CFP: Video Games, Culture, & Justice

Video Games, Culture and Justice announces a Call for Papers. The purpose of this edited volume is to propel game studies towards a more responsive existence in the area of social justice.  The text will attempt to move beyond the descriptive level of analysis of what and begin engaging the why, highlighting the structural and institutional factors perpetuating inequalities that permeate gaming culture and extend into a myriad of institutions.  The public outcry associated with GamerGate has put ‘why’ at the forefront of game studies. GamerGaters, who gained media attention through their misogynist and racist attacks on women gamers and developers, even tried to justify their campaign as an attempt to restore the ethics needed in video game journalism. This attack directed at ‘social justice warriors’ brought the hidden reality of harassment, cyberbullying, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other injustices to light.  These attacks are part and parcel of gaming culture; challenges to the lack of diversity or the gross stereotypes are often met with demonization and rhetorical violence directed at those who merely seek to help gaming reach its fullest potential. Yet, in these struggles, we must move beyond individual acts of prejudice, discrimination, and microaggressions to examine the structural and institutional factors that allow them to exist.   We must look at how the daily practices sustain what Mark Anthony Neal calls “micro-nooses” and lived reality of violence on and offline.

Amid this culture of violence, the gaming industry has embraced the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion.  In response to protests, game developers have incorporated statements asserting their commitment to producing diverse games and building an industry no longer dominated by white men. Given the post-racial rhetorical turn of the last six years, it is important to push conversations about gaming and gamers beyond diversity, to expose the disconnect between rhetorics of multiculturalism and the struggle for justice and equity.  It is important to highlight the contradiction between ideals of inclusion espoused within the video game industry and society as a whole and the persistence of injustices within the structural and institutional context in which they may have developed. This compilation not only seeks to answer these questions but also to produce work that intervenes in the culture of violence and inequity from which these works emanate from inside and outside of academia.

Traditionally, academic public discourses concerned with criminal justice focused on issues pertaining to crime and legal justice; within game studies, there has an effort to examine criminogenic effects of violent video games on the streets.  We must move beyond this simple construction of justice and video games.  This interdisciplinary text defines justice broadly, but in terms to speak to the struggle of racial, gender, and social justice.  Moving beyond abstract principles, the collection focuses on the stakes playing out in virtual reality, demonstrating the ways that struggles for justice online, in the policy booth, in the court house, in our schools, in legislatures and in streets must be waged online.

As such, this collection seeks a broader range of critical perspectives on justice issues within gaming culture seeking whether gaming culture can foster critical consciousness, aid in participatory democracy, and effect social change.  It will give voice to the silenced and marginalized, offering counter narratives to those post-racial and post-gendered fantasies that so often obscure the violent context of production and consumption. In offering this framework, this volume will be grounded in the concrete situations of marginalized members within gaming culture.

Early career scholars, game industry personnel, gaming activists, graduate students, and others are invited to submit work addressing the connected themes of Video Games, Culture, & Justice.  Suggested essay topics may include (but are not limited to):

·         Representation and Identity in Video Games

·         Examining the complex nature of intersections

·         Marginalized identities within gaming culture

·         Developing culturally responsive games

·         Activism within video games

·         Power and anonymity

·         Negative experiences in multiplayer settings

·         Applying social justice theories to gaming

·         Militarization and video games

·         Cyberbullying, online harassment, and other virtual violence

·         Policing game communities

·         Swatting and blurring boundaries of virtual and physical spaces

·         Online disinhibition, anonymity, and trolling

·         The impact of serious games and games for change

·         Hacking inequalities (sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, etc)

·         Solutions to eliminate bias

·         Hypermasculinity in tech culture

·         Methodological successes and challenges

·         Genre, representation, and social justice

·         Gaming interfaces as social praxis

·         The graphical arms race: hyperreality, phenotype, and identity

Please submit abstracts (500 word max) along with a short bio and your CV/resume to gamesculturejustice@gmail.com by September 15th, 2015.  Authors will be notified by October 5th, 2015 if their proposals have been accepted for the prospectus.  Final essays should be within the range of 4000 – 6000 words, submitted as a Word or Rich Text Format.  Notifications to submit full essays will occur shortly after abstracts are submitted and they will be due December 28th, 2015.  For more information please contact the co-editors at gamesculturejustice@gmail.com.

Deadline for Abstracts: September 15th, 2015

Full Essays Due: December 28th, 2015

André Brock (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan.  His research interests include digital and online performances of race and culture, African American technoculture, and critical cultural informatics.  Follow him on Twitter @DocDre.

