I’m really looking forward to my upcoming talk at Stanford on January 5th, part of the speaker series for their GAIMS group. Thanks very much to Henry Lowood and Ingmar Riedel-Kruse for inviting me to speak. The talk is called “Queerness and Video Games: Identity, Community, & Design.” Here’s the abstract. It should be a great time!
Video games represent today’s fastest-growing and arguably most expressive digital medium, rich with the potential to tell stories of difference. Yet games, games culture, and the games industry often remain hostile to those who do not fit the profile of the traditional gamer. In the wake of recent online harassment campaigns, it is now more important than ever to turn our attention to the the power of games as a platform for expressing diversity. To this end, this talk looks at the burgeoning movement of queer games. For decades, LGBTQ people have been underrepresented in mainstream video games. In the last three years, however, we have seen a blossoming interest from mainstream game studios in increasing queer inclusivity, queer games events like GaymerX and The Queerness and Games Conference have flourished, and queer game-makers from across the country have been leading the vanguard in the new wave of small-scale, personal games. Queerness in video games is more than a matter of who we see on-screen; it’s also a matter of identity, community, and game systems. Thinking about games from the perspective of queerness offers us valuable lessons about design itself.
One of the great things about working in USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division is all the opportunities to get involved in the life of the department. I’m proud to be joining the wonderful Jane Pinckard in co-organizing the Playthink salon series this academic year. At each Playthink, three speakers talk about their work in the field of game design or game scholarship. It’s a great chance for faculty, students, and visitors to come together to delve deep into challenging topics in games.
Along with my fellow USC postdoc Aaron Trammell, I had the opportunity to present (on the wacky, indie physics game Octodad and queer passing) at the first 2015-2016 Playthink on 11/9. Now the dates for the spring, 2016 Playthings are in! Next on the calendar is our salon on Monday, January 25, which will be featuring new work from UC Irvine scholars Josh Tanenbaum, Karen Tanenbaum, and Braxton Soderman. As the time get closer, you can find more info about their talks on the Playthink website. I’m already looking forward to it!
I was super excited to learn that, this coming spring, I’ll be temporarily taking over Richard Lemarchand‘s amazing production course on experimental games. Richard is an amazing designer and teacher, and it’s truly an honor. Plus, I get to do a lot to make the course my own — which, for me, means challenging students to tackle topics of identity and difference at the same time they find their creative voices through the rapid prototyping. Here’s the course description. It should be a rollercoaster of a semester!
At its core, creative expression is a playful process. Some of the most unique and moving video games of recent years have emerged from what might seem like the silliest or most unusual ideas. What if you played as the wind (Flower, thatgamecompany)? What if you translated a gender transition into mini-games (Dys4ia, Anna Anthropy)? What if you told a story about childhood abuse through the mechanics of a puzzle-based platformer (Papa y Yo, Minority Games)? Each of these games plays, in some way, with our expectations for what a game is and who we are as players.
The spirit of experimentation is key to imaginative innovation. Experimentation gives us the opportunity to try new things, to fail fast and fantastically, and to explore aspects of ourselves we might otherwise leave out of our games. This course provides a challenging, encouraging, and above all playful space for students to experiment with their own game-making practices. Inspired equally by the absurd, poetic games of the mid-20th-century surrealists and the growing interest among indie designers in exploring identity through games, this course is a chance to make games that are goofy, strange, serious, or deeply personal—often all at the same time.
Over the course of the semester, students will work on 8 games. These games will be informed by weekly readings, in-class discussions, and peer-to-peer critique. Some readings will introduce students to the field of avant-garde games. Others will prompt students to think in new ways about games’ potential for artistic and cultural expression. This course is fast-paced and demanding. Students will be expected to work across a variety of platforms and to reflect critically, articulately, and often on their own goals as game-makers.
For the very first time this past week, we tried a new approach to the Queerness and Games Conference! Now that I work at USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division (IMGD), we decided to bring a mini version of the conference to my new academic home. We called it QGCon Local. It was a one-day event featuring talks from awesome QGCon 2015 speakers like Richard Lemarchand and Chelsea Howe and new voices like Kris Ligman and Andy Sacher. Students from my “Gender and Sexuality in Video Games” course and the Rainbow Game Jam I helped organize were also there presenting their work, which was inspired by the LGBTQ history of Los Angeles. You can read more about the QGCon Local talks here.
Thanks to support from IMGD and the presence of folks who had traveled to LA for IndieCade the weekend before, the day was a huge success. In fact, our collaborators at The Lavender Effect made a really cool video about the work that USC students are doing to address queerness in their games. Check it out! I’m in there saying good stuff about the future of queer games — but the students are the real stars:
The 2015 QGCon co-organizers: Bonnie Ruberg, Diana Mari Pozo, Zoya Street, Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer, Christopher Goetz
As always, the Queerness and Games Conference this past weekend blew me away. I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made the event possible. My special, infinite gratitude goes to my amazing co-organizers Christopher Goetz, Chelsea Howe, Diana Mari Pozo, Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer, and Zoya Street, pictured here in our matching Pikachu hats (we’re a very serious bunch) — and to all of those kind people who joined in the standing ovation at the end of the event, which made me feel amazingly loved.
