We Dwell in Possibility
Made by: Robert Yang and Eleanor Davis
Release date: July 7, 2021
Review date: July 17, 2021
Reviewed by: GDLP
Emoji summary: 🍆👅💐
Spoilers: nothing to spoil really
During the first lockdown, I thought a lot about what life would be like after the pandemic had passed. Back then, I was stuck in a high pressure living situation caring for my Nan. Bodyguard for other bodies making sure COVID didn’t get through the door. It was a rough 4 month beginning to all this earthly drama because she had carers coming in multiple times through the day and the night so her safety was impossible to hold onto. I tried though, and I tried to stay sane while I was there. It’s funny, I always thought that at the end of the world, I would drop everything and run towards my hero. Kiss him with the backdrop of an atom bomb. But this was a slow biological explosion instead and in this reality, touch was a new poison. I was locked away from him and going mad in another postcode. And in that solitude, I thought constantly about mortality and company. As I got more used to my isolation, I felt the world around me become deeply un-erotic. And I think that’s why I thought about life after the pandemic so much, because I assumed that is when eroticism would return — not just for me but for everybody who had subscribed to social distancing so deeply. One day in the future, I imagined there would be a great release.
The 2019 film Midsommar had just come on streaming services and I watched it for the first time in quarantine. The group mating scene (balmy naked people screaming their way towards reproduction) presented the polar opposite of my life in that moment. Again, I felt like I was going mad, and in my madness I started to make prophecies about life after lockdown. Namely, I imagined rates of public sex would sky-rocket. I thought — and I still think — people will have been so starved of touch that they’ll throw themselves at one another like thick spaghetti getting slapped on a wall to see what sticks. It’ll be in the parks, all the parks. Planes, trains and automobiles. It’ll be everywhere. Something on a species-level will possess the instincts of the population to reproduce in an attempt to offset coronavirus death counts. But also, something euphoric will overwhelm us all and sex will tumble out of homes and onto the roads in an effort to recuperate the joy that had to be put on hold. I imagine the public excusing their Britishness for the summer and going full on European as they try to reconnect; become a public once again. A new queer default — full love. That will be the great release.
I thought back then that life after lockdown would look a little like Midsommar and a lot like Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Bodies layered on top of each other, with limbs branching out like fruit trees. A stranger on all fours with flowers coming out of their anus; another one climbing into a huge clam (into somebody else’s body). Back to nature, back to water; back to the wet and wild. A dream in which the pandemic survivors find one another and live in an oasis together until the end of time. Something like that, anyway. I don’t know. I was so wound up by fear and loneliness that imagining this future became my sad pastime. The ideas and the imagery were optimistic and I guess that helped me then, in its own abstract way.
I’m thinking back to it now because I played the new game by Robert Yang and Eleanor Davis, commissioned for this year’s Manchester International Festival. In the few minutes it takes to play ‘We Dwell in Possibility’ from start to finish, these public sex thoughts came flooding back. The game reached forward, pinched that memory hard out of me, and out come this roundabout review ready to catch it. And it’s a very stiff moment to stop and think about both the game and the world the game exists within: this review goes out the day before all restrictions are lifted in England and it’s an underwhelming moment both personally and publicly. I am mostly housebound with Long COVID, and even though lots of the population are vaccinated, many are staying home lest they end up like me. We can’t have Bosch-come-true yet, it simply isn’t safe. So what do we do instead?
‘We Dwell in Possibility’ presents the player with an empty garden. It tells us we can’t win or lose the garden, and then a flock of naked bodies walk on and off the screen continuously until the game is done. Some of them carry flowers that we can click out of their hands and place in the ground automatically. They are big and blossoming. There are upside-down palm trees, wilting purple flowers, rose bushes. The plants occasionally squeeze out a shower of cum-drops that rain on the people around them. And the people bring more and more things into the scene. Couches, tents, stereos, huge coffee cups, and items I can’t quite pin words to: like two limp translucent C shapes that remind me of both wotsits and silicone sex toys. There’s a black and purple fountain-looking thing that reminds me of Paul McCarthy’s butt plug Christmas tree that caused a scandal in France a few years ago too. Continuing to bring the heat, the little bodies also carry projector screens with porn playing out on a loop. And less hot, big police hats with a Pride-rainbow stripe along its ugly curves.
The people in the game move constantly until they stop to kiss and hold each other. You can press F to speed up the simulation and the bodies look frantic as they stream through the garden. Please note, you can press F once again to bring the speed down to a cool 69%. Some of the people wear flowers on their head, others MAGA hats. And eventually, day cycles into night and they disappear into tents in the garden and things come to an end. Away from sight, we imagine they cum to an end as we ll.
It’s quick, light, and it’s easy to sit back and watch as the game plays out. You can play or you can witness. Like, you can place things but design doesn’t feel like the goal here — it is a little out of our control, a little messy. Our place as the player is like… holding a hand under running water and watching as the flow splits into different streams between your fingers. Something you don’t do for long but that still piques at something natural and somatic while it’s happening.
The art overtop of this gameplay is a little more restrained. It’s pretty and polite, like if Cath Kidston did a botanical nude range (why that would happen, I do not know). Then, these moments of political critique poke through the wholesome garden atmosphere. Sweet pink hearts float over crotches or they don’t and the bodies are free. And this cluster of design feels fine but it feels like it is the beginning of something, or the edge; it’s the engine revving and then it is silent. I enjoyed the loop and I played it multiple times to see what I could see, but it was like finding the middle piece of a jigsaw and thus I felt my mind scrambling to create the rest of the picture. That’s when my public sex prophecy stepped in; the post-pandemic Woodstock-like sexual adventure that might be precisely the culture players need during this tense, untouchable stasis.
‘We Dwell in Possibility’ didn’t give me the fullness I was craving, it just hinted at the nation’s empty stomach. But I enjoyed thinking about that emptiness and what might have to happen to refill it. The game allowed me to dwell in possibility with a quick advert for one kind of future. It’s the type of work that feels right for right now, like it’s better than dwelling on the realness of lockdown malaise. This game was an imagining of what is to come through creative optimism and a good pastiche of human interaction. I think this is the kind of culture that will keep us, well, alive.
You can play the game for free here.