Audiences & Experiences — Week 11 (Viewing / Reviewing)

This week on the audiences & Experiences unit, we were given a few written sources to read from.

Race, Gender, and Sexuality in video Games

Our first reading for this week was chapters six and eleven of Gender, and sexuality in video games.
Chapter six — Much of this covers some of the historical events regarding these themes in the games industry that we covered in this week’s lecture, but it also included some interesting ideas that I can mention:

The chapter talks a lot about dystopian settings, and how these lend themselves a lot to specifically racial plot points. I’m very curious whether this is a good or bad thing to have in games overall, as while it is presenting such themes, it being presented in a negative manner hopefully helps players understand that discrimination in this way isn’t acceptable in actual society.

The chapter goes on to talk about “Sacrificial blackness” in games and other media, where people of colour are often used as characters intended to be killed of at some point. This strikes me as a hard problem to solve, not because it’s hard to have a sacrificial character be anyone, but because it can be very easy to have it be swung the opposite direction by having no characters from minorities in this kind of role — Ideally I think you’d want an amount of people in these roles that are representative of reality?

Chapter eleven — This chapter talks about the “Queer art of failing at video games”. I have to say, this chapter confused me a little bit — Some of the examples given seemed a bit odd, like I’m not entirely sure what burnout: takedown has to do with LGBT claims, but maybe I mis-read that part of the chapter? I’m not entirely sure how to grasp what they mean about “Queer failure” in this regard. I actually spoke to a friend of mine about this quotation, as he helped develop this game way back when! — He agreed that it’s strange that games like these are described to be inherently masculine, even with the lack of sexualised aspects (though some later racing games do try to shoehorn in a plot that contains things like this), however I’m confused by its inclusion in the point that was being made in this context, it didn’t seem to add a whole lot to their point regarding LGTBQ in games from what I could tell.

The point they made about how games with no references to sexuality are seen as “straight” is an interesting one, in that I think they are assumed to be as such because the typical gamer stereotype is usually a straight male, at least right now. I’m not sure that I agree with using Portal (2007, Valve) as a citation in relation to this, as I find the notion that there lesbian overtones in the relationship between Chell, the game’s protagonist, and GLaDOS hard to justify — One is a silent protagonist, and the other being one who continually challenges and threatens the player. That said, I don’t think this makes the game “straight” either, as the author goes on to mention. I would argue that this kind of game would fit into a more neutral position, I think?

I also find the paradoxical nature of extremes of failure being appreciated pretty amusing — It’s something you see a lot, especially in games, because there’s little risk involved compared to real life activities, so in a way it’s something that’s almost uniquely strived for in some gaming communities, whereas clip-shows of real life failures are often the result of genuine mistakes leading to injuries and the like.

Turns out we were actually meant to just pick one of these two chapters — whoops. Oh well.

GameStudies.org: Coin of Another Realm: Gaming’s Queer Economy

For the second reading of this week, we were asked to choose from a selection of written pieces on GameStudies.org, and this was the one I elected to go with. This short essay explores the concept of “queer economy”.

The most interesting part of this article to me was the analysis that gaming, “like childhood” represents an outside to normal, productive economic practice. I found this particularly curious because while it is mostly true, in some cases it actually leads to becoming an economic practice — be that through competitive play, through use of media to share experiences, or other means such as artwork surrounding games. Do these things then subvert this analysis that games are outside of the norm, in a similar manner to how some forms of game might not be considered “play” once commodified as defined by prior analysis by people such as Robert Caillois? I’m not entirely certain.

A lot of this reading hit quite close to home for me, in the discussion of whether play itself and games are a “waste” due to lack of progress, or whether the development of the mind through play makes it worth doing. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about having spent a lot of my youth surrounded by such games, though maybe such a topic is too personal to these blogs compared to simply analysing the text. I certainly believe it’s something that might be beneficial to growth in moderation, but I can see how extreme indulgence in it or lack of can have negative effects on a person when it comes to “play” itself.

