Bonnie Ruberg

10 Feb, 2015

Bonnie Ruberg

Read more about Bonnie's current research online at


My dissertation, “Pixel Whipped: Pain, Pleasure, and Media,” uses the concept of virtual pain to reimagine the role of embodiment in supposedly disembodied media forms. Through quantitative analysis and close reading, I challenge the notion that flesh no longer matters for the technologically-mediated self. Internet users and video game players are often promised the chance to check their genders, races, and physical limitations at the screen. I argue that, to the contrary, interacting with media has long been inextricably bound up with experiences of the body, in particular pain and pleasure. From iconic images of suffering in the novels of the Marquis de Sade and the films of Pier Pasolini, to epic failure in racing video games and virtual worlds where participants wield pixelated whips, I trace key examples of playful pain destabilizing the divide between representation and reality. Together these cases demonstrate the embodied nature of even the most “virtual” interactions. They reinstate flesh into frameworks of technology and insist on the physical conditions of inequality that underlie the digital. The interventions made by my project have been rendered all the more timely by online harassment campaigns like GamerGate. Thanks to my emphasis on reading new media through a feminist lens, “Pixel Whipped” has already attracted attention from university press editors.

Social justice guides my research into many areas of video games and interactive media. I have worked extensively on games and LGBTQ issues. My article “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games” (Identity Matters: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Game Studies, Indiana University Press) challenges prominent theories of play by reframing gaming itself as queer. I am the lead editor of Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies. As a technology journalist writing for venues like The Economist, The Village Voice, and, I have published widely on gender and sexuality in games culture and the games industry. Much of my research blends theory and practice. I am a founding member of Berkeley’s “Net Difference” Digital Humanities research collective, which develops software to make social media accessible to humanists. I am also working with Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology to create an interactive article investigating how the use of participatory technologies in art exhibits marginalizes female artists and artists of color. In 2015, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking will be publishing my article "No Fun: The Value of Video Games That Annoy, Anger, Disappoint, Sadden, and Hurt,” the seed of my second book project. “No Fun” extends the work of ludologists and queer theorists by insisting on the political stakes of rejecting fun as a goal for players and designers alike.

About Bonnie

Bonnie Ruberg is a Ph.D. candidate in the departments of Comparative Literature, New Media, and Gender and Women’s Studies. Her research interests include digital cultures, the Digital Humanities, feminism, queerness, video games, French and English literature, the gothic, and surrealism. She is also the executive organizer of the annual Queerness and Games Conference and a founding member of the Net Difference research collective, which explores the relationship between social media and diversity. Previously, Bonnie has worked as a technology journalist for publications like The Village Voice, The Economist, and Forbes.

Recent publications:

– Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies, lead editor, forthcoming collection
– “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games,” Identity Matters: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games
- “Curating with a Click: The Art that Participatory Media Leaves Behind,” Ada: A Journal of Gender, Technology, and New Media
- “Cruising Dystopia: The Messy Optimism of Shaka McGlotten’s Virtual Intimacies,” Qui Parle