Feminist Games

quo magis speculativa, magis practica

Category: Uncategorized

colonialism as mode via simulation

q: can you explain about ‘[colonization games] offload the labor of making a world out of tedious tasks to the player?’

a: okay, here’s my thesis: what we’re calling colonization games are both a genre (set of aesthetic relations and conventions that dictate appearance) and mode (a means for ‘doing games’ in terms of meta design and the construction of agency via gaming/playing).

all games rely on player input. colonization games do not have special ownership over that convention of simulated experiences. however, simulated experiences are differentiable on the basis of how player input is supposed to advance a narrative, constitute a world, or otherwise ‘progress’ (move) through a system. my hunch here is that colonization games distinguish themselves on the basis of how much they rely on players to build the world using tools that could only reasonably build a colonial society. while a simulated narrative ostensibly about a colonial society (idk… something like Assassin’s Creed?) may rely on players to think like a colonist in order to accomplish tasks and progress through the narrative, an open-ended game environment with almost no narrative is capable of engaging with the same premises (beliefs, ideas, assumptions, verifiable information, etc.) that rationalize and naturalize colonialism by limiting the possibility space determined by game mechanics and object relations within the simulation.

let’s think through something like minecraft for example. it’s basically a crude physics engine with a simple aesthetic. the things they choose to include as part of that simulation are political, certainly, but more important than the representational aspects of this fantasy (colonialism as genre) are the mechanical conventions that support and make possible ‘being’ or doing in the world (colonialism as mode).

we know that ‘survival mode’ is dictated by the popular imagination of what a western man must survive and how he must survive it. this doesn’t need to be written down; the game relies on aesthetic conventions and object relations to allow players to enact this fantasy without being explicitly told about it. object relations are a sort of grammar that players have with the game simulation. we learn how to ‘speak’ with the game by learning the object relations and manipulating them.

i suppose that by saying this, i’m also arguing that there is an inherent relationship between the grammar player’s develop with the simulation and the surface of their enjoyment and engagement with the game. these grammars are not necessarily unique; in fact, a lot of first-person shooters basically offer the same way of ‘speaking’ in a way that roughly translates across different games on the same platform. colonization games (as mode), similarly, operate on the same grammatical basis. the world is an array of objects, most you manipulate and some you cannot. you demonstrate your ‘being’ in the game by how you acknowledge and manipulate object relationships. sometimes objects can affect you (often in terms of damage or healing), but seldom in a truly permanent fashion and never in an unanticipated fashion. the player-object relationship is characterized by player control (as in, something that can be manipulated or avoided), as opposed to object control (which would deny player agency). at some level, a colonization game (as mode) is enacted through a particular grammar to articulate a specific value system that prioritizes control over all else.

even as a sandbox, creative environment, Minecraft prioritizes player control over an imaginary earth-like landscape over all other possible canvases. when players remove the landscape, they are left with grammatical conventions that also prioritize control: killing/farming mobs, placing blocs, and constructing machines.

okay, back to the question: can you explain about ‘they offload the labor of making a world out of tedious tasks to the player?’

at present, and i welcome correction here if you think i’m wrong, colonization games (as mode) typically rely on players to flesh out the perceived world (in a way that answers the question ‘where is Minecraft’) rather than the game developers. colonization games (as mode) naturalize the rationality of colonial imperialism by stranding players in a relatively empty simulation and rely on players to muddle through the grammatical conventions of the world to tell their own story through that framework, a story inherently about identifying oneself through colonial conventions (the possibility space of the world). games that do not rely on this mode, i believe, front-load the labor of world-building and storytelling on the shoulders of game developers, who are given more responsibility to articulate object-user relations, even if those relations are not actionable in the game. Steve’s gender, for example, is ‘in the game’ of Minecraft and yet it is not; it does not exist as an object-user relationship. Still, it does affect how users make choices about their representation and actions in the game. as gender is part of the social grammar for relating to others in a colonial society, the situation was never whether or not Steve’s gender was represented in game, but how the translatability of gender-based assumptions should inform game play and community membership.

when games leave the details of narrative, as well as the contents of worlds up for debate, they leave players to make normative choices about how the world aught to be. when players are only left with select tools to dictate how that world is, they invariably express their agency through the reproduction of colonial imperial grammars.


don’t mistake my fatalism for pessimism

for my future is on fire but

let it burn

and don’t breathe in the smoke or ashes

the cancer is contagious and

it will spread

if my people are to lead

we will march others to a grave

we who share heritage with the reaper

the toxic pedagogues of colonialism

imperialism | colonialism

most visible at the periphery

with sharp edges in the center

form experienced through violence

made possible with ideas of peace

cycles justify continued motion

the spiral into oblivion

—-399: Intro to Critical Game Studies Syllabus

last spring i put all this time into drafting the syllabus for an experimental, small, upper-division course thematically oriented around the notion of ‘critical game studies’. while i would make changes to this syllabus given more time … why not share what i have now? if you find this useful or have comments, please share them. the only comment i’m not really interested in goes along the lines of: this looks like a lot of reading. …obviously.

