We Are Here Because of Those Who Are Not: Claiming the Para Real

00:17:00,210Cade Diehm: Danielle! It's so great to see you! I hope that you're doing well.00:17:02,610

00:17:03,660Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Yeah! it's good to see you too. And I am doing well, so that's really great.00:17:09,420

00:17:10,230Cade Diehm: Today, we're talking a little bit about the broader meshing of games and art, and the spaces that are being created right now.00:17:20,460 00:17:20,640What are we playing here? Like, what is this?00:17:22,500

00:17:22,560Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Yeah, so this is "Dead End Road", I would say it would come from the horror PS1 community, which is a community00:17:30,210 00:17:30,210that make PS1 type horror games, and essentially the game is you drive on the road and are haunted. That's all the game is.00:17:38,580

00:17:38,640Cade Diehm: PS1 Actually, like, being like playstation one from like, yeah, 90s, right, early 90s.00:17:43,320

00:17:43,350Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: So, like the early 90s, like very low poly, low fidelity graphics, you just have to make more up in your mind than00:17:51,720 00:17:51,720actually what you're seeing. I don't know, I really like it. This is actually the first PS1 horror game, modern PS1 horror game, that00:18:02,040 00:18:02,040I actually played, the aesthetic has just hooked me. It's just been something that I've used in my work. It's been something that I've really00:18:08,160 00:18:08,160been inspired by. These older games kind of have this texture to them, this like grit. It almost feels like you can, you can feel the effort that00:18:19,110 00:18:19,110went into like making it work on a system that doesn't quite render 3-D well. And so, when that's replicated for me, it feels really nostalgic,00:18:29,460 00:18:29,490and really nice, and at the same time, for me, they can really, like, amp up particular moods.00:18:35,670

00:18:35,820Cade Diehm: It's funny too, because like, it's not just that she doesn't look right, it's also because like, her eyes don't have pupils and it's hard to tell00:18:43,050 00:18:43,410because of the resolution.00:18:44,400

00:18:44,430Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Yeah, exactly. Like and like the thing with this aesthetic is like you got to make up your mind what you're actually seeing, like you're filling00:18:50,370 00:18:50,370in the gaps more than actually what the game is telling you, because the game is like I can't be bothered to actually show you everything.00:18:55,590 00:18:59,760Oh, God.00:19:00,240

00:19:02,550Cade Diehm: I'm low-key concerned right now.00:19:04,710

00:19:07,230Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Ah, ha, ha. I just love this aesthetic, so much. Like, for me, this is like a perfect point to talk about, like,00:19:18,270 00:19:18,270user input, and how you can make them feel like invested even if what you say doesn't have any effects, like what I'm going to request from00:19:26,190 00:19:26,190Dark Powers is trans power. And that's accepted. And for me, that's something that I really want to take into my work.00:19:35,550

00:19:41,490Cade Diehm: That's often used in your work, and that user input is like, tell me more about why you liked that.00:19:48,150

00:19:48,330Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: When I played a lot of games in the past that I often felt like I was playing a role and position that had00:19:53,970 00:19:53,970nothing to do with me. And I couldn't really be involved in, but when I write "trans power" at the beginning it doesn't actually do anything, I00:20:01,410 00:20:01,410don't think it affects the game. Maybe I have to type the same thing at the end, but just because it let me do that. I feel like that's the thing00:20:09,030 00:20:09,030I'm working towards.00:20:10,140

00:20:10,170Cade Diehm: Just simple mechanic to add some kind of investment for the player that like...00:20:14,250

