Nancy Drew and the Case of the Neoliberal College

Braithwaite Figure 1

A disillusioned professor desperate for tangible research results. An ambitious new Ph.D. angling for a tenure-track position. Research assistants performing rote and menial tasks. Contract staff bound by restrictive agreements. Research teams dependent on the benevolence of corporate sponsors. College students angry that their campus is increasingly devoted to commercial enterprise. 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

Can Computers Be Feminists?

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When building systems that share or even entirely adopt the role of a designer for a game, however, the capability to reason about cultural context is entirely lost. At best, it sits implicitly in the code and the data; at worst, it goes entirely ignored and communicates an idea at odds with the maker’s intent. Though the human designer may have their own intent for the kinds of content or games their system should generate, it is challenging to fully express the constraints, rules, and context needed for generating content that is sufficiently varied for the overall game, valid such that it is even playable, and also consistent with the messaging desired by its creator. Designing generative systems can require human designers to deeply confront their own implicit biases and understand how to formally express, in code, the full generative space of acceptable content that the system should create. For example, consider a character generator with names generated from a gender-partitioned list of constituent name parts. This simple act–born from the common method in PCG of specifying the valid subcomponents of what should be built, partitioning them such that their recombination will always be valid, and then randomly piecing those parts together at runtime—communicates the implicit biases of the maker (including a declaration of the gender binary, a statement that names should conform to those genders) and is then cashed out in every character that is generated by the system. Continue Reading

Critical game creation

as intergenerational social participation

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Trying to change education towards a more innovative, creative and game-based learning approach is not a single-player game. There is a need for a huge amount of research and educational innovation projects before making educational actors promote digital games as a learning strategy. Just after my Ph.D, I was lucky to join a research network, a sort of a “research guild” for promoting mutual help, creating joint events and develop academic exchanges. Our “research guild” was funded by the 7th framework of research of the European Commission as a network of excellence, the “Games and Learning Alliance” (GaLA 2009-2013). The GaLA network included nearly 50 researchers in the field of digital games with educational, health, cultural purpose, also called “serious games”. Being part of an international research guild allowed me to access a higher level through collaborations with other scholars worldwide. Being in a guild required me to join efforts in topics and tasks that were out of my reach in an individual or small team perspective. Being part of a research guild is fruitful in terms of networking and outcomes. Continue Reading

The Malkavians’ World

Representations of Mental Health in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines

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Games, we know, do not have the best reputation in terms of representation. Through the decades, games have gained notoriety for excluding people who aren’t seen as their target audience: especially women, people of color, and people of different sexualities. On top of that, certain genres—particularly military shooters and horror games—have developed a reputation for stigmatizing people with mental illnesses. Too often these games equate people who have a mental illness with monsters and/or villains. For example, Silent Hill (Konami, 1999) … Continue Reading

Meaningful Play

Anti-Immersive Aesthetics in Serious Videogames

Essay - Sept 12th

Educational and/or serious videogames have seldom been popular among mainstream game audiences, but that hasn’t stopped the recent onslaught of indie developers from trying to use their games to explore complex themes outside the realm of pure entertainment. Games that try to engage players in meaningful play are often criticized for not being enjoyable. Yet, is that because they aren’t well designed, or is it because audiences aren’t used to games that don’t try to heavily immerse them in computer graphics? Continue Reading

Pipe Trouble

The Politics of Definition

Commentary - Pipe Trouble

One of the perennial questions of game studies is the basic question of definition: what is a game? And many discussions surrounding games can be traced back to it. The narrative/ludology debate is an obvious one: is a game a story? It’s there in Ian Bogost’s caution against framing games as “limp skins” that don’t properly exist without the player to finish the circuit: does a game have to be played to be a game? And, most recently, it’s there in works created in Twine, works that address issues rarely, if ever, voiced in mainstream videogames: can these things be games at all? (For my two cents: yes; no, but it’s usually more interesting if it is; and yes, of course.) Continue Reading