IRL 2020 Festival

The development of our 2020 programme was led by our Guest Director, Marie Foulston, looking at games that relate to a theme of ‘Breaking Point’. Games are the aesthetic forms of systems, and we were looking at works that break or subvert them in interesting and creative ways. Everything from small scale remixes you can sit with, to new and exciting installations that get people playing together.

The IRL festival could not go ahead because of the pandemic, but we’d like to celebrate the group of artists it brought together, and we’re still hopeful that we might be able to put it on at another time.

Exhibition

The Now Play This exhibition takes a broad look at games that work to break out of their prescribed system. Highlights included a series of new works. The Grannies, a newly commissioned video installation following four digital artists as they found new ways to explore the out-of-bounds regions of Red Dead Redemption 2. In the exhibition, and spanning beyond Somerset House, we had SIGIL, our second commission, a playable face filter game  to download and share. Leap Then Look were creating a specially made Sculpture Playground to line Somerset House’s River Terrace.

‘Ye or Nay – A.M. Darke with illustrator Tajae Keith

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‘Ye or Nay puts a satirical and cultural twist on the classic game Guess Who (1979). All the original characters from the game are here replaced with well known black men, half of whom are Kanye West. The original game’s depiction of a gender binary is intentionally subverted with the common player question “are they a man or woman?” becoming “are they Kanye West, or not Kanye West?”. Players are pushed to confront the language they use to differentiate between black men, an experience that will differ depending on a player’s own racial identity. The work offers a playful way to examine ‘difference’ within a minority group that is often painted with generalities, the consequences of which range from trivial to fatal.

A.M. Darke is an artist, game designer, and activist designing radical tools for social intervention.

99 Exercises in Play – Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk

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Following the constrained writing practices of the Oulipo and specifically Raymond Queneau’s short book, Exercises de Style, 99 Exercises in Play is a short platformer game featuring 99 variations of the first level of Super Mario Bros. An “Oujeupo” project that engages the serial history of World 1-1, here Mario finds himself stretched, squashed, slowed down, sped up, zoomed in, zoomed out, multiplied, and mutated across the Mushroom Kingdom. There is no one way to go, there is no right way to play. How many games can you find inside Super Mario Bros.?

Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk play, make, and write about games at the University of California, Davis. They are co-authors of Metagaming, co-creators of Triforce: The Topologies of Zelda and 99 Exercises in Play, and cast members on Every Game in This City.

AI Dungeon 2 – Nick Walton, Alan Walton, Zach Walton, Ben Murdoch, Cayla Murdoch

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AI Dungeon is a first of its kind AI Generated text adventure powered by OpenAI's GPT2. Unlike every other game in existence you can type any action and the AI will generate the result of your action and continue the story.  

Nick has been working on deep learning technology for the last several years, working at autonomous vehicle companies and in a deep learning research lab at Brigham Young University. At the beginning of December he released AI Dungeon, a first-of-its-kind, AI-generated text adventure where you can input any action you can imagine and the result is generated by feeding the response to a fine tuned GPT-2 model. AI Dungeon is available on iOS, Android, Web, and Alexa and had 250,000 users sign up within the first two weeks.

Another Day of Depression in Kowloon – IP Yuk-Yiu

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Another Day of Depression in Kowloon is a virtual study and a “found” landscape of Hong Kong as seen through the lens of video game. Hacking and appropriating materials from Call of Duty, it turns the violent first-person shooter into a series of vacant, uncanny and yet meditative tableaux, unearthing a formal poetry that is often being overlooked during the gameplay.

IP Yuk-Yiu is a media artist, art educator and independent curator. His works have been showcased extensively at international venues, including European Media Art Festival, New York Film Festival, the Image Festival, FILE Festival, Transmediale and NTT ICC. His recent works explore hybrid creative forms that are informed by cinema, video games and contemporary media art practices.

DUSTNET – Neilson Koerner-Safrata

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DUSTNET is a multiplayer video game installation that explores the death and afterlife of the virtual spaces we play in. The audience navigates a deconstructed version of the Counter-Strike (2000) map de_dust2 through computer, virtual reality, and augmented reality platforms.

