Alum Bonnie Ruberg at DIGRA 2018

19 Jul, 2018

Alum Bonnie Ruberg at DIGRA 2018

Alum Bonnie Ruberg attended the Digital Games Research Association 2018 conference, running from the 25th to 28th of July, in Turin, Italy to present in "Out of Tokens: Queer Game Studies Beyond Representation," a panel with Cody Mejeur, Adrienne Shaw, Michael Deanda and Joshua Savage. Her contribution was a paper entitled, "Should Queer Games Represent Queer Sex?”

Papers at DIGRA 2018 were asked to respond to the theme "The Game is the Message". From the website: "Games have long since moved out of the toy drawer, but our understanding of them can still benefit from seeing them in a wider context of mediated meaning-making. DiGRA 2018 follows Marshall McLuhan, and sees games as extensions of ourselves. They recalibrate our senses and redefine our social relationships. The environments they create are more conspicuous than their content. They are revealing, both of our own desires and of the society within which we live. Their message is their effect. Games change us."

For more information, visit DIGRA.

The description of the panel Bonnie was on is below:

As the DiGRA 2018 theme notes, games affect us by altering how we make meaning and understand ourselves. However contemporary mainstream gaming cultures demonstrate how those alterations have failed to effect true change: instead, they continue the same marginalizations in a new media context. In other words, the message of games as a medium has too often been exclusionary, and will continue to be so unless we actively work to change it. This panel presents different opportunities to do this by seizing the queer potentials of games, and ensuring that their systems do more than reinscribe unjust power dynamics. By expanding the toolbox of queer game studies, the panel contributes to transforming current heteronormative and patriarchal gaming cultures, and to imagining more inclusive and empowering alternatives. The field of queer game studies has grown exponentially in recent years, thanks in large part to groundbreaking publications such as Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge, Queer Game Studies (Ruberg and Shaw 2017), Gaming Representation (Malkowski and Russworm 2017), and special issues of QED (Summer 2015) and Game Studies (forthcoming 2018). Yet queer game studies has historically been stuck in discussions of representation: because of the dearth of major LGBTQ characters and narratives in games, the field often focused on identifying the few existing examples and arguing for more. At its worst, this manifested as a queer game studies that limited queerness to the presence of queer characters in what Edmund Chang calls “bird-watching for queer characters” (2017, 232). While representation remains a crucial part of queer game studies, the field has recently started to explore other forms of queerness in games. Examples of this include Chang’s concept of “queergaming,” the possibility of queer controllers (Markotte 2017; Sicart 2017; Bagnall 2017), and the potentials of queer failure (Halberstam 2017; Youngblood 2017; Ruberg 2017). This panel seeks to continue these discussions, and to introduce new queer concepts for challenging normativity in games. Adrienne Shaw will present a paper titled, “What isn’t a Game?” It will unpack the drawbacks of setting down rules for what counts as a game. For example, many have dismissed indie games as not “truly” games. That the texts often under attack are those that express or represent queer subject positions or are developed by tools that make queer game production possible is unsurprising. Queerness, as a mode of boundary questioning and structural critique, is particularly suited to pushing back on assumptions that any medium or genre can or should be or mean just one thing. In mapping how games have been defined, this paper will also interrogate the unintended violence of those definitions. Bonnie Ruberg will present a paper titled “Should Queer Games Represent Queer Sex?” As queer game studies scholars like Edmond Chang have argued, video games that include LGBTQ content often do so in limited ways. For example, such games often exclude representations of queer sex, arguably pandering to the homophobia of toxic gamer cultures. Yet, queer sex has a presence in the work of LGBTQ independent game-makers. Among these, Robert Yang and Christine Love stand out for their explicit foregrounding of queer sex. Others, such as Liz Ryerson and Dietrich Squinkifer, intentionally choose not to represent queer sex. This paper draws from original interviews conducted with queer indie game-makers to address tensions between the politics of representing queer sex and deliberately refusing to do so. It moves beyond representation by addressing the question: are there elements of queer experience that video games should not represent at all? Cody Mejeur will present a paper titled, “Playing/Queering Narrative Form,” which examines how games alter our conceptions of narrative through the fluidity and variability of play. As Shira Chess argues, games demand a reconsideration of narrative because they reject heteronormative expectations of climax and catharsis that dominate other narrative media, and instead embrace a “narrative middle” that emphasizes process and open-endedness (Chess 2016, p. 88). Building on Chess’s work, this paper argues that games challenge perceptions of narrative form as static or determined, and that they instead reveal how play animates, warps, and shatters forms such as signs, interfaces, and rules. Using The Vanishing of Ethan Carter as an example, this paper demonstrates how play queers narrative forms by blurring their boundaries and exploding their structures, and suggests that narrative is a living, playful process with emergent and queer potentials. Michael Anthony DeAnda will present a paper titled, “Queering Design Research for Games.” This paper focuses on methods for conducting design research with LGBTQ audiences and then applies the findings to game design. In this context, queerness serves as a method to critically analyze normative power structures and allows for refocusing and reconsidering how we normalize identities, existences, and systems. Game design researchers must understand how surveys interpellate subjects into certain categories, which is tricky when attending to the fluidity of gender identity and sexuality. DeAnda argues that surveys may leverage folk knowledge as a means for research subjects to better present themselves and demonstrates this through his experience developing the survey and analyzing the data that informed his Alternate Reality Game, Battle Against the Bulge, which comments on idealized masculinity within the gay community. Joshua D. Savage will present a paper titled, “Dare Not Speak Its Name: (In)visible Queer Representations in Mainstream Digital Games.” Using theorists including Shapiro and Buchbinder as a lens, this paper looks at queer codings of characters in digital games that include ambiguities allowing segments of the audience to ignore or deny these representations. Examined are two mainstream console series localized from Japan to the West, Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series and Bandai Namco’s Tales Of series, identifying queer codings of the characters, how these were (or were not) translated for Western audiences, and how they have been interpreted in online commentary, including debate (and abuse) that has arisen online. The paper theorizes that coding and response are shaped by a combination of culture and psychology, where resistance to recognizing characters as queer is also a resistance to identification with different sexual orientations.