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Just Critical: The Queer Fruit of My Labors July 5, 2010

Posted by arcanyx in Uncategorized.
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So, it’s been far too long since I’ve written anything in this blog. The ruckus of finishing law school — and the current headaches of studying for the Bar, moving back to Florida, and the like — have taken up a great deal of my time.

However, I’ve finally hit the point where I need to write here more often, if not frequently.

As a reintroduction, I want to post a few relevant excerpts from the two large non-legal academic papers I wrote this year, one for a Sexual Representation in Cinema seminar, and the other for a seminar entitled Cinema and Spectatorship.

Today’s excerpt comes from the Sexual Representation essay. If you enjoy this, please let me know — via comment here, Facebook, Twitter, or the like — and I’ll consider making the whole paper available. I hope to have new content written soon (a fairly deep and interesting analysis of Alan Wake for the X360), but for now I hope to revive my meager readership with these excerpts.




Transgendering Gamers, Optional Queers and The Makoto Imperative: Queer Space in Videogames and the existence and power of Interactive Dissonance

Introduction: The Teachings of the Old Guard

On November 27th, 2005, film critic Roger Ebert ignited a firestorm of controversy when he wrote in his “Answer Man” web column that he considered “video games inherently inferior to film and literature”. Ebert cited a “structural reason” for this conclusion, claiming that “by their nature”, video games “require player choice, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature [and] requires authorial control.” In his mind, video games represented “a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic”.

Understandably, a caustic backlash came at Ebert from the video game player community. Perhaps the most distinguished voice raised in opposition to Ebert’s hard-line dismissal of the artistry of the video game medium was Clive Barker, a well-known and highly-educated novelist and video game designer, who pointed out Ebert’s unfamiliarity with — and unrealistic expectations for — the nascent medium. In response, Ebert likened a high-quality videogame to a particularly satisfying bowel movement and his experience of losing his ability to speak — moving but ultimately “worthless” experiences. Littered with thinly-veiled insults toward Barker and video games in general, Ebert’s discourse illuminates a particularly strong undercurrent of mainstream thought with regards to the video game medium, that it is merely capable of producing works for the sake of frivolous, uninspired, wasteful entertainment, the proponents of which include child and family protection groups, educators, and lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum.

In a more academic context, Bernard Malfitano wrote an article for the Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal entitled, simply, “Interactive Media Are Not The Future Of Storytelling”. In his article Malfitano echoes Ebert’s core contention that the interactivity present within every video game is an intrinsic barrier to the game reaching the levels of “meaningfulness” that film and literature are capable of, albeit expressed in more academic terms. In particular, Malfitano borrows heavily from Steven Poole’s Trigger Happy to establish a crucial binary between interactive ( the “diachronic”) and non-interactive, “cinematic” (the “synchronic”) segments of video games. Malfitano takes Poole’s basic binary and perverts it, using nothing more than its mere presence to assert that videogames are not a viable storytelling medium; for Malfitano, the synchronic exists as secondary to the diachronic and is, therefore, wholly tangential to the videogame “experience”, making it an inadequate medium for works having a primary purpose of storytelling. As a result, Malfitano reaches the same conclusion as Ebert: video games are simply incapable of insight or meaning because of the control they bestow on the game player.

While there are a number of obvious arguments that can be made to refute Ebert and Malfitano’s viewpoints — ranging from lack of experience with the medium in Ebert’s case to a complete misunderstanding of critical materials in Malfitano’s — they end up mirroring the often-emotional responses to Ebert’s assertation. Gamers were, on the whole, insulted that the medium they had invested a great deal of time and energy in — a medium that, as many of their personal anecdotes related, had successfully affected them in exactly the same ways that film and literature had — was so summarily dismissed. However, I feel it entirely unnecessary to delve into the realm of personal emotion in order to justify the artistic nature and potential of the video game medium. In fact, I believe that the reactions of those most opposed to acknowledging and legitimizing video games — the aforementioned family protection groups and lawmakers whose zeal is so often directed towards censorship of the video game medium — to the problem of “interactive dissonance” (a concept described below) are the absolute best argument for the calamitous meaning-power that the medium can assert. In order to solidly establish this idea of “interactive dissonance”, I will look at an aspect of the video game medium so woefully underdeveloped that it alone practically proves the existence of the concept — the nonexistence of interactive queer experiences.