States of Play: Roleplay Reality

  • 22 March 2018 - 17 June 2018


An immersive and participatory show examining gaming as both a critical and artistic tool, focusing on the unparalleled importance of role-play within the genre. Collected works illustrate how games are a site of contested power and identity, playing out across both the physical and virtual worlds.

Roleplay Reality includes games and artworks which use the landscapes, mechanics and tropes of games. All illustrate how games are a site of contested power and identity, playing out across physical and virtual worlds. We look at how games can be both freeing and limiting spaces in which to reflect and reimagine the world, and how differing versions of the world can oppose each other.


From preparing soldiers for active combat using Call of Duty, to immersive VR experiences which allow you to inhabit the body of another, our society acknowledges the importance of assuming the role of another, and the influence of digital worlds upon our own. Yet, adult gaming is still seen in many circles as a waste of time: pointless, playful indulgence at its best, and at its worst, insidious, violence-hungry escapism fuelled by communities of misogyny and racism. In reality, games are uniquely placed to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital, and to form meaningful relationships and exchanges between previously disparate individuals. Gameplay allows experimentation, exploration and expands our imagination. Taking on the role of another enhances our social development and, ultimately, our empathy. Both playing alone, and cooperating together are important aspects of how we learn to live alongside others, and key to developing (and evolving) our sense of self.  


At a moment when long-established power structures within every industry are being undermined, and hierarchies called into question, this exhibition looks at the naturally subversive and unflinching gaze of the video game. Rather than existing as a realm of pure escapism, the agency and immersivity provided by gaming reflects the true nature of society - complete with its injustices, subjugation and abuses of power - allowing us to fully appreciate the world from a variety of perspectives. The fact that games can now be successfully made, and launched, from a laptop in a bedroom as well as through major distributors, creates diversity within the roles we can adopt and the viewpoints we are able to experience.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, video games ask us to take on another role: a new identity, an alternate reality - but one which draws so closely from our own that real tensions are inevitable. The multi-layered, often ambiguous narratives of video games throw our expectations of the genre into question, creating unexpectedly rich areas of discourse within environments filled with high-paced action and incredible violence. The imaginative possibilities within gaming worlds allow for subversion and playful disassembly: in these worlds which we control and are free to master, everything is subject to re-design.


States of Play: Roleplay Reality brings together artists and game creators who not only consider new or unexpected approaches to video games and the culture of gaming, but also deeply consider the role of the player (or viewer) within these new, ever-advancing environments. They consider how the games we play and the roles we choose to experience not only reflect our realities but, more importantly, how they shape them, providing ever-deeper insight into our own version of the world. Through the roleplay of gaming we reveal and challenge complicity in power structures, finding freedom (or alienation) through online communities or in-game affiliations, and discovering alternative perspectives or new mechanisms for self-expression. Rather than existing purely as platforms for violence, fear and subjugation, games -as their creators and audiences become more diverse and critical- become places of activism, hope, and reflection.


States of Play: Roleplay Reality is a collaboration with Crafts Council, UK around the ways in which play shapes our lives and the world around us. The exhibition at FACT serves as a second chapter to States of Play: Part 1(that took place at Humber Street Gallery, Hull between June - September 2017), which focused more around traditional games and their contemporary development.