[-empyre-] Plague, Inc.

Lindsay Kelley l.kelley at unsw.edu.au
Wed Mar 25 13:22:11 AEDT 2020

Hi Tara,

I've been thinking a lot about Plague Inc as well. Thanks for your reflection, it's been on my mind too.

My 11 year old cousin was playing it about a year ago and it quickly became clear that if I wanted to sustain any kind of conversation with him I had to play too. I got as far as unlocking and beating "fungus" but I can't say I've been an avid player, and I have deliberately not logged into it since the pandemic started. It feels like too much, even though its time consuming nature appeals to me while cooped up at home. I thought at the time that the game was great for my cousin because he learned a lot about geography and epidemiology from playing. He would ask questions about the climate and population density of various countries, etc. And I learned a lot about epidemiology too. I feel like I've filtered much of my knowledge about the current. COVID19 pandemic through my experience with Plague Inc! For example, one of the ways to be a successful virus in the game is to infect as many people as possible without unusual or dramatic symptoms. Seeing that happen with COVID19 immediately made me remember Plague Inc. My cousin's mom played as well, again probably for social access to her child, and we have all been discussing the weird ways it has come "true." She sent me this meme: https://twitter.com/Joshua_Ajax_/status/1238571931009454086/photo/1

Anti-Asian hate crimes here in Sydney are keeping friends home not only for the sake of self isolation but in fear of violence on the normally safe streets nearby (a few days ago a bottle was thrown at an acquaintance accompanied by yelling "Chinese virus!"). At the very moment when going out in groups seems like the safest approach, that is not the right way to do it. I'm struggling to come up with ways to be a good ally to the Chinese community here while I am self isolating at home. Social support on the street has to happen, and has to happen in new ways. 

Take care everyone,


Dr. Lindsay Kelley
Senior Lecturer
Australia Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2019-2021
Honorary Research Fellow Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in association with Sydney Environment Institute, the University of Sydney
UNSW Art & Design
UNSW Sydney 
E:  mailto:l.kelley at unsw.edu.au
I acknowledge the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which I work. I pay my respects to Elders past and present, and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Sovereignty never ceded. 

On 25/3/20, 11:07 am, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Tara Fickle" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of tfickle at uoregon.edu> wrote:

    ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
    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.
    empyre forum
    empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
    empyre forum
    empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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