The notion that children often generate their own subconscious form of economy within these kinds of playful environments is extremely curious to me. Is the formation of commerce a natural process, or just one that the human mind lends itself towards due to the structure of such systems? Hard to say. “Though ‘Precious’, the child’s treasure has no exchange value. Its value lies in its removal and subsequent occlusion from the adult world — a relation that chance sometimes helps along”. I feel that this is something many of us realise upon leaving childhood — realising that our toys and playthings that have immense sentimental value to us aren’t worth much in the actual adult world, many people tend to sell or give away their old playthings to younger family members or friends, and keep a select few that they hold dear to themselves. Maybe this is so common because of this feeling of separation from the adult world that these kinds of objects can provide to us, in the same way that a game might distract one’s self from reality for a brief period of bliss.

Reimagining the Medium Of Video Games

I think the main thing to take away from this reading to me was the focus on representing LGBTQ groups in an appropriate manner — Many games in the past have used very extreme presentations of these characters (This source cited Birdo from mario specifically as a poor representation of a transgender character), so hopefully this is something I can avoid making the same mistake of within my own designs. Most of the rest of this reading to me was relatively self explanatory, and I agreed with a lot of the points that the author proposes within the text.

The notion that “indie” games valorise the work of game making only when it pays off particularly stood out to me as something that I see a lot within the industry; there’s a lot of failed games that get put out there but those that succeed get hailed as the standard for indie, when the reality is most barely get noticed in the grand scheme of things.

10 Ways to Make Your Game More Diverse

This talk was great — It’s always awesome to listen to someone talk about something they’re passionate about, and her mannerisms and the like really showed that she cared about this. I’d love to one day make a talk like this on something that I feel strongly about, and hopefully inspire some people with it. I’m not sure if it was the video, or my audio set up, but for whatever reason this video had the audio bouncing from one ear to the other a lot, which was quite irritating to listen to.

There were a lot of interesting and solid points made throughout, but one I disagree with the most is the notion that all “stereotypes” are bad. As someone that studied psychology for a brief period, I learned that stereotypes are a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. This obviously is something that applies to everything in life — If I tell you that something is a “chair”, that is a category that in your mind you associate with a group of objects. It’s not positive or negative, but provides you with information about the subject matter in a quick but meaningful way. Obviously people are a lot more complex than objects, but the human mind makes generalisations about groups based on what they have experienced with people that they categorise as part of that group.

This can obviously be a bad thing if their experiences with said group have been negative, but this is something that can be developed over time — As people meet more people from different backgrounds, these stereotypes broaden and become less simplistic.

Games designed by minorities / LGBTQ

Our final task for this week was to look into some games that were either designed by a minority or LGBTQ designer, and analyse features of these games and our experiences with them.

I’ll briefly mention it here but as I’ve already cited it before, Celeste is a pretty good example of this, with one of the developers of the game identifying as non-binary, but this wasn’t the case until after the game released, so perhaps it doesn’t count as much (?). The developer in this scenario has stated that the ambiguity of the character they felt was a reflection of their own dysphoric feelings about their own gender identity, though outside of this design choice the character’s gender in the plot doesn’t feel particularly relevant, so this could easily just be something that they wanted to ret-con for this purpose without having to change a lot.

The main game I wanted to focus on here for this purpose is Overwatch. I felt this game would be a good fit for this because of its ensemble of character types, but there’s definitely something to be said for this being a marketing decision rather than one that’s done for the good of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the characters in the game are relatively strong character presentations, each representing what I would say are stereotypes of character design to a degree.

There’s obviously a bit more depth to some of them than that, but conceptually most of them are pretty simple characters, and are given a more in depth lore background through animated shorts due to the multiplayer nature of the game limiting exploration of character depth. All of the characters have an equal share of role within the game from a gameplay standpoint, and can be substituted for one another more or less at will. My main gripe with this game specifically is that a lot of the LGBTQ nature of some of these characters was ret-conned in months after the initial release of the game (Tracer comes to mind, specifically), which feels more so like pandering to an audience that executives wanted to reach than actually wanting to create a complex and interesting character.

Playing as the characters in this game, none of them feel any different from the non LGBTQ characters to play as. And honestly, I feel that’s probably how it should be — As the game isn’t actually a story focused game, this aspect of the characters shouldn’t really affect how they play, but should serve as depth to their character that adds something to the player’s attachment to their character development throughout their lore.