Queer Game Studies collection hits shelves this March!

Ruberg Shaw Queer Game Studies cover

Queer Games Studies, the edited volume about LGBTQ issues and video games that Adrienne Shaw and I have been working on since 2013, is now almost here! The book will be out this March, 2017 from University of Minnesota Press.

In this “landmark anthology,” we bring together a wide range of perspectives from scholars, social commentators, and game-makers to open up dialogues around the relationship between queerness, games, and play. This is an exciting new area of research for game studies and queer studies alike (to learn more, check out Queer Game Studies 101), and we’re hoping that our book will help bring the discussion of LGBTQ issues and video games to new readers and new classrooms.

Queer Game Studies features work by:
Leigh Alexander, Gregory Bagnall, Hanna Brady, Mattie Brice, Derek Burrill, Edmond Chang, Naomi Clark, Katherine Cross, Aubrey Gabel, Christopher Goetz, Jack Halberstam, Todd Harper, Chelsea Howe, Larissa Hjorth, Jesper Juul, merritt kopas, Colleen Macklin, Amanda Phillips, Gabriela Richard, Toni Rocca, Bonnie Ruberg, Adrienne Shaw, Sarah Schoemann, Kathryn Bond Stockton, Zoya Street, Peter Wonica, Robert Yang, and Jordan Youngblood

Check it out and spread the word. And if you’re planning to attend the 2017 Queerness and Games Conference (4/1 & 4/2 at USC in LA), stop by our book release party!

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The 2017 Queerness and Games Conference is only three months away

QGCon 2017 logo 2It’s hard to believe, but there are now less than three months left until the 2017 Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon). After three years in Berkeley, QGCon is coming to Los Angeles for the first time this spring. The event will be at the University of Southern California, hosted by the Interactive Media and Games Division — my department! — on Saturday, 4/1 and Sunday, 4/2. Registration is now open. If you register early, you even get a super cute gift to show off your queer games pride.

Even though QGCon (more or less) only happens once a year, there are months of planning that go into each event. My amazing 2017 co-organizers and I have been meeting since late summer to put together all the pieces for this year. The schedule isn’t quite out yet, but we can say that we have an impressive lineup of speakers and sessions — more than ever before! We also have two great keynotes: T. L. Taylor from MIT on the academic side and John Epler from Bioware on the developer side.

There’s so much more to do in the next three months… but, hey, in the meantime, tell your friends and get ready to have an amazing time at QGCon 2017!

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The draft of my book Playing Queer is complete!

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve been hard at work writing the full manuscript of my book Playing Queer: Sexuality, Gender, and Identity in Video Games beyond Representation. It’s now in the hands of my editors (woot!). Until the plan for publication is a little more official, I’m going to be superstitious and hold off on details — but it looks like it will land with a series and a press that I’m really excited about.

I feel like Playing Queer has been a long time coming, not just because queer game studies is a fast-emerging field, but because I’ve been learning, and thinking, and thinking, and learning about LGBTQ issues in video games for years, and once I began writing in earnest it all started pouring out. I’m so grateful to all the collaborators, co-organizers, and game-makers who have worked with me and helped me become the queer game studies scholar I am today.

Here’s a little taste from the introduction, to give you a sense of the claims I’m making. More updates coming soon, as Playing Queer chugs along through the academic publishing process…

Video games have always been queer. Even games that appear to have no LGBTQ content can be played queerly, and all games can be interpreted through queer lenses. This is because queerness in video games means more than the representation of LGBTQ characters or same-sex romance. Queerness and video games share a common ethos: the longing to imagine alternative ways of being and to make space within structures of power for resistance through play. From the origins of the medium, to the present day, and even reaching into the future, video game worlds have offered players the opportunity to explore queer experience, queer embodiment, queer affect, and queer desire—even when the non-heteronormative and counter-hegemonic implications of these games has been far from immediately obvious.

Through new critical perspectives, queerness can be discovered in video games, but it can also be brought to games through players, whose choices to engage with games on their own terms and for their own pleasures can profoundly transform the meaning of games and unleash their queer potential. In this way, queer play, like queer interpretation and queer game design, can be seen as a transformative practice that reframes and remakes games from the inside out. Amidst a games culture that has proven itself to be openly hostile to diversity, the politics of queer play echo outward across games communities, games history, the games industry, and into wide-reaching contemporary concerns around identity, marginalization, agency, and digital media.

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“Video Games and Queer Affect” panel at SCMS 2017

I’m really looking forward to the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference this year, which is happening in Chicago, 3/21 – 3/26. It’s the first time that I’m chairing a panel at the event — “Video Games and Queer Affect: Empathy, Embodiment, Exile, Economy.” My co-presenters are Christopher Goetz, Whitney Pow, and Diana Mari Pozo, and I can’t wait to hear their presentations. Maybe this is how putting together panels always goes, but I feel both excited and selfish. The intersection of video games and queer affect is an area I’ve been interested in exploring for a while now, and I get to be part of an entire session about it.

