Reconstruction Vol. 12, No. 2

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Ga(y)mer Theory: Queer Modding as Resistance. / Evan W. Lauteria

Abstract: In the mid-20th century, scholars Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois positioned play as a pre-civilized human activity that is resistant to capitalism and rationalization. McKenzie Wark extends a theory relationship between play and resistance to contemporary global capitalism in Gamer Theory, a critical theory of games that rests on the gamer standpoint. Gamers are most capable of bearing witness to the injustices of the social realm in contrast to the “fair” structures of game worlds. However, video games as formal rule structures are embedded with ideological forces, products themselves of capitalist enterprise, and video game simulations are powerful normative or normalizing processes. In this paper, I grapple with this uneasy relationship between gamers’ resistant play and the normalizing games in which that play occurs. By drawing attention to the intersections of global capitalism, sexuality, and gender, I employ my own experiences with Persona 4 as a case study in which a game deploys normalizing power through its mechanics. In turn, I echo a political commitment to resistant play and look at gaymers’ modding practices as a current site of resistance, oriented to the construction of spaces that permit play against normalizing sexual and gender structures. I argue that Gamer Theory’s gamer standpoint indeed holds important political salience, but an intersectional approach – in this case practiced through directed attention to “gaymers” – extends resistance to include both “free” play and, importantly, the construction of spaces in which that play occurs.

Keywords: Feminism; Gender, Sex & Sexuality; Queer Theory

<1> In 2007, McKenzie Wark released Gamer Theory, a networked book[1] geared toward a critical theory of games that combined media theory, rhetoric, sociology, history, and philosophy to produce a critical theory of digital games. Articulating a vision of games that values its players – “gamers” – as epistemically valuable, Wark encourages his readers to adopt a gamer subjectivity that is critically conscious, aware of the ideological and material shortcomings of the social world in direct contrast to the functional algorithm of the game. The social world is an unjust place, riddled with the expanding oppressions of globalization, neoliberalism, and Empire, and despite the molds and modulations of capitalism changing over time, the work of ideology in maintaining its supremacy has yet to falter. The social world continues to find itself infused with false ideologies of meritocracy and just rewards for dedication and hard work, while its denizens are constantly bombarded with hidden rulesets, extralocal and uncontrolled variables, and unattainable win states. Contemporary ideologies and discourse have shifted to gamified rhetoric – “[w]ork is a rate race. Politics is a horse race. The economy is a casino. … The reigning ideology imagines the world as a level playing field” (Wark 2007:8, italics in original) – granting the world a new ideological fervor as what Wark refers to as “gamespace,” wherein gamic logics are mapped onto the flawed capitalist regimes of the social realm. Despite these shifts, the work of ideology to support a capitalist order remains. Game worlds, by contrast, employ no such false promises; players can indeed succeed in games’ rule-bound environments through identifying and navigating their inherently just and understandable algorithms. The social world thrives on a false ideology of the level playing-field; games thrive on actual level play.

<2> In establishing this binary relationship – the social world as the realm of ideological falsehoods and games as inherently level playing-fields – Wark is able to apply a classical Marxist standpoint theory (Marx 1964; Lukács 1971) to the gamer subjectivity. Because of the gamer’s bifurcated experience – caught between the fair and equal game worlds deemed less “real” than the inherently unjust social realm – gamers take the place of the proletariat in contemporary gamified capitalism. Gamers occupy the necessary social location to effectively acknowledge, critique, and unveil the injustices of a rapidly-expanding global, neoliberal capitalist regime. Extending theories of play found in Homo Ludens (Huizinga 1955) and Man, Play, and Games (Caillois 2001) Wark also replaces communism, Marx’s economic answer for the proletariat, with the pre-civilized, free, resistant human activity of play – “[p]lay within the game, but against gamespace [the social realm]. Be ludic, but also lucid” (Wark 2007:19). This convergence of classical Marxist thought and an approach to play as “voluntary” and free, “distinct from ‘ordinary’ life” and “connected with no material [capitalistic] interest” (Huizinga 1955: 7-13), and – serves as a solid ground for resistance to a growingly-gamified and increasingly pervasive global capitalism.

