FEMINIST MIX TAPE GAME JAM

The FEMINIST MIX TAPE GAME JAM is a two-day event in collaboration with the UK’s XX+ Jam and supported by ReFiG. This jam invites women, trans persons, non-binary folk and allies to participate. The feminist focus asks participants to create a game in response to a piece of music from our feminist playlist (the browser version is a bit quirky but works fine if opened in the free Spotify App). The interpretation can be literal, figurative, abstract, based on a single lyric, the artwork or music video associated with the song, or concerned with the artist(s) themselves. The game form is also flexible: digital or analogue, it’s up to you. 

DATES & TIMES: Friday October 14 6-10pm & Saturday October 15 10am-6pm. 

LOCATION: OCAD, 230 Richmond Street W (3rd Floor Lab). 

To apply please send an email with “Feminist Mix Tape” in the subject line to refiggames@gmail.com and include 1) your name, 2) 2 lines about why you want to participate, 3) if you have any dietary requirements, need child care, or accommodations for disabilities. 

CARE ETHICS AT OUR JAM: We have a safer space policy in place. You can find out more details here

We also strive to be a ‘healthy’ jam, providing nutritional catering to suit a variety of dietary requirements and give participants energy for the duration. Quiet/relaxation spaces are provided to give jammers a rest from their screens. Childcare will be available if requested. We make the jam theme available in advance so that you can think about or plan your game in advance, so that you can dedicate your jam time to execution. There is also no emphasis on completion. We promote process over outcome in an attempt to reduce the pressure that can come with traditional jam situation. 

If you have any complaints or concerns during the jam you can speak to one of our coordinators who will be identified at the start. 

A small honoraria will be offered to participants. 

Jam well, jammers. 

REFIG 2016 CONFERENCE CFP

 

ReFiG has launched and is in its 2nd year. Dedicated to supporting work that promotes diversity, inclusion and equity in games across the sectors of formal education, informal learning, the game industry and games/cultures, we invite paper proposals for presentation at our conference to be held at Concordia University in Montreal from October 27-29, 2016. 

We invite proposals that address the above areas, and/or that focus on feminist methodologies for studying games and communities, or propose new directions, new theories and new forms of meaning making. Thematic areas may include but are not limited to:

Games/cultures

  • Analysis of player communities, diversity and inclusion
  • Representational analysis of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation in games
  • Examinations of marketing practices
  • Descriptions of demographics or player behaviours 

Game industry

  • Reports from embedded research in industry establishments
  • Reviews of inclusion and diversity policies at games studios and/or affiliated online communities
  • Policy development for inclusive practices in the industry
  • Feminist game post-mortems 

 Informal learning

  • Reflections on game design workshops
  • Descriptions of effective safer space policies for informal learning environments
  • Papers detailing the career pathways of former participants in informal learning initiatives 
  • Participatory action research or embedded research reports from informal learning sites

Formal education

  • Post-mortems or reflections on game curriculum that addresses social justice issues
  • Discussions of effective recruitment practices for building more diverse games classrooms
  • Reviews of post-secondary games programs 

TIMELINE:

Deadline for proposals is August 15, 2016.

Notifications will be sent by September 8, 2016.

HOW TO APPLY

Online applications forms are available. You will need to provide the following information: 

  • Paper title
  • Name of author(s)
  • Institutional affiliation (if applicable)
  • Abstract (300 words)
  • Contact email

If you have any questions, please get in touch: refiggames [at] gmail [dot] com.

BE EXCELLENT

I have been making some progress with my person vignette game, Be Excellent. This is a game with a Teletext interface about events that occurred while watching the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Borrowing the time travel mechanic from the film, the player travels through the moments past to consider changing the present. 

Unlike the popular use of time-travel in games like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, or the more recent Life Is Strange where the player can go back and improve the conditions of the timeline, this game explicitly encourages the player to preserve moments in time and accept them. 

Here are some screen shots. 

[Title screen]
[Insert tape]
[Time travel time]

I also have some truly excellent audio provided by Raina Lee. 

