FACT’s first major exhibition of 2018 explores the world of gaming, of creating virtual worlds and the avatars living in them.
How can we use, and make, video games which truly explore our contemporary collective imagination and anxiety? An immersive, experiential and participatory show, States of Play: Roleplay Reality focuses on the independent and industry (AAA) games to readdress the way the format is used. Feminist titles created in the aftermath of ‘gamergate’, post-colonial retellings of well-known stories, artists who place you in the uncomfortable position of voyeur: the playable games and artworks in this exhibition explore how we can really play with the format, and the preconceptions that surround it.
Multi-million selling Battlegrounds, by studio PlayerUnknown, is exhibited in a gallery for the first time as part of this exhibition, alongside works such as David O’Reilly’s Everything (2017), an award winning video game letting you choose to be one of 3,000 playable characters, from a flower to a star or a caterpillar; Reija Meriläinen’s Survivor (2017) an artwork and video game negotiating the power play in social interaction, where the object is to survive; and Angela Washko’s The Game (2017), a dating simulator starring pick up artists and exploring men’s rights activists, anti-feminists and “seduction” coaching communities online.
The works and games curated all reflect the function of roleplay in gaming, the creation of an avatar, and how that spills from the virtual world in the the physical world running parallel to it. Roleplaying allows us to assume a new identity. Yet this also raises questions about who is creating the online world, and how their perceptions, experiences and politics might affect the virtual world we explore. According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) the industry itself believes workplace diversity is important (81%) it is overwhelmingly white (71%) and male (79%) and straight (86%). When we create avatars and roleplay in a world created by an industry that is unrepresentative of society, do we create online worlds that damage the ambition of a diverse and equal physical world?
“With this exhibition, we want to explore games as a fertile space in which to reflect and reimagine the world rather than simply escape from it. And ask questions like: How do the roles we play reflect our realities, and even more importantly, how do they shape them?”