Neilson Koerner-Safrata is an artist working with video game engines, his practice centers on the proliferation of lived experience within virtual worlds. Previously, he was a close collaborator with Tender Claws, with selects at Sundance New Frontier, Tribeca Immersive, Future of StoryTelling, and Games for Change.

Ebonix Sims – Danielle Udogaranya

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A series of virtual portrait photographs showcasing the 3D artist Ebonix’s custom content creations. Ebonix specialises in using Blender to create hairstyles, fashion and textiles for the Sims 4 that would otherwise be unrepresented in the game. She has created numerous hairstyles including curls, braids and locs, so that other players can create more accurate versions of themselves and feel truly represented.

Danielle, also known as Ebonix, did not always feel represented when creating herself in the Sims. She took it upon herself to do just that. She is a self-taught 3D Artist, who specialises in creating ethnic and urban hairstyles to bridge the gap between the player and game where representation is concerned.

Electronic Sweet-N-Fun Fortune Teller – Rachel Simone Weil

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Electronic Sweet-N-Fun Fortune Teller is an original love compatibility and horoscope game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game, written in 6502 assembly language, is situated in an alternate video game history in which 8-bit console games were marketed to girls.

Rachel Simone Weil is an experimental designer and 8-bit game developer whose work offers alternate visions of computer and video game history. Weil blends fact with fiction to create exhibitions and electronic artifacts that center the history of forgotten and imagined games, especially those that draw from girly cultures and subcultures.

How to Get Rid of Homeless – Matteo Bittanti

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How to get rid of homeless is a two volume 600-page book that documents the so-called "homeless scandal" that affected the game SimCity. The publication reproduces player threads concerning "homelessness" that appeared in Electronic Arts' online forum between 2012 and 2013.

Matteo Bittanti is an artist, writer, curator, publisher, translator, and scholar. His artistic practice lies at the intersection of videogames, toys, cinema, and the web.

Lichenia – Molleindustria

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Reclaim the ruins of a fallen city and create a sustainable human habitat. There are no goals and no endings in Lichenia. Learn about its cryptic ecology. Grow a city like a garden.

Molleindustria [soft industry/soft factory] is a project of reappropriation of video games, a call for the radicalization of popular culture, an independent game developer. Since 2003 it produced artisanal remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games.

Mood Pinball – Ben Neal, Edie Jo Murray and Harmeet Chagger-Khan

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Mood Pinball playfully re-imagines how city-wide data could be used by an individual and explored by playing a game. The work was made from a neurodiverse perspective, and focuses on noise levels in an urban environment, and the effect they can have on wellbeing.

Ben Neal is a creative technologist who creates games, electronic gadgets, interactive art and virtual content. Edie Jo Murray is a digital artist exploring the subjectivity of reality from a neurodivergent perspective. Harmeet Chagger-Khan produces projects to harness people’s polymathic qualities and create behaviour change.

Nova Alea – Molleindustria

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For its dwellers, Nova Alea was a mixture of shelters, connections, memories, longings. For its masters, the city was a matrix of financial abstractions.

Molleindustria [soft industry/soft factory] is a project of reappropriation of video games, a call for the radicalization of popular culture, an independent game developer. Since 2003 it produced artisanal remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games.

Oooble – Briony O Clarke

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A game of cognitive mapping, Oooble is played to facilitate the construction of conceptual products, new speculative things, objects and ideas by melding together pre-existing cultural material. Each individual tile contains two characters. The characters may be words composed of exactly two letters or they may have meaning beyond their component characters or they may be names or abbreviations. When the player has designed a new concept using any number of their tiles they can place their tiles on the board and express their idea. The name of the conceptual product is as laid out on the board. The conceptual product itself can be any - thing, a song, a tool, a political party, a recipe, a dance move, a wallpaper design, a vehicle, a fluffy toy - any - thing that can be thought into existence and expressed in some way. With each play of the game a new possible world emerges.

