Re-Imagining The Borderlands

A Review of Queer Game Studies

Deshane Queer Game Studies review

There’s a scene that Bonnie Ruberg describes in the final chapter of Queer Game Studies (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), which still resonates long after I finished the work. It’s a scene of the inevitable social banter after a panel discussion at an academic conference where, as Ruberg states, she feels “pressured to either tone down my queerness […] or to perform it” (271). For Ruberg, her queerness is not evident in people’s assumptions of her while also simultaneously too evident in her research in queer gaming. She reminds herself to not mention her ex-girlfriend and to silence her kinkiness; she dresses the professional part to blend in and answers questions about her research with a smile on her face—and yet, she still deals with feelings of being “the weird grad student” and with people’s seemingly never-ending questions of “Queerness? And games?” with a twinge of disgust (272). Continue Reading

A Call to Arms

A Review of Playing War by Matthew Thomas Payne

Playing War

Despite its growing cultural legitimation, for some, gaming still begins and ends with a man-child screaming into a headset while he fires round after virtual round into digital insurgents in vaguely Middle-Eastern locales. The spectacular and seemingly escapist nature of many military themed first-person shooters make them less tempting for critique, especially in a field full of unexamined experiments in critical and self-reflexive play. Perhaps this is why scholarship on the subject has been somewhat lacking, finding niches in game studies anthologies or as minor parts of larger projects on Empire despite the genre’s extreme popularity and gaming’s already troubling connection to contemporary technologies of war. Luckily, Matthew Thomas Payne’s Playing War: Military Video Games after 9/11 provides an excellently researched (and long overdue) book-length examination of the military video game and its relationship to cultural mythologies surrounding the ongoing War on Terror. Perhaps more importantly, Payne’s accessible methodology and emphasis on the political stakes of gaming make his project one worth emulating. Continue Reading

Joysticks & Killing Joy

A Game Scholar’s Take on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life

living a feminist life

Content Notification: gendered violence, sexism, racism

I imagine an academy filled with feminist killjoys, showing off our scars and canes and mohawks and afros and ponytails, wearing dresses and t-shirts and crop tops and bowties and hijabs. We may or may not have vaginas— that doesn’t matter— and we identify as queer, bi, lesbian, straight, two-spirited, genderqueer, butch, femme, non-binary. We have depression, anxiety, PTSD, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and chronic pain. We play Candy Crush, Resident Evil, Mario Kart, Settlers of Catan, solitaire, and LARP. We keep talking and playing and writing and we can’t be shut up or shut out. We are here. Continue Reading

East of the Key Sword (and West of the Triforce)

Rethinking Cultural Influence in Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda: Japanese Videogames in Global Contexts

atari to zelda

It seems impossible to discuss the history of videogames without considering Japan. Specific events, like Namco’s development of Pac-Man — the most successful arcade game of all time — or Nintendo’s revival of the North American game console business with the release of its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the mid-1980s, have become celebrated milestones in the story of Japan’s role in videogames. Continue Reading

Dimensions of Identity in Games

A Review of Gaming at the Edge by Adrienne Shaw

gaming at the edge

I have never identified as a ‘gamer’. I transitioned from casual to serious player in the months just prior to the drastic increase of online harassment campaigns, and the fierce attacks against diversity that characterized them. The toxic, sexist rhetoric that spread across gaming communities seems to have tainted the label of ‘gamer’ in my eyes. Of course, this movement did not go unopposed, and the calls for increased representations of diversity in video games have been numerous and vehement. An essential addition to this conversation is Adrienne Shaw’s book Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. Gaming at the Edge offers an ethnographic study that explores the ways members of marginalized groups engage with video games, how the ability to identify with the characters represented in games shapes this engagement, and argues that ongoing conversations about diversity in games should be reframed to account for the intersectional nature of identity. Continue Reading

Adult Supervision Encouraged

A review of Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Games

rated m for mature

Over the past few years, games have begun to feature sexual content that is increasingly nuanced, and which moves away from the conspicuous treatments that have fueled political outcries in the past. Rated M for Mature seeks to offer a sustained scholarly response to these developments, to foster critical debates of sex in video games, and to push for new considerations and even implementations of sexuality in games. The collection of essays is categorized into three distinct sections: the first, “The (r)evolution of video games and sex”, examines the history of sexual content in video games and the varying political and social responses; the second, “Video games and sexual (dis)embodiment”, explores the use of sex and sexuality in both video game play and practice; the third, “Systems/spaces of sexual (im)possibilities”, considers the interplay between sexual content and game design. Continue Reading

A Different Kind of Game Feel

A Review of How Games Move Us

how games move us

We often talk about emotions in terms of a spectrum. Certain films, games, and other cultural texts are said to run the gamut of the emotional spectrum, making us laugh and cry. But very few analyses or explanations actually go beyond the binary oscillation of happy/sad to look at the full range of emotions on display in a particular work of art. Katherine Isbister seeks to identify both the emotions at play in games and how designers can seek to achieve them in her book How Games Moves Us: Emotion by Design. Instead of targeting the commonsensical notions of games making players angry or joyful, she looks at social emotions such as pride, guilt, and complicity to understand the special power of games. Continue Reading