This morning I received a most interesting advertisement in my Instagram feed, an appeal to sell me a software package of digital assets of “Future Slums” so that I can “create the overpopulated metropolises of sci-fi dystopias or shantytowns of a not-so-distant future for the largest cities in the world today.” We know that these topographies are tropes of SciFi movies and games, but I suppose until I saw an advertisement for an actual kit of prepared building materials to create such spaces, I never realized such a thing existed.
What does it mean to have prepared kits of digital assets ready-made to recreate visual tropes of such spaces? The description on the website describes that the images are “inspired by the ungoverned, crime-ridden Kowloon Walled City” in Hong Kong. It promises a, “…plethora of vertical buildings, slum mega blocks, favelas, and highly-detailed prop pieces from clothing lines to air conditioners will help you construct slum-ridden scenes with intricate detail and realism!”And, yet, the Walled City was destroyed thirty years ago and turned into a beautiful public park! It isn’t the future, but a past that is a generation old.
What does it mean when a place destroyed thirty years ago is a model for a dystopian future? Of course, implicated in this are Orientalist and racist tropes of hordes of others. What might be the effects when this curated collection of digital assets are deployed to make new games of future dystopias modeled on past images of absent historical realities in specific cultural contexts? What happens when these classed and racialized mythological spaces overpopulated others become the general backdrops for the actions of avatars in games played by (predominately white? mostly male? what class are they?) people in global metropolises?