Queer Game Studies 101: An Introduction to the Field (2016)

Written by Bonnie Ruberg, with contributions from Amanda Phillips, Diana Mari Pozo, and Adrienne Shaw. Suggestions for additional materials welcome; see below.

Recently, we Queer Game Studies scholars have heard from a growing number of researchers and students interested in embarking on work related to queer issues and video games. How exciting! However, since this area is so new, we’ve found that many well-meaning folks overlook or are unaware of the wealth of writing on queerness and games that already exists.

To help promote a conscientious community of scholarship around Queer Game Studies, we offer this “101” — a handy introduction to the field as it stands in mid-2016. Whether you are embarking on Queer Game Studies research yourself, putting together a syllabus, or looking for a presenter or contributor to speak about queerness and games, we hope you’ll look into this outstanding work.

What is “Queer Game Studies”?

Queer Game Studies is the academic study of queerness and/or LGBTQ issues in relation to video games, analogue games, and play. This research paradigm represents a fast-growing and exciting new area of exploration for game scholars and queer scholars alike.

Queer Game Studies is far more than a “hot” topic. At a time of profound unrest around social justice in games, its importance has never been more evident. Individual works on gender, sexuality, and games have appeared since the 1990’s, but Queer Game Studies truly began taking shape in 2013, with the first annual Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon). Today, many pioneering scholars, game-makers, and activists are working and publishing in this area. It is wonderful to hear new voices enter the dialogue, especially when they engage with, build from, or even challenge existing queer games scholarship.

For a more in-depth intro to the field, as well as an array of teachable texts on these subjects, we recommend Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw’s forthcoming volume Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies (University of Minnesota Press, spring 2017).

A Queer Game Studies bibliography:

The following is a list of published and/or forthcoming academic writing on queerness and games. If you are unable to access journal articles due to pay-wall restrictions, we recommend contacting authors directly. They may be happy to share their work!

Belmonte Avila, J.F. Corporeality, identity and digital culture: gender and sexuality in video games. PhD thesis. Universidad de Murcia, 2015.

Brown, Ashley M.L. Sexuality in Role Playing Games. London: Routledge, 2015.

Chess, Shira. “The Queer Case of Video Games: Orgasms, Heteronormativity, and Video Game Narrative.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pages 84-94, 2016.

Enevold, J. and MacCallum-Stewart, E. Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

Engel, Maureen. “Perverting Play: Theorizing a Queer Game Mechanic.” Television & New Media, 2016.

Harvey, Alison. “Twine’s Revolution: Democratization, Depoliticization, and the Queering of Game Design.” GAME: The Italian Journal of Game Design, issue no. 3, 2014.

Lauteria, Evan W. “Ga(y)mer Theory: Queer Modding as Resistance.” Reconstruction 12(2): Games and/as Resistance (special issue), 2012.

Malkowski, Jennifer and TreaAndrea Russworm. Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, expected publication 2017. See especially:

  • Edmond Chang, “A Game Chooses, a Play Obeys: BioShock, Posthumanism, and the Limits of Queerness”
  • Bonnie Ruberg, “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games”
  • Jordan Wood, “Romancing an Empire, Becoming Isaac: Queering the Gamespace with Jade Empire and The Binding of Isaac”

Milburn, Colin. “Have Nanosuit–Will Travel,” in Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 173-200, 2015.

Morris III, Charles E. and Thomas K. Nakayama, eds. “Queerness and Video Games” special issue. QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking, volume 2, issue 2, 2015. See especially:

Nakamura, Lisa. “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. No . 2012.

Pavlounis, Dimitrios.“Straightening Up the Archive: Queer Historiography, Queer Play, and the Archival Politics of Gone Home.” Television & New Media, 2016.

Phillips, Amanda. “(Queer) Algorithmic Ecology: The Great Opening Up of Nature to All Mobs.” In Understanding Minecraft: Essays on Play, Community, and Possibilities. Nate Gaerrelts, ed. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014.

Phillips, Amanda. “Bayonetta, Femme Disturbance, and AAA Queer Desires.” In Media Res. Nov 2014.

Ruberg, Bonnie and Adrienne Shaw (eds.). Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, expected publication spring 2017.

Featuring work by: Leigh Alexander, Hanna Brady, Mattie Brice, Gregory Bagnell, Derek Burrill, Edmond Chang, Naomi Clark, Katherine Cross, Kim d’Amazing, Aubrey Gabel, Christopher Goetz, Jack Halberstam, Todd Harper, Larissa Hjort, Jesper Juul, Merritt Kopas, Colleen Macklin, Amanda Phillips, Gabriella T. Richard, Bonnie Ruberg, Adrienne Shaw, Kathryn Bond Stockton, Zoya Street, Peter Wonica, Robert Yang, and Jordan Youngblood

Ruberg, Bonnie (ed.) “The 2014 Queerness and Games Conference” special issue series. First Person Scholar, February 18, February 25, and March 11, 2015. See especially:

Shaw, Adrienne. Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Stenros, J. “Out of the Dungeons: Representations of QueerSexuality in RPG Source Books.” Analong Game Studies, 2015.

Wysocki, Matthew and Evan W. Lauteria (eds.) Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. See especially:

  • Bridget Kies, “Death by Scissors: Gay Fighter Supreme and the Sexuality That Isn’t Sexual”
  • Evan W. Lauteria, “Assuring Quality: Early 1990s Nintendo Censorship and the Regulation of Queer Sexuality and Gender”
  • Jordan Youngblood, “Climbing the Heterosexual Maze: Catherine and Queering Spatiality in Gaming”
  • Diana Pozo, “Countergaming’s Porn Parodies, Hard Core and Soft”

Recommended Playing

Hand in hand with the rise of Queer Game Studies has come the rise of what could be called the “queer games avant-garde” – a veritable wave of small-scale, independent, often highly personal games that engage with contemporary queer experiences. Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia is perhaps the best-known of these games, but there are many, many more! The following represents just a small selection of games with clear relevance to Queer Game Studies.

Cobra Club, Robert Yang
Coming Out on Top, Obscurasoft
Consensual Torture Simulator, merritt kopas
Curtain, llaura dreamfeel
Dominique Pomplemoussse, Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer
Consentacle, Naomi Clark
Gone Home, The Fulbright Company
Lim, merritt kopas
Mainichi, Mattie Brice
Problem Attic, Liz Ryerson
Read Only Memories, Midboss
Redshift and Portalmetal, micha cárdenas
Triad, Anna Anthropy

Additional Resources

LGBTQ Video Game Archive
“A collection of information regarding LGBTQ content in digital games from 1980s-present”

Queerly Represent Me
“A database for games that represent sexuality, gender, and relationships”

Recommended viewing:
Gaming in Color documentary
– Recorded talks from QGCon 2014
– Recorded talks from QGCon 2013

Related recommended reading:
– Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Video Game Zinesters
– Merritt Kopas, ed. Video Games for Humans

Conferences and community events related to Queer Game Studies:
The Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon)
GaymerX
Different Games
Lost Levels

The constellation of scholars and work related to Queer Game Studies is constantly growing. If you would like to propose an addition to this list, please feel free to contact Bonnie at bruberg [at] cinema [dot] usc [dot] edu. Thank you for your contributions!

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