Now that the SCMS 2017 preliminary program is out, it looks like we’re presenting at 3:00 pm on Thursday, 3/23. If you’ll be at the conference, you should definitely come! Here’s the listing, with the talk titles:

Video Games and Queer Affect SCMS panel

And here’s a blurb from our panel proposal, which gives you a sense of how we’re approaching the issue of video games and queer affect:

Inspired by the burgeoning field of queer game studies, this panel explores the relationship between video games, queerness, and affect. Because of the medium’s interactive nature, video games represent a rich site of investigation for scholars interested in the interplays between media and affective experience. Recent work, like Katherine Isbister’s How Games Move Us, has approached the phenomenology of play through design. Simultaneously, with the rise of virtual reality, the rhetoric surrounding contemporary video games has shifted notably toward “empathy.” The papers included in this panel respond to these developments by addressing video games and affect through queerness.

This work reflects a variety of queer frameworks, many drawn from film and cultural studies, and investigates diverse inroads into the critique of digital media through queer affect. The games addressed in these papers are similarly diverse, ranging from mainstream titles like the Pokémon series to independent games like Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia, demonstrating the relevance of emotion, embodiment, and queerness across the medium. Together these papers issue a call for further research into the nuanced interrelations between queer affect and video games.

Hope to see you there!

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PhD Research in Queer Game Studies at UC Irvine

Informatics UC Irvine images
I start my wonderful new job as an assistant professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine this coming summer, 2017. One of the most exciting parts of my transition from postdoc to professor is that I get to begin advising Ph.D. students. I’m particularly looking forward to working with enthusiastic, emerging scholars who are going to be pushing the field forward in the years to come, especially in terms of gender, sexuality, and queerness in video games.

With grad school application deadlines just around the corner (the Informatics deadline is 12/15), I put together this guide to Ph.D. Research in Queer Game Studies at UC Irvine. It’s a breakdown of what potential applicants to the Informatics program can expect if they work with me on LGBTQ issues, games, and digital media. For folks generally interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in game studies — there are lots of great options out there! — I also recommend my “Getting a Game Studies PhD” guide. It’s not 100% complete, but it’s a great starting point. With that said, UCI’s Informatics department has just made a whole bunch of amazing new hires, so watch out, because big things are about to happen here…

Embarking on a Ph.D. definitely isn’t something to do lightly, and there are pros and cons of the profession. For myself though, I can honestly say that I love what I do — and I hope that you, possible future Queer Game Studies scholars, will love it too.

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Resources for supporting marginalized students post-election

720px-Fist.svgLet me start by saying that the resources I have to offer here are small and simple. They pale in comparison to the magnitude of the anger, sadness, and grief that comes in the wake of the presidential election. However, I know that for myself and many of my colleagues who are educators, it has felt important to do something that helps in these deeply worrying times. At the same time, we are faced with impossible questions, like how do we talk to students about the state of our country when we are in shock, we are scared, and we are trying to make sense of our future?

Two pieces of material that I have put together and found helpful in supporting my marginalized students in the days since the election are these:

1. A sign for my office door that states clearly that I welcome, value, and work to create a supportive environment for students of color, queer students, students of all religions, students with disabilities, students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and more. Please feel free to use or adapt this sign if it feels useful to you.

2. A worksheet for my classrooms that gives students the space to reflect on their thoughts and feelings amidst the current turmoil. Many of my students are transgender, queer, students of color, undocumented students, etc., and they have been hit particularly hard by the election. Rather than attempting to teach them the right way to understand what is happening, I have found that a more supportive conversation comes out of making space for self-care. Again, feel free to use or adapt this worksheet as you like.

Sending support, love, and solidarity to you and your students in these trying times. Now is the time to support one another, because now is the time to fight.

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“Getting a Game Studies PhD: A Guide for Aspiring Video Game Scholars”

It’s grad school application season — but where should you apply if you want to be a game studies scholar?

Over the last few months, I have received lots of messages from current undergraduate students, masters students, or other folks who are excited about approaching video games academically and want to know how to get the training and the credentials to enter the field. How inspiring.

The question I hear most often is, “Where can I go to get my Ph.D. in game studies?” Answering that is surprisingly tricky. At present, there are no Ph.D. programs in North America that grant degrees (or even official secondary emphases) in video games. But don’t despair…

With the help of some wonderful game studies colleagues, I’ve put together “Getting a Game Studies PhD: A Guide for Aspiring Video Game Scholars” — a helpful resource that includes an extensive list of Ph.D. programs that support game studies research.

