[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 4: games of empyre

Souvik Mukherjee souvik.eng at presiuniv.ac.in
Fri Mar 27 01:34:34 AEDT 2020

Dear Alenda and all,

Thank you all for the very interesting conversation that we have been
having here for the past three weeks. Also, so much has happened in these
three weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic and I hope all of you are safe
where you are. I would like to start with a question that I was asked at an
interview recently. The question I was asked was that videogame plots are
usually all about resisting injustice and tyranny so isn't postcolonialism
also coded into them.  As you know, one of my key interests is how
videogames respond to the notions of colonialism and empire. I feel
honoured that I have been called to comment on this listserv discussion.
Indeed, the pun Empyre, which I read as 'the pyre of Empire', is my
favourite. I will supplement my position on Postcolonialism and videogames
(I write at length about this in my book Videogames and
Postcolonialism:  Empire
Plays Back) through my answers to the question asked above.

I sincerely believe that the procedural rhetoric (to borrow the term from
Ian Bogost) of most videogames tends to assume the default colonialist
position, a deep-seated position of imperialism, soft or blatant. The
popularity of empire-building strategy games and their gameplay logic of
conquering and colonising territories is a case in point. Also, in other
genres of videogames, where resistance to oppression is a key theme, the
point-of-view is very Western and the protagonist (even if it is the part
Native American, Conor or the former slave Adewale in the Assassin's
Creed games)
often treats the mission of resistance as the 'White Man's Burden'. In many
games the stereotypes (or to go with Lisa Nakamura, 'cybertypes') of
colonial times are perpetuated; even games that do consciously engage with
the narrative of imperialism locate the centre of agency in the West. I
think Far Cry 2 has been mentioned here already and I could also go on at
length about Far Cry 4 (which is situated in a place that roughly resembles
Nepal). In Far Cry 2, it is possible to play as non-Western protagonists
(Quarbani Singh from Mauritius but of Indian origin is a complex example)
and in Far Cry 4, Ajay Ghale is a non-resident Kyrati but in both games,
the position of the player is at best of the native informant and it is the
West that finally provides the (non) solution and 'rescues' the country.
The fact that the problems in these countries are caused by the colonial
presence is acknowledged but there seems to be an indication that the
departure of the colonial powers have only exacerbated the problems.

Certain voices and points-of-view are rendered 'subaltern' in these
videogames. I use the concept as outlined by Antonio Gramsci and then
adapted to the colonial context by proponents of Subaltern Studies such as
Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak. Regarding the complexity of
the term, I would like to refer to Walter Mignolo's incisive essay 'On
Subalterns and Other Agencies' where he states that 'it is the colonial
subaltern that carries on its shoulders the global colonial difference, the
racialised colonial wound […or] the authority and legitimacy of
Euro-centered epistemology, from the left and from the right, assuming or
explicitly declaring the inferiority of non-Christian, coloured skin, of
those who were not born speaking modern European languages or who were born
speaking a surrogate version of a European imperial language'. Mignolo
further points out that the Hardt-Negri concept of Empire nevertheless
works in the context of Western-based epistemologies and he contrasts this
with Frantz Fanon who  "breaks away from this by creating a fracture in the
epistemic identity of European ‘diversity’, and by locating and revealing
the coloniality of being".

I locate the colonial subaltern in the interstices of gameplay, mainly.
There are, of course, some games that deliberately and consciously address
the very non-representability and the voicelessness of the colonial
subject. Although not a videogame, Brenda Romero's Siochan Leat ('The Irish
Game') is one such example as is Studio Oleomingus's* Somewhere*, which is
about a land where the people are unable to speak ('Can the Subaltern
Speak?') because if they speak their selves are going to be subsumed in
what they say (presumably in the language of the coloniser). Also, imagine
non-Western players reacting to a representation of their cultures in these
videogames. This is what I term elsewhere, 'playing subaltern'. I find
Adrienne Shaw's essay, 'The Tyranny of Realism: Historical accuracy and
politics of representation in Assassin’s Creed III' useful in how it points
out the Western and white bias in the game even though the protagonist is
Native American precisely because it also hints at the potentially
disparate experience of non-western Other.

