IN VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING
This project is research through making, trying to understand the challenge of how to design games that provide a platform to have queer characters that are mindfully represented.
My intention is to study how flexible game design can consider sexuality and gender across a spectrum that can allow for broader ranges of play experiences to be realized. This is a concept for a game about going to a health clinic, a lot.
Initially, at the beginning of this project I was interested to understand the online gaming communities I had participated in growing up. I always sought spaces meant for LGBT folks to play games together without homophobia because it's draining to face toxicity from strangers while playing a game you love.
Being in a community means more than just getting away from hetero-normative people. They become spaces for forming cultural ideas, and It's a struggle to have everyone pinpoint criteria for what "good" queer representation looks like in a game when the conversation is bound to change depending on the context. There are so many different gaming communities because of the internet with goals and desires that depend on criteria like a specific game or subculture. Different games are played by different people for different reasons.
Inside of the clinic
“The issue of representation in games and, indeed, in all media industries is too often focused on what a “good” representation of a given group would look like. Such concerns are inevitably limiting.” - Shaw. Gaming at the Edge.
“And this is where we return to the notion of queer code: if hetero-normativity sets up a code for blending into one’s society that will be offset by a number of non-norms who fail to achieve those norms, then queer codes represent strategies to rewrite the notion of achievement
altogether and to exploit the normative code in order to produce transformative possibilities, often through the act of failing." - Halberstam. "Queer Gaming", Queer Game Studies.
As I was reading about queer gaming communities, I started to broadly question who games were made for and how much game development is influenced by the free market. Games that are sold by large publishers like Nintendo or Blizzard Entertainment normally have ample resources to provide developers in telling compelling stories with broad distribution. However sometimes their design scope is perpetually limited, whether by public interest groups seeking to police content or investors seeking to maximize profits off of content. In order for these parties to coexist happily, games are censored and different frameworks of thinking contrary to what's "safe" are made trivial.
Some games by big publishers, like EA Games, are starting to see the benefit of allowing games to address how to represent trans characters in the game by making their preexisting systems less rigid and more flexible to further possibilities. In 2016 the Sims 4 received a free content update to the clothing system which allowed for clothing items to be tagged for any gender, allowing a masculine Sim to wear a feminine clothing item and vice versa. According to EA, "The Sims is made by a diverse team for a diverse audience, and it's really important to us that players are able to be creative and express themselves through our games. We want to make sure players can create characters they can identify with or relate to through powerful tools that give them influence over a Sims gender, age, ethnicity, body type and more."
Unsure of how to respond to the research I was gathering, I first developed different compositions to organize some of the thoughts I was having in response to the information I was finding.
“How to Generate Queer Characters” was a poster I created to to express some of the problematic ways in which queer characters have been shown in video games throughout history. In some cases a character's sexuality is mentioned briefly but has little impact to the story. Or, a well-rounded queer character is tragically killed off and not able to overcome obstacles like their hetero-normative counterparts.
A poster posing the question, "What if Mario from the Mario Bros. could be any gender?" Mario is an iconic character that has shown his adaptability throughout the different genres of games bearing his name. This was a temporary exhibition piece where I placed three tabloid size posters around the UT Art Building in an attempt to engage with viewers that might be interested in video games and queer discourse.
The goal of the game is to get to the clinic, but the challenge is getting there first. There's many reasons why someone would need to go to the clinic, so I wanted to see how the generation of different scenarios adds story to the mechanical aspects of the game. Every patient generated from a scenario is incorporated into the game world to further cement their presence in the story story.
1. When a new game is created, the player is greeted with an awakening sequence.
2. The player receives the scenario which is their motivation for going to the clinic.
3. In order to get to the clinic, the player must resolve some puzzle or obstacle in order to reach the clinic destination. The journey is the hardest part sometimes when it comes to going to medical appointments.
4. Upon arrival to the clinic, the player is given a check-in, which a randomly generated form is populated with the player character's details. This serves as a score report as well.
Thank you to my professors and design family for supporting me during my time in Design Capstone and SDCT. There will always be more to come, and without you all I wouldn't have pushed myself to at least dip my toes into even making a game in the first place.
Shaw, Adrienne. Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Ruberg, Bonnie and Adrienne Shaw (eds.). Queer Game Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
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