To thrive, game studies needs a vibrant next generation of scholars. Whatever path you or your students take toward a career in game studies, good luck!

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“Video Games, Identity, & Diversity” class at USC

imgd logoThis semester I am teaching my last class as a postdoc at USC — which is bittersweet, because I absolutely love my students in the Interactive Media and Games Division. Luckily, my department has been wonderful about allowing me to design my own courses, so I get to go out on a great topic, “Video Games, Identity, and Diversity.” Here’s an excerpt from the class description:

There has never been a more important time to talk about diversity in video games. Even as online harassment campaigns threaten to silence those who bring change to the medium, players and games themselves are rapidly becoming more diverse. This is a turning point in the history of games – a moment when people who have long been marginalized are making some of the most amazing games and speaking with some of the most powerful voices. “Diversity” is far more than a buzzword, however. It is a complicated intersection of identity, privilege, personal experience, and social systems. It is not enough to say that games should be diverse; we need to understand what that means and why it matters.

Over the course of the semester, this class will prompt students to think about games in relation to a number of cultural and personal factors, including but not limited to: race, disability, socioeconomic class, language, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, and body type. Games, games history, game players, game cultures, and the games industry will all be topics of discussion. Even students who do not think of themselves as invested in diversity issues have a lot to gain from engaging with these topics. An awareness of how to make games more inclusive and/or how to rethink harmful stereotypes in games is important for creating socially responsible, commercially successful, and artistically compelling work.

So far the semester is off to a great start. There are definitely days when this class isn’t going to be easy, but I know my students are up for the challenge.

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My article on digital labor and amateur online pornography is out!

I have a new article hot off the presses. I’m honored to be part of the wonderful “Porn Labor” special issue of the Porn Studies journal, with editors Jiz Lee and Rebecca Sullivan. My article “Doing It for Free: Digital Labor and the Fantasy of Amateur Online Pornography” is about how many folks idealize DIY, unpaid porn performances like those found on Youtube-style sites — and how that reflects problematic cultural beliefs about the the value of sex work and the role of crowd-sourcing in digital economies. Here’s the abstract:

To date, scholars of digital labour have not turned sufficient attention to online sex work, which constitutes a sizeable portion of contemporary web-based labour. In particular, the rise of unpaid amateur pornography, circulated through YouTube-style tube sites, points toward an important shift in how adult content is being produced and distributed in digital spaces. This shift also raises questions about the cultural narratives that surround sexual labour. This article explores the labour politics that underlie the unpaid work of do-it-yourself (DIY) porn performers who are populating highly lucrative tube sites with hundreds of thousands of amateur videos. In doing so, the article argues for understanding DIY porn in relation to the increasing popularity of other digital maker movements.

As feminist scholars of digital media have noted, crowdsourcing platforms like Wikipedia are commonly idealized as empowering and democratizing, yet they often reinforce existing social biases and obfuscate conditions of difference. I assert here that a similar utopian fantasy operates around online amateur porn, which is frequently figured as ethically superior to pornography for which performers are paid. Recognizing the production of DIY porn as digital labour offers the opportunity to challenge this narrative and make the network of capitalist forces that drive free amateur online content once again visible. This also presents a valuable framework through which to critique the harmful misconception that sexual labour is superior if it is done for pleasure rather than for profit.

If you’re having trouble accessing the article (for instance, if you aren’t affiliated with a university and you’re running up against a pay-wall), here’s a PDF version of the article you can read for free. Also, here’s a nice little write-up about the piece from the Berkeley Center for New Media, where I did a lot of my doctoral work. Really great to see this out in the world!

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4th annual Queerness and Games Conference in Los Angeles spring 2017!

QGCon_Button_2in_v01Big news! After three years running as a fall event in Berkeley, the Queerness and Games Conference is moving down to Los Angeles for our fourth year. The official dates haven’t been announced yet, but we’re aiming for early April. We’re so excited to be hosting this amazing conference yet again.

Why Los Angeles? We love the Bay Area, and we’re sad to leave behind the amazing local community; making QGCon accessible to that community has always been one of our main goals. Recently though the QCGon organizers have scattered to the four winds, and there just aren’t enough us left in the Bay to make the event work there.

However, now that I work at USC (and I’m headed to UC Irvine next year), we’ve got a solid footing and lots of amazing contacts in LA. It’ll take us a bit of time to get set up in our new SoCal home, which is why the event will be happening in spring 2017 instead of fall 2016 — but we’re hoping the move will mean that the conference is accessible for a whole new local community.

Details about dates, the call for speakers, volunteering, sponsorship, and travel are all coming soon. We can’t wait to see you at QCGon 2017!

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