These possibilities do still exist within frustrating limits on fluid and non-binary expression. When you pick a character, the game won’t say this is what Game Freak thinks a “boy” and “girl” look like, but it will treat them as such. Temtem and Battletech have already shown through a separate pronoun option how gender is not an unspoken aesthetic of bodies, and Sunless Skies provides one of the most sound systems I have seen represent gender. As Ruth Cassidy describes, the unordered presentation of body parts, clothes, and titles that are gendered in our world works for the game that doesn’t comment on gender: “Sunless Skies is a game that cares about telling stories, about people and their temptations and curiosities, and at no point does it need to define the player’s gender to do so.” I’m left wondering why Nintendo thinks they need to have—or rather, why they think they can get away with—a facsimile of inclusion when the boutique in Motostoke only offers my avatar, Ada Lovelace, a fraction of its inventory. Maybe walking while trans has made me hyper-aware, but I notice every time an NPC insists on calling them different pronouns and nouns based off the binary set of bodies I chose from. Continue Reading
By virtue of its thematic setting, Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Games, 2018; hereafter RDR2) is inherently anachronistic, in that video games are typically thought of as cutting-edge media technologies, while the Western genre has a more historical appeal. Not only historical in that the game takes place in 1899, but in that Western movies and TV shows had their boom in 1950s-1960s with a post-war “injection of violence” (Cook, 1999, p. 134) into popular media. The Western genre has in fact had several bursts of popularity, with a rich literary history beginning when the frontier still existed in the late 1800s. Red Dead Redemption (hereafter RDR), while not the first Western video game—Wild Arms, Call Of Juarez and RDR’s spiritual predecessor Red Dead Revolver all came first—was the first Western video game to have such a significant cultural impact. Continue Reading
Refusing to acknowledge the customs of the Gerudo people for the sake of entering the city certainly reads as a violation of a safe space when we only take into consideration Link’s canonical gender. However, I also firmly believe, as someone who identifies as a transgender man and has spent much of his life exploring the intricacies of identity, that there is a potential for it not to be a violation depending on how the player views and conceptualizes Link. Continue Reading
Born from the ashes of Gamergate and the 2016 US election, Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice (2018) investigates video games from the lens of social justice, discrimination, and domination. Edited by Kishonna Gray and David Leonard and published by the University of Washington Press, Woke Gaming includes the work of scholars from a wide range of disciplines—game design, sociology, and criminal justice among others. Continue Reading
Content warning for discussions of sexualized violence.
Outside a small handful of reviews with each new release, little attention has been paid to the Deception (Tecmo, 1996-2015) series. This is in spite of the critical depth a close reading of these games can afford. In an industry that has consistently struggled with representing women, all but the first Deception game see female protagonists driving the narrative (Zorrilla 2011, Van Name 2013, Statt 2016). And during a time when commercial games like Resident Evil (Capcom 1996), Alone in the Dark (Infogrames 1992), and Clock Tower (Human Entertainment 1995) looked to film for their exploration of horror (Edge 2010, par. 5; Rasa, 2017), the Deception games looked to slasher films and offered players a world in which they both actively perpetrate violence and avoid such threats themselves. Continue Reading
Geekiness is getting a makeover! The geeks, weirdos, and nerds who once stood at the fringes of consumer culture now find themselves at the center. In a poignant inversion, Dungeons & Dragons—a game once renown for its supposedly dark and cultish fanbase—has become mythic. It gives all of us who have once loved it the feels along with warm nostalgic memories. As our consumer culture reorients to position games at its center, the center disciplines and norms the fraught geeky bodies which were once positioned at its margins. Continue Reading
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