00:20:14,670Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Right, exactly, exactly. You, you put in your own game mechanic there just for a second, you know? Okay. Why I00:20:27,720 00:20:27,720moved from kind of performance to, to video games is because- so during the performance, I, you know, I was kind of making similar work and00:20:39,450 00:20:39,450I made this piece called digging for Black trans life, which is all about digging for history of Black trans people, and not finding any and00:20:47,670 00:20:47,670wishing that I could speak to Black trans ancestors who are just Black trans people of the past. Yeah, and so the whole, the whole thing00:20:56,550 00:20:56,550is, I mean, you know, my aesthetic, it's very clear what it's about. But the problem I was finding is that people were finding it very easy00:21:03,030 00:21:03,030to consume it, and because I was performing, it was kind of something they could step into, not think about themselves at all, and see as a kind00:21:11,730 00:21:11,730of wacky, fun thing to look at. And, that started to really grate on me. And within this work, I actually had false choices within the00:21:22,830 00:21:22,830film, so there were these choices that would come up, and they, you know, they'd be predetermined, essentially, it's a video, and00:21:30,060 00:21:30,150after that show, I decided that I, I wasn't going to be like the center of attention anymore, I wasn't going to be the trans person00:21:37,470 00:21:37,470you can come and visit and look at, and instead, anyone, everyone that's coming to see the show is actually the one that's performing.00:21:45,240

00:21:46,290Cade Diehm: Yeah.00:21:46,740

00:21:46,980Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: And, so that's how I kind of got into making video games, was that I decided that the performance would only happen00:21:54,450 00:21:54,450by the people, the participants coming in.00:21:56,730

00:21:57,060Cade Diehm: You decentered, you decentered yourself and replace the player ego as the central figure.00:22:04,200

00:22:04,530Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Yeah, I think what I did is like, I tried, I was like, what's the best way to center to Black trans people, and00:22:10,980 00:22:11,430decented this gaze that like, people would like to look at me because they see me as an other, and that's why they're coming to see this work.00:22:19,020 00:22:20,460And, so-- I'm gonna buy that-- so, for me, the best way to do that was to make everything that someone sees responsible to that00:22:30,960 00:22:30,960single person. Oh, oh, this is...00:22:36,300

00:22:36,330Cade Diehm: Oh!00:22:37,320

00:22:37,380Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: It's one of those games, aye?00:22:38,940

00:22:40,920Cade Diehm: New game.00:22:42,090 00:22:42,330New game time.00:22:43,410

00:22:43,470Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Okay, so new game. So, the story of this game is, um, that it's actually one of the first Gameboy Advance games00:22:53,250 00:22:53,250or games I had. And it's the one I remember the most. Like, I honestly don't remember much of what I played on GameBoy Advance apart from Doom00:23:01,350 00:23:01,710and this game, and it's a very trashy, GTA clone. And in fact, I can't even believe they put this video on a Gameboy Advance. Like, it's00:23:12,750 00:23:12,750just ridiculous. Like, everything about this is ridiculous, like, and the game, when I replayed it recently, it was, it's terrible. Like, it's00:23:22,140 00:23:22,140not great. It's not great, but my only memories are, it was amazing. And I lived in it and I breathed, and it was the first game that I would00:23:29,610 00:23:29,610like, I would do stuff like, obey by the traffic light...00:23:32,790

00:23:32,820Cade Diehm: Yeah.00:23:33,180

00:23:33,900Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: ...and walk the streets with the other pedestrians and just pretend I'm having a nice day and then00:23:37,890 00:23:37,890occasionally crash a bus and like, "oh, I just have to defend myself," and so for me, this game has that kind of history, but at the same time,00:23:46,830 00:23:46,860just look at the aesthetic.00:23:48,000

00:23:49,710Cade Diehm: It's a mess.00:23:50,190

00:23:50,670Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: It's a mess and I'd love it.00:23:52,260

00:24:03,450Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: For me, I think about, like, alternative histories like a lot. Like, I think about them all the time. And I think, so the first kind of00:24:11,910 00:24:11,910alternative history I think about is, what happens if we didn't lose any Black trans history at all? And if all the Black trans00:24:19,170 00:24:19,170history in the world was still here, and hadn't been erased and buried? And so, so for me, like I see technology as a way to kind of try and00:24:30,840 00:24:30,840think about that. When I think about video games, like the first thing I try to do, I try and like replicate Black trans people in them.00:24:37,740 00:24:38,220And usually in video games, the team doesn't reflect that at all, so you usually can't get something that actually reflects you wholly.00:24:45,510

