“For the longest time, I’ve wanted to make a gay mobile game, but I was unsure how to get my queer politics past Apple and Google’s anti-sexuality censors,” says Robert Yang in the notes he has written to accompany We Dwell in Possibility, a crowd simulation game created for Virtual Factory, the digital home for MIF while we await the arrival of the real-life Factory arts space, which is currently being built in the city.
Yang is known for creating provocative 3D realism games about gay culture, but explains that it is the pairing via MIF with illustrator Eleanor Davis that has allowed him to bring his ideas to life here, with Davis’ 2D figures providing him with visuals that will load successfully on a browser.
The resulting game lets viewers interact with the scenes or simply sit back and watch as they unfold. The setting is a garden, into which a series of naked simulated AI people flow (the ‘Peeps’ bear a resemblance to the characters in the game Kids, which Yang acknowledges as an inspiration). Some bring objects to be planted in the garden, and what is chosen to remain there will then affect the characters’ behaviour, making them happy, horny, or angry, or even turn them into Tories.
“Like my previous games, this project is still very much about bodies, politics and sex,” writes Yang. “Maybe this project represents a ‘virtualisation’ of those concerns. Players essentially role-play as gods looking down over their garden, passive or active at their own whim. It’s a zoomed-out perspective; it’s not immersive, it’s a simulation.”
The game is compelling and visually charming and contains moments of wit and pathos, but for Yang at its heart is a commentary on politics and society. “The design and upkeep of communal public spaces is precisely a political matter – there’s no getting around it,” he writes in the notes. “Which statues should remain and where? Who is allowed to sell products and services in a park? Who is allowed to sleep in a park? These material questions of governance require political justifications.
“As the player, you must indirectly negotiate all these decisions with the Peeps, who bring their own politics and desires into the garden too.”
We Dwell in Possibility is available to play at MIF’s Virtual Factory until July 18; virtual-factory.co.uk