Saturday, 20 February 2016

“ Racism, Sexism, and Gaming’s Cruel Optimism ”

As game scholar Ian Bogost writes, video games are procedural media; they fundamentally index user activity to the computer’s programmed responses to that input. They are algorithmic. And while the algorithms or set of rules that many Americans believe have governed access to the “good life” — defined as job security, a comfortable retirement, the right to be safe and secure and free from violence — have proven themselves broken, games appeal all the more because they embody this very promise. Thus, gamers’ intense attachment to games reflects the opposite of “ guilty pleasure, ” much less “time-wasting.

In a viciously neoliberal economy, gaming feels like a virtuous pleasure, for games reward player labor, while, in contrast, labor in the real world is often undervalued, often treated as surplus or even as worthless. 
Though Berlant [public worlds are affect worlds] [affects of belonging: foreclosure and flourishing - affective commons] [noone ever willingly abandons a libidinal position] [the desire for a world - a world you can trust with your non-sovereignty]  does not write about video games in her work, the period of U. S. culture she examines in Cruel Optimism overlaps with the rise of video games as a mass medium, and her description of cruel optimism describes gaming’s dynamic in interesting new ways. As she writes, “optimism is cruel when the object/scene that ignites a sense of possibility actually makes it impossible to attain the expansive transformation for which a person or a people risks striving”
Games make vividly visible what transformation might look like. The strict procedurality of games both satisfies and ignites desires for fairness in the context of a U.S. culture that is patently unfair, particularly for racial minorities and women. The attachment to games can be a cruel one for all players, but especially for those who are subject to even more unfair proceduralities and forms of systematic discrimination in real life. 

What can game studies learn from queer theory and critical ethnic studies as practiced by scholars such as Berlant, who do not study games but are centrally concerned with questions of nation, desire, attachment, feeling, and identity? There is much at stake in bringing this kind of work to bear on the state of video games and race, especially as moments of racial and gendered violence coalesce around the cultural debates surrounding gaming’s famously uncivil cultures. 

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