Title/Date: Brood (2019).
Author(s): Sophie Reid-Singer (sound Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra).
Place of Publication: “MELT Queer Festival (Visual Arts)” at Brisbane Powerhouse (Brisbane).
Feature Format: Single-player videogame.
Brood (2019) draws parallels between the controversial practice of selectively breeding domestic animals, such as the Sphynx cat, and Australia’s history of eugenics. The recessive gene causing ‘hairlessness’ in cats was identified in the 1960s in Toronto, Canada. Today, the practice of selective breeding is competitive and lucrative, while a lack of genetic diversity is linked to an increased risk of disease in our animal companions. Brood is an iteration of In Heat (2018), which was my first resolved exhibition, held at Greaser Gallery, for this project. In the centrepiece videogame of that installation, the user rolls a sphynx’s eye through a platformer adventure from a third-person point of view (POV) while avoiding surgical metal in this corporeal hellscape.
Brood is played from a first-person POV, tasking the user with “exiting the bed-womb”—a medically inaccurate 3D environment of a cyborg feline womb. The story begins with the user facing a CRT television, displaying a glitched video of my former roommate’s sphynx, Nudel. After rolling through the environment, when the user navigates to the end of either fallopian exit the User Interface which frames the screen animates teeth to consume the user and the game cycle is reset. In contrast to a classic goal-orientated gameplay system, Brood features no challenge, risk, or reward.
Brood parodies the aesthetics of several texts, including the 1990s Net art of Australian artist, Linda Dement; the Otherworld from survival-horror videogame Silent Hill; and the cyborg-shark (Clanker) at the centre of “Clanker’s Cavern,” which is the third level of the Nintendo 64 platformer epic Banjo Kazooie (Rare 1998).
For MELT Queer Festival (2019) at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Brood was installed on a tablet computer hanging with chains from a broken birdcage stand. The sculpture is held upright with an old crutch, lit with yellow caution lights, and embalmed in ‘Fragile’ packing tape—gesturing towards my description by medical professionals as a ‘falls risk’.
Imagery of cyborgs in this videogame did not emancipate disabled peoples from the strict legal conditions imposed by the Australian Government.
However, I learnt new skills for plotting a User Experience. The familiarity of the SNES controller was helpful in getting people to instinctively play. Additionally a time-out that returned the user to the beginning of the game, and a graphical element with instructions on how to play was beneficial. Most everyone who played went through twice to try and get a different ending–of which there was none.
Most pertinent to my project was this was the first time I experimented with exploiting Temporal Antialiasing (TAA), which was used to produce the effect in the game’s “climax”. I continued expanding on this throughout my candidature towards the resolution of Muliebrity [i]. I also began introducing hand-drawn textures at this stage, and learnt a great deal about UV mapping.
Players reported that Brood was not very fun to play. It is cringe-worthy. Moreover, because Brood is presented uncritically, it could be read as a condemnation of disability, reinforcing my Othering. Brood is individualistic and self-serving, returning little value to the conversation.
Nevertheless, Brood does have an affective soundtrack: a drum-loop constructed from recordings of skin-slapping, lip-smacking, and crutches clunking. This was made in collaboration with Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra.