For the Love of the Game: Notes From a SJW (Unironically)
Recently I was asked by a group of graduate students (not my own) why I do games research. It’s a question that I get frequently and the answer is not usually what people expect. Or at least not fully so. They expect me to tell them how I see my work at the intersection of feminism, critical race theory, queer theory, and games as being driven by a desire to make the world a better place, a desire for social justice in and around games. But that’s not it. It may be a part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. I do what I do for a number of incredibly selfish reasons.
One of these selfish reasons is that I love games. I know that there are a lot of folks who think that I and people like me (feminists and games scholars) hate games and the people who play them, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I am a gamer. It is a title that I embrace even with all of the baggage that comes along with it. I have been a gamer for just shy of 40 years and not a fair weather gamer. I have been gaming consistently since childhood and through the childhoods of the children around me. I was always the fun cousin who gave games for holidays and played games with them at family gatherings and when they came to my house to hang out. Gaming has been a huge part of my life. It is the thing that has grown (up) with me. From little blips running across handheld screens, to missing a film at the theater because they had just installed a new Dragon’s Lair machine in the lobby, to playing games with my own child games are and have been a huge part of my life. This is not a party that I new to. I’ve been here for four decades and I have no intention of leaving anytime soon.
Another reason that I’m not leaving is that I am an educator. I have been a teacher in one capacity or another for more than 20 years. I started as a elementary school teacher in an inner city school filled with lots of teachers who had been there for 30 years. A time when teaching was different and the local population was white and more affluent rather than black and transient. So I turned to the only thing that I thought would be successful in order to reach my students. Games. Board games, game show type games, and of course, computer games. It was the early 90s and there was one time computer lab in a modified storage closet with poor light, metal grating on the outside of the one dinky windy, and one middle aged legally blind computer teacher who didn’t mind the poor lighting). There were about 7 or 8 all in one machines with monochromatic displays to be shared with the whole class so we worked together and were limited to text based games and games like Oregon Trail, but the important thing was that they were reading, focusing, and learning (and they wanted to learn). And I carried this practice with me when I went back to graduate school and started teaching literature and writing classes using MOOs and MUDs. I taught students to not only play but to program. And now as a tenured faculty member I still use games in the classroom on a regular basis, not only in games classes but in many of my other classes as well. Games are a huge part of my identity as an educator. And that identity intersects with my identity as a parent in which I use games every day to teach my own child everything from reading and spelling to critical thinking and math.
And that is, of course, the most important reason for my continuing to do the work that I do in what sometimes feels like the most hostile of fucking environments in the world. The environment that feels very little like the one that I have grown up with and through for the last four decades. That reason sleeps just about 50 feet or so from where I sit in our game room writing, surrounded by every console that I have ever owned. That reason who will never be known by name on the internet because it is one of the things that I do in order to keep her safe. She regularly tells me how much “we” love games and how she wants to teach games like her mama when she grows up. She wants to teach people how to make games so that games can be better and she wants to teach people that girls love games too and that that’s okay. There is nothing that I want for her than to make her dreams come true (and those dreams may change in the next 20 years) so that is why I am still here working for equality in games. I want the games industry/community to be a better place for her (and millions of little girls like her) to work or play in. I want her to be free from the kind of torment that we now see women enduring in the games industry. I want her to be able to play games online (when she’s much older) and not have to be subjected to name calling and lewd comments. So, I stay here and fight the only way that I know how. With my words and with my research.
So, that’s what it all boils down to. My history with games, my love of games, my present with games, and what I hope will be a brighter future for games. These are the things that keep me going every day. These things together are my passion. The reason that I put so much time and energy into all that I do. It is all for the love of the game.