Presenting at PCA/ACA 2013: “Queerness Can(not) Be Designed: Video Games and the Trouble with Protocol”

PCAACA-Logo_940x292_3The bad news is that I did not have enough travel funds to make it to my hometown area of Washington, DC for the annual convention of the Popular Cultural Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA).  The good news is that my friend and colleague Timothy Welsh (who I was hoping to meet up with at the conference) is there and will assist me in telepresenting my paper via Skype.  I am part of the Game Studies stream (organized by Katie Whitlock, Gerald Voorhees, and Joshua Call).  My presentation is part of the “Game Studies XVII: Crossing Borders and Occupying Margins” session and is provocatively entitled:

Queerness Can(not) Be Designed: Video Games and the Trouble with Protocol

Is it possible to create a queer video game?  What constitutes a queer video game?  And are video games already queer?  Considering Kurt Squire’s argument that video games are “designed experiences,” this presentation takes up the problematic (im)possibility of queer games beyond queerness as window dressing, as simply LGBT-skinned plot, character, or subtext.  In other words, video games in many ways are normative, structured, and deeply protocological even as gamers and game developers evince their promises of power, freedom, play, and agency.  Alexander Galloway defines protocol as “a language that regulates flow, directs netspace, codes relationships, and connects life-forms” in ways that is “not by nature horizontal or vertical, but that protocol is an algorithm, a proscription for structure whose form and appearance may be any number of different diagrams or shapes.”   Looking at games designed as queer—Gambit Game Lab’s A Closed World, Auntie Pixelante’s dys4ia, and Merritt Kopas’s Lim—this paper explores how the binary, algorithmic, and protocological underpinnings of both game programming and design constrain and recuperate queerness, and more importantly, imagines the queer possibilities in interruptions to game protocol such as cheats, exploits, glitches, and paratexts like fandom and countergaming.

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