I Don’t Hurt Anymore: Agency, Genre, and Queer Memory

YOUNGBLOOD QGCon 2015 headshotSPEAKER: Jordan Youngblood

How do particular actions link to questions of queerness in gaming—and how do particular genres, often maligned as “not games” or as “fake” games, potentially allow for different avenues and actions relating to queer experience, especially that of pain and memory? I intend to begin with the AAA title Fallout: New Vegas and its depiction of two lesbian characters—Corporal Betsy and Christine Royce—and explore how the game’s traditional dynamics of shooting, exploration, and dialogue construction place the player in relationship to their memories. Theirs are archives of painful experience that the player can either fix, ignore, or exploit for her purposes, largely for the sake of improving the player character via experience points and better environmental exploration. In moving away from the expectations of the first-person open world game, I then turn to a series of smaller games—including Gone Home, Mainichi, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Consensual Torture Simulator—to open up the question of how maligned genres such as the “walking simulator,” the visual novel, or games using pre-constructed models like via RPG Maker offer a different experience of action that refuses the assumption of complete agency and control. Instead, they establish a set of playable actions which ensure the player explore queer memory as witnesses and archivists, linking to Ann Cvetkovich’s ideas of the archive as a queer space.

Ultimately, I want to leave my presentation open to a variety of discussions: how does genre define queer experience, if at all? In what ways do the lived experiences of queer memory—even painful memories—manifest themselves in play, and how can they be played? Can all playable actions be queered or made to reflect queer life, or does this again slip into purely representational politics? In so doing, I hope to engage all levels of game experience present in the audience while avoiding a prescriptive definition of how these questions can be answered.

Jordan Youngblood is an Associate Professor of English and New Media Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University. His work focuses on the intersections between queer theory and video game theory, particularly relating to aspects of embodied performance and action. His work has appeared in ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, along with multiple conference presentations; an additional essay is forthcoming in Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Gaming, and in a collection drawn from the initial QG Con in 2013.