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

shira chess shira.chess at gmail.com
Tue Apr 14 23:07:02 AEST 2015

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I am going to push a little bit further here - not because I
necessarily disagree with Brenda and Jen, but because I do think it's
sometimes too easy to feel maligned.

I think we have had a lot of change, a lot of progress, and a lot of
development over the last two decades. This is not to say that things
are ideal at this point, but I do think they are in-progress -
figuring themselves out and working through growing pains. To cherry
pick a few points here:

1. Yes, there are very few books on this topic. Right now. But that
seems to be more of a result of people getting their books-in-progress
published, and the relatively slow academic publishing systems. I know
of several books in the works at the moment. Further, many people in
game studies come from Communication fields, where journal articles
are a more accepted publication than books. This is to say, there has
been some FANTASTIC research in this area - certainly over the last 5
years. I'm not going to start listing off names here, but I don't
actually think there is a shortage of research, both qual and quant.
There are also some great grad students working on
diversity/identity/gaming projects (some currently involved in this
discussion!). I can't speak for them, but I have never encountered
anyone who says, "Oh you shouldn't research that" to either myself or
a colleague. Of course, everyone has their own experiences, but I
think "maligned" is an awfully strong word. I think "dismissive" is
more accurate. (And, yes, dismissiveness is still a problem.)

2. I in no way meant to imply that the 22% statistic is a good one.
The question of industry roles is an important one. It needs to
continue to be addressed. But just the very idea that it has doubled
within about 5 years (even if those numbers aren't perfect) - that is
progress to build on. We need to continue to work with this, and (just
as important) do more outreach to make sure that the women in the
industry are not being harassed and have a good QoL.

3. In terms of roles and representation, yes we still have problems
with AAA gaming. But we also no longer have to pay attention to AAA
gaming the way we used to - casual and indie have given us choices.
Just as I get to chose not to see the recent Fast/Furious movie, I get
to chose not to play games that I find offensive. In best-case-world
these games wouldn't exist. But here's the good part - more so than we
were 20 years ago, we are really having genuine conversations about
these games both inside and outside of academia. People are discussing
and critiquing images in AAA gaming much more than they ever have, and
(to me) this is what is most important. So, yes, a problem. But one
that is being discussed and critiqued in fairly productive ways.

For all of the above, I would say that all of this is evidence that we
are in a moment of transition. This transition will continue to have
growing pains and difficulties, but let's be clear. There has been a
lot of improvement in the last two decades. And as more of us write,
research, and create games things will continue to improve. I
genuinely believe this.

Finally, GamerGate. Ah, GamerGate. I was genuinely not trying to
minimize, Brenda! Just to express my frustration at the complexity of
it. Yes, it is a violence against women issue. And, more generally, a
hate speech issue. But I think there are other things going on here
that might be invisible. I think there is some astro-turfing
happening, and I think I am beginning to believe there are some larger
group political agendas behind getting young males to coalese behind
this as an "issue" in order to create anti-feminism among younger
generations.  My referring to it as "messy" was not meant to imply
that I don't think it is important, jarring, and horrible. But I do
think that it is an outgrowth, a side effect of the progress that I
think we have made. If there had been no progress then there would be
nothing for them to argue with.

I am well over my 300 words, so I'll stop here... :)

On Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 6:47 PM, Brenda Laurel <blaurel at soe.ucsc.edu> wrote:
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> Shira asks the most important question here, I think. What is the problem? I think that Jen is right to be concerned that identity/gaming is a maligned area of study. When I think about the number of "secret" groups and "shields-up" conferences I've been engaged with, it feels as though we are all hiding; that in fact "feminist" or "queer" gaming gatherings are ALL ABOUT identity, but it's something we can't easily talk about in open professional or academic circles. As for the number of women in the gaming industry- well, that, too, is a concern. What roles are they performing? How comfortable is the space? Speaking with a journalist yesterday, I learned that in one firm at least eight women have recently left the profession entirely because of a hostile or sexist work environment. I certainly felt that throughout my career in the industry. The variety of games, I agree, is increasing and it's exciting to see much of it coming from new communities of folks who have previously been marginalized. I hope that the new games on the edges start to seriously erode the grip of AAA corporations on how we define culture and sexuality. And I DO care about AAA games, because they set artificial norms for gender correctness as well as for civil interaction. I would like them to wither and die, but short of that, I would like for them not to be the only voices telling our boys what it means to be a man and selling all of our kids to the consumerist spectacle.
> As for Gamergate, I think that Shira and I are looking at different dimensions of the problem here. My major issue has been the violence against women, both players and makers, that has been called up from the vasty deep. I have my own explanations if anyone is interested. I think the effect of leaving these culture wars unchecked is to further reduce civility in our society, if that is even possible.
> On Apr 13, 2015, at 12:12 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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>>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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