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.
Onlybans is designed to be experienced digitally (on Chrome/Firefox browsers) or through a physical installation which recreates a bedroom cam studio. The current version of the game can be played at onlybansgame.com.
Rolling Stone, OnlyFans May Have Rescinded Their Sexual Content Ban, But Sex Workers Remain Skeptical. Tina Horn.
Hyperallergic, All These Artworks Have Been Censored By Instagram. Valentina Di Liscia.
Pittsburgh City Paper, Sex workers in Pittsburgh discuss local impact of damaging anti-trafficking law FOSTA-SESTA. Amanda Waltz.
Austin Chronicle, Want to Strike? Ask a Sex Worker for Advice. James Scott.
October 5, 2021 – Design & Technology Cloud Salon, Parsons School of Design
September 10, 2021 – OnlyBans: A Playthrough and Discussion on the Policing of Bodies, Ars Electronica
September 10-December 10, 2021 – TRACKED & TRACED, Science Gallery, Detroit, USA
May 5-18, 2021 – Designing In Troubling Times, Uroboros Festival, Prague, Czech Republic
April 15-May 28, 2021 – what’s ur handle?, Pfizer Building, School of Visual Arts, New York, USA
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
OnlyBans was generously funded by UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Carnegie Mellon University School of Art, and Polis 180.