Conference notes from QGCon 2020

QGCon is a queer games criticism conference that I attended in 2013 and 2014, because it was next door, and it made a pretty big impression at the time. Not entirely in a positive way, but it was just so out there, it was fascinating. I’ve also been to GaymerX before, and the contrast is stark, with GaymerX being geared towards the player (“gamer”) community, and QGCon being a weird intersection of academic queer theory, academic games studies, and very indie game devs. I come from a player perspective, but I appreciate the academic stuff.

But QGCon moved away, and I never attended again. I recently realized that it has been putting its talks online, so that I can attend even years later, without travel. So, I took notes on the QGCon Online 2020 sessions, and I’m sharing them.  There are even more sessions I didn’t talk about–often because I was critical of them or didn’t have anything to say.

[Read more…]

Trans representation in Tell Me Why

Tell Me Why is probably the highest profile example of a trans character in video games. Not the biggest game to feature a trans character, nor the game that places the most focus on trans characters, but something in the middle. A game with a trans protagonist, but not about trans issues, which was made by a medium-sized studio.

I didn’t think I would be playing this one, because I did not care for the writing in DONTNOD’s seminal game Life is Strange.  But, there’s a free giveaway for the month of June on Steam. Furthermore, I was intrigued by the controversy around the game, most clearly expressed by Dia Lacina’s review, “‘Tell Me Why’ Smothers Its Representation in Bubble Wrap“. Despite Lacina’s critical stance, it only made me more eager to form my own opinion.

cn: mild spoilers for events in the early game
[Read more…]

My grandfather

cn: death and homophobia. I do not recommend reading this if you are one of my relatives. I do not desire, and will not respond to any expressions of condolence, or general concern for my personal wellbeing.

My grandfather grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Very conservative, very religious, and his neighbors were Amish. He left his background behind, moving to California, becoming a professional scientist, and–a point of family pride–an anti-racist activist. Specifically, he spoke at many churches against California’s 1964 proposition 14, which would allow people to discriminate by race when selling housing.

At the time I became an adult, my grandfather was openly nonreligious–the only other nonreligious person in my family that I knew of at the time. He called himself a deist, believing in a god that does not intervene in the world, and which does not require any worship. Perhaps for that reason he was the only relative who took extended interest in my blog, which was more atheism-focused at the time. Despite several disagreements, we had many positive interactions.

But over ten years ago, I came out as ace and gay, and then I learned that my grandfather was homophobic.

[Read more…]

Against the top/bottom dichotomy

cn: it’s about sex positions, but it is not graphic

I hate the top vs bottom dichotomy as it is used by gay/bi/queer (GBQ) men. If this is something that you like to use for yourself and to understand others, that’s well and good, and I will not deny it to you. But there’s a lot of stereotyping and politics that goes into it, and it’s obnoxious from the perspective of a person who prefers to opt out.

First, at the risk of overexplanation, I should make sure everyone is on the same page. “Top” and “bottom” refer to sex positions, with top being the penetrative position, and bottom being the penetrated position. They can also be used as verbs, or to people. A top is someone who prefers the top position or takes the top position, and a bottom is someone who prefers the bottom position or takes the bottom position. If someone swaps positions, or doesn’t have a preference, that’s called “versatile”, or “vers” for short.

The top/bottom dichotomy is primarily used in the context of men who have sex with men. However, it is occasionally used in other contexts, and the fandom context is of particular note. I mention this because I’ve found that some readers were only familiar with the fan context, and did not realize that I was talking about a real world concept. So, for the fandom folks, at the end I’ll include a discussion of the top/bottom dichotomy in a fan context.

[Read more…]

Bugsnax’s twofold queerness

cn: no spoilers in the OP, but spoilers permitted in comments

Over break, I tried playing Bugsnax, a video game about catching snack-themed bug monsters. I expected a light and colorful game, but I got something more story-oriented, and way more queer. And that’s not just me reading into it–basically anyone who plays through the game will know that there are not one but two same-sex couples in its cast of 13. Fewer players realize this, but there is also a nonbinary character.

 

bugsnax cover art

Source: Young Horses

My attitude towards queerness in video games is as a nice-to-have. I don’t really expect it, and I expect little out of it. Bugsnax having many queer characters is a pleasant surprise. But I read webcomics whose casts are 100% queer, so for me the novelty is only in the medium, and not in the queerness itself.

What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.

[Read more…]

Two theses on queer readings

This was crossposted to my other blog, The Asexual Agenda, under the title “The essentiality of ace readings“.

As part of my usual youtube browsing, I was checking out a games criticism channel, Transparency, and I watched a video titled “Queering Animal Crossing | A Helpful Guide to Queer Readings” (29 minutes). I don’t think it says anything truly unusual, it’s just an entertaining and accessible introduction to the topic.

Videos like this are useful for me to reflect on my own views, and crystallize disagreements. So here I present two theses about queer readings. First, I assert that queer readings are not always political, but also form an ordinary part of how queer people consume media. Second, I argue that asexual readings are an essential concept that should be introduced as part of basic education about queer readings.

Queer readings as ordinary

The Transparency video does a good job of establishing the point that queer readings are not “alternative” interpretations of texts. Rather, they show how queerness–which exists all over the place in the real world–has also slipped into our fiction, as much as heteronormativity may try to stop it or ignore it. Queer readings do not require any “proof” of queerness, after all this is fiction and there is no underlying truth of the matter. Nor do queer readings require any knowledge or theorizing about the intentions of the creators. Queer readings are just about recognizing hints and potentialities that exist in our fiction. Straight audiences regularly interpret knowing glances between m/f pairs as a code for romance, we can very well do the same for queer pairings.

[Read more…]

Reflections on my family

In queer culture and media, there is a lot of emphasis on one’s “found family” or “chosen family”–families composed of people who are not related by blood. This is because a lot of LGBTQ people face rejection from their family of origin, and so if they want a supportive family they need to build their own from the ground up. Found families are not an LGBTQ-exclusive idea, but sources say that it originated in LGBTQ communities, and the associations continue to be very strong. In fictional media, found families are everywhere–we like our ensemble casts!–but queer media tends to go a step further, and hold it as a central theme.

I am fortunate enough that I have never been in want of a chosen family. I mean, I did, in the literal sense, choose my husband to be part of my family, but that doesn’t really fit the theme of a “chosen family”, which is more commonly understood as a group of close friends. So for me, found families are not real. They are a trope that I see in fiction that does not correspond to anything in my life. It’s kind of like living Los Angeles, where it never snows, and being surrounded by cultural depictions of winter as a snowy season.  I’m not complaining, I’m just remarking on how it puts my own experiences in context.

[Read more…]