Declaration of Independence from Video Game Studies

Last night I posted my Pledge of Allegiance to Video Game Studies, part of a graduate seminar I’m taking on Feminism and Colorblindness in the Disciplines. Here is the counterpart to the assignment: a Declaration of Independence. Once I thought through some of the things that the discipline asks of me as a scholar, I needed to break down the aspects of that methodology that might produce problematic readings and to declare my independence from those tactics. I’m really digging the notion of strategic disloyalty that this class encourages us to think through. Can’t wait to see what the other assignments are.

This one is slightly more serious in tone than the last, but there’s still a bit of snark to it. Once again, it comes from a place of caring, a place that has now matured thanks to these thoughtful experiments. We’ve done a lot of reading about disciplinary methodologies and critiques thereof, so the context might not be the same for other people, but I highly recommend giving this exercise a go as a way to evaluate your position with respect to the norms of your discipline.

Declaration of Independence from Video Game Studies

When in the Course of scholarly events it becomes necessary for one Critic to question the political trends which have alienated her from a community of peers, and to assume among the powers of the academy, the separate and (un)equal feminist station to which the Laws of Anti-Oppression impel her, a decent respect to the opinions of other game studies academics requires that she should declare the causes which impel her to the separation.

I hold these truths to be self-evident, that academic discourse is not immune to the workings of oppression, that the conventions of our discipline conceal methodologies complicit with the silencing of anti-oppression discourse. –That to maintain a posture of insecurity with respect to our place in the academy, our relationship to industry, and the object of our study encourages us to unnecessarily exclude useful critical concepts, to tone down much-needed criticism of industry practice, and to praise problematic texts while understating their unsavory qualities. –That to ignore or downplay evidence of the harmful effects of video games also undermines the argument that they have the power to make positive changes in the world.

I find it suspect that the foremothers of the discipline have been all but ejected on the grounds that they committed “interpretive violence” on game texts and replaced by forefathers who substituted the study of machine and process for that of culture. While these two are not mutually exclusive, what “culture” means for critics in the discipline leads them to miss important questions about the Orientalist narratives imported from Indiana Jones into video game culture via Pitfall in favor of lauding the auteur programming culture that turned the constraints of the Atari VCS into aesthetically distinctive software. I find it similarly suspect to lure students and the public into the fold by avoiding talking about political topics like racism and sexism in order not to scare them away or provoke the ire of trolls; if these issues are not a part of the conversation now, at what point will gamers and game studies academics be ready to talk about them?

I am disappointed that when we were given the opportunity to build a new discipline from the ground up, we did not take advantage of the decades of feminist, critical race, and queer critique that had sought to teach the disciplines – all of them – the dangers of thinking in terms of an abstract liberal humanist (white heterosexual male) subject. I would like to see more game studies academics coming together more visibly over issues of oppression – and to do so in a way that combines our discipline’s interest in hardware and procedurality with critically informed close readings of cultural texts. The medium does have characteristics that make it unlike books or film or other things that academia has tackled before, and feminist, queer, and antiracist critiques coming from “the outside” may not take all of these things into account. That makes it the responsibility of trained game studies academics to look into these issues.

I declare my independence as a game studies academic to think through the oppressive regimes of our discipline and objects of study. Though it is taboo to point outside of our own to a model of what this kind of work should look like, I would like to submit the work of Wendy Chun as an example. I will be following her lead, thinking about how her methodology can be adapted to video games, and hope that others will follow suit.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanmcintosh/3745040581/

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