I will digress now to the topic of the pandemic now. This is an especially
necessary digression as most of us are under a state of lockdown. In India,
a colonial law first promulgated in 1897 to control the Plague in Bombay
(now Mumbai) is in force. Over a century ago, the colonial administration
oversaw a process of forcibly cleaning and sanitising households without
much regard for the local cultures and particularly, the customs of local
women. The decision was taken in public interest and was as per the norms
of British municipal rules; the colonial authorities failed to realise the
ground reality of the local population despite much protest, some of it
quite violent. Today, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, imposed first a
'janta curfew' (people's curfew) and then a twenty-one day lockdown in an
overnight announcement in Hindi on television, the scenario is grim. India
has a large population of daily-wage earners who have no access to formal
structures of payment, who do not possess television sets and who are
illiterate. Many of them have said that they will die of hunger instead of
the Corona virus. On the streets, the police are beating up or publicly
humiliating people who have ventured out - in scenes reminiscent of
colonial rule. Those who haven't hoarded supplies in advance are in dire
straits as the promised online deliveries or other access to essentials
have been blocked by police action. The daily wage-earner is rendered
subaltern here - the logic of sanitised social distancing will prevail and
leave them hungry. Even stranger is the fact that the world will simply not
get it. Just as Winston Churchill's decision to divert rice supplies to the
war effort caused one of the biggest famines in Bengal in 1943 where around
two to three million people died of hunger.

I'm reminded of those planning games that I used to play a lot. Democracy,
where moving the slider would so neatly plan an economy that I knew was
ironically not possible. The Deleuzoguattarian model where smoothness is
always undercut by striatedness comes to mind. When I play City: Skylines, I
am mostly busy in rebuilding where unemployment has caused a building to
become derelict, perhaps due to my  bad planning. But then I wonder, where
are the slums? City: Skylines is not about my city or any South Asian
'megacity' such as Mumbai or Kolkata. A game such as Plague Inc. might be
based on a logical procedural rhetoric but then, the subaltern doesn't know
the procedure.

Stay safe all and take care.

Best regards,


Assistant Professor and Head of Department | Department of English


E souvik.eng at presiuniv.ac.in    W
Videogames and Storytelling: Reading Games and Playing Books
 (Palgrave MacMillan 2015)
*Videogames and Postcolonialism: The Empire Plays Back*
UK 2017)