<3> Huizinga’s commitment to play as natural and ultimately anti-fascist (and anti-capitalist) influenced the thinking of the mid-20th century Marxist revolutionary group Situationist International’s (SI) members, particularly Guy Debord (Andreotti 2002; Rodriguez 2006). For SI, resistance – which included free play – required an active seizing of and creation of situations to facilitate and support alternatives to the lives permitted and fostered by capitalist order. Gamer Theory ultimately echoes this approach, but asserts that the global capitalist order continues to absorb its supposed others and expand its reach:

While the counter-culture wanted worlds of play outside the game, the military entertainment complex countered in turn by expanding the game to the whole world, containing play forever within it. (Wark 2007:15)

Indeed, Caillois described this phenomenon decades before Gamer Theory, lamenting that rationalization and capitalism have “corrupted” what was supposed to be free, voluntary, non-serious, and distinct from material production.

What used to be a pleasure becomes an obsession. What was an escape becomes an obligation, and what was a pastime is now a passion, compulsion, and course of anxiety. The principle of play has become corrupted. It is now necessary to take precautions against cheats and professional players, a unique product of the contagion of reality (Caillois 2001:45).

This leads to a complicated juncture in theorizing the “gamer” as the contemporary stand-in for a Marxist proletariat. As Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter claim, “video games are a paradigmatic media of Empire – planetary, militarized hypercapitalism” (2009:xv), suggesting that play through games cannot inherently oppose capitalism’s reach. Indeed, as global capitalism extends Empire through informatic control, what seemed to be “a law of society now[feels] more like a law of nature. Because of this, resisting control has become very challenging indeed” (Galloway 2004:147). Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter (2009:190-191) urge us to adopt Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s assertion that Empire’s global capitalism “is not an ironclad world, but actually opens up the real possibility of its overturning” (2000:324). Alexander Galloway’s concept of “countergaming” (2006:107-126) and his orientation toward protocological futures, starting with hacking (2004:147-172), illustrate that resistance can indeed work through digital systems – like video games – rather than against them. Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter share this approach, framing Galloway’s perspectives on countergaming within games of Empire:

Games of Empire are… also games of multitude… possibilities of virtual play exceed its imperial manifestations, and that the desires of many gamers surpass marketers’ caricatures of them (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009:191; 214).

Despite being bound by the confines of the game’s rule structures, play – particularly play as active, creative, critical – is still core to resistance. Wark invites us to engage in such play: “Play, yes, but the game – no” (2007:16). As in Marxist standpoint theory, the gamer standpoint may have all the requisite ingredients for a critically-conscious resistant subject, but active resistance through particular modes of (counter-)play are still necessary for Gamer Theory’s critical, anti-capitalist goals.

<4> I frame the genealogy of Gamer Theory through Huizinga’s (1955) influence on SI, and the influence of Empire witnessed in commercial games today, to extend Wark’s emphasis on the gamer standpoint. The SI aimed not simply to engage in playful resistance but actively occupied capitalist spaces and reorganized them to facilitate and yield oppositional and resistant situations. And, in turn, Wark asserts “[t]o hack is outside of but not opposite to work. It is a free, self-directed activity that makes its own rules, its own conditions of completion, and its own protocols of success” (2007:198). I seek to draw important connections between the behaviors of game modders [2] and the occupying strategies of the SI – that the 1960s reappropriation of physical capitalistic space via the occupation of factories lies in political alliance with the contemporary reappropriation of capitalistic, military-entertainment complex algorithmic game architecture. But to argue that all mods are a resistant mode of such a reappropriation would be a disservice to the intricate reasons gamers mod. In some cases, modding is part of the dominant culture surrounding a game (see Sihvonen 2011), and thus offers far less in terms of active, thoughtful resistance. I offer, however, the practices of modding gaymers – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer gamers – as a site to conceptualize modding as a reappropriation of space akin to SI’s activities, and draw an underlying theory of gaymer experiences playing commercial video games through Espen Aarseth’s (2007) concept of the “implied player,” feminist intersectionality, and a case study of Persona 4’s (Atlus 2008) heteronormative mechanics. I then turn to select mods for Mass Effect (BioWare 2007), Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare 2009), The Sims II (EA Games 2004), and Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment 2010), highlighting these mods as “queer mods,” which yield anti-normative play spaces through an orientation to queer sexualities and genders. In understanding gaymers’ experiences with games as directly connected to, yet simultaneously a complication of, Wark’s imperative for a critical gamer consciousness, I aim to assert the political relevance of modding as a means of resistance to the gamified global capitalism of Empire and its intrinsic connections to biopolitical, normative sexualities and genders.