I am pretty excited with where this is going and will keep you all posted! 

HISTORY OF GENDER AND GAMES CONFERENCE

I will be speaking at the History of Gender and Games symposium in Montreal June 26-27. There are some amazing keynotes lined-up and I will be talking about the fostering of the 'gamer' identity and development of gender-related discourse in 90s issues of the magazines Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly

More information on the event can be found on their website and the schedule will be realized soon. In the meantime you can read my abstract below: 

“Hurry Up and Die So I Can Play” and Other Commentaries on Gender and Gaming 

in 90s Issues of Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly.

"I don’t know about you guys, but I am sick of video games showing girls in dresses with big pink bows in their hair. I mean c’mon! In real life we are far from being the delicate, prissy, male-dependent bimbos that the big companies seem to think we are. We don’t need a male to save us every five minutes, and we don’t scream at  every spider that passes by us, most of us prefer not to waltz around in little string bikinis. And as far a video games go, the girls in my sixth-grade class can take any challenge the boys can dish out. Our game of choice isn’t Barbie, either, Earthworm Jim, DKC, Killer Instinct, and Star Fox are among our favourites." 

(Sarah LaBrie in Nintendo Power 1995) 

In 1995, a sixth-grader named Sarah LaBrie wrote this letter to Nintendo Power. This started something: responses to her letter were published in the magazine’s ‘player pulse’ section over a two year period. It was a sustained and polarized dialogue. The discussion is generally Nintendo specific, with complaints about pinkification and disempowered princesses and rebuttals including examples of strong female characters, game content speaking to the largely male demographic and the stereotypically macho male representations. The discussion of gender and gaming all but disappears when lifetime Editor-in-Chief, Gail Tilden, retires and the publication gets a re-design. 

As this debate was dwindling, Electronic Gaming Monthly’s readers were beginning to discuss the ‘male-dominated’ gaming industry with a concentration on sexism, sexuality, sexualization and exclusion. Largely prompted by the protagonist of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft, the publication hosted this correspondence for a full year, during which time men and women ponder the representation of women and ask where all the female reviewers are, while there is a good smattering of sarcastic and cynically disengaged commentary. In the middle of the conversation, the magazine commissioned topical contributions including a column about the exclusionary aspects of gamer culture by ‘grrrl gamer’ Nikki Douglas and a ‘Women in Games’ special feature subtitled ‘Hurry up and Die So I Can Play’. (EGM 1998)

In this paper, I look at the way gender discourse plays out in these two publications: the specific issues that concern players, the nature of rebuttals and the way that the discussion is, often unhelpfully, steered and editorialized by the press. As an exercise in what Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castell (2013) call ‘feminist forensics’, this reports and documents “examples of violent, vitriolic, and hate-filled speech that has been targeted at women” (Jenson 2014) when they speak out. In this I offer two crucial observations. First, that, as Kristina Busse (2013) has noted, the body tends to be central to the discourse. Second, that the discourse on gender and gaming, particularly in the player community, has changed relatively little when viewed against the recent intense activities of #gamergame. 

This is part of a larger project that looks to ancillary texts of game culture to better understand historical notions of gender and gaming and the evolving, or not, discourse on the subject. The findings and analysis of this paper are the product of a Fellowship at The Strong: National Museum of Play and access to their archival material. My analysis, interpretation and critical framing of this research is on-going, As such, this paper is driven by a comparative analysis of the words used, both past and present, to describe and derail the discussion of gender and gaming. 

References

Busse, Kristina. (2013). Geek Hierarchies, Boundary Policing, and the Gendering of the Good Fan. Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 10(1). http://www.participations.org/Volume%2010/Issue%201/6%20Busse%2010.1.pdf 

Fielder, Lauren. (1998). Hurry Up and Die So I Can Play. Electronic Gaming Monthly, 110. p. 130-137 

Jenson, Jennifer & de Castell, Suzanne. (2013). Tipping Points: Marginality, Misogyny and Videogames. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 29(2). p. 72-85

Jenson, Jennifer. (2014). Forging a Feminist Alliance in Digital Gameplay and Scholarship. [Unpublished presentation]. iSchool Colloquia Series, University of Toronto. 

