At WTF, a simulated Thailand lures players to win a new future

Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts
Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

Can people challenge oppressive regimes and alter history if they believe in themselves? 

The video game trope of saving the world is central to WTF Gallery’s new exhibition, This History Is Auto-Generated, where experimental short films and AI-generated text adventures bring interactivity to the timeless question of free will; namely, is there a way to change a nation’s political fate?

“Living in Thailand made me think that, right now, we cannot imagine the future or any alternative political system apart from capitalism,” artist Nanut Thanapornrapee said at his exhibition’s opening.

At his exhibition, the 27-year-old artist, who is a gamer, juxtaposes surreal character models of civilians and soldiers with video game footage framed in today’s political malaise to create unsettling simulated realities – and challenge visitors to do no less than alter history.

To Narut, gaming’s natural capacity for roleplaying makes choose-your-own-adventure games an apt platform for audience interactivity. 

At his exhibition, visitors read an on-screen story prompt and can then use a keyboard to enter simple actions and make choices that will affect the unfolding story. While an AI engine seems to parse the consequences of their actions, the artist’s storyline asserts itself as it continues.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

“The AI and game are used as tool for us to reinterpret or think about something alternative  from the present day,” he said. “It gives us a way to interact with history that you would not be able to in real life.”

It also lends to more fantastic possibilities.

“You clearly cannot do these things in the real world for sure, like something that is really progressive or aggressive,” he added.

On the gallery’s first level above WTF’s bar, a row of idle computers sat. At this past weekend’s opening reception, Nanut ushered visitors past them and up one more floor to where the installation actually “begins” on the third floor.

There, the entire floor was dark but for a single lit screen. On it, a short film welcomed guests to in a mash-up of voices deepfaked from pop culture characters including Peter Griffin of Family Guy, Trevor Philips of Grand Theft Auto, and Morty from Rick and Morty.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

Behind the screen, beige computer towers were stacked into a monolith along with several displays showing films previewing the storylines that will be presented downstairs.

The low-quality and bizarro animations, uncanny narration and scenes from video games such as Roblox, Grand Theft Auto, and BioShock Infinite, set an eerie and surreal mood.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

Visitors can then head downstairs to pursue these story prompts. Each computer terminal there presents a narrative written by Nanut via AI Dungeon, an interactive text adventure game platform powered by artificial intelligence.

Scenarios include playing a soldier in the Royal Thai Armed Forces tasked with forging a new national identity for contemporary Thailand.

Another puts players in the role of a citizen in a divided Thailand, half of which is ruled by the military and the other being an anarchist state. How will they shape its future?

Nanut hopes these simulations feel plausible – and that players will realize their agency in the game also exists in the real world.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul / Coconuts

“What I want people to receive here is to experience that alternative realities could exist as they play them out,” he said. “It challenges the old generation’s attitudes of compliance with ‘this is how the world works.’ It should be the opposite.”

He said the alternative is the word we have: an eternal paralysis of intransigent attitudes.

“If we continue to do this now, we as humans will be stuck, unable to move forward,” he added. “Humans are more capable than being trapped in this system.”

This History Is Auto-Generated runs until the end of September at WTF Gallery and Cafe in Soi Sukhumvit 51, a short walk from BTS Thong Lo exit No. 1.

This History is Auto-Generated
WTF Gallery Bar & Cafe
Soi Sukhumvit 51
Gallery hours: 4pm-midnight, Wed-Sat; 2pm-6pm, Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

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