas and suggestions for outings and events though, and clearly put a lot of work into discovering and sharing things that might interest the artists – and when we had a specific request, they made all sorts of cool shit happen.
  • Critically-engaging work: all three of the artists in my cohort were making something that comments on contemporary society in a way that challenges conservative cultural narratives. There wasn’t really anything that reinforced traditional ideas about national heritage, or that served a market-oriented notion of innovative design – so this is a rare resource in the broader institutional landscape.
  • Specific connection to stuff happening in Tokyo: one of the staff involved in this programme told me that the panel were really looking for artists who had a clear reason why they wanted to come to Japan, and the application form seems to make that pretty clear. They don’t seem to want people who just want to experience Japan because it seems nice, there was a strong preference for projects that clearly needed to be done in Tokyo – specific names of institutions and artists to collaborate with, a plan for how to integrate the experiences in Japan into the final work, and a decent understanding of Japanese culture all seemed beneficial.
  • Maybe artist-researchers? Obviously this isn’t part of the description for the programme, so I might be overreaching, but research-led work seemed to find a good home here. Two out of three of the people in my cohort were carrying out ethnographic interviews as part of our creation process. Perhaps a research plan is a good way of demonstrating why the residency in Tokyo benefits the project, and maybe it also shows a readiness to engage critically with the context.