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Cody M

Cody M

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December 14, 2017

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive and Visualizing Representation

December 14, 2017 | By | No Comments

The nascent field of queer game studies has expanded exponentially in recent years thanks to the work of scholars such as Adrienne Shaw, Bonnie Ruberg, and Edmond Chang. Yet, despite growing scholarly attention to queer characters and players, queer game studies faces a daunting issue: queer representation and gaming communities are recorded largely in ephemeral digital forms such as wikis, blogs, and fan-made websites, meaning they are in constant danger of becoming outdated or disappearing suddenly. A case in point is GayGamer.net, a website dedicated to game news, commentary, and community for LGBTQ gamers that went dark with little notice in May 2016. GayGamer.net was a valuable resource for documenting LGBTQ game characters and communities, and while parts of it were captured by the Internet Archive, much of the site is no longer accessible outside of an old Facebook page. While many digital objects face similar issues of compatibility and archiving, queer game artifacts and documentation are especially endangered because of the marginalized status of queer gamers and characters in gaming culture. With fewer individuals (almost all volunteers) and institutional resources to support them, these sources must be actively preserved now before they—and crucial LGBTQ cultural heritage with them—are lost.

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive is a great example of ongoing preservation efforts in response to these problems. The LGBTQ Video Game Archive was started by Adrienne Shaw at Temple University in order to collect all instances of LGBTQ representation in video games from the 1980s to the present, and to “offer a record of how characters are explicitly coded, what creators have said about these characters, as well as how fans have interpreted these characters” (Shaw). By focusing on developers and players in addition to the characters themselves, the archive aims to develop a complex picture of how each representation has functioned within queer gaming communities. The documentation of queer representation in games is ongoing, and the number of games to document increases each year.

In terms of my CHI work, I’m interested in the new types of analysis that the archive, combined with digital humanities tools and digital cultural heritage methodologies, enables. For example, Utsch et al. used the archive to create data visualizations of queer representation throughout video game history, and revealed several trends such as a predominance of gay men in LGBTQ representation and an exponential growth in overall number of representations. To date, however, an intersectional analysis of the archive that addresses sexuality alongside identity categories of race, class, or disability has not been attempted, and I intend to address these intersections using new interactive data visualizations. The visualizations will be interactive in order to make them more fluid and dynamic: in other words, to make them better representations of identity than the static categorizations that intersectionality has sometimes been accused of. This intersectional analysis of the archive is only the beginning of the archive’s potential, and it has a number of limitations. For example, it only includes games currently in the archive, and only what is observable and documented about each representation. Future work will add more games to the analysis, and could provide more granular analysis of other intersections.

These projects are so important because I believe digital humanities should become more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities such as queer gaming communities. As we build and make with our digital tools, we must constantly confront the question of who we are building and making for. Our digital research and projects should demonstrate the digital theories and practices of social justice, and should do the crucial work of engaging with communities and supporting their efforts to make and shape themselves. Representation in queer games and queer gaming communities provides some practical methods for doing so, and contributes to ongoing discourse of what digital humanities can be.

For an excellent collection of recent work on queer game studies, check out Queer Game Studies (edited by Shaw and Ruberg) if you haven’t already.

LGBTQ Video Game Archive

Utsch et al.’s Visualizations

Cody M

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December 12, 2017

Supporting Inclusive, Interdisciplinary Game Studies

December 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

It’s no secret that gaming cultures and communities—including game studies—have longstanding issues with inclusion, especially inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented peoples. The most apparent example of this is #GamerGate, the thinly veiled, ongoing harassment campaign against game critics, scholars, and developers who are women, people of color, or LGBTQ folk. Game studies has fared somewhat better in this regard, in that many game studies conferences and publications include some scholars from marginalized communities, and to some extent encourage academic criticism of games and gaming cultures. Yet even in game studies, the study of race, gender, sexuality, and other identity categories remains cordoned off from the rest of the field: they’re things that scholars of these topics engage in, but others can ignore. In other words, they’re viewed as specializations or special issues, but optional ones at that.

Yet if we as gamers and game scholars truly hope to create inclusive gaming communities and game studies, or to seize on the potential for games to “make us better” or “change the world” in Jane McGonigal’s words, then we have to stop compartmentalizing discussions of identity, community, and intersectionality. There is no sitting on the sidelines when it comes to race in games. There is no part of gaming or game studies where it is not an issue, so there is no place where it is possible to ignore it without doing harm. The same is true for gender, sexuality, disability, or class. To pretend they are separate issues is to perpetuate exclusion and marginalization by refusing to confront them. We can’t marginalize the discussion of marginalization and expect anything to change. If we want to change our culture and realize the potential of games, then we all have to actively cultivate practices of inclusion.