On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 12:31 AM Penix-Tadsen, Phillip <ptpt at udel.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear Alenda and all,
> I’ve really been enjoying the conversation over the past few weeks, thank
> you! I am an admirer of the work of so many people on this listserv, thanks
> once again for including me!
> In case you would like to read more about games and game development in
> Latin America and the Global South, I wanted to share links to my book *Cultural
> Code: Video Games and Latin America
> <https://drive.google.com/open?id=1JGwwVvfKWdP6oXtqIk8ccXUfAM05rJDY>*
> (pre-publication proofs, typos and all), my edited anthology *Video Games
> and the Global South
> <https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ZdSQVAr_WXMh7lgAFo0F2wlsKDXkVt1R>* and
> the report *Video Games: More than Just a Game* (in Spanish
> <https://publications.iadb.org/publications/spanish/document/Los_videojuegos_no_son_un_juego_Los_desconocidos_%C3%A9xitos_de_los_estudios_de_Am%C3%A9rica_Latina_y_el_Caribe.pdf>
> and English
> <https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/Video_Games_More_than_Just_a_Game_en.pdf>),
> which I co-authored and which highlights the work of 50 game studios
> throughout Latin America.
> Given our current situation with the global pandemic (and inspired by a this
> recent piece by Shira Chess
> <https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/essential-guide-mobile-games-social-distancing/?fbclid=IwAR0iscViuTBnJfqCExU4WYuOlq0sLh3-rXjS0lzwt6QCqlreDbT5vrHleuM>),
> for my contribution I thought I would go in a more pragmatic direction and
> offer you this annotated list of casual games from Latin American and
> Latinx developers to play on your own or with your family members while you
> are sheltered in place, quarantined or otherwise locked down.
> In their own ways, each of these games engages Alenda’s opening questions
> about recentering game studies beyond the US / Western imaginary,
> discovering neglected games / developers and illustrating concerns related
> to localization, colonialism, geopolitics and economics.
> Cheers!
> Phill
> *Casual Video Games from Latin American Developers for your Pandemic
> Cloister*
> Casual video games—those played on mobile devices and social networks—have
> profoundly impacted the way games are developed and played throughout Latin
> America and across the globe, opening doors for small indie developers to
> bring their games to the global market while bringing an increasingly
> diverse audience into game culture. Right now, it’s an ideal time to
> broaden our horizons, increase our gaming literacy and discover what we can
> learn from these games from Latin American and Latinx developers.
> *Today I Die <http://ludomancy.com/today/>* *(2010)*
> *Web*
> *Daniel Benmergui, Buenos Aires, Argentina*
> Along with *I Wish I Were the Moon*
> <http://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/i-wish-i-were-the-moon> (2008)
> and the prototype for *Storyteller
> <https://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/storyteller>* (2008), this
> point-and-click pixel art web game helped turn Daniel Benmergui into an
> award-winning developer and a darling of the international indie community. Deceptively
> simplistic but surprisingly complex, *Today I Die* challenges the player
> to intuitively manipulate simple mechanics and animated sprites to
> transform a chaotic and turbulent gamespace into a harmonious and peaceful
> poetic oasis.
> *Fhacktions GO <https://www.tap.io/app/143074?region=us>** (2020)*
> *iOS, Android*
> *Posibillian Tech, Asunción, Paraguay*
> Want to use your computer to save a world where all systems have collapsed
> and global networks have shut down? Now’s your chance! Like other
> multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, *Fhacktions GO* pits teams
> of five remotely connected players against one another in battle. Unlike
> others, this game was designed in Paraguay, and it is the first MOBA to use
> GPS technology to generate geolocative environments based on the player’s
> actual surroundings.
> *Garfield: Survival of the Fattest
> <https://apps.apple.com/us/app/garfield-survival-of-the-fattest/id789677229>**
> (2015)*
> *iOS*
> *Fair Play Labs, San José, Costa Rica*
> The majority of Latin American game development projects aren’t modeled on
> original intellectual property (IP), but rather work-for-hire and
> outsourced development for global media publishers, an approach that can
> provide stability, help build a portfolio and offer global visibility for
> relatively small developers across Latin America. Costa Rican firm Fair
> Play Labs has also created games including the casual soccer game *Journey
> to Real Madrid
> <http://www.fairplaylabs.com/projects/journey-to-real-madrid/> *(2012)
> and the Steam, PlayStation Portable and PS Vita platformer *Color
> Guardians <http://www.fairplaylabs.com/projects/color-guardians/>* (2015).
> *September 12th: A Toy World <http://www.newsgaming.com/games/index12.htm>**
> (2003)*
> *Windows*
> *Newsgaming.com <http://Newsgaming.com>, Montevideo, Uruguay*
> Having been referenced by everybody in game studies by now, *September
> 12th *is a legendary “serious game” or “newsgame,” a ludic editorial on
> the U.S.-backed “war on terror.” Around the same time they published this
> game, Gonzalo Frasca and collaborator Sofía Battegazzore also designed the
> webgame *Madrid* <http://www.newsgaming.com/games/madrid/index.html>, a
> contemplative homage to the victims of a 2003 terrorist attack in Madrid,
> Spain in the form of a whack-a-mole style candlelight vigil published just
> days after the incident. I will forever wish I could have experienced
> playing *September 12th *for the first time without any “spoilers”—so if
> you can, find a Windows machine, download it, and discover for yourself how