[PDF: syllabus399]

Draft: NCA Presentation 2016

this morning i presented the following material for an NCA practice panel. the organization of what i have here will changed somewhat in the next two weeks, and i definitely need more visuals (thanks audience feedback!); but, i’m sharing this preemptively because i wanted to respond to this tweet. the tweet speaks to the larger relevance of the work i’m doing here, because while i’m talking about a television show, my focus here is on lessons that can be applied in other media production contexts. without further context…


Thank you for your attention here today. My name is Iris and I am a PhD student with the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University within the Culture, Computing, and Society group. For the last several years I have concerned myself with questions of feminist praxis and industrial practice, and today I want to relay some initial conclusions I’ve come to following a year-longish analysis of an ambitious serial project that—like many similarly ‘risky’ shows—was prematurely cancelled. These conclusions follow from an analysis of possible shortcomings in existing scholarly projects that work to frame articulations of political practice in industrial media production settings. In particular, I’m interested in recovering value from aspects of producing a television show that are typically regarded as fluff or epistemologically suspect. These are moments that orient production workers in the position of explaining themselves in relation to their work, sometimes under the guise of ‘selling’ the show or themselves. What I take issue with is the derision of these moments; in particular because I think that they uniquely afford production workers an opportunity to ‘take back the mic’—to articulate interpersonal relationships and personal information that tends to complicate possible interpretations of what a project is and who a project is for. Thus, in thinking about what feminist praxis looks like in an industrial practice setting, I argue in this paper that it is by attenuating my analysis of the show to a study of mutually reinforcing discursive practices on both sides of the camera that I am better able to appreciate the many feminisms done in the production of Strange Empire. Read the rest of this entry »

MidweSTS 2016 || City-crafting for a Disaggregated Workforce: Defining Development in Terms of Access


Introduction: Mediating the Emergence of the Future

For decades, researchers across different disciplines have studied the relationships between infrastructure, geography, and networking technologies, working to articulate moments of  rupture, revolution, and disruption—moments of instability for traditional material and symbolic regimes of power. For scholars like Henri Lefebvre, the practical implications of this research directly related to radical improvements in knowledge and pedagogy around the production and maintenance of social spatial practices that characterize urban life (cf. 1991). Networking technologies inevitably became a focus in contemporary studies of modernity because they allowed for the emergence of societies without conceivable centers, which has had a profound effect on human imagination of how ‘infrastructure’ emerges from the perceived landscape (cf. Katie King, 2012; Scott McQuire, 2008; Manuel Castells, 2004; Arjun Appadurai, 1996).

My overarching framework draws from Latour’s actor network theory and infrastructure studies, which allows for scholars like me to attenuate to the ways in which “time, ideologies, and discourses of modernism have helped define the purposes, goals, and characteristics of those infrastructures [that provide the foundation of modern social worlds]” (Edwards, 2003, pp. 191). An inherent optimism emerges from the situation between actants, as they both play a role in mutually recognizing and feeding back information to the other—of shaping the other. For scholars like Nick Couldry and Anne McCarthy, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Arjun Appadurai, and many others, the recognition of this co-productive experience is uniquely mediated in networked societies by electronic media technologies.

Read the rest of this entry »

P335 Production as Criticism Syllabus & Course Schedule

posting this after our first class session. time will tell if i’ve scared anyone away, but i was also told “i’m so excited about this class” more times than i could count as people walked out the door.

let the semester begin.

P335 Course Schedule Fall 2016
P335 Syllabus Fall 2016


old visions

Today Kentucky Route Zero released chapter 4 in a long-awaited installment of the series. This inspired me to think back on an analysis I wrote for class on the first chapter of this game 2 years ago. IIRC, the theme was to write about a game and apply J.P. Gee’s learning principles to design principles or aspects embodied in the game or gameplay experience. I’m still meditating about what I’ve written—definitely some style issues that I would like to think I’ve let go of over the years. Still, there’s some work here that I think others would enjoy, so I’m publishing the essay without revisions at this time. I may write more following my replay of the game. Read the rest of this entry »