That sounds like a tall order, because it is. Creating inclusive communities requires a lot of listening to each other, educating ourselves, and respecting and navigating difference. But the good news is that none of us has to do this work alone. We can do it together, and together we can build the communities and programs that can sustain and empower us all. For example, the Inclusive Game Development Collaborative, hosted by Michigan State University and founded by Dr. Elizabeth LaPensée, is a cross-institutional program dedicated to supporting diversity of all forms in game development (http://gamedev.msu.edu/inclusive/). It provides a forum for sharing and discussing issues of representation and inclusion in games, and further organizes events at MSU that focus on topics such as concept art and representing cultures or indigenous game design. The Collaborative exemplifies how to bring people together from different backgrounds and experiences, and to especially support developers and scholars who have been marginalized or excluded in gaming culture.

As part of the Collaborative, I’ve had the honor this fall of working with Jonah Magar at MSU Libraries to develop the Game Studies Guild, a group of scholars, students, and gamers interested in games and game studies that reads current game studies texts, plays games together, and engages in critical discussion of them. There are so many amazing faculty and students doing work with games at MSU, but unfortunately they rarely get the opportunity to work together across programs, departments, or colleges. Even when they get to, the work they do rarely makes its way out to communities beyond the university. The main goals of the Game Studies Guild are to address this by fostering community and discussion across disciplines, supporting use of the Library’s developing gaming resources, and hosting critical gaming events that are open to the public and streamed on Twitch.tv (a popular platform for streaming gameplay). The group’s interdisciplinary and open nature is a reminder of another form of inclusion: the inclusion of different perspectives and forms of knowledge.

This year’s events are further dedicated to issues of representation and diversity in games, and our fall events focused on these issues in Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights At Freddy’s and Blizzard’s Overwatch. We would love to have you participate in person or via our live stream, and you can find out more at our website (https://libguides.lib.msu.edu/gsg). All are welcome, regardless of experience or knowledge with games.

There are so many ways to get involved with this work where you are: including readings and discussions of intersectionality and inclusion in your courses, forming a reading or working group dedicated to these topics, attending and supporting existing events related to them, starting a program at your institution that promotes them, or even just making them a topic of conversation in the gaming groups and communities you’re a part of. Whichever way you choose to get involved, the crucial thing is that you do.

Cody M

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December 6, 2017

HASTAC 2017, Twine, and Empowering Student Voices

December 6, 2017 | By | No Comments

The HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2017 conference is already starting to feel like a distant memory, but as always it was a fantastic opportunity to meet with many brilliant scholars, teachers, and activists who are committed to transforming pedagogy to meet the challenges of today’s digital world. If you weren’t able to attend, definitely take some time to look over the program: there were many fantastic panels and workshops, such as “Building a Feminist Future” (Savonick, Meade, Bosch, Sperrazza, Esten, Tran, & Woods), “Multi Lobes, Multi Modes: Fostering Student Engagement and Learning Through Multimodality” (Garrett Colón, MSU), and “The Half-Real Humanities: Hard Problems in Humanities Games” (Dewinter, Dombrowski, Fanfarelli, & Mcdaniel).

My own panel with Dan Cox, Kristopher Purzycki, and Howard Fooksman was titled “[[Enter Twine’d]]: Linking Teaching and Learning through Hypertext,” and focused on using Twine, a platform for authoring interactive fiction and games, in the classroom. When I first started using Twine in my courses, I had two goals: first, I thought Twine could be a great way to introduce students to game design and development, and second, I thought Twine could help teach narrative concepts and theories by showing them in action. To test these possibilities, I built Twine into “Games as Art, Narrative, and Culture,” my course at MSU that is part of the Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities general education requirements for undergraduates.

As part of the course, I had students build their own Twine games as one of their major projects. I introduced students to Twine by having them play Twine games such as anna anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World, Zoë Quinn’s Depression Quest, and Squinky’s Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames! In addition to playing the games, we discussed Twine’s capabilities and how each game uses different mechanics to capture a different experience. Next students came up with their own game ideas, designing each idea around a particular experience they wanted to create for players. Finally, students put their ideas into action, and created basic games that used special effects and meaningful choices to deliver on their vision.

Beyond student projects, I also created Narrare (“to narrate” in Latin), a Twine game meant to teach narrative theory in games. The game draws attention to concepts such as branching narrative, limited choices, character types and roles, and narrative voice. The game is still an ongoing project, but the current version is available on my website/portfolio at cmejeur.com.

