Tag Archives: Lisa Nakamura

Can Video Games Make Thoughtful Social Critiques?

Just to be clear, I am not a gamer. The only video game I ever successfully completed was Jill of the Jungle, which we owned on floppy disk when I was a kid.

I’m pretty sure I only liked this game because Jane was a super cool tough girl,

In fact, up until this past year I would have argued that video games don’t really have any redeeming qualities. At worst, they are a hotbed of misogyny and xenophobia, as chronicled by female gamers on websites like Not in the Kitchen Anymore and Fat, Ugly or Slutty. At best, they are like a bottomless pit where the lives of children and adults disappear, never to resurface.

Although I suppose the same could be said about pretty well anything.

This year a good friend convinced me to try a Digital Humanities class at my University. For those of you who haven’t heard of the field before (I hadn’t either), Wikipedia defines it as the “intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities”.  If you want to see some examples of the kind of research being done in the field, you could check out two of my past posts describing DH scholar Lisa Nakamura’s guest lectures at my university.

While this class has challenged the way I see technology in general, it has particularly challenged my very negative perception of video games. In fact, Ian Bogost, one of the DH scholars we studied in the course, argues that games can form powerful arguments and unique social critiques. In his book, Persuasive GamesBogost describes arguments made by a game as “procedural rhetoric“, or, more simply as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures”.

Below, I’ve included four examples of persuasive games my DH professor shared with the class. Each of these games make relevant and thoughtful arguments that wouldn’t have been as effective if they didn’t appear in their procedural form.

The Parable of the Polygons

Vi Hart and Nicky Case preface their simple browser game by stating that “This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.” Hart and Case explain that the triangles and squares are “slightly shapist”. This means that the shapes prefer some level of diversity around them, but will become unhappy if they feel isolated in their community. Players are then asked to drag and drop the shapes until all of the squares and triangles are happy with the community of shapes around them.

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Click on the image to play the game

Once the player begins moving the shapes, it becomes apparent that even a slight bias will lead to large scale segregation. Continue reading

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Lisa Nakamura Part 2: Navajo Circuits and the “Nimble Fingers” of Asian Women

In my last post, I told you a little bit about Lisa Nakamura, her research, and the talk she gave at my university about Tumblr activism. I also promised to tell you about her second lecture the next time I wrote.

Both of Nakamura’s lectures were about digital media, but unlike her first talk, her second presentation focused on the physical material of digital technology.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or recently time-travelled to 2015, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most of your digital hardware came from Asia. You may even be familiar with the way Asian women have been racialized as innately predisposed to factory work because of their “supposed docility, nimble fingers and attention to mind-numbing detail”.

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Click on the image to view the full infographic.

However, you might be surprised to learn that this stereotype has been applied to women of colour ever since the digital revolution. In her paper on “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronics Manufacture”  Nakamura examines the way digital factory work is both gendered and racialized. She refers to the work of Karen Hossfeld when she insists that

“…by the eighties in Silicon Valley, electronic assembly had become, not just women’s work but women of color’s work.” (290)

Continue reading

Lisa Nakamura Part 1: Tumblr Activism and This Bridge Called My Back 

On Thursday and Friday UVic hosted Lisa Nakamura, Collegiate Professor from the University of Michigan, to speak about her research on Digital Media and Race, Gender and Sexuality. Nakamura has been writing about digital media since 1994. While she has written several books about race and the internet, some of her shorter pieces focus on things like “The Racialization of Labour in World of Warcraft”. In order to feel qualified to write about platforms like World of Warcraft, she spent hours playing the game herself.

On Thursday, Nakamura’s talk was titled “The Digital Afterlife of This Bridge Called My Back: Women of Color, Feminism and the Internet”. She began by giving a brief overview of the book and explained why it matters so much.

As an anthology that prioritized written work by women of colour, This Bridge Called My Back responded to the whitewashing of feminism long before movements like the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag began to highlight the problem. This book also introduced the concept of intersectionality, which has since become a key element of feminist theory.

Unfortunately, since it’s original publication the groundbreaking collection has struggled to remain in print. According to Wikipedia,

“The anthology was first published in 1981 by Persephone Press, and the second edition was published in 1983 by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. The book was out in its third edition, published by Third Woman Press, until 2008, when its contract with Third Woman Press expired and it went out of print.”

The book’s struggle to remain in print made it an “artificially scarce commodity” and drove up the price. At its inflated price, the book’s authors might even have been unable to afford their own work.

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