Implied Players vs. Intersectional Gamers

<5> The initial complication and extension of Gamer Theory (Wark 2007) I wish to offer here is a nuanced understanding of complex subjects’ relationships to games as gamers. Wark orients us toward conceptualizing the “gamer as theorist,” and adopting that standpoint for critical play-as-resistance using methods of allegorithmic readings (2007: 26-50; see also Galloway 2006:85-106) of ideologies of gamespace in contra-distinction to the algorithms of games. But it is not merely the mapping of game logics onto gamespace’s inherently flawed Empire. Rather, games, the “exemplary media of Empire” (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009:xxix), are “in direct synchronization with the political realities of the informatic age” (Galloway 2006:91), and this is most directly experienced at the level of games’ construction of their players – “Empire’s twin subjectivities of worker-consumer and solider-citizen” (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009:xiv). The construction of the player-subject, and its connections to Wark’s “gamer as theorist” deserves critical attention in this paper’s aim to extend Gamer Theory’s political usefulness.

<6> To this end, I draw attention to the game studies notion of the “implied player” (Aarseth 2007; Canossa 2009; Hansen 2010), which finds roots in Espen Aarseth’s (1997:127) Cybertext concept of the “implied user” and extends and complicates reader-response theory’s poststructuralist notion of the “implied reader.” According to Aarseth, “players cannot exist with out [sic] a game they are players of” (2007:130), in direct contrast to the development process of commercial games, which does not require an actual, historical, or particular player to exist. That is, designers often work with a constructed or presumed understanding of a game’s players during the production process. Games, thus, work at the level of the “implied player,” presuming particular subjects and those subjects’ actions before they’ve accessed games’ rule structures. According to Aarseth, the work of the “implied player” is normalizing and confining:

By accepting to play, the player subjects herself to the rules and structures of the game and this defines the player: a person subjected to a rule-based system; no longer a complete, free subject with the power to decide what to do next. …The implied player, then, can be seen as a role made for the player by the game, a set of expectations that the player must fulfill for the game to ‘exercise its effect’ (2007:132).

Unlike in the case of its narrative counter-part of the “implied reader,” a negotiated reading is insufficient for understanding oppositional players’ interactions with video games precisely because video games are ergodic [3]. While an implied reader and a negotiated reading mark sites of hegemony and resistance in reader-response theory, no such relationship can fully translate in the case of video games. For games, the expectations of the implied player, however confining or agential, must be adopted and practiced by the real, embodied, and historical player in order for the player to traverse the game as text. Indeed, “the game will not be realized unless some mechanism allows player input… the implied player [is] a boundary imposed on the player-subject by the game” (Aarseth 2007:132). Unlike Gramscian hegemony in reader-response theory, playing games seem far more aligned with Althusserian notions of hailing and interpellation (Althusser 1971). Indeed, “[g]ames are machines of ‘subjectivation.’ …Games, like other cultural machines, hail or ‘interpellate’ us in particular subject positions” (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009:192).

<7> Gamer Theory (2007) complicates this theoretical orientation to players by emphasizing the critical gamer standpoint above all else as the primary site of resistance. And this is echoed in Galloway’s (2006) concept of allegorithmic readings, as it implies players indeed can critically interpret games’ structure simultaneously through and against its logics. Importantly, however, an allegorithmic reading requires

The gamer is instead learning, internalizing, and becoming intimate with a massive, multipart, global algorithm. To play the game means to play the code of the game. To win means to know the system. And thus to interpret a game means to interpret its algorithm (to discover its parallel ‘allegorithm’) (Galloway 2006:91).

Just as Aarseth claims, such interpretive work first and foremost requires an internalization of the game’s logics. Understanding that play cannot exist outside of games, Gamer Theory’s privileging of play through games mandates and requires players adopt the boundaries imposed by gamic structures even in their moments of critical play resistance. The shortcoming of this model is – by Aarseth’s “implied player” account – the structuralist Althusserian forces of ideology embedded in game structures, which offer little agency for resistance. Aarseth claims that “[b]y accepting to play, the player subjects herself to the rules and structures of the game… [and is] no longer a complete, free subject with the power to decide what to do next” (2007:130). While Aarseth builds his argument about the implied player to open a brief analysis of transgressive play, this approach offers little room for resistant play directly within the confines of the game. It is somewhat accurate.

