Artist Lawrence Lek's new creation, Sky Line, placesusers inside an alternate, virtual London, one which uses the capital’s iconic subway system, specifically the part known as the Circle line, as the focal point for an open world video game. Users can board this floating version of the train network and jaunt between London's independent galleries and project spaces at will.
"Simulations are simply extracts of reality, and I think it's important for them to subvert the structure of the external world in some subtle way," notes Lek. "With Sky Line I wanted to take a tube train—the most functional, everyday public transport machine—and turn it into the focus of the whole world. As if this train was no longer just a way to get around the city, but became the entire point of London itself."
The alternate London of Lek's downloadable game is one in which the Thames river has burst its banks and flooded the city, leaving behind "just enough architectural symbols for it to be recognised as neo-liberal, post-Olympics London." While it may feature some recognizable symbols, it's a London of both familiarity and alienation—and not just because of the minimalist design.
Explaining the perceptions of London as a city of social mobility, where anyone can go anywhere, Lek cites Dickens in asking, “What if in this world, you had already arrived at the top? The game is really about access—its version of utopia is simply a city where the wanderer can get to anything. The train is all for you, all the time. Public transport essentially becomes private transport."
If you've been to London, you'll know that unreliable weather is also a big part of the city's charm—it’s also a big part of the game, too. "The entire world is geared around this idea of a cycle, of the eternal return: the day lasts ten minutes long, the same amount of time it takes for the train to make one loop around the track. The player becomes gradually aware of the passing of time, because of the accelerated rate that the sun rises and sets, casting shadows on the landscape. Along with the randomized weather, these subtle shifts in atmosphere are meant to portray London as some kind of exotic landscape. The feeling with Sky Line should be that there's always something beyond, a hidden zone to discover."
As well as creating an open world space for users to explore and get lost in with portals and easter eggs to discover, Lek says the game is also a response to the limited amount of independent galleries and project spaces in London. The game combats this by turning the train stations on the Circle line into explorable virtual versions of real life independent galleries. “In Sky Line's simulated world, socio-economic structures don't exist. So it's possible to have a train line dedicated solely to the world of independent art projects. No propaganda, no commerce, no tickets needed.”
Sky Line is the latest effort in Bonus Levels, a series of utopian virtual worlds Lek has created. Creating these simulated environments allows him to explore whatever subjects or landscapes he wants, using their freedom and multifaceted natures to continue what he calls, "Sculpting through simulation."
"People often criticise games in terms of creating attentional deficiency. But I think it's the opposite—they can create a world of full awareness," notes Lek. "It's not all an introspective experience. Growing up with console gaming, the social aspect of the world is just as important to me. So when I exhibit these worlds, it's always in some kind of multiplayer setting. Even when they're not in control of the movement, people like to watch how others travel around the world. There's something beautiful in that: somebody watching somebody else wandering."
Download and explore Lawrence Lek's Sky Line here.