Beyond Window Dressing: Queering Video Game Studies
Cross-posted from my blog:
Above is the Prezi (which I used for the very first time) presentation for my 5-minute “lightning talk” at MLA 2012 this past weekend. The roundtable “Close Playing: Literary Methods and Video Game Studies,” organized by Mark Sample, gave me an opportunity to be seated alongside some terrific (and wonderfully smart) people: Steven E. Jones, Loyola Univ., Chicago; Jason C. Rhody, National Endowment for the Humanities; Anastasia Salter, University of Baltimore; Timothy Welsh, Loyola University, New Orleans; and Zach Whalen, University of Mary Washington.
Overall, I wanted to bring a cultural studies, queer studies approach to video games and to draw attention to the fact that current games with LGBT content tend toward “window dressing,” queerness as menu choice and menu-driven identity. This surface, banal inclusion and representation (much like nods toward diversity and multiculturalism without any sense of nuance or depth) has very little impact narratively, mechanically, and socially. Yes, you can romance a same-sex partner in Dragon Age or woo an alien (of the same sex?) in Mass Effect. Yes, you can select a same sex spouse in Frontierville or encounter a queer character here and there. However, much of this is either taken up as shock value (certainly by mainstream and often homophobic players)and titillation, is recuperated back into heteronormativity (re: you can have a same-sex spouse in Frontierville but must complete a whole series of very traditional marriage quests), or it simply does not matter because algorithmically there is no difference.
I further sketched the need to push the need for intersectional approaches to look not only at gender and sexuality but also race, class, and other cultural logics and formations of power. What I did not get a chance to expand upon was the need to also think intersectionally when it comes to certain foci of video game studies itself–the need to look not only at code and platform or gameplay and reception or representation and narrative as independent. Rather, there is a richness here to understand how normative logics cleave to normative narratives, which are structured by what I call technonormative programming and design.
All in all, it was a great roundtable and I was honored to be included. I hope to continue to see these kinds of collaborations and conversations continue across domains and disciplines.