Alum Bonnie Ruberg Publishes on Sex Workers in Video Games

15 Jul, 2018

Alum Bonnie Ruberg Publishes on Sex Workers in Video Games

Alum Bonnie Ruberg (Assistant Professor, UC Irvine) published "Representing sex workers in video games: feminisms, fantasies of exceptionalism, and the value of erotic labor" in Feminist Media Studies in April 2018.

From the abstract:

This article critiques the representation of sex workers in “AAA” video games, with a focus on the devaluing of erotic labor. Existing feminist commentary has interpreted these representations as examples of the objectification of female game characters, perpetuating harmful misconceptions of sex work as fundamentally exploitative. By contrast, taking cues from feminist media studies, porn studies, and sex workers rights activism, I argue that what makes these representations of sex workers problematic is not their engagement in erotic labor but the ways that the games in which they appear devalue that labor, through both dialogue and interactive elements. Across their many appearances in AAA games, it is strikingly common for sex workers to offer their services to player-characters for free or at a discount, or for games to allow players to take their money back after erotic labor has been performed. This contributes to a gendered fantasy of exceptionalism in which a player-character’s masculinity is tied to being too attractive or too powerful to pay for sex. Critiquing these representations demonstrates how AAA video games prompt players to reenact widespread cultural biases against sex work. It also points toward the need for a diversity of feminisms within game studies.

Read the article here.

They've already picked up some press for the article on Motherboard and The College Fix. On Motherboard, Bonnie explains their reasons for writing the article:

"So this research came out of what I see as a need to start thinking differently about how video games—which are such a widely influential medium—represent sex workers. The real trouble isn't that there are sex workers in these games, it's that they're represented in ways that make their labor (and sometimes their lives) seem less valuable."

Way to go, Bonnie!