Week 11 — Audience and Experiences

Backtrack, Pause, Rewind, Reset: Queering Chrononormativity in Gaming by Matt Knutson (from Game Studies)

I decided to read this article on the “LGBTQ and minorities” topic because it analysed a game I know and have played: Life Is Strange. In this text, the author writes about “chrononormativity”, a term that “describes the major milestones of a normative life (graduate, get married, buy a house, etc.), as well as normative temporal cycles (the 9-to-5 workday, etc.)”, and the queerness of Life Is Strange’s narrative and mechanics (time manipulation focused on decision making). I focused more on the appliance of the concept on the game than the definition and explanation of it. I, like Knutson, believe that Life Is Strange is a great game when it comes to representing the LGBTQ community. For those unaware, it does so by way of their most important characters: Max (protagonist / playable character) and Chloe (non-playable character), who have a friendship that is hinted at and may or may not evolve towards a more intimate (sexualized) relationship, as there is sexual tension between the two friends. The author here explained how chrononormativity is used in both the characters’ sexual orientation and the game’s mechanic of changing the future by altering events from the past (affecting previous decisions to change the consequences they have in the future). The way the story leads itself to an ending where Max is forced to either reverse the time and save the city, killing Chloe, or chose to let everything be destroyed and escape with her (girl)friend is the climax of the duality of queerness on both mechanics and characters’ sexuality. The author went further and analysed the time reversing mechanic and the game as designed to make the player fail. It makes sense when considering that the mechanic would be of no use if the player never failed (they wouldn’t have to go back in time to fix something). I agree with the logical conclusion taken by the author in regards to the mechanic and the design, and even more with his conclusion regarding the sexuality factor of the game’s queerness, where he said “the narrative culminates in Max’s failure to preserve her relationship with Chloe in their town (sacrificing one or the other). And the cultural context for Max and Chloe’s failure, as Halberstam would suggest, is one of crushing pressures to succeed and a queer negativity in contradistinction from conventional notions of success”, which, having in mind that the game was released in 2015 when the LGBTQ community had less support from other communities than what they have today, is a metaphor to how hard members of the said community had to fight and the constant pressure they suffered from other people, many of which being their own “friends” and family.

Gaming Representation : Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games — Chapter 11: PLAYING TO LOSE The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games, by Bonnie Ruberg

I decided to read this chapter as it follows the ideas present in the article I had read before (and analysed above) on the design techniques used to make you fail at a game. I liked the opinion of the author when she wrote about how we need to look at every game “though the lens of queerness”, even those which have no sexualization or sexuality attached to them, as those are ultimately perceived as straight thanks to the way the media (and our minds) are shaped, as this changed the way I analysed the rest of the text.

I found both Juul’s and Halberstam’s ideas of “the art of failure” very interesting and important to videogames, even though Halberstam’s was not thought to fit them. I think that Juul’s idea of referring to games “as an art form, interactive experiences carefully designed to bring us to our knees and convince us to stay there” sees in failure a more objective meaning than what I believe it has. From what I understood, Juul believes that failure in games is something imposed on the player by the developer to create generate specific emotions (e.g. anger, stress, anxiety, concentration), and though I do believe it is partially that, as I have made use of the techniques to recreate said procedures myself, there is an intrinsic element to the act of playing that is being forgotten here, an element crucial to any game and a major constituent of the play space: the player. And here is when Halberstam’s idea adds the missing bit when he says that “the art of failure isn’t an object that punishes us; it’s an art we enact, an art of being differently, of embracing self-destructive agency”. I perceive this as the act of failing to have a direct connection to the player’s sense of agency (and presence) and their desires and freedom in-game. Sometimes, I find myself wanting to fail in games out of pure pleasure or curiosity to see what would happen, even if the game has not tempted me, challenged me, tricked me, prompted me, or deliberately forced me into failing, so, logically, the player has to be taken into account when considering the art of failure. However, as I said, there is some “hand” from the designers and developers in failing in videogames, and clear examples can be seen in Dark Souls or Sekiro. I think that it is this balance that keeps the player challenged and amused at the same time (this is connected to the concept of flow, though periodically and staged rather than continuous and progressive).