Unfortunately, we don’t have video recordings of the QGCon talks this year, but if you’re interested to see who was speaking, we have a list of all the presenters and their abstracts. Lots of amazing games designers and scholars gave wonderful talks, including our keynotes Sandy Stone and Lindsay Grace. QGCon 2015 also featured a number of wonderful new games in our arcade. If you want to get into the festive QGCon spirit, check out these great photos from the event, taken by our wonderful volunteer photographer Dominic Dagradi. Of course, you can also find great tidbits in our @QGCon Twitter feed.
Thanks again, everybody! I can’t wait to see you at QGCon in 2016.
You may have heard me raving about it on my Twitter feed, but the students in USC’s Interactive Media and Games program are amazing. Not only are they super creative and super smart, they’re also passionate about games as a force for social change. And that’s definitely true of MEGA, the undergrad group I’ve had the opportunity to work with on organizing the upcoming Rainbow Jam: a 24-hour game jam we’re running in conjunction with The Lavender Effect, a nonprofit whose mission is to spread information about the LGBTQ history of Los Angeles. The goal of the jam is to encourage participants to make games that address queer issues, but also to think about how queerness itself might be a mode of game design.
The Rainbow Jam is free and open to the public. We’ll be kicking things off with presentations from Andy Sacher and myself, along with workshops on game-making platforms for students who are new to game design (I’ll be talking about my absolutely favorite little tool, Emotica). We hope you’ll join us!
The Queerness and Games Conference is officially back for 2015! This year’s conference will take place on Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, 18. We received a wonderful batch of submissions for session proposals and we have an exciting new location (the UC Berkeley Alumni House). As always, the event is free and open to the public — because accessibility is key!
You can find more information about QGCon on our lovely, recently revamped website. If you want to snag a ticket for QGCon 2015, here’s the EventBrite site. I hope you’ll join us in Berkeley this October.
One of the many things that makes me super excited to begin my new job as a postdoc at USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division is the chance to design and teach a new upper-level course that focuses on critical game analysis. The course I’ll be teaching for the first time this fall is called “Gender and Sexuality in Video Games.” Here’s the description:
Feminism and queer representation have taken center stage in recent debates around the future of video games. However, gender, sexuality, and identity have long been important to how we experience games and to games themselves. In this course, students will learn about gender and sexuality in video games, game communities, the games industry, and their own media-making practices. Through a combination of creative group projects and analytical writing, students will develop the vocabulary to think critically and speak powerfully about the cultural dimensions of the interactive media they both consume and create.
Topics covered in course will include: representations of women and sexual identity from across the history of video games; issues of gender and sexuality in video-game communities; sexism and homophobia in games and the game industry with an emphasis on progress and social justice; feminist and queer theory as tools for analyzing games; intersectional connections in games between gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability; queerness and gender-inclusivity as game design principles; critical self-reflection and community engagement through games.
I’m very excited to report that, in just a few months, I’ll be headed down to the Interactive Media and Games Division (IMGD) at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar. I’ll get the change to work with professors Tracy Fullerton, Richard Lemarchand, and Vicki Callahan, not to mention all the wonderful folk who do queer studies at USC. Oh, and I will be teaching courses on gender and sexuality in games. The position starts in mid-August. I can’t wait!
My sincere appreciation goes out to all the mentors and friends in the Bay Area who supported me through the job market process this past year. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve learned more than I ever imagined, and I’ve ended up in just the right place. Thank you!
Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as guest editor for a series of four issues of the wonderful online journal First Person Scholar. First Person Scholar‘s mission is to publish dynamic critical writing on games, so I was very excited to pair up with editor-in-chief Steve Wilcox to bring together six talks adapted from presentations given at the 2014 Queerness and Games Conference. I also got to write an introduction, “Video Games, Queerness, and Beyond,” which makes a case for the importance of talking about queerness when we talk about games.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, I highly recommend checking out the articles! Here is the full list from across the four issues:
– Bonnie Ruberg, “Video Games, Queerness, and Beyond”
– Naomi Clark and Merritt Kopas, “Queering Human-Game Relations”
– Christopher Goetz, “Building Queer Community”
– Jetta Ray, “Consent, Pinball, and the End of ‘Sex as Conquest'”
– Mohini Dutta, “Designing for the Other”
– Margaret Rhee, “On Beauty: Gamers, Gender, and Turing”
– Edmond Chang, “Cards Against Humanity: Playing Up and Playing with Difference in Games”