'We Dwell in Possibility' Lets You Build a Garden, Not Control It

Full frontal nudity, ejaculating flowers, cops waving Pride flags. Robert Yang’s new collaboration with illustrator Eleanor Davis has it all.
July 9, 2021, 1:03pm
Screenshot (753)
Screenshots courtesy of Robert Yang, Eleanor Davis

It starts with a plain patch of grass and a few blossoming flowers. Some pleasantly chiming music, and then the arrival of the first naked peep, their cartoon penis swinging gently as they walk. Another peep, this time with a penis and breasts, then one more wearing a police hat. Suddenly, a jiggling cavalcade arrives through the lush foliage, some dancing to music, others stopping to watch a porno projected onto canvas. “This is a garden,” goes the on-screen text. “You can’t ‘win’ or ‘lose’ a garden.”

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Like a real life garden, the virtual one in We Dwell in Possibility is a beautiful place to pass some time. It’s the new game by digital artist, game maker, and former NYU professor Robert Yang who collaborated with illustrator Eleanor Davis for Manchester International Festival. Perhaps you’re familiar with Yang’s string of delightfully provocative queer games. The most well-known of these is 2017’s The Tearoom, a public bathroom sex simulator, and the most recent is Hard Lads, a riff on this viral video of British beefcakes drinking, smoking, kissing, and hurting one another. Yang’s new so-called queer gardening sim swaps the CG gamer aesthetics of those titles for a gentler audio-visual approach without sacrificing any of his acerbic bite. I love it.

At first glance, We Dwell in Possibility has a similar vibe to a few other games. There’s a dash of the slapstick crowd simulation found in Kids, and the gardening mechanic twinned with the illustrated visuals makes me think of the lovely Mutazione. But Yang and Davis’ game is entirely its own. You click your mouse or touch the screen to pick up an array of stimulating objects— ejaculating plants, giant butt plugs, the aforementioned pornos— while also jostling the peeps in particular directions. The point of all of this busy work? Well, Yang’s garden isn’t just a garden; it’s a public park, a space which has always been highly political (and still is). If you lean into metaphor, as Yang encourages you to do in accompanying notes, the garden (or park) is also a tiny, joyfully naked microcosm of society. It’s up to you what it looks like.

On a purely aesthetic level, the game thrums with the kind of high-pitched energy you might encounter in an actual garden of buzzing bees, chirruping birds, bounding dogs, and fornicating insects. Except we, the peeps, are the wildlife here, knocking about chaotically—wonderfully so. The dynamic steadily rises over the course of its roughly ten-minute playtime, the visuals and interactions beautifully complimented by aya and Andy Grier’s music and sound design.

The simulation aspect of We Dwell in Possibility stems from the interplay between the props and peeps themselves. They form an ecosystem with one another. Alongside the more playful objects, players might also recognize famous UK statues such as that of former Conservative prime minister William Churchill, and the now-defunct police boxes the public used to call the cops before cell phones existed. Your peeps are influenced by these objects, and subsequently sprout hats to reflect this while also developing their own politics. One, wearing what looked like a MAGA baseball cap, took it upon themselves to start carting off the tents of folks who lived in the park. I was furious. Then some anti-establishment garden-dwellers started to remove law enforcement paraphernalia. A balance was restored, kind of. 

It’s worth noting that everything in the game happens generatively. You could do nothing and just watch the garden evolve naturally, or you can try to micromanage it. The latter quickly becomes difficult as the screen fills up with its gyrating population, but I don’t think this should stop you from trying to exert at least a little influence. The beauty in We Dwell in Possibility stems from trying to steer this big, messy ship of conflicting ideas. Will your garden welcome police and union jack-toting peeps, or will it be a space of gleeful, unfettered hedonism? You might not be able to “win” or “lose” this garden, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t everything to play for.

We Dwell in Possibility is available right here until 18th July.