> it epitomizes Ian Bogost’s concept of “procedural rhetoric,” the way video
> games can make political statements.
> *The Shade Forest
> <https://playplayfun.com/the-shade-forest-game/play/> (2015)*
> *Web*
> *Amandapps, Sāo Paulo, Brazil*
> Brazilian drag queen developer Amanda Sparks followed up on the Android
> game *Flappy Drag Queen*
> <https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=floppyamanda.com.diefox&hl=en_US> (2014)
> with this “unusual action platformer game where kisses and slaps are your
> primary weapon of choice.” It is a great example of a casual LGBTQ game
> from a Latin American developer, speaking to serious issues with a sense of
> humor.
> *Klepto Cats 2 <https://hyperbeard.com/game/klep2cats/>** (2018)*
> *iOS, Android*
> *Hyperbeard, Mexico City, Mexico*
> Mexico City-based developer Hyperbeard focuses on creating fun, poppy
> casual games. *Klepto Cats 2*, like their other games *Chichens
> <https://hyperbeard.com/game/chichens/> *(2017) and *Clawbert
> <https://hyperbeard.com/game/clawbert/> *(2017), offers brief, enjoyable
> experiences that all types of players can easily get into on their mobile
> devices. In this way, it evidences the impact of casual games, which have
> created new opportunities for Latin American developers and audiences
> alike. Everybody loves cats!
> *Tropical America <http://www.tropicalamerica.com/>** (2002) *
> *Web*
> *OnRamp Arts, Los Angeles, USA*
> Developed as part of an after-school violence prevention program in an LA
> high school with a primarily Central American student body, this
> interactive narrative uses black-and-white digital images reminiscent of
> woodcut prints to take its player on a journey through the history of
> violence, power and inequality in Latin American, from Moctezuma to
> Subcomandante Marcos.
> *Mucho Taco <https://1simplegame.com/games/mucho-taco.php>** (2015)*
> *iOS, Android*
> *One Simple Game, Zapopán, Mexico*
> Some developers aim for universal appeal, while others use their local or
> national culture as an asset when designing games. *Mucho Taco* bridges
> the gap, combining fluid mechanics that make it a breeze for players of all
> skill levels with elements of Mexican mythology and gastronomy, as the
> player harnesses the power of the Sun Tortilla and the wisdom of Barbacoatl
> to make taco after delicious taco.
> *Preguntados <https://www.preguntados.com/> (2013)*
> *iOS, Android, Facebook*
> *Etermax, Buenos Aires, Argentina*
> Perhaps you’ve played this global smash hit trivia game, known in English
> as *Trivia Crack <https://www.triviacrack.com/>*. The secret to its
> success is crowdsourcing the content of its trivia questions, allowing
> Etermax to overcome a classic hurdle for developers of trivia games—the
> creation of localized content that is relevant to players in diverse
> cultural contexts across the globe.
> *Huni Kuin <http://www.gamehunikuin.com.br/en/>** (2016)*
> *PC, Mac, Linux*
> *Bobware, Sāo Paulo, Brazil*
> Developed in collaboration with the Kaxinawa (or Huni Kuin) people of
> Brazil, this simple jungle platformer joins the ranks of “indigenous”
> console games like *Mulaka <https://www.lienzo.mx/mulaka/>* (Lienzo,
> Chihuahua, Mexico, 2018), using the medium of the video game as a way of
> spreading indigenous knowledge and culture in novel ways to global *and*
> local audiences.
> *Kingdom Rush <http://www.kingdomrush.com/>** (2011)*
> *iOS, Android, Steam*
> *Etermax, Buenos Aires, Argentina*
> The *Kingdom Rush* series is popular among fans of the casual “tower
> defense” genre, where players situate defensive and offensive structures in
> order to block the path of an invading force. It is also a reflection of
> the strength of Uruguay’s game development scene, which has been bolstered
> by factors including taxation and immigration policies favorable to
> developers, higher education programs in game design and an ever-expanding
> community of like-minded professionals.
> *Borders <https://gonzzink.itch.io/borders>*
> * (2017) Windows / Mac*
> *Gonzalo Alvarez, Port Arthur, USA*
> Artist and illustrator Gonzalo Alvarez was a college student when he
> created *Borders*, a retro-style 2D adventure game that pits the player
> as an undocumented immigrant attempting to cross the desert into the United
> States on foot, as a recognition of the hardships his own parents and
> others have faced. Like other “immigration games”—think of the remarkable *Monopoly
> *modification *Turista Fronterizo*
> <http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/StartPage.html> (Ricardo Dominguez and
> Coco Fusco, 2006), or *Crosser <https://vimeo.com/14929009> *and *La
> Migra <https://vimeo.com/14929591>* (Rafael Fajardo and SWEAT, 2000 and
> 2001), which are modifications of the arcade classics *Frogger *and *Space
> Invaders*, respectively—*Borders* tackles immigration and life in the
> US-Mexico borderlands with brilliance, imagination and procedural grace.
> Best regards,
> Phill
> ---
> Phillip Penix-Tadsen
> (he/him/his)
> Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies
> Game Studies Minor Advisor
> Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
> University of Delaware
> *Video Games and the Global South*
> <http://press.etc.cmu.edu/index.php/product/video-games-and-the-global-south/> (ETC Press,
> 2019)
> *Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin America*
> <https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cultural-code> (MIT Press, 2016)
> El mar. 22, 2020, a las 7:04 p. m., Alenda Chang <
> achang at filmandmedia.ucsb.edu> escribió:
> ----------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
> studies?
> 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
> literature.
> 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
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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