Briony O Clarke is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher and designer weaving a sculptural practice through speculative design, analytical psychology and social fiction. She approaches design as an exploratory strategy of subversion, a way of summoning, re-imagining, experimenting with and being critical about possible futures by making conceptual design objects and scenarios that pull experientially into it. She is currently working on her practice as research PhD at the University of Essex where she is extending Carl Jung’s therapeutic technique of active imagination to new media technologies via speculative game design.

Pawns – Alistair Aitcheson

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A chess variant played on a giant board with 87 pawns and one king on each side. Created to capture the feeling of futility against overbearing systems, the board is too big for any individual action to have consequence. That is, if the game is played in good faith.

Alistair is Bristol-based game developer making games with custom-made controllers. He likes to encourage players to interact with real-world objects and spaces, as a way to express themselves or to feel into emotions. His works include a game about grief played using a paper shredder, and an interactive comedy stage show.

Red Desert Render – Ian MacLarty

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This two-player cooperative videogame was inspired by the creator's out-of-bounds adventures in Red Dead Dedemption 2 and seeks to evoke similar feelings of discovery and transgression. Let your curiosity guide you through a vast and varied landscape filled with unexpected interactions that expose new ways of seeing this virtual world.

Ian MacLarty is an award-winning game developer living in Melbourne, Australia, with an interest in small-scope, experimental designs. He has a background in computer science and his work often explores the materiality of videogames through the use of self-made tools and generative techniques.

Sculpture Playground – Leap Then Look

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Sculpture Playground is a series of objects that invite interaction and play. Designed to move and fit together in different way and to initiate games and collaboration. These sculptures aim to encourage exploration and play between people of all ages.

Leap Then Look create artworks, participatory projects, workshops and events for people of all ages and abilities. Our focus is on creating spaces in which people can work together, experiment and play to create new experiences of art.

The Grannies – Kalonica Quigley, Marigold Bartlett, Ian MacLarty, Andrew Brophy and friends

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The Grannies are a collective of artists from Melbourne who broke out beyond the known map of Red Dead Redemption 2, an open world exploration game by Rockstar Games. They documented their adventures and discoveries through still photography and video. The surreal and fragmented images and stories from their travels are presented at Now Play This in a brand new large-scale video installation.

The Indifferent Wonder of an Edible Place – Studio Oleomingus

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The indifferent wonder of an edible place is an examination of the violence of erasure. Created in response to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it attempts to ponder the violent cost and the profound grief of having to survive at the edge of despotism, when places of entangled heritage are being willfully effaced.

Studio Oleomingus is a two person game studio, based in India. They work at the intersection of post colonial writing, interactive fiction, and speculative architecture. With their games they attempt to study colonialism, the history that it occludes and how interactive fiction might be used as a form of discourse, record and resistance against such authority.

To Call a Horse a Deer – IP Yuk-Yiu

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To Call a Horse a Deer is an experimental video game about language, hand-eye coordination, truth-bending and acts of complicity. The game, available in multiple languages, is both a mirror and a critique, a training simulator of truth-bending and its resistance.

IP Yuk-Yiu is a media artist, art educator and independent curator. His works have been showcased extensively at international venues, including European Media Art Festival, New York Film Festival, the Image Festival, FILE Festival, Transmediale and NTT ICC. His recent works explore hybrid creative forms that are informed by cinema, video games and contemporary media art practices.

Triforce: The Topologies of Zelda – Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk

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In The Legend of Zelda, there are several strange spaces hidden within Hyrule that defy the logic of the Cartesian grid: the Lost Woods, the Lost Hills, and the Lost Roads. When navigating these 2D mazes, Link finds himself endlessly looping, temporarily suspended by a classic game mechanic. But when visualized in 3D, these labyrinths look different. Triforce is a short puzzle game featuring a non-Euclidean Hyrule full of donuts, Möbius strips, and Klein bottles alongside a text-based adventure exploring personal histories of playing the original game.

Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk play, make, and write about games at the University of California, Davis. They are co-authors of Metagaming, co-creators of Triforce: The Topologies of Zelda and 99 Exercises in Play, and cast members on Every Game in This City.