Speedruns & Walking Sims as “Queer Movements through Space & Time”

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.21.00 AMBack in March, I had the wonderful opportunity to give an invited guest talk as part of the Art Dean’s Lecture Series at UC Santa Cruz in conjunction with “Video Games as Visual Culture,” a class developed and taught by the fabulous Soraya Murray. The guest speaker lineup for the course was amazing, including my friends and colleagues TreaAndrea Russworm, Aaron Trammell, Alenda Chang, Matt Payne, and more.

The talk that I gave was called “Speedruns, Slow Strolls, and the Politics of Walking: Queer Movements through Space and Time.” It’s about speedrunning and walking simulators as modes of gameplay that disrupt normative expectations for how spatiality and temporality operate in video games — and about how moving too fast or too slowly creates space for alternative modes of desire and being in otherwise mainstream games. I’ve put the transcript up for you to read online. You can find the PDF here.

My talk at Santa Cruz was adapted from a chapter of my monograph, Playing Queer: Sexuality, Gender, and Identity in Video Games beyond Representation, which is all about the ways that we find or enact queerness in games through their design and/or how we play them. The project is in the revision phase now, so hopefully it will be out by late 2018. If you’re looking for a book to check out in the meantime, remember to pick up your copy of Queer Game Studies!

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Helpful, friendly “They/Them Pronoun Info Sheet” for your workplace

They Them Awesome BudWith assistance from some amazing students and peers, I put together this helpful, friendly info sheet about they/them pronouns (pdf). It’s designed as a resource for your workplace or community — especially if you work with cis folks who want to support gender inclusivity but who don’t know a lot about pronouns or why they’re so important.

I wrote the info sheet after having conversations with some of my students who use they/them pronouns. I realized that too much of the burden of educating faculty was falling onto these already marginalized folks, and that I needed to be taking more responsibility for getting my colleagues on board with supporting our students of all genders.

How can you use this info sheet? You could post it on your office door, email it to colleagues, put it up on a department website, or tack it up on a cork board in a shared area. Of course, there are many ways to talk about gender and pronouns, and this resource may not be right for you or your community. I totally respect that!

Feel free to print, share, or adapt the PDF of the info sheet. Thanks to all who gave feedback on the earlier draft, and thanks to Jetti Allen for sharing the image attached to this post. Folks who use they/them pronouns, as the skeleton says, you are completely valid and also that’s awesome, bud.

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Psst, you can read my “Video Games & Queer Affect” SCMS presentation

ChicagoFairmontPoster_scmsmeThis March, at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies Conference in Chicago, Teddy Diana Pozo, Whitney Pow, and I put on a pretty rad panel that explored the relationship between video games and queer affect.

It’s an area of research that I’m really excited about, and (if all goes according to plan) you’ll be seeing more from me — and from my amazing queer game studies peers — on the subject in the months and years to come.

If you didn’t make it to the panel, that’s ok, because the transcript of my talk is now up online. It’s called “Feeling for Others: Video Games and the Uses of Queer Affect.” Here’s the talk in PDF form. If you’re interested in games, queerness, and/or affect studies, I hope you’ll check it out!

To give you a taste, here’s a little excerpt from my discussion of empathy, which owes a lot to the smart, insightful queer game-makers I’ve been talking with as part of my Queer Games Avant-Garde project:

To say that queer media exists in order to allow straight people to inhabit queer experiences is to describe and condone appropriation. The notion of empathy, as it is being used, makes queer lives consumable. It offers players the opportunity to play at queerness – to become, to use Lisa Nakamura’s term, identity tourists. Empathy also names a kind of embodied colonialism – the occupation of queer bodies – which is understood and indeed celebrated aptly through metaphors of bodily invasion — like “stepping into someone’s shoes” or “seeing through their eyes.”

In this sense, the rhetoric of empathy does a kind of violence to queer experience – while also refusing that same queer experience its right to resist. Insisting on empathy as the main affective register of queer games strips these games of their less acceptable, less “relatable,” and more dangerous emotions – like queer anger and queer desire – using the hegemonic policing of affect to render them safe for the status quo.

You can read the whole presentation here. And if you’re interested in video games and queer affect too, get in touch. I’d love to chat!

