Queer Game Studies 101: An Introduction to the Field (2017)

*In the process of UPDATING for 2017*

Written by Bonnie “Beaux” Ruberg. Original 2016 text also featured contributions from Amanda Phillips, Teddy Diana Pozo, and Adrienne Shaw. Thank you to all for your suggestions. Additional suggestions very welcome. See below for contact info.

Welcome to “Queer Game Studies 101: An Introduction to the Field,” updated for 2017. This page offers a snapshot of current research around queerness and games, as well as a helpful list of currently published or shortly forthcoming work in this area — plus suggested queer games to play and other related resources.

This handy guide is designed for scholars who are interested in learning about or conducting research related to queer game studies, but who may not yet be familiar with the wealth of writing on queerness and games that already exists. It is also designed for students looking for a “crash course” in the field and instructors putting together syllabuses for courses related to video games, digital media, sexuality, gender, and/or queer studies.

This document is yours to share, borrow from, and build from. Learning about (and learning from) the work of our fellow scholars is an important piece of nurturing a conscientious, ethically responsible, and supportive academic community for those whose voices have often been devalued in the study of video games.

What is “Queer Game Studies”?

Queer Game Studies is the academic study of queerness and/or LGBTQ issues in relation to video games, analog games, and play. This research paradigm represents a fast-growing and dynamic area of exploration for game scholars and queer scholars alike. Alongside queer game studies, queer game-makers and queer games are also flourishing in a contemporary “queer games avant-garde.”

Queer game studies is far more than a “hot” topic. At a time of profound unrest around social justice in games, as well as political crisis on a national and international scale, the importance of making space for LGBTQ perspectives in this widely influential medium has never been more evident. Though writing on gender, sexuality, and games has appeared since the 1990’s, 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 engaging 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 scholarship. Please consider reading and playing some of the outstanding work listed below.

What is the state of Queer Game Studies in 2017?

The first edition of “Queer Game Studies 101: An Introduction to the Field” was written in the spring of 2016. Since then, queer game studies has only continued to grow. It seems like every day there is more work being published in this area, more folks giving conference talks on queerness and games, and more students pursuing educational paths focusing on queer game studies. On the creative front, queer game-makers continue to challenge and reimagine the medium of video games.

Particularly notable this year was the release of Queer Game Studies (University of Minnesota Press, edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw), the first volume dedicated to queerness and games. It features approachable articles from 20+ contributors, including academics, game designers, and journalists. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking doing more in-depth research in this field or looking for a text to assign in the classroom.

This is an exciting time to be working in queer game studies. The intersection of LGBTQ issues and video games is rich and diverse, with many facets still to explore, and queer game studies research is sure to keep expanding in the years to come.

A Queer Game Studies bibliography (updated for 2017):

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

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, “Queer Technologies” special issue, 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, 2014.

Lauteria, Evan W. “Ga(y)mer Theory: Queer Modding as Resistance.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, “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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