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Reviewed by:
  • Queer Game Studies ed. by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw
  • Tom Welch (bio)
QUEER GAME STUDIES edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw University of Minnesota Press, 2017 336 pp.; paper, $27.00; cloth, $108.00

It's no secret that the gaming community is often fraught with anxieties and challenges regarding gender and sexuality. Phenomena like Gamergate prove that there is still an ongoing unease with players and developers who don't look or think like the "norm." In truth, this attitude has existed since long before Gamergate and probably will exist long after among a certain contingent of gamers. The AAA development space has at times been hesitant to address this problem, instead often focusing on technological rather than social innovation. At the same time, queer developers and players are finding new and interesting ways to circumnavigate the accepted boundaries of what games look like and what they are for. Developers like Anna Anthropy and Porpentine have received national attention for the nuance and intimacy that their games portray. In many ways, Queer Game Studies is a response to both of these events: it surveys alternative frames of gaming and development that are antithetical to games developed by large publishers' lack of queer representation.

But Queer Game Studies has little interest in representation per se. It is instead interested in a holistic and multifaceted approach to gameplay and game studies. The authors consider the ways in which queer failures and queer successes are implicated in and affected by the rules and structures of video games. They poke at the seams of the debate over the nature of gameplay, eschewing both narratological and ludological approaches in service of a messier, more complicated amalgamation of the relationship between mechanics, story, and player.

It's clear that Shaw and Ruberg are less concerned with the discussion of games that have LGBT representation or queer authors than in how game studies more widely can be augmented using a queer lens. The collection begs the question: What is queer theory for? Rather than pointing to understanding "queerness" in games, the editors and chapter authors point to queer game studies as a paradigm formed at the intersection of game studies and queer theory. They understand queer theory as a way of understanding norms vis-à-vis the margins, of reformatting and recoding the [End Page 71] hermeneutics through which we naturally understand what games are for and what they can do. At the same time, Shaw and Ruberg (like many queer theorists) are hesitant to conclusively define what queer theory is, instead opting for a multiplicity of interpretations that at time even challenge or conflict with one another—at once interested in the ensconced performativity of Judith Butler and the utopic possibilities of José Muñoz.

The volume is divided into five sections: "Defining Queerness in Games," "Queering Game Play and Design," "Reading Games Queerly," "Queer Failure in Games," and "Queer Futures for Games." In "Defining Queerness in Games," Naomi Clark, Edmond Chang, Derek Burrill, and Zoya Street explore what exactly puts the queer in queer game studies. They explore queerness in games as deviance, as counterhegemonic play, as an embodied practice, and as a mode of historiography. These pieces merge early game studies authors like Bernard Suits and Janet Murray with pioneering queer theorists like Butler, Sedgwick, and Muñoz. This section synthesizes these disciplines to ask the question: "What is queer about queer game studies?"

In "Queering Game Play and Design," seven authors (in six pieces) imagine what it would be like to actively queer play, design, and video game mechanics. Peter Wonica, Leigh Alexander, Hanna Brady, Aubrey Gabel, Mattie Brice, Larissa Hjorth, and Kim D'Amazing unpack the normative assumptions often associated with gameplay and explore games as a space for emancipatory action and counternormativity. Working with a variety of game objects—from tabletop to PC to mobile—these writers explore issues of access, empathy, affect, and identity through a reconceptualization of the rules of play. What does it mean to play queerly? And how can games be designed to approach that goal?

Robert Yang, Amanda Phillips, Todd Harper, Gregory L. Bagnall, and meritt kopas take a different approach...


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pp. 71-72
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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