Created by sex workers and allies, OnlyBans is an interactive game that critically examines the policing of marginalized bodies and sexual labor to empathetically teach people about digital surveillance and discrimination faced by sex workers. Players encounter content moderation algorithms, shadow-banning, “real name” policies, facial recognition software, and other threats based on actual experiences of sex workers, whose images and stories are featured in the game.
Created by sex workers and allies, OnlyBans is an interactive game that critically examines the policing of marginalized bodies and sexual labor to empathetically teach people about digital surveillance and discrimination faced by sex workers. The Internet has long been celebrated as a limitless realm of free expression, but this digital wonderland is becoming increasingly oppressive to those who express their sexuality as part of their art or work. Content moderation algorithms disproportionately harm people who are already at greater risk of violence, incarceration, and social marginalization. Technology created to block allegedly sexual content has also been quietly used to block unfavorable political content. Assuming the role of a sex worker, players attempt to establish an online fanbase and earn money through posting sexy images. Players encounter content moderation algorithms, shadow-banning, “real name” policies, facial recognition software, and other threats based on actual experiences of sex workers. As the player attempts to evade being censored by Instagram, flagged by Paypal, and watched by Microsoft, the game reveals just how “free” the Internet is when one is engaged in stigmatized labor subject to policing and criminalization. Inspired by the aesthetics of everyday digital platforms and devices, OnlyBans features images contributed from actual sex workers and erotic content producers who have been directly flagged, censored, and surveilled. The game offers a speculative vision of how marginalized communities might band together to protest these unjust policies and create better alternatives. The prototype for OnlyBans was developed with Open Data Institute’s Violeta Mezeklieva through a residency with Polis 180 (Berlin). As artists-in-residence at Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Pittsburgh), Lena Chen and Maggie Oates created the first version for public release, which can be played at onlybansgame.com.
CREDITS Creators: Lena Chen & Maggie Oates Narration Nympho: Lena Chen Software Princess: Maggie Oates Graphic Designer & Videographer: Goofy Toof Contributors: Amala Azul, Fae Brite, Hellbait, J.P. (Themme), Lync Johnson, Karren, Nimina Harley, Stonerdomme, Quin
Lena Chen / Maggie Oates
Lena Chen is a Chinese American sex worker, writer, and artist creating performances and socially engaged art in live and virtual contexts. Awarded "Best Emerging Talent" at B3 Biennial of the Moving Image (Frankfurt) and the Judson-Morrissey Excellence in New Media Award, she has exhibited and performed at Transmediale (Berlin), Die Digitale (Düsseldorf), Museum of Modern Art (Antwerp), Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), Färgfabriken (Stockholm), and Baltimore Museum of Art, among others. She has spoken widely on digital performance practices, feminist activism, and sex work at Oxford, Yale, Stanford, SXSW, HOPE, and re:publica. She has been awarded grants and residencies from Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry (Pittsburgh), Office of Public Art (Pittsburgh), INVERSE Performance Art Festival (Bentonville), Burning Man Global Arts Fund (San Francisco), Civic Media Lab (Dnipro, Ukraine), and Women’s Media Center (Washington, D.C.). She earned a B.A. in sociology from Harvard University, and is currently completing a MFA at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art, where she holds the Lea Simonds Fellowship.
Maggie Oates is a computer scientist and researcher-artist focused on making privacy and security tools work for more people. She was mostly recently the Research Lead for Project Amelia, an open-world immersive theater production that invited hundreds of audience members into a fictional start-up office as the company navigated ethical and privacy issues in their AI products. She has a BS in Computer Science, an MS in Societal Computing, and is currently completing a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. With a fantastic research team, she published the award-winning work "Turtles, Locks, and Bathrooms," exploring visual metaphors of privacy. She has presented interactive exhibits on privacy and security for audiences ranging from high schoolers to lawyers.