<8> So the question, then, is can one indeed do Gamer Theory? How does one resist as a critical gamer subject given the ideological and subjectivizing forces of game structures? This is where attention to critical vs. uncritical gamers, a-contextual in their construction, offers little in terms of theorizing gamers as resistant subjects. Gamers are not easily categorized into these two categories; rather, what produces a critical gamer is inherently wrapped up in the multiplicity of identities and social experiences gamers hold. That is, gamer subjects are inherently intersectional subjects, to draw from the language of the feminist theory of “intersectionality.” Intersectionality refers to a collection of feminist modes of inquiry and feminist thinking that grapples with the complexity and heterogeneity of peoples within particular identity categories. Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term “intersectionality” in a critical race theory analysis that “contrast[ed] the multidimensionality of Black women’s experience with the single-axis analysis that distorts these experiences” (1989:208). By examining discrimination claims of Black women in court systems that only permitted singular-identity claims – that is, one could file a claim under gender or race, but not as race-gender as might be the case for Black women – Crenshaw illustrates the monologizing workings of the courts and the urgent need for a rethinking of identity categories in systemic oppression. Crenshaw’s often-cited article offers a buzzword launching point for deeper analysis of the experiences of the multiply oppressed within contexts and systems that seek to simultaneously oppress and suppress them. As a feminist theory, intersectionality seeks to (1) challenge false notions of universally share experiences between members of identity categories and affinity groups, and (2) examine interlocking, interwoven systems of oppression and injustice related to these identity categories and affinity groups.

<9> Intersectionality was, in large part, a critical response to essentialist modes of thinking, particularly essentialist understandings of “woman” and womanhood. Prior to Crenshaw operationalizing the term in 1989, the concepts framing intersectionality were deployed in the writings and speeches of women of color in the mid 19th to early 20th century. In her pivotal speech “Ain’t I a woman?” Sojourner Truth worked through the complexity of “womanhood” and challenges normative understandings of “woman,” drawn on lines of whiteness and middle-class norms, by calling for a reframed understanding of gender as intersecting with race and class (or citizenship).

That man over there says women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And arn’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And arn’t I woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And aren’t I a woman? (Truth [1851] n.d.)

Truth worked through a reframing of womanhood that was not essentializing, that did not position a particular set of women as representative of the entirety of women. Her speech was a powerful assertion of her social location(s) as a poor/slave Black woman, Christian, and mother. Truth did not exist as one extractable aspect of her being – say Black today, woman tomorrow - but rather as a complex, compound subject. Through her description of her labor and survival of physical abuse, Truth challenged the falsely-homogenizing raced and classed conception of women as weak. Through her description of her struggle for adequate meals, she urged for the inclusion of women in the throes of poverty into the exclusionary, essentialist women’s rights movement. Truth channeled her embodied compound subjectivity as a rhetorical strategy to destabilize the category of  “woman” by acknowledging the limitations of a single-axis mode of thinking, instead placing gender within a matrix of identities and oppressions. Race, class, and gender intersect, and the embodied realities of women like Truth speak to the importance and relevance of an intersectional lens. Without a mode of thinking that understands race as classed, class as gendered, and gender as raced, Truth would, under universalizing, essentializing logics, not be a woman.

<10> Truth’s sentiments were later echoed in the 1970s by the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists similarly theorizing around their intersectional identities. Beyond Truth’s move to destabilize the category of “woman,” the Collective moved toward a theory of politics and oppression experienced simultaneously, not along a single-axis or race/gender-primary modality. They wrote,

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political oppression (2001:32, italics mine).

The Combahee River Collective focused on issues of identity that simultaneously affected women based upon their gender, race, sexuality, and class. By positioning the identities Black women alongside the historical/political systems of oppression experienced by them, the Collective continued to push forward the importance of an intersectional lens. Sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia – like the identity markers Truth sought to position within a matrix – work in tandem with one another and are experienced inseparably by those with compoundly-oppressed subjectivities.

<11> If we frame “gamers” and Gaymer Theory (Wark 2007) through the lens of feminist intersectionality, we find two major shifts in critical logic. First, gamers, despite the ideological impact of gamic rule structures in play, are at their core multi-faceted, multi-layered, and compound subjectivities. While a game may indeed call for an adoption of its implied player logics, the gamer is never wholly the implied player, still informed and influenced by multiple layers of identity and experiences while traversing the ergodic game text. Importantly, this informs the practices of intersectional gamer populations, as I will illustrate through a case study of “gaymers” later. Secondly, intersectional analysis, following the Combahee River Collective (2001), articulates seemingly disconnected oppressions as a matrix of intersecting oppressions. While critiques of ludocapitalism (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009), informatic control (Galloway 2006), and the gamified global capitalism of gamespace (Wark 2007) emphasize and echo militant Marxist and Deleuzean critiques found in Empire (Hardt & Negri 2000), intersectionality illustrates the importance of connecting capitalism and class oppression to the seemingly disconnected oppressions of sexism and patriarchy, racism and white supremacy, and heterosexism and heteronormativity. Resistance, in an intersectional approach, is more broadly defined than in a Marxist critique of capitalism, as it identifies multiple forms of oppression converging and working in tandem with one another.

