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

Jen Malkowski malkowjc at miamioh.edu
Tue Apr 14 10:27:15 AEST 2015

Shira, you’re raising some great points here. I’ll tackle one of your
subtopics and expand on my previous implication that one problem is
that identity and representation are somewhat maligned areas of
inquiry in Video Game Studies. You reflect, “I certainly accept this
to an extent, but I don’t really see it as particularly more maligned
than any other mode of academic studies of identity politics.”

My own observations as a scholar expanding into Video Game Studies
from Film Studies have run counter to your perception that things are
equally bad in other disciplines. What I noticed in exploring this new
disciplinary territory was a puzzling shortage, compared to Film
Studies, of work on identity and representation. Film Studies is a
discipline where explicitly feminist approaches, for example, had a
long period of not just acceptance but dominance. To hear my more
senior colleagues tell it, there came a point in Film Studies,
post-Mulvey, when work that neglected to account for gender where
relevant was openly and widely criticized, or just wasn’t accepted for
publication. When TreaAndrea and I were beginning the *Identity
Matters* book project, my biggest surprise was that there had not
already been dozens of books published on these issues that would make
our project hopelessly redundant.

So why this shortage, aside from the discipline’s shorter history? One
factor, it seems to me, is that Video Game Studies has a much stronger
bent toward materialist approaches than related fields and
that—counter to the spirit of Soraya’s last post—the material aspects
of this medium have often been framed as apart from identity, creating
a climate that hasn’t always been hospitable to the kind of work many
of us are doing.

I’m encouraged by signs of change, though, not in the abandonment of
valuable materialist approaches, but rather in the adoption of refined
materialist approaches that recognize the integration of identity and
technology (e.g., at SCMS 2014’s inspiring Feminist Platform Studies
workshop). Further, I think GamerGate and its preludes have pushed
identity to the forefront of popular discourse on games right now and,
in turn, that we’re seeing that interest shift the conversation in
academic publishing, too (as evidenced to me, in part, by how many
presses have expressed strong interest in our collection). So perhaps,
Shira, resistance to these inquiries is waning.

On Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 3:12 PM, shira chess <shira.chess at gmail.com> wrote:
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> I would like to pose a question to the other panelists and whoever
> else feels compelled to respond:
> What, exactly, do we think is the problem?
> All of the conversations from the last week have been approaching this
> as though there is a tangible problem (not always the same one,
> though). I think this might be a misguided perspective.
> Jen has suggested (and this is a fair suggestion) that the problem is
> that identity/gaming is a somewhat maligned area of inquiry. I
> certainly accept this to an extent, but I don't really see it as
> particularly more maligned than any other mode of academic studies of
> identity politics. As I had previously noted, we tend to silo
> ourselves and create otherness based on the patriarchal structure at
> the core of academia. I do not see gaming as distinctive in this, and
> really it broaches a larger problem.
> In terms of the original concerns of gaming and identity, we actually
> have made some -although not astounding headway. While sex is only one
> matrix to judge by, in the last 4 years the number of women in the
> gaming industry has doubled. Those numbers are tricky, I know and they
> are not startling. But they are something. I would even go as far as
> to say that it seems that other areas of diversity in the industry has
> increased.
> In terms of availability of a variety of games, that has increased
> substantially, too. Are those games mocked both in pop press and by
> the gaming industry? Absolutely. But they are a start and they are
> still figuring out what they want to be.
> In terms of considering the images of game characters in AAA gaming, I
> am (honestly) uninterested. Once again, this is not dissimilar to
> other modes of media. Game-based culture often deals with
> sexist/racist/heterosexist imagery just as film, tv, music, etc does.
> I am certainly not saying this is a good thing, but I am saying that
> it is not distinctive to game culture.
> And then, gamergate. Is that what we are all really talking about?
> Because that, of course, is a problem. But it is a problem that has
> historical roots that can easily be traced back to the Atari crash in
> the 80s. (In fact, a lot of GGers use this as "proof" of the problem
> with "ethics in game journalism".) Gamer culture *is* a problem but
> it's a messy problem without a clear resolution.
> We've been having this conversation for almost a week now, but we all
> seem to be talking about separate "problems" - so perhaps lets break
> this down a bit more.
> -shira
> On Sat, Apr 11, 2015 at 6:03 PM, Aubrey Anable
> <aubrey.anable at utoronto.ca> wrote:
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>> I’m really enjoying all of the contributions to this discussion.
>> Brenda’s astute point about the mutually constitutive relationship between characters, the affordances created by the game as system, and the players is right on: “Empathy or identification with the notion of the player-character as defined by the affordances and environment of the game is fundamental to the enjoyment of playing. So in my view, representation of identity matters, not only in terms of NPCs but also in terms of the players themselves.”
>> In my previous post, I didn’t mean to suggest that I think computation and representation are actually separate—quite the opposite. I’m just struck by how some very prominent figures in game studies seem to want to keep them separate. TreaAndrea brought our attention to an example of this in Ian Bogost’s recent article in The Atlantic. In Bogost’s formulation, it is in systems—not representation of identities through characters—where the true expressive potential of games resides. One of the problems I have with this formulation is that it presumes that players (and their identities) and game creators (and their identities) are not really part of the system—they only interact with it. I guess I would like to see a broader conceptualization of “systems” that incorporates things like identity and representation into how systems have expressive power.
>> Aubrey Anable
>> Cinema Studies Institute
>> University of Toronto
>> 2 Sussex Ave.
>> Toronto, ON M5S 1J5
>> (647) 997-0570
>> aubrey.anable at utoronto.ca
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Jennifer Malkowski
Assistant Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Film Studies
Department of Media, Journalism, and Film
Miami University of Ohio

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