On Essay Games: The Diary, The Documentary, and the Satire in Independent Video Games
Stevens Institute of Technology, United States of America
As video games communities continue to mature and nurture pockets of avant-garde practices, I propose an emergent practice of game development/design called essay games.
Similar to the essay film and video genres of avant-garde cinema, essay games explore how the medium can tell critical, research-based narratives about political, cultural, or interpersonal themes. I will discuss how essay games have three primary design strategies that distinguish their production from traditional independent games: the diary, the documentary, and the satire.
The diarist approach uses personal narrative as a gateway to openly discuss fraught political or societal inequities, or tensions between an individual’s experience and the way that experience is misrepresented in culture at large. Looking at games by Nina Freeman, Auntie Pixelauntie, and Ryan and Amy Green can provide clear examples of diarist essay games that use personal narrative in order for their story to speak to issues of larger scope.
The documentary is perhaps the most widely used approach in essay video games and has the most immediate connection to traditional approaches in film and video. Artists Chris Marker (a mainstay within essay film studies), Harun Farocki, and Hito Styerl are prime examples of utilizing documentary approaches in essay film and video production. Likewise the work of Navid Khonsari (and iNK stories), Studio Oleomingus, and Molle Industria (Paolo Pedercini) apply documentary approaches to essay game making.
Satire is a powerful essayistic approach for alleviating the cynical side of daunting political and social forces. Games like Universal Paperclips by Frank Lantz, Layoff by Tiltfactor Games, The Game: The Game by Angela Washko, and the work of Robert Yang all use satire to create essay games with a touch of biting humor.
By comparing contemporary essay game designers to examples in more traditional essayistic mediums, I will establish how these works (and their developers), differentiate their practices from other experimental voices. These voices use similar interactive-storytelling methodologies, but their subtle differences require further examination and discussion.
Far from attempting to define a new genre, my paper is instead an attempt at shaping an emergent practice within an evolving medium. By outlining the shape of these emergent practices, my intention is to differentiate them from more “generic” independent gaming communities that merely use the medium for commercial or entertainment purposes.
Highlighting these games and their makers will hopefully further conversations around the so-called “power of videogames” to immerse players in unfamiliar, challenging, and thought-provoking environments. To that end, essay games of this often use these three approaches in order to confront mainstream “standards” and “conventions.” Their efforts, and my paper, outline the ways that this medium can intervene and contribute nuanced discussion in current discourses around the most pressing political, social, and cultural issues of our time.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Cultural Impairment Through Game Spaces
University of Florida, United States of America
The cultural significance of videogames is undoubtedly growing at an unprecedented rate. The rapid development of visual-interactive technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality, is at least in part due to the rising interest in the unique immersive experiences which videogames offer. This paper focuses on the immersive qualities of videogames as a vehicle for, what I call, imagined embodiment. I place emphasis on the player-avatar relationship to examine the potential for players to experience a sense of cultural impairment vis-à-vis the game space.
In this paper I focus on the videogame Octodad: Dadliest Catch to demonstrate that the disabled body has been culturally established as an object of impairment. I examine the avatar, Octodad, who possesses bodily capabilities different from the culturally normative human body, to illustrate that it is not the avatar but the game space which represents the challenge in gameplay. Ultimately, I show that spaces privilege able-bodied people and perpetuate social disability. Among other scholarship, I refer to Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s work on feminist disability studies to complicate the relationship between player and game space by highlighting the fundamental obstacle of the game, which suggests that the main character, Octodad, does not belong in socially normalized spaces. Based on Garland-Thomson’s understanding of disability as “a cultural interpretation of human variation rather than an inherent inferiority, a pathology to cure, or an undesirable trait to eliminate,” I employ Octodad to showcase how social spaces are constructed in ways that are disadvantageous to disabled citizens.
Del sabor Pacífico y sus tradiciones migratorias
Banco de la República, Colombia
Este trabajo analiza la actualidad de la cocina del Pacífico colombiano en la ciudad de Bogotá. Para esto toma como objeto de estudio un grupo de seis restaurantes, ubicados en la carrera 4a con calle 20, que se han convertido en un referente de la cocina del litoral en el centro de la ciudad. La investigación compara los menús de dichos restaurantes con las recetas descritas en el estudio del Ministerio de Cultura, Saberes y sabores del Pacífico colombiano, y así establece el porcentaje real de platos típicos que hay en las cartas de estos locales para responder la pregunta de investigación: ¿Qué tan cercanas son las recetas tradicionales del Pacífico colombiano con los menús de los restaurantes ubicados en el centro de Bogotá? La recolección de datos se logró mediante visitas y trabajo de campo, no solo en la zona de estudio descrita, sino en otros lugares de Bogotá, así como en la ciudad de Buenaventura y a través de fuentes gubernamentales. De esta manera, se logró el análisis no solo de la oferta de cocina del Pacífico, sino de un fenómeno de migración hacia la ciudad de Bogotá producto de la violencia y la falta de oportunidades. Los resultados finales arrojaron cifras por debajo de las esperadas en cuanto a la cantidad de recetas originales ofrecidas en los restaurantes analizados.
Cooking While Black: What Do Food Blogs Tell Us About Our Racist Past and Present?
St. John's University, United States of America
Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins’ novel Four Girls at Cottage City (1898), Malinda Russell’s Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen (1866), and Erika Council’s food blog Southern Soufflé (2012-present) are texts that differ in form, genre, purpose, and period. Read together, these works, all three of which have received relatively little critical attention, however, help piece together a historical and cultural framework for contemporary views of Black women, food and professionalized labor, a subject which itself has received less attention, critically, than white women and the professionalism of their domestic labors. By reading works that are historically and generically different, and that therefore fall outside traditional literary studies of canonical works and discrete time periods, we can begin to understand the works that have always fallen outside of those categories, and that, indeed, defy category altogether. Russell’s cookbook, the first attributed to an African-American woman in the United States, and Council’s food blog belong to genres that are just coming into critical attention within the fields of archival studies and media studies. I situate my readings of these more overtly food-related texts in relationship to a literary work to show that literary culture and domestic-culinary culture of the U.S. from the nineteenth century to our current moment shares concerns about bodies, their differences, what they consume, and what kinds of spaces they occupy. These three exemplary texts are centrally concerned with questions of how to resist an embodied racial logic that seeks to categorize and value various forms of women’s domestic labor according to the bodies that perform it. Kelley-Hawkins, Russell, and Council all address, in their works, questions of who consumes and who is consumed within the context of U.S. cultural history and its long-held, violently deployed misunderstanding of race.