ArtWhat’s next for...?

Fighting mould monsters, running from Garda vans: Ireland’s housing crisis is now a video game

What’s Next For?: After Mega Dreoilín, Han Hogan and Donal Fullam plan Tenantgotchi and a Grand Canal Dock demolition derby

The room I’m in looks eerily familiar. It’s a setting recognisable to anyone who has ever wiled away the hours playing video games in a flat or shared house: dim light, couch, armchair, television with game controller. On the screen, Mega Dreoilín is about to start.

The room is at Pallas Projects/Studios, the Dublin artist-run organisation, and the game is the creation of Han Hogan and Donal Fullam, operating under the brand Namaco. Based on the history of Ireland’s housing crisis, it features a tenant who faces multiple challenges – killing mould monsters in a rented home, collecting mushrooms in a surreal version of ancient Ireland, running from a Garda van – and meets several guides along the way, including Manchán Magan and James Connolly, before fighting a giant vulture.

Mega Dreoilín stakes a claim for one of the best Irish artworks of 2024 so far. It’s incredibly engaging, brilliantly designed, sophisticated in its form and execution, and unexpectedly moving. The housing crisis is a tricky issue to make art about without ending up in an overly nihilistic or didactic mode. But Mega Dreoilín is, pardon the pun, a game changer.

An accompanying zine details the game and the player’s mission: “Mega Dreoilín breaks down the wall of bureaucratic jargon surrounding housing policy, designed to perplex, bore, and alienate us, through the simplest and funnest of mediums – the 16-bit side-scroller video game. As the player navigates the game as main character Em, they will learn about the real causes of the current living crisis in Ireland, from successive waves of colonisation to 80s housing policy, Nama, Celtic Tiger-era ‘mom and pop’ landlordism and investment fund-mediated housing.”


THIS WEEK: NAMACO (Han Hogan and Donal Fullam) presents Mega Dreoilín ~ Opening: 6-8pm Thursday 9th May ~ Pallas Projects/Studios are pleased to announce NAMACO —Mega Dreoilín, the third exhibition of our 2024 Artist-Initiated Projects programme. “A committee of vultures sweeps the Dublin sky. Composed of landlords, investment funds and the political juggernaut known as Fianna Gael, they pursue a bloodthirsty quest to dominate all land and wealth, leaving death and destruction in their wake. But unknown to them, an underground force unfolds its wings. Foretold by the Ancient Celts as An Dreoilín or Draoi éan - druid bird - the tiny wrens emerge as a fearless foe. As main character Em (they/them), you must battle landlords, Gardaí and vultures across four Dublin-based levels. But can you uncover the Mega Dreoilín, an ancient energy field within yourself and your allies, in order to face your final adversary?” - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 16-bit video game Mega Dreoilín is a radical reimagining of edutainment designed for the demographic of ‘Generation Rent’. Mega Dreoilín allows players to learn about the bureaucratic land dominance imposed on Ireland by waves of colonisers, landlords and global multinationals, and the strategies to resist their sinister powers. Read more using the link in bio! ~ Event: Playthrough and Discussion Saturday, 11th May 1-2pm Han and Donal will showcase a playthrough of the game, followed by an artist’s talk and a panel discussion on housing. Very special panelists to be announced! This exhibition is part of Culture Date with Dublin 8! Culture Date with Dublin 8 is a festival that invites you to be a tourist in your own city, to explore your neighbourhood and discover all the hidden gems that are right on your doorstep. Make sure you don't miss out on anything by giving them a follow @culturedatewithdublin8 ~ Exhibition continues: Friday 10th May – Saturday 25th May Gallery open: 12–6pm, Thursday–Saturday @artscouncilireland @han_hog @donlf_ @culturedatewithdublin8 #ArtistInitatedProjects #ContemporaryArt #ArtistRunSpaces #dublin #exhibition #dublinarts #culturedatewithdublin8 ID: trailer for "Mega Dreoilín" game

Posted by Pallas Projects/Studios on Monday, May 6, 2024

Hogan has been renting for 14 years, Fullam for 24. They met through music. “We were organising punk gigs. That’s how we met each other, through DIY spaces like Tenterhooks,” Fullam says. “And the Grangegorman squat,” Hogan says. “We’d be very involved with the squat scene now. We both put on gigs … so we’re in that world.”

Hogan’s background is screen printing, zine-making and gig-organising. “I’m interested in event organising and arts outside of cultural institutions. Me and Donal are in agreement that we’re not interested in the bounds of designated cultural spaces. Pallas is the exception, because their politics are really good,” Hogan says.

Fullam, who helped set up the Karate Klub band practice space in Phibsborough, frames his practice as “anything involving doing it yourself, playing music, designing stuff, learning how to use new software”. He also plays in the metal band Molekh and, at the National Concert Hall, in a Gamelan ensemble.

Mega Dreoilín took more than a year to create, using the software engines Godot and Unreal Engine. They came up with the idea over the phone. “Then we started going for weekly pizzas and pints in [the Phibsborough pub] the Back Page,” Hogan says. “Literally within two weeks, we had the whole storyline. Then it was fleshed out. We did really intense research for months and months. For example, the Connolly interview is based on 317 James Connolly texts. It’s direct quotes. We made a 100-page quote document and just broke it down. We had the infrastructure. A lot of it was from lived experience and political views, and we just bulked it out with research.”

“All the people in the game, we interviewed them,” Fullam says. “Who could a young person meet who would be able to explain to them what’s going on? Rory Hearne. Who’s doing something interesting in music? We’re friends with Ian [Lynch, of Lankum], so he’s an obvious choice. Those interviews really helped us fill out the world.”

Playing the game at Pallas on a Thursday evening, audience members are instantly engaged with the challenges (and crack up with laughter at various points). “It’s meant to be a day in the life of the main player, Em, who is based on a friend of ours, the housing activist Em Murphy. But it’s also nontemporal,” Hogan says of the way the player switches time periods through various portals.

She and Fullam looked to games such as Splatterhouse, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Shinobi III for inspiration. The nostalgia is almost potent. “We love the aesthetic, but also, where is that nostalgia coming from? Why are we nostalgic for this period?” Fullam says. “It’s a period of safety – living in a safe house you’re not going to get evicted from. We talked a lot about this feeling of extended adolescence, not being able to reach the traditional markers of adulthood. So the player is kind of trapped in that space, in that time period.”

Hogan regards players’ conversation with Connolly as key. “I feel like so many things he said are relevant to now,” Hogan says. “I think we relayed quite effectively a lot of the messages we wanted to relay – basically, that we think no form of landlordism is acceptable, whether it’s mom-and-pop landlordism or vulture-fund landlordism. As long as there’s homelessness in Ireland we, without any flexibility or any exceptions, believe landlordism should be completely illegalised, and that housing should not be a commodity. It should be in public ownership, State ownership. It’s a need, not something that should be bought and sold, or floated on the stock market. We have very strong views. Not everyone can agree with our views, but I think we have effectively relayed them.”

They are now working on a game called Tenantgotchi, in which the player is a landlord controlling a tenant, and are looking to Twisted Metal 2 and Carmageddon for inspiration for one preliminarily entitled Grand Canal Demolition Derby, “a PlayStation game in Grand Canal Dock where you just destroy all the tech-company buildings,” Hogan says. She pauses. “I don’t know what gallery will take that.”

Mega Dreoilín is at Pallas Projects/Studios, Dublin 8, until Saturday, May 25th