GDC Soapbox: Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Video Games

Ruberg GDC 2017 soapbox slide

This week at the 2017 Game Developers Conference I had the opportunity to give a “soapbox” talk at the Education Summit. Soapbox talks tend to be energetic, opinionated, and powerful (they used to be called “rants”), so it seemed like a good moment to channel my anger and frustration in the name of social justice.

My talk was titled “Teaching Students to Make Socially-Aware Video Games,” and it encouraged games educators to do more than teach their students how to make games. Students also need to know about the social contexts and impacts of the games they make. Here’s a bit of the transcript:

Even with all the wonderful things that we are accomplishing in games education today — it is not enough. It is not enough to produce great developers with top technical skills. It is not enough to graduate students with polished portfolios who land industry jobs. It is not enough to teach students to make games. They need to know that games have meaning.

They need to learn to make games that don’t just unthinkingly replicate all the things that are already wrong with video games — all the implicit and explicit biases that are already pervasive. Whether our students like it or not, the games they make influence and are influenced by culture. They need to know that.

Because the talk had a political angle, it stirred up some backlash online. I’d like to think that the truths that most need speaking are also the ones that ruffle feathers. If you have access to the GDC 2017 Vault, you can watch the rant here, along with the rest of the wonderful Education Soabox talks.

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Dean’s Lecture at UCSC on “Queer Space and Time in Videos Games”

Ruberg UCSC 2017 posterI’m honored to say that I’ve been invited to give a guest talk in the Art Dean’s Lecture series at UC Santa Cruz in a few weeks as part of Professor Soraya Murray’s class “Video Games as Visual Culture.” Santa Cruz, here I come!

Soraya has lined up an amazing roster of speakers, including folks like my friends and colleagues Alenda Chang, TreaAndrea Russworm, and Aaron Trammell. I wish I could sit in on all the talks.

My lecture is adapted from a chapter of my monograph (under official review at NYU Press), Playing Queer: Sexuality, Gender, and Identity in Video Games beyond Representation. The talk is called “Speedruns and Slow Strolls: Queer Movements through Space and Time in Video Games,” and it looks at how player practices and design can enact queerness by playing with temporality. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past decade, queer time has been a focus in the work of theorists like Jack Halberstam, Heather Love, and Elizabeth Freeman. This work is founded on the idea that our concepts of temporality are social constructions, and that there is a deep relationship between heteronormativity – the straight, “normal” way of being — and time. Freeman calls this “chrononormativity” – the idea that we are supposed to live according to a “coordinated, carefully syncopated tempo” of life events, many of which are ties to gender and sexuality… Queerness does time differently…

Chrononormativity can also be found in video games. The medium of video games has its own standards for temporal and spatial progress: how long a certain type of game will take to play, how quickly a player is meant to pass through an area, etc. In the context of video games, chrononormativity names a set of foundational logics that have come to shape how games are designed and experienced. These logics are today so deeply engrained that they have become all but invisible…

When it comes to time and space in video games, speedrunning can be understood as a queer gameplay practice. This is because it rejects chrononormativity. By definition, speedrunners play faster than they are supposed to. Because they play so fast, speedrunners also stand in a queer relation to game space. They speed through areas that they are meant to be cautious or to explore. Speedrunners transform open game environments into race tracks. In this way, speedrunners set their own terms for what it means to exist in time and space within a video game…

The mechanisms of walking simulators can be directly tied to longer histories of queer figures in motion — like the flâneur. These parallels are far from coincidental. Like speedrunning, walking simulators disrupt the chrononormativity of video games. In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam writes that “inaction and passivity” can be recategorized as “weapons of the weak” that enact resistance by “stalling the business of the dominant.” Inherent in the use of the term “walking simulator” as an insult is the belief that these game are unacceptable because they are characterized by inaction and passivity. Yet, this is precisely what walking simulators do: they stall the business of the dominant…

You can read the full transcript of the talk here — or come on down to UCSC on Wednesday, March 8 and check it out for yourself!

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Workshop on queer studies and digital humanities at DHSI 2017

The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DSHI) is a wonderful program that is held at the University of Victoria each June. I attended for the first time in 2015, where I took an outstanding “Feminist Digital Humanities” course with Jacqueline Wernimont and Liz Losh. Along with Jason Boyd and James Howe, I also co-ran a community “unconference” session called “Queerness and the Digital Humanities,” which sparked some inspiring dialogue about potential intersections between queer studies and DH.

In the time since, Jason, James, and I have been collaborating on a forthcoming article titled “Toward a Queer DH,” which looks at fundamental resonances between queerness and the digital humanities. We’re also excited to be running an official workshop at DHSI 2017, which will take in the afternoon of Sunday, June 11.

Here’s the description on the DHSI website. If you’re coming to Victoria this year, we hope you’ll join us!

Intersections of DH and LGBTTIQ+ Studies

This workshop will consist of pre-selected and participant-selected discussion of ‘keywords’ of relevance to DH and LGBTTIQ+ scholarship. Possible keywords include: access, activism, archives, classification & metadata, community engagement, cultural/social critique, encoding, gaming, intersectionality, methodology, pedagogy, programming, storytelling. The final portion of this workshop will be dedicated to designing a DHSI course on “Intersections of DH and LGBTTIQ+ Studies,” with particular emphasis on mixing discussion with hands-on, skill-based learning activities.

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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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