LaBrie, Sarah. (1995). Player Pulse letter. Nintendo Power, 77. p. 7

WELL PLAYED: SERIOUSLY WEIRD EDITION - AVAILABLE NOW!

I guest edited a special issue of Well Played journal with the theme 'seriously weird'. Like the RE/Search 'incredibly strange' series, this collection takes the weird seriously, discussing radical and raucous game design; games with challenging themes; impenetrable and barely playable games and strange play styles. You can download the pdf for free here or order a physical copy on Lulu

Contents: 

Part One: Out of Control

Weird WarioWare: nstructional Dissonance and Characterization in WarioWare Inc., Mega Microgame$!
Josh Fishburn

Community-based Play in Twitch Plays Pok.mon
Max Mallory

Part Two: Love++

Romancing Pigeons: The Deconstruction of the Dating-Sim in Hatoful Boyfriend
Nicolle Lamerichs

Playing with Feelings: Porn, Emotion, and Disability in Katawa Shoujo
Alexander Champlin

Part Three: Best Worst Games

SWITCH / PANIC! Sega CD’s Greatest Enigma
Eli Neiburger

Takeshi no Chousenjou, a Terrible Game by Design
Howard Braham

Part Four: Something Weird This Way Comes

Conspiracy Hermeneutics: The Secret World as Weird Tale
Tanya Krzywinska

The Weird Humanity of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Karen Schrier

Part Five: Other

Defamiliarization and Poetic Interaction in Kentucky Route Zero
Alex Mitchell

How do Frog Fractions and Nier use intertextual knowledge to subvert the player's expectations?
Rory Summerley

REPORT FROM THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF PLAY

In early October I had the privilege of spending two weeks in The Strong: The National Museum of Play libraries to make use of the magazine and periodicals archived there for a research project on gender and gaming. This work is exclusively concerned with the representation and discussion of women and girls as game players. There has been a good deal of work dedicated to the lack of women in the industry and regressive representations of female bodies on the screen, but I am interested in the ways that females have recognized as players and participants in games culture.

 

One of my objectives is to examine how female play is represented in the games press and how the discourse on gender and games has developed in these spaces.The role of the consumer press and ancillary texts in constructing or reinforcing the modern “gamer” identity as well as gender expectations of play has been under explored. Access to near-complete collections of a variety of publications proved very fruitful and I discovered a number of articles, ads and pictorial representations that suggest that paratexts have a great deal to tell us about the state and shaping of games culture.

 

Looking through complete pre-millennium editions of Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nintendo Power, for instance, I discovered mid-90s dialogue between readers on gender and gaming taking place in the letters section of both publications. The discussion, in both cases, is sparked by letters from female players who feel underrepresented or misrepresented by games culture and even the publication they subscribe to. These letters feature familiar complaints about 

gender stereotyping of players, sexualized female characters, and a lack of female industry professionals (developers and journalists). The discussion proceeds to polarize with responses ranging from agreement and support to sarcastic undermining and aggressive attempts to debunk. All this with little commentary from the editorial teams. The reading of this relative silence will take more consideration but, as we are seeing a similar lack of leadership or steering of the gender and games conversation from the games press, I would not take it to mean that the consumer press have not contributed to gendered constructions of gaming. 

 

In Nintendo Power the discussion closes when long-term editor Gail Tilden leaves while in EGM the letter series culminates in a feature on women in games. This may seem promising, however, there are a number of problems with the way this is handled. Problems that persist today. First, a non-staff female is recruited to produce the piece. While it is important to women to write their history and tell their own stories this approach serves another purpose when dropped into this context. In this case, the all-male journalist team pass off the responsibility. They stay out of the discourse and don’t lose face with their core audience. This is ensured by accompanying the article with the pop-art rendering of a distressed-looking female holding a controller beside a male saying “hurry up and die so I can play”. These words serve to undermine the content, content which is already compromised by the voice, a female voice, that is inserted into a space that has proven itself hostile to the gender debate and unwilling to believe women’s stories. 