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‘The Queer Games Avant-Garde’ book interviews underway

My big research task this spring has been my new book project, currently titled The Queer Games Avant-Garde: LGBTQ Video Game Makers and the Future of Interactive Media. This book is something like a spin-off from my monograph, Playing Queer, which I wrote in the fall — and so far it’s been really eye-opening and also a lot of fun.

The project is structured around interviews with contemporary indie game makers who either identify as queer or make work related to queer issues. Rather than rehashing the narratives about “diversity” in video games that we’ve already heard, these interviews are focused on the topics like the designers’ artistic influences, creative practices, and politics.

There will be about 20 artists profiled in the book, and I’ve completed around 15 interviews. I’ve already learned so much from these amazing creators. Here’s an excerpt from the book proposal:

Unlike a traditional monograph or edited volume, The Queer Games Avant-Garde features a wide range of voices. Rather than label queer games as a unified “scene” or a “movement,” this cacophony suggests resonances across many artists’ work. Those who have encountered queer games of the sort discussed in this book before may have only heard of a small handful of games. However, in truth, there are hundreds of scrappy, small-scale, personal, and highly influential games that address LGBTQ themes or could be considered queer–and that number is growing every day.

Exposing readers to the work of many queer game-makers, some well known and some just now entering the scene, offers a much wider, richer, and more nuanced sense of this work its increasing influences on how mainstream video games are made. These interviews delve deeply into the power and also the pitfalls of making queer games. The interviews become primary documents for future scholars to draw from as the field of queer game studies continues to grow. They also serve as sources of inspiration for others who want to make video games from the perspectives of marginalized people.

Stay tuned for more info soon as the project enters its final stages. The full manuscript should be under review by this summer, and hopefully these fascinating interviews will be in your hands by 2018!

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‘Arthritic Grasshopper’ by Gisèle Prassinos out now — reading in LA 6/17!

Arthritic Grasshopper Prassinos cover

It’s been ten (ten!) years in the making, but The Arthritic Grasshopper: Collected Stories 1934-1944 by Gisèle Prassinos is finally out from Wakefield Press.

I co-translated the volume and wrote the introduction, which is titled “Gisèle Prassinos: Where Innocence Unleashes Its Ferocity and Its Monsters.” (My sincere thanks to Wakefield, who found a second translator to help me out when dissertation-writing and job-hunting was eating up my time back in 2014-2015.)

I’ve been in love with Prassinos’ surrealist short stories since I was an undergraduate. I highly recommend her writing for anyone who likes their literature weird, dark, and feminist in a way that is less about raising women up and more about tearing the existing, gendered world of power and logic to shreds. Her work is both childlike and fierce.

I had the opportunity to get to know Prassinos in the years between 2007 and 2010, when I visited her at her retirement home in Paris. Sadly, she died in 2015. I miss her and think about her often, but I’d like to believe that she would be proud to see this volume — the first book-length translation of her short stories from French into English — out in the world.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I’ll be taking part in a book reading at Poetic Research Bureau on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Come hear stories from The Arthritic Grasshopper and more recent releases from Wakefield Press!

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‘New Voice in Game Studies’ round table at PCA/ACA

Ruberg PCAACA 2017 slide Thanks very much to my co-panelists Edmond Chang, Evan Lauteria, and Timothy Welsh for a wonderful round table at the 2017 Popular Culture Association & American Culture Association Conference in San Diego this weekend!

The session was titled “New Voices in Game Studies,” and it was a lovely opportunity to share some of our recent work with the PCA/ACA game studies community — and to think ahead to our visions and hopes for the future of game studies.

The slide I’ve included here pretty much sums up what I want to see happen, and what I think really is ALREADY happening when it comes to “new voices in game studies.” This field has long wrestled with issues of exclusion and marginalization, but I believe that we are seeing a serious sea change. Game studies is moving toward social justice, identity, and “diversity,” and a whole range of voices are beginning to be heard alongside those folks who hold established, privileged positions in the field.

And so… Queer people, non-cis-dudes, people of color, non-neurotypical people, people with disabilities, people of diverse religions and cultures of origin, and other beautiful, marginalized humans, UNITE & TAKE OVER GAME STUDIES.

<3 the revolution <3

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Headed to Gotland Game Conference with talk on “Interrogating Empathy”

Gotland Game Conference 2017It’s been a few years since my last trip to the Gotland Game Conference, a wonderful event where industry and academic talks about games and culture meet student design work. Now I’m going back for 2017!

