A workshop on 17 February marked the launch of artists Re-Dock in collaboration with young people’s text-adventure based game that takes place in a futuristic imagination of the north of England – where the only towns left are Wigan, Burnley and Hull.
The game, set in the year 2065, looks back on individual adventures that took place in 2065 and explores what the future might hold if technology advances towards complex AI robots and cyborgism.
The project provides a creative outlet for the young people of the three towns mentioned, and has allowed them to create not only their own game, but their own terrifying world in which robots are in control. As humans, we are given choices – and this is represented through the choose-your-own-adventure style of the game.
Chloe Brotherton, 16, who has been involved with the project for over a year, said that she drew on popular young adult fiction such as The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner to help shape their dystopia. Chloe said that the team ‘chose to set it in the future because it doesn’t have rules. Nobody knows.’
Sarfraz Mahmood, 22, has also been heavily involved in the creation of the world and has designed his own adventure within Burnley, focusing on renowned singer Paul Young’s plight against the robots. Sarfraz said that Paul Young ‘chose to become a cyborg,’ and that ‘all robots are evil.’
Glenn Boutler, who assisted the production of the project said that the use of text adventure aimed to show young people the roots of gaming. Unlike today’s heavily visual games, Northern Powerhouse: Last Towns Standing refreshingly requires participants’ imaginations to flourish. Butler said the dystopia created is an extension of our already existing reality – the dead zones in Wigan are in fact areas in the town where 3G signal doesn’t reach!
The game itself poses questions of morality. How fair is it to allow AI and algorithms to make objective decisions? Radames Ajna said that ‘We’re reaching the point of smart technology.’ The game and project on the whole aims to help young people question ideas surrounding who gets the final say in deciding how our smart technology, our AI, our potential robots, make fair decisions?
Alongside the game, there is a physical exhibition taking place featuring "artefakes" from Last Towns Standing that brings the fictional world to life: eerie biotechnology from Haven, a Futuregen employee card that grants access to the lab – but also contains your genetic code, and badges to define if you are human or if you have been augmented. Ross Dalziel said that the exhibition was inspired by the idea of fan fiction memorabilia, and this is prominent in the use of pop-culture related items on display: The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan and Phil – supposedly the last book ever written, and emoji gloves – a way for humans to secretly communicate without the robots knowing. This exhibition is currently in Burnley library but will be touring the north of England.
At the launch, visitors were allowed to create their own bot or bod – robot or human – and give them characteristics such as speed, stamina and empathy. However, the level of these factors influenced other factors, for example: having high speed would decrease stamina. This hands-on experience of designing a character, and choosing whether to side with the bots or the bods asks more questions of morality and poses the question: do robot lives matter?
See the exhibition for yourself or take part in one of the upcoming events. Click here to play the game.