 

These are important findings for my work. While they may seem unsurprising today in light of the events of the GG hashtag and the on-going debate, it is important to understand that the issues are not new and that we continue, the culture continues to conduct itself in the same way, making the same mistakes which permit a hostile, hegemonic masculinity to continue to exclude and alienate women from play.  

 

My time spent, nose buried in the magazines of videogame past at The National Museum of Play has yielded a number of valuable insights along this line as well as a few surprises including the writing of women contributors to early editions of A.N.A.L.O.G and Computing Gaming Magazine which resemble the styles and priorities of “New Games Journalism” (Gillen 2004). The archival material has invigorated my work and given me new directions. I would love to return someday and take another peak into the play archives.

TEACHING GENDER, DIVERSITY & INCLUSIVITY IN GAME PROGRAMS

There’s no need to recount and redo the violence here, but it sure has been hard to be involved in the gaming recently. With the current state of game culture, it is easy to feel despondent. This is an ideal time for a group project (with Feminists in Games), something to keep us productive and positive. 

This project will create an online, open-access resource for educators, filled with helpful guidance for teaching feminism, gender, critical race theory, queer theory and other issues of diversity and inclusivity in a game-related higher education context. In this, we need your help. 

You may have a sample syllabus which speaks to the issues, a great reading list for your students, examples from games and game culture that effectively demonstrate inequity or intervention. Any and all of these are valuable. By sharing your knowledge and experience we can co-create a digital repository. One that will benefit the instructor who wants to incorporate issues of inclusivity for the first time, the professor looking for new ways to engage their students, and the teacher that wants to freshen up their existing course content. 

Together, we know better and our collective knowledge and experience is crucial to the success and impact of this type of project. The more ideas we generate, the less ground for objection and opportunity for obfuscation when it comes to including such crucial issues in games curricula. Those already practicing this in their pedagogy know that ‘gender week’ or a ‘queer games session’ is not sufficient. These are not tidy subjects that can be picked up for a few hours and put away again. We need layered and sustained engagement with the issues across all aspects of game-focused education. Collecting a wide variety of ideas will demonstrate how we can continue the learning across programs and courses: from classes on character design, videogame history and fandom to game narratives, industry studies and games journalism. 

It is important and very possible to address issues of diversity and inequities in all areas of game study. Raising issues of gender, race, sexuality, ability and class is a key responsibility of educators and essential to producing an informed and considerate next generation of designers and consumers. This is our job and a meaningful way to push back at insidious and exclusionary patterns in game content and culture. Please join in!

Taking part is quick, easy and you may do so anonymously. Simply, follow this link and fill out the form.

GAME LOVE: ESSAYS ON PLAY AND AFFECTION

Thanks to the hard work of amazing editors Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Jessica Enevold, the Game Love anthology is complete and available for pre-order. 

ABOUT

What does love have to do with gaming? As games have grown in complexity, they have increasingly included narratives that seek to engage players with love in a variety of ways. While media attention often focuses on violent emotions and behavior in gaming, love has always been central to the experience. We love to play games, we have titles that we love, and sometimes we love too much or love terrible games for their shortcomings. Love in gaming is rather like love in life—often complicated and frustrating but also exciting and gratifying.

This collection of fresh essays explores the meaning and role of love in gaming, describing a number of ways—from coding to cosplay—in which love can be expressed in, for and around games. Investigating how gaming involves love is also key to understanding the growing importance of games and gamers as cultural markers.

This anthology contains beautiful contributions from Ashley Brown, Nicolle Lamerichs, Ian Sturrock, Hanna Wirman, Olli Tapio Leino and a foreword by Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris

PLATFORMER PROJECT

I am so pleased for my old Cardiff-based collaborators, Winding Snake, with the launch of their community dev project Platformer. Working with youths in underdeveloped regions of Wales for six months, the team did excellent, worthy work of tech training and design workshopping to prepare participants for making their first games. The project website is looking wicked. You can play with the games and watch a documentary about the project! 