00:24:45,660Cade Diehm: What do you mean by that?00:24:46,560

00:24:47,250Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: The teams are usually made up of a very particular demographic, and because of that, you don't get00:24:52,560 00:24:52,590the range that the game would have if the demographics were different. So like, how would this game differ if the team was Black and00:24:59,970 00:24:59,970trans? And how would their representation of Black people? How would the representation of the places Black people are living? How would00:25:07,500 00:25:07,500the representation of all of those things be if the actual team was Black? And how, how would the game mechanics different? Like what00:25:15,270 00:25:15,270mechanics would actually be in a game that was designed by a Black person, designed by an entire Black team? What would be the point of00:25:21,570 00:25:21,570video games if the industry was actually designed by Black people itself? Like, would the point be less of entertainment? Will it be more00:25:30,030 00:25:30,030of art? Would they be seen differently? Or would they be seen as more of a nuisance? All of this kind of stuff. And so for me, like video games00:25:37,080 00:25:37,080take on this strange kind of phenomenon, it's that they're usually just seen as like fun entertainment for people with money to spend00:25:45,150 00:25:45,150time on. This is the weird thing, like video games aren't really seen as, like worth anything apart from entertainment. It's not the same00:25:50,970 00:25:50,970thing as like a movie, you don't really get a video game that's cerebral in the sense that someone will talk about it in an analysis and00:25:58,350 00:25:58,350say, like, this game will change your life, and like, it's a really good look into the studies of like how humans are destroying the world.00:26:06,300 00:26:06,330Usually, it's like you're the person destroying the world, and it's fun, then you turned off the game when the game's done. That, that's there00:26:12,570 00:26:12,570because like you had a certain subset of like white men making these games. They weren't really using games to make issues; they were00:26:19,920 00:26:19,920using games for fun. They're using games to make entertainment for thier other buddies who own £3,000 computers. And then putting them in00:26:28,200 00:26:28,200the universities and using the privilege of the university system to actually like test the first MMO RPG.00:26:34,410

00:26:34,440Cade Diehm: The first, deathmatch was made on university computers, right?00:26:37,410

00:26:37,590Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Back in the days like they didn't have like game engines that were easy to use, like Unity. So like, you know,00:26:41,460 00:26:41,460they're, they're often building a whole new kind of engine just for one game. For example, we'll use payback as a, as an example, this terrible00:26:48,810 00:26:48,810game engine, what it can do is simulate a city, kind of, barely, you have cars in it, have you run around, phone calls, sounds, all this stuff.00:26:57,720 00:26:58,200But the only thing this engine does is support this game in which like, it has no story, doesn't say anything, it doesn't do anything,00:27:05,130 00:27:05,190it's lost time. That's it. You know, it's a bit of entertainment, a bit of fun. It's a material, they made an entire material that could have00:27:13,710 00:27:13,710been used to say something. You know, that could have been used to actually replicate something. Or, at least like imbue this material with, like, a00:27:23,670 00:27:23,670soul. And, I feel like often these, these games, these things don't really have a soul, they have an aim, which is to make money, and which is to00:27:33,000 00:27:33,000make something entertaining enough, or like violent enough so that people will buy it. But, I don't think we often get games, though we were00:27:41,460 00:27:41,460getting more now, with like with the indy scene, but I don't think we often get games that stray very far away from that and say like, "no, this00:27:48,750 00:27:48,750game, it's not for everyone, it's only for a specific group of people- anyone else that will play it will feel uncomfortable, because this00:27:55,650 00:27:55,650game isn't trying to be what the gaming industry calls games." And is instead trying to use the the material of a game engine, the material of00:28:04,800 00:28:04,800choices, the material of interactive media, as a way to make something more clear and make something more easily understood.00:28:14,040

