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Third World: The Bottom Dimension by Gabriel Massan
Gabriel Massan, Third World: The Bottom Dimension, 2023 [Video Game]. Featuring Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar & LYZZACourtesy of Gabriel Massan

Gabriel Massan explores the Black Brazilian experience through gaming

Third World: The Bottom Dimension is an exhibition and playable video game taking place at London’s Serpentine North

Reflections are everywhere in Gabriel Massan’s new exhibition, Third World: The Bottom Dimension. Upon entry, viewers are greeted with a series of digital screen installations depicting scenes from the Brazilian, Berlin-based multimedia artist’s videogame, made in collaboration with Brazilian interdisciplinary artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro and Novíssimo Edgar, and musician LYZZA. Fantastical and organic creatures in the form of 3D animated sculptures move across expansive digital landscapes, their motions reflected in mirrored pools within the exhibition space, while a webular network of string reminds us that everything is interconnected – and that perception is something that should always be questioned. 

Taking place at London’s Serpentine, Third World: The Bottom Dimension is part of the Serpentine Arts Technologies programme, which looks at how artists can use gaming engines and simulations to build new worlds. For Massan, it’s an opportunity to bring players into his own universe, an ever-evolving eco-system that explores the Black Brazilian experience, with fantasy elements that recreate the systems of inequality that shape the lived experience of those growing up in what the West calls a ‘third world’ country.

“I’m really interested in the relations and situations that can arise from inequality – and the term ‘third world’ is something I’ve heard my entire life,” Massan begins. “We have an image of what it means to be from a ‘third world’ that’s fed to us by the media, history books, and economists. But this also adds a fantasy aspect that’s a different world, a different possibility. I was interested in playing with this digitally, and having multiple people bring in their own perspectives.”

Third World is an open-map game divided into two levels, one designed by Brasileiro and the other, Edgar. There’s no main characters, rather the player is left to navigate the different environments, challenges and objectives independently from the surrounding digital ecosystem. “We really wanted to make the environment something that lives before you play, and something that stays there leaving the system after play,” Massan explains. “The story doesn’t depend on you to exist, it doesn’t rely on your objectives.” This encourages players to step out of their own ego, challenging neo-colonial hierarchies by looking at the world through the eyes of its creators, who each offer their own unique perspective.

“For me, storytelling is a technology that we can use to address and manifest change” – Gabriel Massan

Brasileiro’s level builds on her experience as a psychologist, performer and healer to cast an ecological lens on the past as a way to learn about the present. Focusing on the idea of transmutation, and spiralling, Bantu-Brazilian notions of time, the player experiences a series of flashbacks – “those small movies can make this atmosphere of another’s time,” she explains. The level begins with game character Funfun arriving in the world only to realise that the world doesn’t need them. “The planet already has a complex community and it doesn’t need Funfun – Funfun needs them. I was talking a lot with Gabriel about the colonial dimension of our life. This is our life, and sometimes we come to other countries, cultures, and peoples, and think ‘I'll take something they need’, and, in this reality, what they need is that Funfun, or you, get out of your place.”

While Brasileiro uses the past as a tool to learn and build better futures, Edgar’s level takes a more sinister turn, situated in the aftermath of an invasion. Here the character is heavier, the movements more laboured, to mirror the felt experience of colonial oppression. “The idea is to transform the gameplay and narrative by metaphorically distributing this perspective throughout the stages of the level, thinking that the environment in conspiracy can be the protagonist of the story and grant the player the opportunity to go beyond just killing characters and collecting items, but to create memories and dialogue with the universe created there,” he explains.

For the OST, Massan called on Amsterdam-based producer and vocalist LYZZA, whose sound design evokes feelings of nostalgia and adrenaline. “The sound design ties into the themes of the game as I've made sure to incorporate a lot of Black and Brazilian elements into the soundtracks and reclaim how over the years Latin America has been extremely forgotten when it comes to electronic music, even when it's rhythms are constantly re-purposed in major euro-centric festivals and clubs,” she says. “Besides that, people tend to forget how important sound is to make something visual truly come to life.”

Third World is playable via Steam but it’s best experienced within the exhibition, where site-specific set designs, sculptures, and sounds feel like the game sprouting to life around you. “Close your mind to start,” flashes an on-screen instruction – and while this might seem misleading – surely we should be opening our minds? – it captures Massan’s main objective: to step outside our own experiences and into the minds of others. I want to create the experience of walking through possibilities and memories of life and narrative,” concludes Massan. “For me, storytelling is a technology that we can use to address and manifest change.”

Third World: The Bottom Dimension takes place at Serpentine North between June 23 and October 22