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Laura Lynes's queer avatars bathe in the pink waters of The Sims


Image: Photograph of Laura Lynes.

Sometime in the noughties, I bought a bright green allotment, built a house on it, and filled my house up with items. Then I spent days at a time chatting up the neighbourhood women who would drop by unsuspectingly, while trying to progress in my career so that I could upgrade my items and my house - which is what I thought I was predestined to do. This was The Sims computer game, and I was a preteen living out my queerness years before I’d even realised I was queer. But the game knew and recalculated itself in response to my player input so that soon all of suburbia’s wives wanted me back.   

In my writing and video work, I like to play out dynamics that are intensified or simplified abstractions of ‘real-world’ systems. Dynamics that are off in some way, maybe absurd or exaggeratedly sinister, but suggestive still of a set of rules that, blown up large IRL [in real life], disguise themselves as natural or just the way things are. The Sims, as a life simulation game, doesn’t make up the rules of late stage capitalism, but it reproduces its ideological tenets in simplified, game-world terms. As a culturally resonant and ready-made set of signs, it makes for useful visual material for what I’m trying to do. My video piece, Desire is Free-Floating, deploys two queerly-coded Sim avatars to re-dramatise a story-structure that encodes career progression, raising a family, and consumption as the ways to win at Life. As the avatars luxuriate in neon-pink water, fantasise themselves into cyber swans, or play 3D virtual Tetris, subtitles relay their inner thoughts about the game-system they are in, and about queer cyborgian desire as a way to play the code differently and make new life-worlds. The text is where much of the subtext of my work is generated from, and, more generally, I’m interested in the ways in which writing can interact with virtual reality settings to produce multiple levels of meaning.  

A sonic soundscape made for the work by sound artist Billy Leach situates the avatars in an immersive, futuristic context. Billy describes their music as ‘acting on a long thin, bulbous wire that is being shaken from both ends. It is the same piece of wire being used but the movement is in constant flux, being jolted from one place to another. This continual, ambient state - the wire - constantly fluctuating, explores the emotional nuance of the sound.’ Billy’s sound for the video creates a morphing figure that never drifts from its original material state, but that draws out and adds to the tensions at work in the piece.

To me queerness is, as many have conceptualised, a kind of system error that is transformative, or, to use Legacy Russell’s term, a ‘glitch’. From the launch of its first instalment in 2000, The Sims game permitted same-sex relationships after a queer employee mistakenly, or not so mistakenly, wrote the ‘wrong’ code—which kept them in. There is parody built into the game, too, and in making my work I tried to capture the glitches and surrealisms of the avatars’ behaviour—as if they were actors I was asking to go from A to B but also to improvise, be yourselves! [They have free will, although this can be turned off in the settings.] I am drawn to art that uses humour and play to cut through limiting or oppressive normativities.

All our models of reality are reconfigurable in some way, and it is exciting to see so many contemporary artists working with virtual forms to think through and re-imagine these models. There is possibility even in domestic suburbia, as my preteen self knew all too well.

Laura Lynes in collaboration with Billy Leach (Video) Laura Lynes is a British-Hungarian writer and interdisciplinary artist working in collaboration with sound and performance artist Billy Leach. Together they present new video artwork featuring two digital characters from life simulation computer game The Sims @Disturbance, Ugly Duck on November 30. As the queer avatars lounge in a hyperreal landscape of pink water, subtitles relay their inner thoughts of desire and cyber embodiment as similarly world-making entities.


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