QGCon is back for 2015!


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.

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My USC course: “Gender and Sexuality in Video Games”

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.

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New job at USC’s Interactive Media and 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!

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Queerness and Games at First Person Scholar

Special-Issue-QGCon-700x250Over 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”

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The 2015 Game Developers Conference: something different?

After years as a games journalist and then years as a grad student, I’ve finally had the chance to return to the Game Developers Conference as a plain old speaker and attendee. Still, that reporting instinct is in my blood, and these days I can’t seem to listen without live tweeting. Those who follow me have seen the torrent of notes on the state of social justice and games.

For me, this year’s GDC felt different from years past. Diversity, accessibility, and change were central to many of the presentations I saw and almost all of my discussions with colleagues. Has something fundamentally shifted? Maybe there truly were more women, more queer folk, more people of color at the conference this year. Maybe I’ve just learned to tune out the noise. Or maybe I’m starting to find my place in the fuzzy landscape between academia and industry, to feel at home.

You can find my full Twitter coverage (and my future conference coverage) by following me: @myownvelouria. I also Storified a few key sessions, including the micro talk panel I lead on creating safe spaces at game events. Video recordings should be hitting the GDC vault soon.

Creating Safe Spaces at Game Events, micro talk session with Matt Conn, Chelsea Howe, Toni Pizza, and Bonnie Ruberg

#1ReasonToBe 2015, this year with Brenda Romero, Leigh Alexander, Katherine Cross, Sela Davis, Amy Hennig, Elizabeth LaPensee, Constance Steinkuehler, and Adriel Wallick

The Problem with Gender and Body Choice in Sunset Overdrive, a report from Aldabert Kinsey’s talk on animating for diverse body types

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The 2014 Queerness and Games Conference was a hit!

Well, it’s December, and the 2014 Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon) and the accompanying Queerness and Games undergraduate game design workshop have both come and gone. I’m happy to report that both were hugely successful! This was our second year running QGCon, and we didn’t know what to expect. As in 2013 though, our amazing community of game developers and scholars blew us away with their talks, games, and support.

If you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful work that was presented at QGCon 2014, almost all of the sessions have been made available as Youtube videos. The games designed by our Berkeley undergrads have received praise from across academia and the industry, and you can play all five up them for free! At the request of our attendees, we’ve also started a Facebook group (Queerness and Games), which you are very welcome to join. You can also continue to find the QGCon organizers on Twitter as @qgcon.

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Play the games from the Queerness and Games Design Workshop!

Ultimate Star Collector small

My co-organizers and I are very proud of the wonderful students who took part in the pilot program of the Queerness and Games Design Workshop here at Berkeley in September and October. Our hope was to put accessible game-making tools into the hands of a diverse group of students, and to bring the work of QGCon to the amazing undergrads on campus. The games that the workshop participants made blew us away. They tackled everyday issues faced by queer students in insightful and exciting ways.

The games from the design workshop are now available to play (for free)! Check them out:

Ultimate Star Collector: Winner of the Universe. It’s a platformer built in Melon JS that features a protagonist of non-binary gender and some gorgeous retro-meets-watercolor art. As players progress in search of stars, levels become harder and NPCs become more confrontational. Can you make it from childhood to early adulthood while facing increasing levels of misunderstanding and discrimination?

Hard Mode 101. It’s an RPG built in Unity that re-imagines the daily obstacles of college as a series of turn-by-turn battles. Fight that 9:00 a.m. class with compulsive note-taking. Go to a club meeting and combat problematic language with the power of rainbows. Deal damage at a party by dressing fierce and smashing gender binaries.

That One Time You Left Everything That You Needed at Home. It’s a text-based game built in Twine that walks players through the hectic life of a campus commuter. Wake up. Face an empty fridge. Dress fast and fabulous. Rush to class. Face impending gender misidentification. Celebrate when your professor cancels lecture (editors note: sad face).

The Becoming. It’s a point-and-click adventure built in GameMaker. Players start as seemingly genderless and unmarked figures. As they progress through various landscapes, they take on new attributes and clothes. The message: identity and self-presentation aren’t just about how you were born, they’re about your life experiences and who you become. For more, see co-creator Jenn Georgevich’s great write-up of the game and the creative process.

The Convenience Store Contingency. It’s a JRPG that started in GameMaker but hopped over to Unity. Oh no, you’re out of delicious snacks! In order to make your way to the convenience store, you have to rock-paper-scissors your way past combative acquaintances, frustrating ex-partners, and nosy parents ready to doll out heteronormative prescriptions. Why haven’t you settled down with a nice boy yet?

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The 2014 Queerness and Games Conference in almost here!

Queerness and Games Conference 2014 poster

After an amazing event last October, the Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon) is back for 2014. QGCon runs from the evening of Friday, October 24 to the evening of Sunday, October 26. Registration is free and open to the public, and all sessions will take place in UC Berkeley’s beautiful South Hall. I couldn’t be more excited about this year’s line-up of speakers, talks, workshops, and games. The wonderful undergraduates from the Queerness and Games Design Workshop that I’ve been co-running over the last few months will be presenting as well, and I’m already very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

This year our keynote speakers and their talk titles are:
– Naomi Clark & Merritt Kopas, “Queerness and Beyond: Rethinking Human-Game Relations”
– Brenda Laurel, “Enabling Realities”
– Lisa Nakamura, “Racism, Sexism, and Social Justice Warriors in Video Games Culture”

Feel free to join us in Berkeley for as much or as little of the conference as you like. Thank you in advance to our generous volunteers and sponsors, without whom this unique opportunity for collaboration and queer visibility would not be possible. See you at QGCon 2014!