00:28:14,700Cade Diehm: Yeah, yeah. Like this one, for example, or whatever. Yeah.00:28:18,210

00:28:18,810Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Yeah, I mean, I used to play this game, I mean, all the time. On a smaller screen. Mind you. Okay, we're00:28:23,220 00:28:23,220switching games, though. 'Cause this game is making me sick.00:28:26,100

00:28:26,160Cade Diehm: Let's do it. Let's do it.00:28:27,330

00:28:30,330Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: I think it runs better like this, actually. That's very funny. Yeah, it does.00:28:33,570

00:28:36,270Cade Diehm: Okay, so what's coming up? What have you got next?00:28:38,670

00:28:40,590Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: So next is ASCII Sec.00:28:42,900

00:28:43,890Cade Diehm: Let's play this.00:28:44,610

00:28:45,870Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Okay, so first name. Let's say, okay I guess. Oh, I'll just go into my, eh, digital name.00:28:51,960 00:28:57,720I can't. Uuuuh, okay. Virtual trans will do.00:29:01,620 00:29:01,950Here...00:29:02,250 00:29:02,340Last name.00:29:02,760

00:29:02,760Cade Diehm: There you go. Yeah.00:29:03,510

00:29:03,660Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Perfect. So this is a perfect place to begin.00:29:08,190

00:29:10,260Cade Diehm: We're already here.00:29:11,010

00:29:12,420Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: So could- this is- Okay, hi, everyone. This is ASCII Sec. So this is a simulation of an entire galaxy, which you00:29:20,490 00:29:20,490can go around and kind of trade essentially. That's all you do. And this screen is the perfect screen to kind of begin on because this00:29:29,610 00:29:29,610kind of gives you an idea of who's made this game. And it gives you an idea of who this game is for instantly. And so something that games00:29:37,110 00:29:37,110don't usually do, they give you the choice to write your name, they give you to choice to write your first name and last name, as seen00:29:42,360 00:29:42,360here. But, when it comes to your gender, the, they've made the decisions for you already. You know, there's a decision that's been made there00:29:50,190 00:29:50,220that saying that, okay, like this is the kind of thing we're adhering to: we have the entirety of space to think about, but gender must only be00:30:00,930 00:30:00,930male and female00:30:01,680

00:30:01,680Cade Diehm: Believing in a gender binary. Yeah.00:30:03,090

00:30:03,120Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: And for me, this is kind of like- in seeing this, none of us are surprised. You know? And this is kind of what I00:30:10,290 00:30:10,290think is imbued within the industry is that there's so many choices that are made for you, made for the people that they think they're00:30:16,680 00:30:16,680making the games for. Like, they have games for, like, girls; they have games for, like, boys; they have games for, like, older men; they have00:30:22,770 00:30:22,770games for, like, older women; like all of this kind of stuff. And they have big teams to kind of like, push them towards that. And so there's00:30:30,540 00:30:30,570been like, a thousand decisions made towards why Animal Crossing is great for girls, you know? But, at the same time, it's like pushing00:30:39,270 00:30:39,300everything towards a very particular, segmented, gender based, role based kind of industry in which most of the industry is run and held by00:30:51,150 00:30:51,150men. And, so I find that, like I find, I often find games super frustrating, because the things that you get to do and the things that you want00:30:59,760 00:30:59,760to do, oh, they all feel like they have this particular gaze that you just can't escape from, regardless of which game you jump to.00:31:07,380

00:31:07,380Cade Diehm: We have the whole galaxy ahead of us, and we immediately constraint in a system that, theoretically could simulate anything we00:31:15,870 00:31:15,870want..00:31:16,110

00:31:16,410Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Right.00:31:16,500

00:31:16,500Cade Diehm: even within that, even with everything that we've said in this idea of computers transcending the physical realm and00:31:23,190 00:31:23,190the borders and stuff like that, you land here, and our starting point for the simulation is still immediately shackled.00:31:31,950

