Ultimately society is the product of political decisions, the decision in GTA’s Los Santos to not tackle homelessness is akin to the homeless shanty towns of Los Angeles, and applies not only to the US but also to the UK where homelessness is a pertinent issue.
Rindon Johnson’s Away With You highlights how NBA 2K16 facial recognition software cannot accurately read and output a black male face. Exposing bias, albeit bias that could be unconscious, within the design and coding of computer software and games. Johnson’s work is original in its use of AMSR technology, a fairly new technology that stimulates human euphoria via mainly acoustic and visual triggers innovative as it has never been used for a socio-political cause, but also builds on prior investigation into the connotations of race within gaming. An Ohio State University study found that white players act more aggressively when playing a black avatar, reinforcing explicit negative attitudes toward the black community and display stronger implicit attitudes linking them to weapons. At a time where global racial politics is particularly heightened, challenging such issues is something that the creative technologies sector should consider and it is great that FACT is increasing awareness of this.
In Alan Butler’s Down and Out in Los Santos you can photograph in the game using a phone just like you would in real-life, and this shows how realist the game is as a satire of modern political issues, homelessness etc. Whilst homelessness has always been a transparent issue in the UK, it wasn’t until 1977 that homelessness was accommodated for in legislation, and it was only via reforms in 2002 via the Homelessness Act and 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act that greater pressure was placed on local authorities to assess, prevent and relieve homelessness. Arguably by providing an in-game ability to take pictures like in real life Rockstar heightens the satirical element of the game and can be viewed to be a respectable endeavour for the gaming titan, redeeming itself of its image as merely a platform for frat-boy humour and senseless violence. This function of the feature may have been completely unintentional, yet it crucially creates a stand for the greater good, as a means for artists such as Butler to introduce questions of real significance. Through showcasing Butler’s work FACT is raising greater awareness of the merits of the video-game sector, which has traditionally acquired more of a negative reputation.
Butler’s work is poignant, drawing on a likeness between the homeless he sadly observes sitting on the doorsteps of his Dublin studio and those in the game. Rockstar has even incorporated a social media element, as images can be uploaded in the game to ‘Rockstar Social Club’, housing an Instagram style feature ‘Snapmatic’. This allows for the introduction of the images to real-life photojournalism networks, whilst Butler has stated that this hasn’t inspired the discussion he desires yet, his feature in States of Play will pave the way for this.
Both Butler and Johnson are key delegates for States of Play’s mission, through analysis of mass-market gaming the exhibition delivers a stirring political message, the examples of racial bias and homelessness that have been highlighted are simply two of many themes explored in the gallery and a part of FACT’s wider role as a political force (see my other blog in regards to this here).
Shihab Mozumder is a second-year politics student at the University of Liverpool. He was on placement with FACT's Exhibition Team in the month running up to the opening of States of Play: Roleplay Reality earlier this year.
States of Play: Roleplay Reality is on until 17 June 2018
Photograph: Rindon Johnson's Away With You (2017) by Drew Forsyth