[-empyre-] Plague, Inc.

Tara Fickle tfickle at uoregon.edu
Wed Mar 25 11:05:06 AEDT 2020

To all of you out there somewhere --

I hope you're all keeping your spirits up as best you can during these uncertain, aleatory-feeling times.

I've really enjoyed, and even looked forward to, the conversation on this listserv. Thank you to Alenda for keeping us going, and to all of you for your thoughtful contributions during a crisis moment that I've found to be mind-numbing and willpower-sapping. I was originally going to comment on the "global" aspect of this week's theme through the lens of my book, The Race Card (thanks for the shout out, Ed ❤️), which examines how gaming has historically provided a remarkably flexible language to reproduce racial and national stereotypes, specifically about Asians. I use the term "ludo-Orientalism" to capture this phenomenon, showing how 19c debates about Chinese gambling and the "cheapness" of immigrant labor that helped galvanize support for Chinese exclusion laws in the US (and elsewhere)  find new life in contemporary discourses about the "robotic," "un-creative," "rule-abiding" model minority AND the "rule-breaking," "immoral" yellow peril. This is the ugly side of gaming "bringing people together," essentializing and conflating Asians and Asian Americans  to form the potent combination of racist xenophobia (or xenophobic racism) that we're seeing right now with waves of COVID anti-Asian memes and even hate crimes. 

But all of this still feels inadequate for the current moment. Instead I decided to revisit an old (by current standards) game: Plague, Inc. (2012, U.K. - Ndemic), in the hopes of drawing others on this listserv into a conversation about how it feels to play a game about pandemics in the midst of one. (It's available for 99 cents through the App Store, and available in different platforms). The objective is simple: "Can you Infect the World?" 

I initially found some strange relief in downloading the game; an optimistic sense of being able to control, through the game, a situation which has made me feel powerless. People have spoken about this somewhat paradoxical same-but-different phenomenon in relation to many genres of games -- such as off-duty soldiers finding pleasure in playing war games and first person shooters. But actually, playing *as* a plague feels even more terrifying -- I felt *guilty*, almost. We often talk about games creating rare opportunities for empathy... but what does it mean to empathize with -- to *root for* -- a virus? 

Perhaps most startling for me was the opening screen of the tutorial (https://i.redd.it/vj3mnc8h1il41.jpg), which is a world map with text that reads: "First, you need to choose where your disease will begin. Start in China -- touch it to select it." Tutorials, by definition, disable agency. And this game was created in 2012; especially post-SARS, the tutorial's origin point makes historical sense. Nonetheless, the seamlessness whereby the narrative of "a Chinese virus" was reinforced... the inability to click anywhere else (and I tried, reader, oh how I tried.)... it was a painful reminder of the politics of "persuasive games" (Bogost's term), even those games that see themselves as neither political nor persuasive.

Anyhow. I'll stop there, because, although I probably made the experience of playing sound horrific, it was also ... kind of *fun.* (The game was, after all, wildly popular.) And I want to hear other people's thoughts on it.



Tara Fickle
Assistant Professor of English
1286 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
mailto:tfickle at uoregon.edu


https://nyupress.org/9781479805952/the-race-card/ (NYU, 2019)
https://www.amazon.com/Aiiieeeee-Anthology-American-Classics-Literature/dp/0295746483/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Aiiieeeee!&qid=1578100026&sr=8-1(University of Washington Press, 2019)

From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Alenda Chang <achang at filmandmedia.ucsb.edu>
Sent: Sunday, March 22, 2020 4:04 PM
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: [-empyre-] Welcome to Week 4: games of empyre 
----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
Hello, empyre--thank you for sticking with us for this month on games
during a time when it's especially hard to reach our innate sense of
play and wonder.

For our final week, we have a deep bench of guests with expertise in
games and their multinational contexts. Tara and Chris and I were due
to celebrate our recent book launches together at the now cancelled
SCMS conference (along with Bo and Amanda), Kasyoka I met at last
fall's SLSA, and Souvik and Phill I know primarily through their work.
I know they can all help us to think about these questions and more:
how can we expand or recenter games beyond a certain
Anglo/Western/American imaginary? What are some neglected games and
game histories? Geopolitical implications of games? How do we talk
about games in relation to localization, region, translation, and
colonialism and its aftermaths?

