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Alan Butler at FACT Gallery, Liverpool
States of Play: Roleplay Reality

  • Thursday 22 March 2018

Alan Butler's project, Down and Out in Los Santos, (2015-ongoing) has been selected for 'States of Play: Roleplay Reality', curated by Lucy Sollitt and Lesley Taker.

Photographic series and sculptural elements (variable dimensions).

The Grand Theft Auto franchise paints a twisted parody of the American Dream. Its characters’ lives are shaped by a marked lack (or excess) of wealth or opportunity as well as dysfunctional social relationships. This is undercut by a tongue-in-cheek critique of mass capitalism, bringing into focus those most marginalised by the ever deepening economic divide.


Alan Butler’s photographs are created by exploiting a smartphone camera feature within Grand Theft Auto V. Players can put away guns and knives, and instead take photos within the game world. Using this environment as an experimental field, Down and Out in Los Santos documents the plight of the homeless and impoverished within the game. As Butler notes, these non-playable characters (NPCs) “never intersect with the narrative”, but rather are just there in the background. Like the protagonists, they appear to be “programmed to self-identify”: they seek out others like themselves, trapped in an inescapable situation.

Alan Butler (b. 1981) is a Dublin-based artist. His work often conceptually reflects and refracts the inner workings of the internet, the implications of new media technology, and the politics of appropriation.

States of Play: Roleplay Reality

22 March 2018 - 17 June 2018, FACT Gallery , Liverpool

The roles we play, both on and offline, reflect and shape our realities. States of Play: Roleplay Reality considers how roleplay - found in many video games - can be used as tactic to reflect, contest and move beyond real-world power structures. No longer to be understood merely as a place of escape, the game realm and the ‘real world’ have collided. 

As changes in technology enable a broader range of people to make games, the limitations of commercially driven high-budget titles have been accentuated. Gamergate, a volatile scandal which exposed deep-rooted sexism in the industry, showed not only that the physical and virtual are inseparable, but also exposed the radically differing views that make up today’s game culture. This constantly shifting landscape is set against a wider backdrop of global uncertainty: the rise of right-wing extremism; the contesting of traditionally predominant narratives by previously marginalised voices; as well as an ever-increasing convergence between the physical and virtual, fact and fiction.

Within this context, States of Play: Roleplay Reality brings together artworks and industry games to explore how the roles we play expose our true realities: with all of our contradictory motivations, biases and assumptions. The result of this can be joyous and disturbing, freeing or subjugating, but now - more than ever - it is impossible to separate our physical identities with the roles that we take up in virtual space.


Curated by Lucy Sollitt and Lesley Taker.

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