THE INEQUALITY OF PLAY – UNDERSTANDING OPPRESSIONS THROUGH GAMES
While the mainstream, AAA industry presents as homogenous, there are a wealth of ways that games can be used to open conversations about inequality and oppressions. This can be more direct through the theme of games or by invoking analogies.
Samantha Allen shares a very compelling class in which she uses the skull settings of Halo to effectively explore and describe the feminist concept of intersectionality. The approach described by Allen could also be adapted to teaching the tool Twine and the building of branching narratives.
There are also an increasing number of games that deal directly with social justice issues. There are some great resources for discovering games that might be appropriate for exploring issues such as gender, age, race, sexual orientation, ability and socio-economic status, such as IndieCade, the IGF finalists list, and Games 4 Change.
ANNA ANTHROPY & THE ZINESTER APPROACH TO GAME DEVELOPMENT
Not only are Anna Anthropy’s works ideal for discussing trans and queer issues and oppressions, her ‘zinester’ philosophy towards game making has a number of valuable feminist learning opportunities.
First, the very notion of zinester-style making is inclusive. It is about making game development accessible, opening up the black-box of gaming technologies and adding more voices to the community as a means of producing more diverse games. A critical discussion of Anthropy’s book can foster discussion about the hegemony of play.
Second, the concept of the zine is strongly tied to the feminist third-wave. Unpacking the political importance of the zine in marginalized sub-cultures is a productive way of teaching the history of feminism and may be coupled with a zinester design exercise.
CRITICAL PLAY SESSIONS
By the time a student enrols in a university program, they may have spent a good deal of their life with games and developed certain preferences. Playing assigned games let’s students experience types of games that they may not usually reach for and gain a broader view of what games are. Playing games in class also ensures that all students have access to the correct technology for play the game (with so many platforms, it cannot be assumed that students with own the technology).
FEMINIST READING & ITERATIVE GAME DESIGN SEMINAR
Combining the traditional reading seminar and principles of iterative design, this seminar begins with the development of a game and quick prototyping. Each week a reading is assigned (in this example syllabus a feminist reading) and students iterate on their design in response to the concepts and themes of the weekly reading.
Grow-A-Game cards developed by Tiltfactor Labs prompt students to design with social values in mind.
USC’s Reality Ends Here game for film production can be modified to apply to game development.
MakeMe Cards were developed by ReFiG with the aim to encourage collaborative and critical game design. You can download printable versions of the game as well as instructions here.
GAMES FROM ABOVE AND FROM BELOW: REFRAMING GAMER KNOWLEDGE
According to a study about the difficulties of teaching game studies (Zagal & Bruckman 2007), instructors consistently cite getting students to shift their thinking about games from ‘fanish’ to academic. This article by Dan Golding (Golding 2013) using de Certeau’s psychodynamics of place is a valuable text for getting students to think about the difference between the position of knowledge from which we speak about games and the knowledge we have while playing them. This distinction can highlight the importance of thinking about games from the position of the player and even novice players and challenge the usefulness of indexical ‘gamer knowledge’.
NOT GAME STUDIES: INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACHES TO GAMES
Games and the popular knowledge around them is largely the domain of white, middle class, heterosexual males. The history of games has largely been chronicled by men and the practices of making established by men also. This Not Games Studies syllabus is a combination of theory based discussion and related workshops that challenge traditional approaches to game studies by looking at games in relation to the film, art, architecture, literature and other design practices.
GENDER & GAME STUDIES CURRICULUM
The studying on games in relation to gender, race, sexual orientation is often given a single week’s attention in a course. Often this is exclusively focused on representation, but there is so much more to talk about. Why not develop an entire course looking at these issues. Here is a sample syllabus that you may use or adapt.