Kishonna L. Gray (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is the Director of the Critical Gaming Lab at Eastern Kentucky University as well as faculty in the School of Justice Studies, African/African-American Studies, & Women & Gender Studies.  Her work broadly intersects identity and new media although she has a particular focus on gaming.  Her most recent book, Race, Gender, & Deviance in Xbox Live, provides a much-needed theoretical framework for examining deviant behavior and deviant bodies within that virtual gaming community.  Her work can be found at www.kishonnagray.com and at www.criticalgaminglab.com.  Follow her on Twitter @DrGrayThaPhx and @CriticalGameLab.

David J. Leonard (Ph.D., University of California – Berkeley) is Associate Professor and chair in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman.  He regularly writes about issues of race, gender, inequality, and popular culture.  His work has appeared in a number of academic journals and anthologies.  His works can be found at http://www.drdavidjleonard.com. Follow him on Twitter @drdavidjleonard.

Contact Info:

For more information please contact the co-editors at gamesculturejustice@gmail.com

André Brock (University of Michigan), Co-Editor

Kishonna L Gray (Eastern Kentucky University), Co-Editor

David J Leonard (Washington State University), Co-Editor

Enough with the post-apocalypse. What about the pre-apocalypse?

A five-minute montage. A few quick flashbacks. The first chapter of a book. In most apocalyptic works, this is all the time that is given to those precious moments before the catastrophe. The meteor hits, the outbreak occurs, the bombs fall: now the real story can begin.

In a way, this focus on the post-apocalypse is an escape. The apocalypse has come, and the battle to save the world is over—now, life has become a purifying crucible, with survival it’s only goal.

But those overlooked moments before the end have a drama of their own. Do people come together to prevent the coming apocalypse, or do they crumble under the weight of an almost certain doom? For John Krajewski, founder of Strange Loop Games, this time when people are faced with solving an almost insurmountable challenge is the most valuable and overlooked part of the apocalyptic canon.

“Typically games give you this post-apocalyptic world where society has fallen apart, and you have to pick up the pieces and experience a story in that world, and that’s great,” he says. “But it’s another thing entirely to be part of that society that is on the edge of falling apart. Eco is that part.”

Eco, Krajewski’s latest game, is a multiplayer world simulator that he has come to classify as “pre-apocalyptic.”. In it, players are forced to come together to prevent certain destruction through collaborative technological progress. Each server in the game represents a doomed world; players are given a real-time month (or whatever time they decide upon) to prevent the apocalypse by gathering resources and building the necessary technology in a Minecraft-esque malleable landscape.

But here’s the catch: players must also balance ecological considerations such as animal population and resource scarcity, much as they would on Earth. To do so, laws can be enacted to ban certain harmful practices or set necessary guidelines—but only if players can agree upon the terms of the deal.

Previous games have attempted to simulate similar ideas—4X games, for example, often explore the high-wire balancing act of governance and resource scarcity—but not many have placed player cooperation at such a premium.

Krajewski sees Eco as part of the growing legacy of craft-heavy, multiplayer survival games such as Minecraft, Rust, and Terraria, where “world-scale dynamism,” as he calls it, is possible. He hopes Eco will build upon the genre by bringing social structures within this umbrella concept of world-dynamism.

“You have to collaborate and share specialized skills, you have to function in a really rich player economy that sells goods and services, contracts, and rents on property,” he says. “The world is malleable like in other voxel games, but so is the social structure, and I think that’s going to be the really amazing part.”

The government system is key to this concept of malleable social structures. Players will be presented with data that informs them of their planet’s fragile ecosystem, which they then have to interpret and use to inform laws—which are voted on by the players—to promote ecological balance. In this way, Krajewski believes that Eco requires and teaches a different kind of skillset than your average survival game.

“It takes real skill, and not the typical kinds of skills you need in games—it takes collaboration, political will, and governance,” says Krajewski.

Eco requires and teaches a different kind of skillset

Krajewski and his team were particularly influenced by works that detailed the complexities of this kind of human collaboration, and what happens to political structures in times of chaos. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and his later book Collapse, along with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, are three of the main works Strange Loop Games have drawn from in designing Eco’s government and ecological systems.

Diamond’s renowned non-fiction works look closely at the interconnectedness of resources and social structures, and how outside environmental forces like disease and disaster have dramatically affected the course of human history. The Road, on the other hand, takes a much more intimate look at the effects of societal collapse on human relationships and the human psyche. Like in Eco, The Road explores what happens when humanity fails to balance its natural resources—which, for Krajewski, is the frightening possibility that partly inspired Eco’s creation.