I first spoke at the Gotland games program (now “Uppsala University campus Gotland”) back in 2010 and then again in 2011. The faculty and students are all warm, thoughtful, and talented folks and I’m really looking forward to spending some time in Visby again this year.

For the 2017 conference, I’ll be giving a talk called, “Interrogating Empathy: Alternative Models of (Queer) Feeling in Video Games.” It’s related to the panel I ran (along with Teddy Diana Pozo and Whitney Pow) about queer affect and video games at SCMS in Chicago. Here’s the abstract.

Over the past few years, “empathy” has become a buzzword in game design and game scholarship: the new gold standard for supposedly immersive, impactful, and socially meaningful video games. This is nowhere more true than in games that address the perspectives of marginalized people. Many contemporary queer indie games, for instance, have been labelled “empathy games,” because they seem to give straight players the chance to experience what it feels like to be LGBTQ. However, a number of these game queer indie game-makers, such as Robert Yang, Mattie Brice, merrit kopas, and Anna Anthropy, have spoken out against “empathy,” which can actually describe the straight appropriation of queer lives. As Yang wrote in a recent blog post, “If you walk in someone else’s shoes, then you’ve taken their shoes.”

This talk interrogates the notion of empathy in video games and calls on designers and scholars alike to look for new models of what we feel when we play — especially when it comes to queer games. It draws from Donna Harraway’s concept of “being with” to explain how video games can allow us to exist alongside other perspectives without appropriating them. In this way, the talk argues for a model of feeling in video games that truly promotes social justice, instead of giving problematic lip service to the importance of “diversity.”

Thanks to Ulf and all the wonderful folks at Gotland for inviting me back this year. I can’t wait.

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QGCon 2017 in Los Angeles was a great success

QGCon 2017 organizersThe 4th annual Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon) took place in Los Angeles this weekend, and I’m very happy to say that it was a huge success. QGCon 2017 was hosted by my very own Interactive Media and Games Division here at USC, co-sponsored by a number of other wonderful groups on campus, and made possible by my outstanding cohort of co-organizers.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who gave talks, presented games, and volunteered. This event is my warm, happy heart. It’s so amazing to see queer folks come together to explore and celebrate video games.

Photos and videos from QGCon 2017 are coming soon, so stay tuned. We had a packed weekend of amazing speakers, arcade games, and presentations, so definitely check those materials out when they’re ready. You can also read about the event in great write-ups like ones for The Observer and Soule.

Psst, if you’re interested in helping out with QGCon 2018, or you want to bring a QGCon event (what we call “QGCon Locals”) to your town, we want to hear from you! Here’s how to get in touch.

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Queer Game Studies collection is out now!

Queer Game Studies Ruberg Shaw coverI’m thrilled to announce that Queer Game Studies, the edited volume that Adrienne Shaw have been working on for the last three and a half years, is finally out! It’s available on Amazon and through the University of Minnesota Press website. (Psst, there’s also a discount code for 30% off.)

Queer Game Studies is a landmark anthology dedicated to exploring the intersection of LGBTQ issues and video games. The collection brings together diverse voices from across academia and industry. Contributors include:

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

Thank you to all our amazing contributors — and to you for checking out Queer Game Studies. We’re thrilled to say that the collection has been selling out at events like the Society of Cinema and Media Studies Conference, so order your copy today!

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‘Gaming Representation’ collection available for pre-order

Gaming Representation coverJennifier Malkowski and TreaAndrea Russworm’s exciting new edited volume Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games now has an official release date — July, 2017! — and it’s available for pre-orders from Amazon.

The collection is full of amazing contributors, including Braxton Soderman, Nina Huntemann, Irene Chien, Soraya Murray, Jordan Wood, Edmond Chang, and Lisa Nakamura, to name just a handful of these great folks. Seriously, y’all, go buy this book.

My piece in the collection is called “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games.” I originally wrote it all the way back in 2013 (feels like a million years ago!). The piece brings together Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure with Jesper Juul’s The Art of Failure to propose a queer approach to playing video games. It also dives into Burnout: Revenge as an example of game that intentionally disrupts our expectations about what it means to win or lose.

Thanks to Jen and TreaAndrea for including my work in the collection, and for their ongoing support!

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