Magic: the Gathering and Gay Representation Through Play

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“Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis” (henceforth referred to as ‘K&T’) is the only representation of a living, explicitly gay couple on a MtG card, ever. Thanks to heteronormativity, most players will assume that people shown on other cards are probably cisgender and heterosexual, so this puts pressure on K&T to represent gay people. While the effectiveness of representation as a tool of activism is not the focus of this essay, and I do not claim that positive representation is a cure-all for prejudice, the way K&T is represented in MtG is important to and for queer folks in terms of normalization, acceptance, and empowerment. Unfortunately, K&T is not our panacea. Its mechanics invite awkward interpretations and practices by MtG’s community of players despite initially looking successful. To explain, I’ll cover how procedurality works in MtG, then discuss how the various aspects of this card are implicit in the discourse it engenders. Continue Reading

Remodeling the Labyrinth

Player-led Efforts to Update GMT's War on Terror Wargame

“The Sun Rises on the Middle East,” accessed at BoardGameGeek. Labyrinth’s gameplay models real-world current events.

In October and November of 2010, thousands of copies of GMTs Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? made their way from warehouses in California to distributors and customers around the world. Focusing on the contemporary conflict known as the Global War on Terror, Labyrinth stood in contrast to standard historical fare offered to commercial wargame enthusiasts: conflicts in which dozens, if not hundreds, of years spanned the gulf between player and subject. Labyrinth’s subject matter both raised concerns and prompted accolades. Matthew Kirschenbaum, in a nuanced critique at Play the Past, stated that “despite its many aspects that call out for critical scrutiny, I believe Labyrinth has been good for strategy gaming, demonstrating the vitality of board games for exploring material that big-budget computer games can’t or won’t touch.” Continue Reading

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged?

The Sociology of Community Discipline in MOBAs

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Anyone who’s spent much time playing online games has seen it: cooperation balanced on the edge of a knife, always at risk of instant collapse into a torrent of ethnic and gender slurs. For all its many achievements, the Internet has also provided a forum for angry individuals seeking to vent their angst on the world—and in few contexts has this proven more pernicious than in the realm of online gaming. Something about the fusion of competition with the Internet’s general digital anarchism elicits displays of spectacularly terrible sportsmanship, and MOBA-style games—multiplayer online battle arenas (specifically League of Legends, Dota 2, and Heroes of the Storm)—have proven particularly susceptible to this. Continue Reading

Sex Workers and Video Games

An Exploration of the Relationship Between Sex Work, Gender, and Violence in AAA Game Titles

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Despite being described as the world’s oldest profession, sex work occupies relatively little space in the mainstream media, with the distinct exception of video games. From the 1982 Atari title Gigolo through Leisure Suit Larry and all the Grand Theft Autos, sex worker characters have been present since the popularization of the medium itself. Although countless studies have researched violence in video games and the sexualization of women in video games, there has yet to be academic research on sex workers and video games – a topic that sits at a unique intersection of those two prevalent themes. The inseparability of violence and sex work within sex worker narratives is a relatively newer phenomenon, according to news media research (Hallgrímsdóttir et al., 2008), and researchers have found these gameplay narratives to increase Rape Myth Acceptance by various psychological studies as well (Beck et al., 2012; Gabbiadini et al., 2016; Stermer & Burkley, 2012). Continue Reading

Immersion into LARP

Theories of Embodied Narrative Experience

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Some forms of immersion focus upon the repetitive execution of a particular task or activity involving a certain degree of agency (Adams, 2004; Holopainen & Björk, 2004; Ermi & Mäyrä, 2005; Calleja, 2011). While in video games, immersion into activity often involves manipulating interfaces using a keyboard, mouse, or controller; in larp, kinesthetic involvement is more fully embodied. Some larps still use representational mechanics for combat, e.g. using one’s hands in rock-paper-scissors in a Vampire: the Masquerade larp. Others use a mixture of embodiment and mechanics, such as hitting a combatant with a foam sword and calling out numbers to represent the amount of damage incurred. Continue Reading

Engineering Evolution

What Self-Determination Theory can tell us about Magic: The Gathering’s Metagame

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In the world of collectable card games, something curious is happening. Over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, three of the largest and best-respected card game developers—Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight Games, and Blizzard Entertainment—have been scrambling to adjust the release cycles for each of their wildly popular (and staggeringly lucrative) card games. In the case of the latter two companies, these adjustments might be dismissed as the developers ironing out wrinkles in the new, untested systems that undergird their products’ popularity; doing so cannot, however, account for the fact that Wizards of the Coast’s previous model was employed to great success for over two decades, and that both Fantasy Flight Games and Blizzard Entertainment based their business models on adaptations of Wizards’ original system. So, then, why the change? Why now? Continue Reading

Spatial Experientiality in Journey

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In constructing an immersive experience for its players, Journey gives its in-game space a starring role. In the absence of text, voice acting, and general lack of traditional narrative exposition, players wishing to draw out the game’s story are to depend solely on the game’s spatial design. Journey starts with an unidentified protagonist in an unidentified land. A cut-scene brings a distant mountain into the players’ focus, marking the mountain as an end destination. Continue Reading