00:31:31,950Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: For me, I find it weird. I find it's like a very particular kind of experience. They kind of want you to project00:31:41,280 00:31:41,280yourself onto the world, but at the same time, they make sure that there's limits there. But, they say those limits aren't political, they're00:31:48,690 00:31:48,690not a comment. They're not trying to make you do anything. And this, this phrase has stuck with me my entire life, which is "we don't want00:31:58,320 00:31:58,320politics in our games." When I think like there's so, there's just so much, I'm just I'm so surprised when I hear that, because I'm00:32:05,250 00:32:05,280always like, there's so many politics in our games. The reason why military shooters are super popular, and the military is also super00:32:13,380 00:32:13,380popular with people who like military shooters. Like there's a reason they used like Doom as a training simulation when it was really popular.00:32:19,890 00:32:20,820Like there's a reason all these things are political. But, at the same time, like games can kind of lavish in this idea that like, they're00:32:29,580 00:32:29,580just entertainment, they're not political at all, they're not really saying anything or doing anything, when I think they are. And, and I00:32:37,200 00:32:37,200think they can do way more if we were just allowed to.00:32:40,770

00:32:41,430Cade Diehm: What what do you think is needed to support this? Because it's clearly urgently needed, right?00:32:47,430

00:32:49,050Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: The thing is, it's like, what am I asking for is like, actually very straightforward and very simple, you know? It's like, a Black trans game00:32:59,400 00:32:59,400studio, you know? Just like you have all the other kinds of game studios out there. Like a Black trans game studo is all I'm asking for.00:33:08,160 00:33:08,160But actually, just something that simple, is super difficult to do, you know? And I don't think it's impossible at all. But that's, it's00:33:17,640 00:33:17,670like, that's the kind of point where it's like, even, even wanting a space that's for Black trans people to sit in, is very hard to find, so00:33:26,370 00:33:26,370very hard to keep, because no one has made the investment into our lives, and into the space, those spaces. And, I think that's what we're00:33:34,260 00:33:34,260missing out on is that people are not invested in hearing, like, the things we've got to say, the media we've got to create. It's not like,00:33:43,560 00:33:43,590it's not like a booming business, like trans people aren't being hired because people think that good storytellers, even if they are,00:33:49,950 00:33:50,430they're being hired because they needed a trans actor, you know? And I feel like the problem is it's like we're not seen as a worth, we're not00:33:59,370 00:33:59,370seen as worth more than actually what the mainstream kind of is putting on us.00:34:04,110 00:34:09,360That's it for this game. I don't know what's going on.00:34:11,640

00:34:25,889Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: So this is, current working title is "Ocean Remembers Your Body." And so it's a text based adventure game, in which you have to type all00:34:34,439 00:34:34,439your answers and responses. It's also secretly an archive. And it's, it's like my first kind of foray into creating a game just using just text,00:34:43,769 00:34:43,769pretty much. 'Kay, so the first thing that you get to choose is like your identity and depending on what your identity is, what you00:34:49,799 00:34:49,799will get told and how you can navigate this space, which is the ocean, changes a lot. So, what should we identify as?00:34:57,809

00:34:59,580Cade Diehm: Ummm, cis gay?00:35:00,390

00:35:03,510Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Nice.00:35:04,050

00:35:04,110Computerised Voice: Cis gay. The sea remembers your body. It shakes you violently and you lose consiousness. See, you gasp as you cough up the00:35:12,150 00:35:12,150saltwater trapped in your lungs, your eyes sting as you squint to look around. The sky is dark with a thick fog. The peaks of the waves are00:35:19,650 00:35:19,650illuminated by the soft glow of the moon. The water is thick and the waves heavy. Your head bobs up and down with the rhythm of the tide00:35:25,860 00:35:25,860dot. You should try looking at the words on the waves. You may understand what they have to say. You can look at things by typing "look at00:35:32,700 00:35:32,850subject." You can move in a direction by typing "north," "south," "east," or "west." To your north are some silent waters. To your south, you00:35:40,950 00:35:40,950notice some objects floating on the water. To your west, the sea is red. You can see words of the waves here. That's not a verb I recognize.00:35:48,540