Well done, team Winding Snake!!! 

REPLAYING JAPAN

I am deeply excited for this one, the 2nd Annual Japanese Game Studies Conference. The line-up sounds fascinating and this will be my first Japanese dedicated game con! I will be using this as an opportunity to exercise some of the material from my monograph in progress and giving a talk entitled: Soft(ware) Power: Animal Crossing as a Persuasive & Affective Kawaii Game

ABSTRACT

Kawaii, or cute, aesthetics are frequently described in terms of their capacity to elicit emotional responses (Kinsella 1995, Ngai 2005, Cheok & Fernando 2011). The affective potential of cuteness straddles disciplines from sociology and anthropology (Sherman & Haidt 2011, Lorenz 1971, Yano 2013); the humanities (Ngai 2005, Harman 2005); and cultural studies and the arts (Allison 2005, Harris 2004, Richards 2001). Recently this discussion has been picked up by HCI scholars (Cheok & Fernando 2011) as an affective computing strategy to apply to design. Kawaii has also historically been framed as a form of play (Allison 2006, Ngai 2005, Yano 2013). As part of a larger, on-going project I contemplate both these themes through the analysis of videogames. In this paper I will use the case study of Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo 2012) to discuss the emotive power of cuteness and interrogate the ‘playfulness’ of the aesthetic. 

 

Through the example of this cute life simulation game I will focus on kawaii’s ability to convey and evoke pity. This is an emotional layer of cute which is under discussed if not entirely ignored in the literature. The relationship between cute and pitiful is both etymological and conceptual, as Sharon Kinsella (1995) says: “Kawaii is a derivation of a term whose principle meaning was ‘shy’ or ‘embarrassed’ and secondary meanings were ‘pathetic’, ‘vulnerable’…” (Kinsella 1995, 221-222). Kawaii characters are often pitiful in some measure, they achieve this through the expression of weakness, a lack or ability or experience or vulnerability. Quintessential cutie Tarepanda (lazy panda) embodies the pitiful cute. He is cute precisely because he wears a sad, droopy expression, he is often depicted in a struggle either slumped over some food or stuck in an awkward position. He has a bloated body with dumpy limbs which he does not use and instead only moves by rolling slowly around. The pitiful aspect of cuteness is crucial to the conjuring of emotions and particularly effective at instilling a desire to care for the cute pitiful thing. 

 

Animal Crossing is particularly effective at producing this dynamic. Referring to my personal and group play experience over a six month period I will reflect on the ways in which the pitiful kawaii characters which inhabit the game are persuasive, encouraging the player to care for them emotionally and ludicly as the afforded interactions are generally representational caregiving exercises and maintenance type activities. The emotionally ladened persuasive power of cuteness resonates with the idea of ‘soft power,’ a term which is evoked frequently in reference to Japanese popular culture and a strategy of design which Christine R. Yano (2013) associates with kawaii as a persuasive and even political tool. Extensionally, I will argue that Animal Crossing fosters play with cuteness that is better understood as affective labour or what Julian Kücklich (2005) terms ‘playbour,’ a result which forces into focus kawaii’s easy synonymy with play.

DiGRA COMETH

The schedule for the 2014 Digital Games Research Association conference is live and the line up is looking great. I am particularly excited about two things: 1) the gender and sexuality panel and 2) a panel starring ME... and the amazing Florence Chee, Christopher Paul and Kelly Bergstrom. The panel is called "Hey look at the weirdos: a panel discussion on deviance and acceptance in the strange space". 

ABSTRACT 

This panel discusses the notions of deviance and acceptance in and around virtual communities of practice. While there has been marked progress regarding how gamers are regarded in mainstream discourse due to the recent prominence of games research that explains the finer nuances associated with communication and community, there are still dark pools where respectability politics still deter much academic discussion and where researchers are likely to fear treading.