Or, another possible starting point... in the foreword to Video Games
Around the World (edited by Mark Wolf), Toru Iwatani (best known for
the game Pac-Man) writes, "Most players appear to be playing games
according to a set of rules, but they are actually playing with the
developers' itareritsukuseri, which in Japanese means 'a gracious
hospitality that is more fun and kindness than people expect'"
(translated by Bryan Hikari Hartzheim). Does this apply to all games?
Do we need comparative or regional game studies? Wouldn't that run
into the same debates that have beset more traditional kinds of area

Excited to learn from this week's conversations. Sending the best to all,
Alenda (Chang)


Guest bios:

Tara Fickle
Tara Fickle is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of
Oregon, and Affiliated Faculty of the Department of Ethnic Studies,
the New Media & Culture Certificate, and the Center for Asian &
Pacific Studies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of
California, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. Her
book, “The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities,”
(NYU Press, 2019), explores how games have been used to establish and
combat Asian & Asian American racial stereotypes. More information can
be found at tarafickle.com.

Souvik Mukherjee
Souvik Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of English Literature at
Presidency University, Calcutta, India. Souvik has been researching
video games as an emerging storytelling medium since 2002 and has
completed his PhD on the subject from Nottingham Trent University in
2009. He did his postdoctoral research in the humanities faculty of De
Montfort University, UK and at the Indian Institute of Technology in
New Delhi, India where he worked on digital media and narrative
analysis. Souvik's research examines their relationship to canonical
ideas of narrative and also how video games inform and challenge
current conceptions of technicity, identity and culture, in general.
His current interests involve the analysis of paratexts of video
games, the concept of time in video games and the treatment of
diversity and the margins in video games. Besides game studies, his
other interests are (the) digital humanities and early modern

Kasyoka Mwanzia
Kasyoka Mwanzia is interested in cultural studies and digital media in
the global South including: production, distribution, use, and
consumption of video games; video games as active archives that make
local knowledge discoverable and reusable; and critical making based
on situatedness. At heart she is interdisciplinary and interested in
real world linkages between scholarship, practice and use. Kasyoka
received her MA in Media Arts Cultures from a consortium of
universities in Austria, Denmark and Hong Kong. She will begin
pursuing a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University in
Fall 2020.

Christopher Patterson
Christopher B. Patterson (Ph.D., U of Washington) is an Assistant
Professor in the Social Justice Institute at the University of British
Columbia, where he researches transpacific discourses of literature,
video games, and new media through the lens of empire studies, Asian
American studies, and queer theory. He is the author of Transitive
Cultures: Anglophone Literature of the Transpacific (Rutgers
University Press, 2018), and Open World Empire: Race, Erotics, and the
Global Rise of Video Games (NYU Press, 2020). His articles have
appeared in Cultural Studies, American Quarterly, Games and Culture,
M.E.L.U.S. (Multi-ethnic Literatures of the United States) and other
venues. He writes fiction under his alter ego, Kawika Guillermo, and
his stories have appeared in The Cimarron Review, Feminist Studies,
The Hawai’i Pacific Review, and other magazines. His debut novel,
Stamped: an anti-travel novel (Westphalia Press, 2018), was a Finalist
in Literary Fiction for American Book Fest, and won the 2020
Association for Asian American Studies Book Award for Fiction. His
upcoming queer speculative novel, All Flowers Bloom, is forthcoming
from Westphalia Press in March 2020. As an organizer and public
scholar, Chris founded the podcast New Books in Asian American Studies
where he is a current co-host, and serves as the Prose Editor for
decomP Magazine.

Phill Penix-Tadsen
Phillip Penix-Tadsen is a specialist in contemporary Latin American
cultural studies and regional game studies, focusing on the
intersections between politics, economics, digital media and visual
culture throughout Latin America today. He earned a Ph.D. from
Columbia University and is Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin
American Studies at the University of Delaware, where he regularly
teaches courses on Latin American cultural studies and game studies.
Penix-Tadsen is the author of Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin
America (MIT Press, 2016) and editor of the anthology Video Games and
the Global South (ETC Press, 2019). He has published work in journals
including Feminist Media Histories, Letras Hispanas and Latin American
Research Review.
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