Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The 2013 Queer Feminist Agenda for Games

Identity politics in video games are on the rise: there are more transgender, gay, or queer people in games speaking out about their experiences, and more women are speaking up about harassment and discomfort that pervades game culture. As we approach next year and consolidate / organize / build-up this wonderful "queer feminist game culture" coalition, here are the major issues currently on my mind:

1) The next steps for #1reasonwhy; articulate policy changes to fight for?

Men's Rights movements are "bound to fail" because they can't demand any reforms -- the world already favors men. For feminists lobbying for equal pay, abortion rights, maternity leave, sexual harassment legislation, etc. these results and policy goals allow everyone to get on the same page and put actions behind their words.

I think the current strategy for organized "diversity in games" initiatives has been to confine this work to an "IGDA working group" of industry volunteers with little free time... but given how little influence the IGDA seems to have over enforcing anything, it looks like we need another strategy to begin pushing changes. I'm not sure what those changes would be, but I think we need something more concrete to fight for. This round table about "breaking the bias against women in science" seems to favor outreach programs and some form of affirmative action in hiring.

(It's worth noting that, already, some AAAs are talking to their HR departments and there are some "women in games" initiatives like Pixelles or the Boston WiG. Let's see what they need / help them, let's keep going with this, let's develop more approaches to try too, etc.)

2) The queer game

I missed the Indiecade panel about queer games where someone asked what kinds of interactions or systems are inherently "queer" if any?

So far, I'd have to say that the most common aspect is that queer games seem extremely personal and emotionally raw / vulnerable: they are intensely authorial and limit player agency in a very specific way to depict real-life discrimination. Your simple ability to move is often heavily restricted. In this, it's rarely subtle about its context or ethics: discrimination is wrong and must be opposed, even by the powerless.

My personal goal for designing self-identified queer games, then, would -- ironically -- be to increase the diversity of queer games and co-opt so-called "straight" genres. Short, low interaction, narrative-heavy 2D games are great, but I think there's also value in applying this identity rhetoric to, say, a first person procedurally-generated tactical roguelike about being a lesbian, or a multiplayer RTS about the Stonewall Riots.

3) Gay apathy
“There was one little plaque for Keith Haring, and it was, like, ‘Keith Haring, gay American artist, 1962 to 1981,’ or whatever [actually 1958 to 1990], and I was like, Why isn’t he just an American artist? I don’t want to be Nate Silver, gay statistician, any more than I want to be known as a white, half-Jewish statistician who lives in New York.”
-- Nate Silver, gay statistician
Nate Silver (and many other gays) might not want his sexuality to define him, but his reticence is possible only because really fucking gay people like Keith Haring were such militant flaming queers who protested, fought, and struggled for the privilege of safety that Silver now enjoys at no cost or risk to himself. In a previous era, Silver would've been fired, harassed, or blackmailed for his sexuality. Yes, skepticism is healthy and gay culture is far from perfect, but ambivalence and dodging labels is not what got the NYPD to stop raiding gay bars and harassing drag queens.

I think it's great if you don't want your sexuality to define you, but don't throw that back at the very people who made and make possible your safe, confident, "independent" apathy. If people want to be really super-duper gay, then that's just as valid as your right to be "ethnically straight."

We definitely need more gay, lesbian, and queer nerds out there as role models, but these people time and time again choose not to "politicize" it with their sexuality. Alan Turing chose to try chemically castrating himself instead of resisting, and Sally Ride kept her partnership relatively secret because she thought it had nothing to do with her passion for space and science -- they were visionaries, but they lived in bubbles and thought silence was professional and stoic. They thought science and engineering were apolitical. I disagree.

No one's asking you to dance on a convertible in a speedo or march on Washington or start an AIDS foundation or whatever. Just, at least when they call you, give the reporter (from the dying gay publication that no one otherwise reads) a slightly more grateful sound-bite and give a bit back to the culture that unconditionally protects you, okay?

Gay game developers: yes, there's more to you than being gay. But please, be more visible and present, to the extent that you're not uncomfortable, and you can reform whatever you dislike about gay culture. Indeed, your sexuality is your business, which is why it's so meaningful when you choose to speak up.