While I expected Twine would be helpful for meeting course objectives, I was surprised by how much students were excited and engaged by it. At first many students, particularly those with no coding experience or interest, found making their own game intimidating. However once they got into the design process, many of them reported becoming so immersed in their projects that they had to set limits for themselves to remember to work on other coursework.

I suspect that this happened because making Twine games gave my students the opportunity to engage in a type of creative authoring that they unfortunately don’t often get to do in higher education. It allowed students to use their own experiences, perspectives, and voices to make something that was truly their own, and then to share that with their classmates. My students used this opportunity to tell their stories, especially those that they don’t often get to tell. For example, one student created a Twine game that captured the experience of culture shock that came with studying in the United States as an international student. Another told a story of a childhood event that has always stuck with them as a strange and meaningful experience, but that they hadn’t ever shared or represented before.

What excites me so much about this is that Twine can do even more than teach introductory game design or narrative concepts and theories. It can provide a platform for telling stories that don’t get told, and for helping our students develop their own voices. Along the way they have to confront their own experiences, perspectives, and positions, and then think about how to share these things in meaningful ways. My hope is that this process will help students realize that their voices matter, and that they can use them in whatever education or career they pursue. Playing and designing with Twine reveals how the meaning we make with games reaches far beyond the ludic realm. I look forward to using these insights in my course design, and continuing to find better ways to support my students’ learning processes.

Some valuable Twine resources for interested persons:

Twine 2.0
Twine Tutorial videos by Dan Cox
“Games in the Classroom with The Twine Cookbook” by Anastasia Salter

Twine resources

Cody M

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October 3, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Cody Mejeur

October 3, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Cody Mejeur, and I’m extremely excited to be joining the CHI Fellows program for 2017-18. I’m a PhD student in the Department of English at MSU working at the intersection of many related areas: new media, narrative theory, game studies, cognitive humanities, queer studies, and digital humanities. That sounds like a lot (because it is!), but I focus my work on video game narrative. Specifically, I am interested in how games are changing our understanding of narrative, and my dissertation, titled Playing/Queering Narrative: Narrative Experiences and Interfaces in Video Games, develops a narrative theory built from the ground up on the interrelationship of narrative and play in games.

Game studies and gaming culture have grown exponentially in the past 20 years, but they have also developed a number of blindspots that have left some peoples marginalized or excluded. In gaming culture this is most evident in the debates surrounding representation and social justice that came to a head in the #GamerGate movement, which saw large groups of gamers working to harass and silence women, people of color, and LGBTQ folk. Game studies has seen similar issues, such as the infamous narratology/ludology debates, wherein some theorists argued that narrative theory and literary studies were threatening to colonize or take over game studies. My dissertation argues that these attempts to secure the borders of games and game studies are related: they both stem from a desire to defend the culture and study of games from perceived threats, whether they be literary theorists or marginalized peoples seeking to politicize games.

Rather than attempt to undo these tensions—that toothpaste is decidedly out of the tube—my dissertation seeks to move forward by constructing a narrative theory specific to games. Beyond looking at characters, cutscenes, and plots, I argue that the experience of play (running, fighting, scoring, etc.) is an essential part of game narrative. Play experiences are variable and extremely dependent on the player’s situation and context, and I turn to queer/feminist and cognitive narratologies to explain how they become narratives that construct our sense of (virtual) reality. This narrative process is inherently playful, and can potentially lead to emergent, transformative, and queer possibilities for individual and collective world-building.

As a CHI fellow, I’ll be working on the LGBTQ Video Game Archive (https://lgbtqgamearchive.com), founded by Adrienne Shaw. The archive seeks to catalogue and preserve all instances of LGBTQ representation throughout video game history. This project is especially necessary given the ephemeral nature of its source materials. Many of the sources detailing LGBTQrepresentations are blogs, wikis, and smaller websites devoted to queer gaming communities, and there is a constant danger of them going offline with little or no notice if their owners or authors can no longer maintain them. My project will involve saving copies of all websites and media objects that the archive references, and organizing them into an Omeka repository that will be stored at the Strong National Museum of Play. By preserving these resources, we can ensure that the cultural heritage of LGBTQ representation in games is publicly available to future gaymers and scholars.

I look forward to working alongside the other CHI Fellows on innovative approaches to Cultural Heritage Informatics, and to acquiring new skills with coding and digital tools and methodologies. Can’t wait to see what lies ahead!