Feminist Games

quo magis speculativa, magis practica

Tag: colonialism

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.


it has never been the case
that there was nothing, and then
there was something.

there was always something
before colonialism intervened
in the social order somewhere.

there was always something
and then something else;
a both-and, a hybrid.

narratives of crisis
obscure the both-and and
reflect a nostalgia for
a something before something else;

narratives of crisis
are the something else
reaching back
to an impossible time of not-both.

narratives of colonialism
are something else.

as a looking back
with the hybrid eyes,
gazing for the not-both
with the vision that brought about the crisis.

social order ordered by
the looking forward by looking back;
the looking back ordered by
the promise of living forward.



Harriet Tubman, according to Lydia Maria Child, once said:

“God won’t let Master Lincoln beat the South until he does right thing. Master Lincoln, he’s a great man, and I’m a poor Negro but this Negro can tell Master Lincoln how to save money and young men. He can do it by setting the Negroes free. Suppose there was an awful big snake down there on the floor. He bites you. Folks all scared, because you may die. You send for doctor to cut the bite; but the snake rolled up there, and while doctor is doing it, he bites you again. The doctor cuts out that bite; but while he’s doing it, the snake springs up and bites you again, and so he keeps doing it, till you kill him. That’s what Master Lincoln ought to know.”

In this analogy, we can imagine that Tubman thinks of slavery like a snake, or perhaps an enslaved creature as the snake itself. In either case, it is the conditions of slavery that motivate the biting. But neither slavery, nor people subject to it, operate like creatures, like the snake. Which is not to criticize the choice of creature that Tubman identifies, but simply to account for the reason the body and snake are in relation in the first place. This metaphor, while trying to punctuate the stakes of abolition, takes for granted the necessity of the body’s (the United States’) continued existence. It takes for granted the need, will, or want to live, and perhaps consequently, to reproduce. Such a premise is central to the colonization of the Americas, and it serves as a precondition for settlers to enslave anyone in the first place. It is through property relations that the politics of reproduction are brought to bear on the backs of black folk, and it explains a central premise in black liberation politics: the right to be included in the project of setter colonization. The fight between you and the snake, what characterizes your relationship to each other, is competition over the right to live and reproduce. So while the snake in Tubman’s metaphor might represent an oppressed person, we might also see its constitution – as locked into this competitive dynamic with a man – as representative of colonial politics or coloniality, writ large. If we do, we must be mindful of the ironic limitation to imagining settler colonialism in this way: if it were so simple to contain colonialism into a body, perhaps it might be slain. But colonialism is not a body; it is an act. It is a universe of possibilities and of laws, of priorities and values. And to really know colonialism is to be outside it; to be so completely alienated by it that your existence constantly teeters on the brink of violent erasure. In other words, to be so far removed from any power within the system, that the idea of ever living away from it is impossible for some people to ever accept.


Diversity is the fruit of a poisoned tree. [1] [2] [3]

epic footnote series

Academic institutions tend to reproduce colonial schemes and milieus that only legitimate discrete packages of knowledge; my readers should be aware of how incredibly uncomfortable I am in producing knowledge about Minecraft in this way. This discomfort comes from being both within the meshwork and outside the network that connects Minecraft-related objects, places, players, and logics together. My thesis is not concerned with those people who love Minecraft and derive great personal benefit to the way the game is currently designed; rather, my observations reflect a personal, ontological desire to decolonize a virtual world that does not value plurality and multiplicity. 

my decolonization project

what does it mean to value, appreciate, feel fulfilled in building of relationship between systems and yourself that is not about power, control, and domination?

gender and minecraft: console-ing passions 2014

Full disclosure, this presentation is an abbreviated analysis of a forthcoming book chapter on conventions of gender in Minecraft. This is also work that I am more comprehensively developing for my master’s thesis, provided the process of writing it doesn’t kill me over the next few weeks.

Console-ing Passions 2014

By way of some introduction to this paper, I’ll first describe how Minecraft presents itself and rhetorically defines gender and sexuality. I will then talk about how this this framework differs from sociological understandings of gender and the lived experiences of people who play the game. I’ll then walk through the ways in which labor facilitates the gendering of players and vice versa. To make sense of this epistemological framework I’m then going to explore the limitations of ontological possibility in the game. In many ways this conference presentation is about Minecraft, and in others it’s not. It’s about almost every game I have ever played in which I was forced to adopt a digital representation of myself.   Read the rest of this entry »