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How to promote inclusivity when playing video games in the classroom

This summer I’ve been knees-deep teaching an intensive course on race in video games. I’ve taught games plenty of times before as part of classes on digital cultures and/or new media, but this is my first shot at all-games-all-the-time. One of my main tenants for students is that we don’t just talk about video games, we play them. Interactivity is, for obvious reasons, crucial when it comes to understanding games. I want the class to experience that together.

Playing games as a group sounded great on paper, but the reality has been challenging. Most classrooms and/or university media labs don’t have the resources to support access to expensive mainstream titles. Meanwhile the balance between long play-through times and busy teaching schedules makes pedagogical decisions tough. A new 80+-hour game has just come out; it seems right on target. How long do I need to play it before I responsibly present it to the class?

I’m also learning the importance of setting ground rules that make the classroom a safe space for all students to feel comfortable playing. For me, it’s crucial that the group doesn’t replicate the dynamics of sexism and one-upmanship so ingrained in gamer culture. This is especially important, and especially tricky, because any given bunch of undergraduates will likely include players with considerably different levels of experience and considerably different social backgrounds.

Here are the ground rules I’ve learned to set before the group plays a game together (students take timed turns on one-player games):

1. Watch carefully and think critically even when you’re not playing.
2. Never tell another player what to do or offer “help” unless they directly ask.
3. Be patient with yourself and others.
4. Don’t skip cut scenes or text boxes. Do feel free to explore.

And here’s one more ground rule I wish I’d set at the very beginning of the semester:

5. This is a class about viewing media critically. It is not about performing extensive outside gamer knowledge. References are fine, but our focus is the material at hand.

These ground rules help promote inclusivity by taking the wind out of competition and pressure. They encourage the group to watch with intellectual engagement and mutual support. Most of all, they make it clear that those who “do well” at the games we play or can list off obscure game facts are valued no more and no less than those who are still learning their way around the medium. We are experiencing video games, and experiencing them together.

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Why ‘gamer cred’ is a fundamentally sexist concept

I’ve been making my living writing about video games, in some sense or another, for nearly a decade. And like many woman in the industry, I regularly confront my own compulsive need to assert my gamer cred. The fact is, people still assume that being female means you’re not on the inside of gaming, not really “one of us.” Gamer cred is the currency you use to buy back the right to be considered a goddamn human being. In a games conversation with a homosocial gaggle of men who figure you’ve never held a controller, you’re invisible — until you bust out the Ocarina of Time reference, jangle around your N64 keychain, and roll your eyes at the success of whatever new title in whatever longstanding series is still nowhere as good as the original. Throw down!

Over the last couple of years there’s been a lot of talk about what makes women “real” or “fake” gamers (see the “Idiot Nerd Girl” meme). Long told by society that playing video games wasn’t girly enough, women are now being condemned for not being gamer-y enough — at least in the eyes of the insular, defensive gaming masses. They’re being accused of jumping on the nerd wagon for the sex appeal and glory (really, people?) without earning their cred through long years of dedicated play. See also: you’re pretty, you intimidate me, get out of my tree house. The feminist pushback has largely focused on the hypocrisy and the pervasiveness of “fake girl gamer” shaming. Female gamers are just as “real” as male ones; whether you like it or not, we have the cred to prove it.

The problem is that gamer cred as an institution is fundamentally sexist. Let’s think about what counts toward your “gamer cred” score. 1) How much you play games. 2) How you perform your own gamer-ness. 3) How long you’ve been playing games.

Let’s start with 1 and 2. Cultural expectations prescribed for women are different than those prescribed for men (duh). If I am male, the contemporary culture around me encourages me to play games. I see other men playing games on TV and in movies. I have been socialized to bond with other men by challenging each other to rounds of Smash Bros. I have also been encouraged to perform my gamer-ness in loud, proud strokes. A wide array of t-shirts and paraphernalia specific to boy bodies is available to me. If I am female, on the other hand, I may play games a lot, or I may play games less frequently. I may socialize through gaming, or I may not. I may rock a games shirt (despite my limited options), or I may “pass” as a “normal” lady in normal lady clothes. But when I make those choices, I make them under a different set of conditions than men do. Your cred is not my cred. When you claim they’re the same, that there’s some objective scale, you impose on me a male standard that I’m going to have to fight uphill hard to live up to. And that’s straight up discrimination.

But it’s 3 I want to focus on: the incredibly sexist idea that you have more cred the longer you’ve been playing video games. You’ve seen the slogan with the NES controller: “Know your roots.” Let me make a confession, a confession that I have made to groups of male gamers before, a confession that is always met with looks of surprise and mild disdain. Here it goes. My first video game console was the N64. My first console game was Mario 64. Before the age of twelve, I had only ever touched a computer game. Now you know my shame. As a (male) fellow journalist once said upon hearing this, “Wow, Bonnie, I thought you had cred.”

Let me tell you something about a system like the Super NES, which came out in 1991, when I was six years old. No six-year-old buys her own game console. She plays with the toys that are bought for her, and what is bought for her is dictated by what society tells her parents are right for her age and gender. If I had waited until I could buy my own game consoles, I wouldn’t have started playing until I was sixteen and bought a GameCube (the horror). As it stands, the only reason I had access to a Nintendo 64 was because my little brother — who was around six himself when the console came out — got one for Hannukah. Like so many young girls, I had access to video games only through my brother. This isn’t because I wasn’t a “real” gamer. It’s because I was a girl.

When you judge gamer cred by how long someone has been playing, you discriminate against them based on factors outside of their control. You discriminate against women. You discriminate against people of color. You discriminate against those raised poor. We are here now, and we make the choice to play games. Counting our cred based on our past reveals how little you know about what it means to “really” love something, and what it means to just “fake” it.

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