She’s Not There

Absent Agency in Video Games

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While a great deal of scholarship is devoted to the problematic aspects of female representation in the stereotypically male-dominated sphere of video games, less interest lies in an alternative depiction of women that, while not predominant, exists in some video games: that of the ‘absent woman.’ There are games that feature female characters that, though heavily represented throughout the game in various forms, are not physically depicted in any thorough way. This representation might take the form of the unseen character providing narration, leaving traces of themselves in notes, leaving behind memories and/or intentions that live on inside of other characters, to name just a few examples. Continue Reading

A Better World

Examples of Disability in Overwatch

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Video games, like any other cultural product, reflect the cultural values that influence their creation; these values then influence perceptions on what is normal and acceptable in a social context (Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014). Mass media shapes the perceptions of disability by influencing the language used to talk about disabilities, including what is (or -perhaps more significantly-, what is not) covered by news outlets and other mass media (Haller 2010). The invisibility of those with disabilities continues to be normalized when they are left out of media such as video games. Continue Reading

Savage Beasts

The Spatial Conflict Between Civilization and Nature in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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It is hard to talk about playing the fantasy role-playing game (RPG) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim without talking about its digital environment. Its vastness. The freedom with which players can move through it. With an impressive “16 square miles” (Hong p. 42) of digital landscape on offer, there certainly is a lot of world to explore. Continue Reading

“The World Could Always Use More Heroes”

Why Overwatch Matters

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Earlier this year, I presented my dissertation research in the Game Studies area of the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference; the community among these interdisciplinary scholars was so great that I ended up sticking around for almost every panel on games for the rest of the weekend. And I was struck by a common theme: Blizzard Entertainment’s team-based first-person shooter Overwatch (2016) came up in almost every one! Continue Reading

It Gets Worse…

The Female Voice in Video Games

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Despite their historically tumultuous relationship with issues of gender and representation, many scholars and game journalists have argued that video games are generally moving in the right direction (Lynch, Tompkins, van Driel & Fritz, 2016; McNally, 2016), at least visually. While progress on the image front has taken us from scantily-clad polygon Barbies to humbly-garbed warrior women, vocals – we argue – have done the opposite, regressing from synthetic vowels to overdramatized breathy moans. 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

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