Reimagining the Medium of Video Games, INTRODUCTION, by Bonnie Ruberg

Coincidently (for me), the author of this text is the same author of the chapter I read before (above). Though this text shared many views on the queerness of videogames, I decided to focus on an example I felt was important to me (and surely others) in perceiving and understanding the importance of the “how” videogames are and should portrait queerness and elements of the LGBTQ community (from Ruberg’s point-of-view). Ruberg mentioned a game I felt very curious about — Curtains — which is about two women in a relationship where one abuses the other. According to the author, “unlike so called “serious games” or “games for change,” which are often didactic and heavy-handed, Curtain and many other works that emerge from the queer games avant-garde are not primarily designed to educate or elicit empathy. Instead, Curtain invites players to spend time inside an emotionally complex situation, one which is queer both in its narrative content and its interactive form.” I saw this as an important message on how to treat queerness in games. Yes, it is important to inform and sensibilize people about the LGBTQ community, but don’t treat them like some poor old souls who are nothing but inanimate dummies and targets you can glance at every once in a while. People want to be treated as people. Normal people want to be treated as normal people. There is no need to continuously and excessively focus on the misportrayal of LGBTQ people in video games as people who do not struggle with things others from outside the community do. And abusive relationships is a “good” example of this, and that is why I liked this game and the mention of it. It is definitely a representative of the queer games avant-garde and a great example of how the queerness topic should be addressed.

PS: though the author said, and rightful so, that Curtains isn’t a serious game, the game is serious and so is the issues it portrays. Just to be clear…

10 ways to make your game more diverse, GDC talk by Meg Jayanth

I found this talk very informative and well structured. Despite the “heavy” topics Jayanth addressed, she managed to do so in a concise, objective, and balanced approach. The way Jayanth explained the importance of research and cultural appropriation shows why the experts in specific matters should always be consulted, as they are a big part of what ensures the game’s quality. Additionally, I enjoyed how Jayanth demonstrated the importance of inclusion in the game in regards to sexuality and gender identity and some of the strategies/techniques used by some games to ask the player’s gender in a funnier and more relaxed way. At the end of the talk, after being asked a question by a member of the audience, Jayanth explained why it is so important to have a diverse team as it enhances the team’s performance and provides the game with a diversity in points of view and opinions that is reflected in its content and quality.

Mafia III

For the last part of the assignment, I was tasked with finding a game that was either designed by a minority or LGBTQ designer, targeted to these audiences or with minority or LGBTQ characters. I decided to choose Mafia III, a game published by 2K and developed by Hangar 13, 2K Czech and Aspyr Media. The game features an African American protagonist, Lincoln Clay and is centred around his return to crime to help his adoptive family.

The game is set in 1968 in a fictional city in the United States of America called New Bordeaux (based in New Orleans). To give you some context, at this time, racism was very much present in the community and African American people were constantly targeted and mistreated by the police and other citizens. The game does a great job of portraying some of the characteristics of this racism in its mechanics. One of the things that is not connected to the game’s story (though it is connected to the narrative) is the mechanic responsible for having the police come to you (the player) when there is some sign of misconduct (e.g. gunshots, brawling, robbery, etc.). In an attempt (in my opinion, successful) to demonstrate how the police behaved “back in the days”, the response time from “getting called” and “being there” is different in poorer neighbourhoods, where the inhabitants are predominantly African American, and in richer neighbourhoods, where the inhabitants are predominantly Caucasians (white). In the poorer neighbourhoods, the police will take longer to act, while in the richer neighbourhoods the police will act almost immediately. This mechanic shows how people were treated in terms of security, safety, and how (and if) they were targets of racism and discrimination.

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Vitor Cardoso

Vitor Cardoso

MA Games Design student at the University for the Creative Arts | BSc (Hons) Games Development at Buckinghamshire New University (First Class)