00:35:51,000Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: There's this premise that I've been writing about called, about the wounds of the sea, and about how the00:35:56,070 00:35:56,070sea is 70% of the earth, and yet none, nothing that happens in it is ever recorded, because the oceans wash it away, and suddenly, it's you00:36:05,820 00:36:05,820can't really have a trace of what's happened on the surface of the sea because nothing gets built on the surface, and anything that does00:36:12,240 00:36:12,240happen on a boat is lost. And so I have this idea of these wounds of the sea, these huge gaps in history that we will never know what they00:36:21,750 00:36:21,750are, and we'll never get them back, but they did happen. And the sea has traces of them by how the waves move, by maybe what's deep below the00:36:32,280 00:36:32,280ocean, and what once decayed there, once fed the fish there, but at the same time, our access to it, it doesn't go up, we don't have any access00:36:41,190 00:36:41,250to it at all, and so within this game, it gives you access. And, depending on who you are and the choices that you make, determins on what happens00:36:52,320 00:36:52,320when you go into a wound. And, so it's more of like an exploration into a lack of archiving here, and how systems that don't allow us to00:37:01,560 00:37:01,560record can create erasure and what needs to happen in order for that erasure to dissolve.00:37:08,820

00:37:09,180Cade Diehm: We talked at the beginning about the authorship of the engines and the people who then build things on top of those engines,00:37:15,330 00:37:15,330especially from identity, from race, from class, and how they're completely separated. What, what is your approach to systematizing that? How much00:37:24,960 00:37:24,960of that does the engine assist you? And how much of it have you had to forge yourself?00:37:29,700

00:37:29,730Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: So for this one, I think the engine is pretty good because the coding language, maybe I can show you the coding00:37:36,360 00:37:36,360language. So right, on the left hand side is the coding language here. And so the bits of code and writing is the ocean remembers your body is a room.00:37:45,870 00:37:45,870What drew me to this one is that like, I could write stuff like gender is a value. The genders are cis, trans, and unknown.00:37:55,530 00:37:55,560Understand cismale, M or F, or female, or white, or English, or gay, or girl, or woman as cis. And like this may all change later, but like this,00:38:06,360 00:38:06,360to me is archiving something. Even within the code, it's like even the fact that you can read the code of this game and it says that, poetics00:38:16,860 00:38:16,890of what the, what the code is actually doing, and how it's segmenting people up and how none of this is neat at all, and how it's kind of00:38:25,860 00:38:25,860making, making a point. By the end of this game, you could have a print out of the code, and that is saying something one level below what the00:38:35,070 00:38:35,070game is saying. Something I like people to do is put in work, you know? I like people to like, want to look one level deeper, and I'm trying to00:38:45,420 00:38:45,450build a system that actually rewards that.00:38:47,910

00:38:51,630Computerised Voice: North. Silent waves. The texture of water here is more similar to oil. You see some figures made from liquid dancing on00:38:58,890 00:38:58,890top of the water. They shimmer in a continuous process of losing and regaining their shape. Swimming toward them, they notice you and dance00:39:05,400 00:39:05,400around you. To your east appears to be turbulent waters. To your south is the sea you began at. To your west the water is fresh. You can see00:39:13,740 00:39:13,740water people here.00:39:14,640

00:39:16,650Cade Diehm: Where can we find your work?00:39:17,670

00:39:17,700Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: And you can follow me on Instagram @ladydangfua [at Lady Dan G F U A]00:39:24,870

00:39:25,500Cade Diehm: Danielle. Thank you.00:39:26,820

00:39:27,000Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley: Thank you so much! And I enjoyed speaking with you.00:39:30,270