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Ff Gaiden Control Larry Achiampong David Blandy Learning Criminal Justice

Who controls our identity? Is it something that is imposed on us externally or does it develop internally? And what affect does being in the military or prison have on this?

The film, FF Gaiden: Control, is a culmination of six month’s work by ex-servicemen currently in HMP Althouse and Liverpool, in collaboration with artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. The project, commissioned by FACT as part of the Veterans in Practice (VIP) programme, sought to include a part of the ex-Forces community that it had previously neglected; those who are in prison.

The exact number of former Armed Service personnel in prison in Britain is, at present, unknown. Although figures are widely contested, it is believed that the number represents ‘a significant subset of the adult male prison population and by occupation, potentially the largest’. With a move to now better recognise veterans within the criminal justice system what does this identification mean for the individuals themselves?

Through a series of personal testimonies from the perspective of the veterans themselves and their family members., FF Gaiden: Control explores the tensions inherent within this dual identity of ‘veteran and offender’. These accounts are played out through the world of video game Grand Theft Auto V, investigating this virtual space synonymous with violence to speak of their experiences of societal control.

Ff Gaiden Control Larry Achiampong David Blandy Learning Criminal Justice
Ff Gaiden Control Larry Achiampong David Blandy Learning Criminal Justice

Starting underwater, the film follow a variety of avatars, often running or climbing, through the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) 5 landscape - first wilderness, then the city, and back to wilderness again. Each avatar has its own voiceover - we hear from veterans in prison and their families, reflecting on freedom, truth, mental health, relationships, violence, and the authenticity of identity. The film provides an opportunity for the veterans to speak for themselves and give their own point of view; one voiceover reflects on how the accumulation of smaller problems leads to greater problems later in life - for example, growing up in an abusive household, going into the army as a young man, and only dealing with the legacy of abuse once out of the military and a grown man.

The most visually striking aspect of the film is that it is made using GTA5. This was partly a practical choice by the artists; they were limited with what they could take into the prison, and GTA5 happens to contain an editable, "director" mode. The videogame aesthetic is also recognisable and accessible for the participants. David noted that the game provides an interesting space in which to think about legacies of violence, while also providing an alternate reality in which to explore the idea of control; Larry pointed out that ideas regarding violence, oppression and decolonisation in GTA5 matched itself more interestingly to the project than, for example, Skyrim.

FF Gaiden: Control is commissioned and produced by FACT and supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

With thanks to HMP Altcourse, Keith McDonnell, Tony Connolly and the HMP Altcourse gym team, HMP Liverpool and Partners of Prisoners.