Queer Game Studies – an Alternative Lens for Reading Videogames

It seems like only a decade ago that public-facing scholarship around videogames was beginning to ‘legitimize’ the medium and open up broader conversations about play. While we have yet to transcend some of the stock arguments about games, the discourse (both within them and about them) has definitely opened up. The number of major ‘AAA’ titles that contain queer characters and more fluid thinking about gender and sexuality, the groundswell of queer videogame makers working across the field and the proliferation of inclusive spaces and events to keep those numbers growing – #GamerGate be damned, the cisgender white male gamer/developer/theorist has definitely been knocked off his pedestal and this has made room for a greater diversity of folks to convene. So now that there is a little space, how can it be put to use? The recently published Queer Game Studies invites a cast of contributors to explore and hash out what an LGBTQ approach to games might look like. In their introduction to the anthology, editors Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw note that queer gaming is “a paradigm not a subfield” and that it is not so much the intersection of queer studies and videogame scholarship, but the spectrum of approaches that are generated by that intersection.

Moving beyond these efforts to establish a foundation and define queerness within games, a number of folks in and around game design chime in with distinct perspectives on the landscape and their outputs. Peter Wonica chronicles his work creating Ending the Cycle, which simulates the experiences of people working to leave abusive relationships; Aubrey Gabel playfully looks to French literary wordplay (Oulipo, etc.) for clues and cues to enable transgressive play; Mattie Brice delineates the missing link between videogames and BDSM play; and games journalist Leigh Alexander serves up a commentary on various adventures in fan backlash and the ‘personal’ (and dare I say empathy inducing?) games movement. Though wildly scattershot in focus and execution, these personal perspectives build nicely on the previous chapter by giving concrete examples of how practitioners might work/conduct themselves, and towards what ends.

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