Shira Chess. “Bejeweled.” In B. Perron, K. Boudreau, M.J.P. Wolf, D. Arsenault (eds.) Fifty Key Video Games. New York, Routledge, 2022.
Abstract: Bejeweled is one of the most ubiquitous of match-3 casual games. Its longevity on the market paired with its lush aesthetics make it a foundational game that influenced many that came after it. In the following, I argue that the importance of Bejeweled is not in any one aspect of the game itself, but in how it helped usher in different kinds of video games – casual games – in a way that irrevocably changed the market and perception of the medium in broader culture.
Description: “You play like a girl”: it’s meant to be an insult, accusing a player of subpar, un-fun playing. If you’re a girl, and you grow up, do you “play like a woman”—whatever that means? In this provocative and enlightening book, Shira Chess urges us to play like feminists. Furthermore, she urges us to play video games like feminists. Playing like a feminist is empowering and disruptive; it exceeds the boundaries of gender yet still advocates for gender equality. Playing like a feminist offers a new way to think about how humans play —and also a new way to think about how feminists do their feministing. Chess argues that feminism needs video games as much as video games need feminism.
Video games, Chess tells us, are primed for change. Roughly half of all players identify as female, and Gamergate galvanized many of gaming’s disenfranchised voices. Games themselves are in need of a creative platform-expanding, metaphysical explosion; feminism can make games better. Chess reflects on the importance of play, and playful protest, and how feminist video games can help us rethink the ways that we tell stories. She proposes “Women’s Gaming Circles”—which would function like book clubs for gaming—as a way for feminists to take back play. (An appendix offers a blueprint for organizing a gaming circle.) Play and games can be powerful. Chess’s goal is for all of us—regardless of gender orientation, ethnicity, ability, social class, or stance toward feminism—to spend more time playing as a tool of radical disruption.
Abstract: “Casual game” is an industry term that is often used derisively or dismissively—it is a catch-all meant to indicate a style of play but is often deployed like a genre. The term increasingly infers a discursive list of game genres: Match-3, invest/express, hidden object, and puzzle games all fall under the purview of what is often considered “casual.” The video game industry and dominant gaming culture often express a great deal of ambivalence toward these games and their players—both hoping to monetize off the emerging audience but simultaneously deploying memes like “filthy casuals” that remind players of a gamic pecking order. We are at a pivotal moment for the video game industry, and the hybridity of casuals is at the core of what games have the potential to become. In short, the world we live in, the world we play in, is a “casual” one that privileges casual temporal encounters with our mobile devices, the primary vector for these games. Our casual gaming bodies are composed of seemingly contradictory hybrids: work/play, expansion/constriction, and freedom/captivity. Because of these hybrid modes, casual bodies can reclaim gaming as a medium for all. Thus, by pushing back against industry rhetoric that privileges the staunch structure of console gaming over the hybrid aesthetic of the casual, we can witness a shift wherein more bodies can transform into gaming bodies.
Abstract: Kim Kardashian has received much attention for her media empire, including her game, published by Glu Mobile. The game’s premise plays a role in what I characterize as “Feminine Play Style,” an emerging mode of video games that functions through assumptions about an idealized vision of the woman player and her relationship with leisure time.
As video games become an increasingly mass medium — not intended for niche audiences but deployed with different genres, styles, and platforms — it is an apt time to rethink the role of feminism in gaming. Feminism, as it is deployed in this paper, considers feminism as discursive, exceeding “women” as its subject, per Judith Butler, and is instead about how systems facilitate emancipation (Butler, 1990). In this way, I consider three categories of how we can think about what a feminist game might look like: (1) technological deployment, (2) game mechanics, (3) game narratives. Using Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) designation of “intersectionality” (ie, the interdependence of systems of oppression), I break down the feminism inherent in games such as Stardew Valley, Life is Strange, and Monument Valley. This approach of considering the feminism of games that already exist allows us to be forward-looking at the future of the medium as well as the future of the industry.
Abstract: This chapter explores how video games interact with individual characteristics to afford unique opportunities for behavior change. It first considers how video games differ from traditional media, and more specifically how they create virtual situations that may be perceived differently from those naturally occurring in reality. In this regard, the concept of situational affordance is discussed. It then examines simulated experiences provided by video games before describing a range of psychosocial pathways (both cognitive and affective) through which video games can impact behavior change both intentionally and inadvertently (motivation, personalization, Proteus Effect). It also recommends game elements aimed at eliciting behavior change and highlights some concrete applications that illustrate how games or game elements can be used to induce and sustain changes in health attitudes and behaviors. Finally, it identifies several areas for future research that are emerging in the field of game studies.
Abstract: When we discuss games, as a culture, the games under discussion are often presumed almost always a “core” (or “hardcore”) games. However, video games are change rapidly. The market has been shifting for years with increased revenue and game play occurring in casual and mobile gaming. Revenue streams have are now flowing from digital distribution; the App Store and Google Play have continued to generate substantial industry revenue, which continues to grow. During this, efforts to study a broader category of games often end up reifying a division between casual and hardcore games, the effect of which is to lump players and play styles into specific categories. The politics of this terminology is not nothing – the way games are discussed in mass media, specialized journalism and academic writing, all affect who gets to play and how that player is portrayed. This article serves as an introduction to a special issue for the journal Games & Culture that considers the impact and importance of the casual market.
Abstract: Mobile-based celebrity games are a byproduct of a new, more feminized video game industry. Within celebrity games, the player engages with celebrity culture in a variety of ways, often being transformed into their own brand of celebrity. Celebrity games are a form of hypertrophic media, based on the dyadic interactions between the player and celebrity. Within this, one becomes a looking glass celebrity – an enculturation process by which the celebrity text situates the player as closer to the titular star than they actually are. In turn, the player uses this position to reflexively construct what they believe constitutes a successful celebrity. The path to fame, however, is a hollow one, wherein the player can never really lose and never really win.
Abstract: “What type of sword am I wielding?” For most performers in visual media this question is moot, clearly answered by the prop department – but for video game voice actors, understanding the imaginary weight and velocity of an object provides essential information to help them find the appropriate vocal range for a performance. Voice acting, or the auditory human performance attached to an animated body (as distinct from voice over) has become an essential component of video games since the 1990s. Video game voice actors face a unique set of performance conditions: they record, occasionally mix, and submit their own auditions, rarely know the character(s) they are cast to voice or even the game they are working on, frequently record alone without the benefit of playing off other actors, place great strain on their voices in action scenes, and often don’t get to see the final results of their performances. The production practices of casting, recording, and producing video games separates voice actors from the characters on screen.
In 2014, SAG-AFTRA’s video game contract expired sending the union to the bargaining table with video game companies. The 340-day voice actor’s strike, the longest in SAG or AFTRA’s respective histories, sought video game residuals, better working conditions to mitigate vocal strain, and transparency about the projects. We can look at this recent strike as part of an ongoing struggle of talent looking to share in digital profits, but from an industrial perspective it also demonstrates some of the challenges of convergence. Technologies have converged, audience members traverse media forms, conglomerates produce for multiple platforms, but historically separate industries still retain their unique and distinct labor cultures. The voice actor strike provides a unique vantage point to consider the relationship between convergence culture and media labor. Using interviews, this presentation will locate the work and performances of voice actors within the larger field of screen acting. I argue that while much of voice acting helps converge cinematic narratives and video games, these textual, technological, and corporate logics are at odds with existing union practices. As Silicon Valley giants Apple, Google, and Facebook look for ways to produce content and hire film and television workers, the challenge for actors will be to assert leverage within un-unionized and exploitative hi-tech corporate work cultures.