1st February – 19th April 2023
Cable Depot, 8, Submarine Cable Depot, Warspite Rd, London SE18 5NX
Cable Depot is excited to present Insert Coin, an exhibition exploring predatory monetization practices within video games, specifically loot boxes, and the ongoing insertion of gambling mechanics into virtual experiences.
As our physical lives are becoming increasingly gamified the game industry has, for almost twenty years, been inserting ways of gambling real world money into video games. From purchasing extra lives to play another level in Candy Crush to buying new cosmetic options for your guns in Call of Duty, spending money within video games has become increasingly prevalent.
One of the most prevalent and destructive forms of monetization are loot boxes, consumable virtual items that are bought within video games which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items, ranging from simple customization options for a player's avatar or character to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armour. As the items are randomised players have previously spent thousands of pounds attempting to gain specific products in different games. As these gambling mechanics have become more prevalent, with considerable harm being done to young people and players with gambling addictions, loot boxes are now illegal in several countries, whereas recently the UK government decided that loot boxes will not be regulated under betting laws.
Insert Coin contains a number of new works centering around loot boxes, with the central piece being a larger-than-life 3D printed replica of a loot box from the popular 2019 video game Apex Legends, a free-to-play battle royale-hero shooter. The loot boxes in Apex Legends are visualised and known as “Loot Ticks” within the game world. Within the game they are a benign form of robotic tick, hidden across a given in-game map and are visualisations of Apex Packs (loot boxes) within the game, purchasable from the in-game store. It is somewhat ironic that Apex Legends has named their loot box after a parasitic arachnid that feeds on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. The work is produced using a marble filament, referencing ideas of power, wealth and commodity, with occasional use of clear filament to speak about issues regarding the lack of transparency within technology companies and the false promises implied by the gambling industry. The Loot Tick is hung in the middle of the gallery, caught in a custom-made bright orange cargo net, as if the loot box has been captured, ready to be dispatched or punished.
The act of visiting the exhibition space has been gamified, with visitors being encouraged to spin a rotating painting to win prizes. On entering the gallery you are provided with a loyalty card, traditionally seen in cafes to encourage repeat business where, if you buy nine cups of coffee, you’ll get the tenth for free. In this case, once stamped, the loyalty card enables the visitor to have one free spin of the painting. The painting, made up of six separate categories, enables the visitor to land on a series of algorithmically generated images of luxury items, consisting of private planes, houses, yachts, sports cars, private islands and passports. Once spun visitors are able to select their prize from a series of wall-based 3D printed shelves that contain a number of 3D printed sculptures resembling and referencing each of the six categories.
The other painting in the exhibition is an archive of twenty-five loot boxes from twenty-five different video games produced over the past fifteen years, from Fortnite to Call of Duty, illustrating the breadth of designs and how far these harmful practices have infiltrated the games industry.
The floor of the gallery is a red carpet painted with an orange repeating pattern, produced from and inspired by a variety of different loot boxes from a series of popular video games. The elaborate patten, accompanied by the somewhat grotesque colour scheme, references intricate casino carpeting, which is said to be overly complex and confusing in order to push visitors to keep their eyes on the slot machines and gambling tables whilst simultaneously creating a somewhat exciting, otherworldly, adrenaline-pumping atmosphere. The walls of Cable Depot have been painted bright orange, with the colour commonly associated with ideas of optimism and energy, referencing the initial appeal of loot boxes and gambling experiences, and continues to transform the gallery into a gamified, painfully stimulating, space.
The final work included in Insert Coin is a CGI video exploring the history of loot boxes from the point of view of an anthropomorphised loot box called Wally. The video travels through various video game landscapes, originally released in the early 2000s before loot boxes came to prominence, whilst Wally speaks to the viewer about the video game industry, their complex ancestral history and the part they play within the gamification of our lives. The video is accompanied by a small 3D printed version of the Wally, waving to audience members.
Insert Coin at Cable Depot is an exploration of loot boxes in video games, how they have transformed the video game industry and the gamification of everyday life.