We are bringing a set of scholars who are pushing at these discursive margins to shed light upon communities of practice that go beyond “Vanilla WoW,” and after discussing their research projects, invite the audience to participate in a dialogue regarding the numerous and varied constraints and silences occur in and around the creation of the conversation in games research. This is a collection of papers about topics that usually get passed over for the more well worn game studies paths.

Included in the range of projects to be discussed in this panel:

1. EVE Online is a game with a reputation of being difficult for a new player to break into the community. But even with its tight knit community, the game has its vocal critics -- even among its current players. Drawing upon survey and interview data from EVE players, focusing specifically on a subset who vocally express their hatred of the game and yet they continue to play. I argue that much like Huizinga’s spoil sport, these players have no vested interest in maintaining the commonly shared narrative that EVE is a game only for a particular sort of player. Therefore, it is through these players’ narratives that we can better identify the barriers to participation in this particular game. MMOGs, like all games, are a voluntary leisure activity and for many, gameplay is a leisure activity because it a pleasurable activity. But what can we make of players who actively express their dislike of a game they currently play? Drawing on the colloquial term “hatewatching”, continually tuning into a television show week after week that one dislikes but feels like they can’t turn away, I investigate the phenomena of “hate-playing” EVE Online.

2. The Gorean communities of practice in and around Second Life. Based on novels written by American John Norman in 1966, the series combines philosophy, erotica, and science fiction. Part of the practices depicted in the series concerns the relationships between dominant men and submissive women. As such, the lore, along with their lifestyle adherents, have been also criticized and reified. Now technologically mediated through Second Life, there are even more opportunities for misunderstanding, panic, and rigorous but nonetheless theoretically convenient representations of community members.

3. Distinguishing between three forms of deviancy which have historically been confused and/or conflated: 1) kusoge (shit games), 2) kuso culture online (Little Fatty, lolcats, participatory culture parodies etc.), and 3) egao (kuso-like 2.0 phenomena in China). Kuso internet culture is a set of practices identifiable by a shared scatological attitude, present in videogame culture as Mario and Zelda YouTube Poops, The Angry Video Game Nerd content and the legend of its origins. The rise of a niche fan community celebrating kusoge has been deeply associated with the emergence of kuso culture, however they share little in terms of that defining attitude. Using kuso culture as a point of departure this discussion will demonstrate that kusoge fandom is, in fact, a combination of camp and avant-garde practice, while Chinese egao is a form of activism.

4. A key piece of how games are made to mean is the interaction between game design and player culture. As payment frameworks for games move from the straightforward purchase of a product to the in app purchases that can typify free-to-play games, game culture produces a new kind of deviance: the player who pays. Perhaps originating in massively multiplayer online games where players could purchase currency outside of the terms of service, contemporary free-to-play game typically produce communities where those who invest massive amounts of time are venerated and those who pay are deemed whales by developers and are constructed as lesser skilled players by gamers. This production of deviance is instructive in studying how game culture produced particular norms for play and rules for engagement and how those factors frame how game players and academics are likely to engage the study of games. 

 

MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE

I had the honour of being invited to speak at Gamercamp. It's an amazing game culture event organized with equal amounts arcade/exhibition and discussion. I took the opportunity to talk about a merging of my personal interests - the romance genre and videogames - with a sprawling thought piece called Machines of Loving Grace: Romancing the Medium of Videogames

This was mostly a thought piece on what 'love' in videogames might look like, the many ways in which we might conceive of love as a system, how romance might always already be mediated with a celebratory nod to some crucial videogame texts that evoke the emotions associated with love, romance and flirtation. 

The notes from my talk are available here as well as the PPT presentation, it's quite cute!

 

GAME CUTIFICATION TALK

For the past few months I've been working on a monograph about cute aesthetics, games and play. This brings together two of my most enduring interests - videogames and cuteness. To kick this off and really commit to the personal project I gave a guest lecture for York University's Institute for Research on Learning Technologies on the darker and more aggressive tones of cute aesthetics and the implications these have for play with cute toys and games entitled Game Cutification: A Violent History of Gender, Play and Cute Aesthetics.