June: Tales from Cyberspace is a story set in a fictional metaverse
Children of Cyberspace are having a baby—a precocious young being named June—and they’d very much like you to raise her. Thankfully, June isn’t a real person—she is the first child of the metaverse, and the protagonist of the very first game by the multidisciplinary art group.
The metaverse is a huge buzzword these days, with most attention going (understandably and unsurprisingly) toward the material potential of building a “twinned” digital world, even as our physical one goes to pieces. Much of our ambient understanding of the metaverse is gleaned through headlines about brands and intellectual property, like Ariana Grande appearing in Fortnite or Roblox working with Netflix. It’s rare to see games tackle the existential nuances of this new frontier, which makes June all the more fascinating.
June: Tales from Cyberspace is a self-described “modern fable,” and offers an unusually non-commercial look at a fictional metaverse that has long been abandoned to semi-autonomous beings. It’s also a story about a non-binary entity coming of age in an environment literally built on binary code, and how they travel through the metaverse’s different biomes on a quest to discover themselves.
A forward-looking, futuristic setting
June’s world is ethereal, shaded in cool blues, greys and purples that complement a languid, emotional score by Jorge Juan B. Wieneke. First impressions of an early build reveal a futuristic, geometric setting that invites exploration and experimentation at your own pace, with different areas like the Valley of Bliss and Palace of Pleasure. It brings to mind a little bit of The Witness and logistical problems of Portal 2, with an added layer of contemplation over real-life artworks that have been digitally reproduced in the game. The team even created their own post-processing effects to bring June’s dreamlike look to life.
The art is from DSLcollection, a family-run private collection of fine art that recently pioneered a new kind of producer—or a sort of patron—in experimental video games. “We use the artists’ journey(s) from the collection as a source of inspiration for our own character’s journey,” explains game designer Calin Segal. “The artist’s journey is one of self-discovery, no matter what form of art you practice… translating them into this evolution of a young child in cyberspace allows us to develop a pretty complex character, and to explore different sides of existentialism: the side of blissful ignorance when you’re a child, that euphoric optimism when you get to your late teens, the self obsessed nihilism of your early adulthood… the romantic idealism at the end of life.”
For Segal, art in games is more than just a visual trophy—it doesn’t have to be reduced to imagery, but used to generate conceptual discourse. The role of art is a key part of what we need to think about, when we consider the metaverse that we want to create. “I think the metaverse has two aspects to it… it’s at the same time a real and imaginary place,” he says. “It’s the same as Mount Olympus, it’s a fictional place that we have created to give meaning to our times, and in the practical sense, it’s composed of this multitude of fragments, it will never be a centralised system.” Experimenting with fine art in games effectively allows traditional artists to tell their stories in different contexts, in a way that resonates with a new generation that navigates through these fragmented subcultures every day.
Different shades of metaverses
In talking to Segal and game producer Tiffany Attali, it’s clear just how personal June is to them as a character and a concept. “We discovered June before discovering the game, and we discovered what we wanted to do with her,” says Segal. “So then it was just a matter of creating [puzzles] and pacing that would allow the player to go through this progression of emotional states.” It’s a far cry from their first few game ideas that involved conventional shooters and heroic characters; upon starting to collaborate with Sylvain Levy from DSLcollection, they even played around with the idea of a virtual art heist.
Ultimately, games like June are a vital part of our early days of metaverse discourse, and offer a critical balance to the overwhelming hype around things like NFTs and brand partnerships that dominate our understanding of what a metaverse should be.
For now, June is still in a sort of arrested development—the team is at the tail end of a Kickstarter campaign that ends on August 24.