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

A Union for Videogame Developers?

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The videogame industry is often criticised about its working conditions and has been accused of treating its developers poorly. According to the 2014 Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS) of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), 32% believed that there is a negative perception of the game industry. When asked why, working conditions was the top response. Continue Reading

Controlling Fathers and Devoted Daughters

Paternal Authority in BioShock 2 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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As game critics and scholars have noted, the past decade has seen a remarkable number of critically acclaimed big-budget video games featuring paternal protagonists (Brice, 2013; Joho, 2014; Voorhees, 2016). Games journalist Stephen Totilo (2010) has celebrated what he calls the “daddening” of video games as a maturation of the industry. On the other hand, some game critics have critiqued what they label as the “dadification” of video games as simply another means for developers to valorize violent male agency (Brice, 2013; Joho, 2014). This trend has been noted in titles such as BioShock 2 (2K Marin 2010), Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream 2010), Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego 2010), The Walking Dead: Season One (Telltale Games 2012), Dishonored (Arkane Studios 2012), BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games 2013), The Last of Us (Naughty Dog 2013), and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red 2015), among others. Continue Reading

High-stakes gamblers, game design, and the meaning of cheating

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The word “cheater” exists to define someone responsible for breaking a set of rules. Ordinarily, people use it to refer to transgressing the rules of a game, the expectations of a romantic relationship, or someone otherwise getting ahead, getting recognition, or achieving something with far less effort than it was supposed to require. Such situations seem obvious — it is clear that you should not look at someone else’s test paper or download a piece of software that boosts the strength of your video-game character – and thereby place blame solely upon the individual. But is cheating always that simple? Continue Reading