The Blame Game

How Video Game Workers Frame Barriers to Diversity

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The lack of gendered diversity within the video game industry is well documented. Research suggests that only 22% of the video game workforce identifies as female, a figure that declines further to 11% when we look only at core technical positions (Weststar et al., 2016). The issue of women’s underrepresentation, as well as sexism across the industry and culture, has become the subject of heated debate in recent years. The events of GamerGate in 2014, where female games journalists, developers, and critics became the targets of misogynistic abuse, stand out as a poignant example of the polemic nature of this topic. Continue Reading

Should You Pull?

Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming

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Most players of mobile games intimately understand the economic model of the Japanese “gachapon” (ガチャポン), even if they are not familiar with the term. Generally speaking, a “gachapon,” (or gashapon ガシャポン, gacha ガチャ, or gachagacha ガチャガチャ) is a coin-operated toy vending machine. Many of us have likely spent our quarters in similar machines as children, accumulating an eclectic array of bouncy balls, stickers, and other cheap goods in the lobbies of supermarkets around the world. The Japanese term derives from onomatopoeia for two distinct sounds: the “gacha,” or the sound of turning the crank of the machine, followed by the “pon,” or the sound of the toy dropping down into the receptacle. Continue Reading

The Paratext of Video Games

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A compelling but often overlooked part of video games is what we call the ‘paratext.’ The term was coined in literary studies to discuss the pieces of information which appear outside of the text (the main body of writing), but which nonetheless participate in and influence our reception of the text. For instance, the paratext of a novel would be the novel’s title, the author’s name, the synopsis on the back cover, chapter titles, publication details, or the cover art. It appears marginal to the experience of the text, but actually provides a significant network of ideas around which our approach to the text is shaped. Continue Reading

What We Do in the Darkness

Exploring the Trauma of Town of Light's Renée

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Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of trauma and sexual assault.

Darkness is often synonymous with fear; where things go bump in the night, where monsters live. But what could make someone fear the light?

For Renée T., the protagonist of the LKA’s The Town of Light, the light bathed her with hellish attention, turning her inside-out. The game’s title, which initially strikes one as pious and placid, is actually a description of terror. The town is a mental asylum where young Renée is confined, in an Italian village at the height of the Second World War. Women couldn’t vote in Italy; lobotomies were all the rage; ‘hysteria’ was a diagnosis. Continue Reading

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