‘For a brief time you joined us. You are one. Between the worlds.’ – Vortigaunt, Half-Life 2
Building on research at FACT over the past decade, States of Play: Roleplay Reality presents a physical space where the virtual and the real collide. Player streams, interactive video games and immersive audio visual spaces all work together to produce an environment that’s both thrilling and terrifying.
With the rise of virtual reality and the blurring of what’s real and what’s not, alongside popular fiction such as Ready Player One exploring what it means to assume virtual identities, States of Play: Roleplay Reality comes at a time when it’s needed most – to ask us how we behave when there’s no immediate, tangible consequence.
Curated by Lucy Sollitt and FACT’s own Lesley Taker, the show features a range of artists exploring virtual space as a tool. Alan Butler’s ‘Down and Out in Los Santos’ (2015) makes use of the smartphone function available in Grand Theft Auto V¸ where players can photograph the world around them, to capture impoverished non-playable character (NPC) interactions. Using the game’s engine, Butler focuses on the performance of people who are relegated to the side lines – both in a societal and narrative sense. The images are displayed on a screen amid a pile of junk, bringing the virtual into reality. The work explores the nuances and levels of detail that go into video games today, making them immersive and reflective of the real world.
Becoming more connected with technology brings with it a new sense of society and way of communicating, which we can explore through Bluehole Studios Inc’s ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ (2016). The game, finding itself somewhere between a role-playing game (RPG) and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), was the most successful game of 2017. Combat games are heavily associated with violence and toxicity, but with a peak of over three million concurrent players, we should ask ourselves to what extent does a virtual world provide a platform for real connection? With a medium of a shared goal, violence becomes secondary to the situation; players must communicate in order to succeed.
Conversation and identity through gaming isn’t something new – Nina Freeman shows us this through ‘Cibele’ (2015), which examines the online gaming scene across the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Her work gives insight into the life of a nineteen-year old girl and her relationship with another player. The experience emphasises the dynamics of intimacy online and how relationships can play out – both romantically and platonically.
Freeman’s work is rich in that it asks us to adopt her persona and take control of her avatar, offering an insight into how we can choose to portray ourselves online. The virtual and the real are getting closer every day and this sense of autonomy of becoming someone else – perhaps the best version of yourself, perhaps someone else entirely – reflects the sociability of online gaming and the opportunities that arise from reaching out and connecting.
States of Play: Roleplay Reality, is on at FACT, Liverpool until 17 June 2018.
Callan Waldron-Hall is a Liverpool-based writer studying an MA in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.