[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on -empyre: GAMES AND REPRESENTATION

TR thetalentedtenthrealized at gmail.com
Fri Apr 10 11:30:05 AEST 2015

Greetings everyone! I’m glad to join in on this conversation, and I’m
fascinated by the work that the participants have done. In my next
posts, I will aim to relate more to the work referenced in the posts
so far.

For now, I’ll introduce myself and take up Jen’s question about the
field and the issue of representation in games. I will say first that
I approach game studies primarily as a humanist who has a background
in literary studies and media studies. My writing on games so far
includes an essay I wrote on the game Afro Samurai and the co-edited
collection, Identity Matters, with Jen Malkowski. My methodology is
heavily informed by postmodern and critical race theory. I am also
intrigued by the way the politics of representation overlap with the
politics of recognition, especially when it comes to black
subjectivities and what I call spectacularized rituals of destruction.
For example, I am interested in how black characters across mediums
but particularly in digital culture are humanized through acts of
violence that produce suffering. This motif is something I take up in
our edited collection and in my monograph.

As for Jen’s question about whether or not “the analysis of
representation in games… is a somewhat/sometimes maligned pursuit in
Video Game Studies,” I am of two minds. On the one hand, at our annual
conference in recent years we’ve no doubt seen a boom in what I
consider to be a clear attempt to make identity and representation
more central in game studies. Prior to that, I would say that code and
platform approaches to thinking about games dominated the discussion
in my various interdisciplinary fields. At this moment, I can think of
a long and impressive list of scholars who write about games in ways
that include questions about representation. Yet, I may also very well
be in the proverbial choir. That is, it is certainly possible that now
my field of vision is informed by who I know—and I tend to know people
who bring humanist discourses and politics to game studies in exciting
and innovative ways. At the same time, though, there are public
figures who talk and write about games who I think are very much
invested in minimizing the role that these points of entry play in
game studies.

One case in point: Ian Bogost’s regular contributions to The Atlantic
on games. While I do not intend to single out Bogost, he is a
designer/scholar who is very much in the public view and I think his
musings on games help shape the terms of engagement both within and
outside of the academy. In his March 13th column “Video Games Are
Better Without Characters,” Bogost argues that games (like simulation
games) that emphasize complex systems instead of dialogue, characters,
and identities better prepare us to analyze the changing social and
economic times. He explicitly links discussions about representation
in games with Gamergate reactionaries, arguing that the people who are
asking for more diverse representation and the gamers policing gamer
identity are operating essentially from the same ideological base. He
explains, “Maybe the obsession with personal identification and
representation in games is why identity politics has risen so
forcefully and naively in their service online, while essentially
failing to build upon prior theories and practices of social justice.
And perhaps it is why some gamers have become so attached to their
identity that they’ve been willing to burn down anything to defend
it.” I encourage other folks to check out Bogost’s entire post since I
can’t adequately summarize it all here. Anyhow, in my mind, this
evinces some of that resistance to having discussions about
representation remain central to game studies. Of course, I don’t
think examinations of “complex” systems and matters pertaining to
identity and self have to be mutually exclusive.

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