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

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