“I’ve heard The Road called the best piece of environmental media ever, and I agree,” he says. “You get put into this heart-wrenching world that is just so believable, and it puts in your head just how close we are to the abyss, and lets you feel the infinite value and fragility of the world around you. That destruction is an absolute gift to the viewer, and I want the same to be true of Eco.”

“you feel the infinite value and fragility of the world around you”

That global vulnerability is key, and next to the focus on social collaboration, is what separates Eco from games that have come before it. Resource scarcity has been a mechanic in plenty of games, but global destruction is rarely a consequence to consider. Of course, in reality, it is. We are, in fact, living through a historic time of ecological death, as the sixth extinction—caused primarily by humans—wreaks havoc on a global scale.

And while it is primarily other organisms that have been affected by climate change so far, scientists expect that humans, given there is no miraculous solution, will eventually reap similar consequences.

Krajewski and his team are well aware of Eco’s place in these contemporary crises, and hope that the game can provide a sort of education on just how delicate our planet’s ecosystem is. They recently secured $900,000 in grant money from the Department of Education to help distribute the game to classrooms around the country—but they are careful not to call the game educational.

“We want to break down that wall between educational games and regular games,” says Krajewski. “I don’t think there should be any distinction there.”

Krajewski points to a game like Civilization, which is steeped in historical and sociological lessons, as an example of a game that is educational but is rarely thought of as such. The educational genre, he says, often carries negative connotations because the game aspects so often play second fiddle to the lessons being drilled. Instead, Krajewski sees Eco as a game that kids can play for fun at home or at school, with the ecological and governance lessons woven naturally into the gameplay and supplemented by teachers who can follow the progress of their students’ world.

The complexity of the game’s morality also separates it from traditional “educational” games, as it forces players to make the kind of uncertain decisions world leaders have to make on a daily basis. Technology, for example, is always necessary to stop the coming apocalypse, but what kind of environmental price comes with rapid progress?

The social governance system also forces players to confront real-world complexities. Krajewski points to the example of a dictator forcing people to come together to prevent the cataclysm: is that morally permissible? Luckily, as Krajewski says, “Eco provides not just complexity, but the tools to understand it, and the tools to make decisions about it as a group.” Detailed graphs and statistics are given to players to make sure collaboration is not only possible, but effective.

Krajewski sees Eco as ultimately having an optimistic outlook

In that sense, Krajewski sees Eco as ultimately having an optimistic outlook on humanity’s ability to work together in times of crisis.

“[The game] is saying a lot of things, but one of the most important ones is ‘we’re facing some incredible problems as a human race that could result in our collective end, but we have the ability to overcome them,’” says Krajewski. “It puts players into a world where their collective darkest nightmares are looming, but can be conquered.”

As the effects of climate change continue to appear before us, and with nuclear annihilation always a disturbing possibility, it’s not much of stretch to say we’re already living in Eco’s pre-apocalypse. Perhaps that’s why pop culture has focused so much on the time after the apocalypse has already come: our current pre-apocalyptic reality is too complex, too frightening to confront. These post-apocalyptic works represent a certain resignation, perhaps even a Freudian desire for destruction. But Eco, despite all its complexities, still believes.

 

Enough with the post-apocalypse. What about the pre-apocalypse? – Kill Screen – Videogame Arts & Culture..

New HoloLens video isn’t shy about the technology’s limitations

The HoloLens live demo at E3 was amazing, but it didn’t do a great job of realistically showing what the hardware can do. Microsoft has since released a promotional video that gives a much better idea of the device’s limitations.

For example, this is what the HoloLens marketing likes to show you.

holo1 gif

While the person wearing the headset sees something very different. Microsoft is finally releasing video of what you see through the headset, and it tells a very different story.

holo2 gif

Again, this technology is amazing, and is far ahead of anything else we’ve seen in augmented reality. But when you compare these shots…

holo3 gif

With what the wearer actually sees…

holo4 gif

You begin to see how far HoloLens has to go before it becomes as good as the initial marketing. Remember, the field of view is unlikely to be significantly improved before launch, according to Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda.

One more example: This is how the device has been sold to us thus far…

holo5

And then a look at what you’d actually see while wearing the hardware.
holo 6

This is a great look at what the technology can and can’t do, and it shows how much promise the hardware has in an educational setting while being very honest about the field of view of the device.

Nearly everyone who used the hardware remarked on the limited field of view, and it’s one aspect of the technology Microsoft has been loath to address in official videos and marketing, but we’re past the point it could get away without showing what the hardware is actually like to use. Now everyone can see exactly what the hardware can, and can’t, do. It’s impressive stuff.

New HoloLens video isn’t shy about the technology’s limitations | Polygon.

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