The Gaymer & Persona 4

<12> For LGBT gamers, or “gaymers,” this means that the battlefied of gamified global capitalism is experienced simultaneously as an expanding and enforced sexual and gender normativity via digital control. In an application of Eve Sedgwick’s (1997) erotic triangle to the player-character relationship in Final Fantasy IX (Square 2000), Mia Consalvo asks the critical question “what if the player is a heterosexual female, or a gay male? Viewing the game (or playing the game) from these subject positions demonstrates how norms can be made visible and problematized” (2003a:179). She asserts that in the game’s narrative drive to secure a heterosexual coupling between Zidane, the protagonist, and Garnet, his love interest, the game presumes the implied player is a heterosexual male subject, and efforts to collapse the difference between the protagonist and a queer player ultimately fails because of the compulsory heterosexuality at play. Jonathan Alexander (2007) later shares these sentiments, emphasizing the centrality of player-character and character-character interactions as sites of contestation for sexuality in games:

‘[P]sychological depth’ is hardly missing in gameplay, even if it is not foregrounded in the narrative structure of the game. Rather, such depth is produced out of the relationship between player and character and then also between character and character (and even player and player) in a variety of interactions… in such interactions – in the player’s relationship to his/her character and the characters’/players’ interactions with one another… sexuality and gaming intersect” (2007:181).

It is explicitly the relationship of the gamer subject – an intersectional subjectivity, especially in the case of gaymers – to the game’s characters and by extension other characters that sexuality emerges as a major site of inquiry and resistance. In asserting that playing “from these subject positions demonstrates how norms can be made visible and problematized,” Consalvo (2003a:179) shares Wark’s (2007) emphasis on the standpoint of the gamer as a standpoint of resistance, but, in the case of the female and gay players of Final Fantasy IX, the sexual and gendered intersections of that subject position that gain primacy. The gaymer in this conception is able to not only bear witness to capitalism in Wark’s theory by developing a critical consciousness, but is also able to dismantle and challenge the normativity of the game structure’s implied (compulsorily heterosexual) player.

<13> I turn to my own experiences as a gaymer in the context of play in Persona 4 (Atlus 2008). This game choice is deliberate for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the game includes a silent protagonist and, debatably, two queer characters – Kanji, whom may be read as gay or bisexual, and Naoto, whom may be read as transgender. This, in theory, might challenge or complicate Consalvo’s (2003a) concerns over the compulsory heterosexuality she outlines in her analysis of Final Fantasy IX. Secondly, the game relies on developing relationships both narratively and mechanically to drive play, encouraging the player to identify with the silent protagonist very closely and, simultaneously, encouraging and rewarding the player for intimate and deep relationships with an array of non-player characters and party members. In conjunction with Alexander’s claims regarding player-character-character relationships and sexuality in gaming, Persona 4 is ripe for queer game analysis. Lastly, because sexuality, particularly heterosexuality, is featured so prominently in a number of the protagonist’s relationships with NPCs and party members, Persona 4 makes visible its compulsory heterosexuality through the controlling yet “flexible” romance mechanics of the game, more reflective of the distributed control of gamified global capitalism than the authoritative narrative of Final Fantasy IX.

<14> In Persona 4, the player is tasked with the responsibility of solving a mysterious murder case in the rural Japanese town of Inaba. The silent protagonist arrives in Inaba for his year-long stay with his uncle and cousin right at the start of a pair of unexplained murders, the victims of which are found hanging upside down from telephone poles and TV antennae after the spread of dense fog across the town. The catch, the player soon discovers, is that these victims are murdered inside a different world you access by jumping into a television screen. Prior to their murders, victims are displayed on an eerie “Midnight Channel,” watchable only by peering into your powered-off television set at midnight, and this “clue” launches the protagonist and his friends into the core of Persona 4 – the simultaneous prevention and solving of these television murders. The world inside the T.V. is infested with beings called “shadows,” dark reflections of their real-world counterparts’ innermost secrets and suppressed thoughts, which prey on the living that venture into the T.V. This, it turns out, is how each victim dies. Their shadows, embodiments of their suppressed desires and thoughts, kill them on days when the fog lifts in the television world and falls upon the real-world Inaba. Shadows are only effectively combated with the power of “Persona,” an allied “other self” represented in the form of demons, angels, gods, and spirits not entirely unlike the antagonistic shadows the characters must confront. Personas [sic] grant their users super-human capabilities – magic, improved strength and stamina, etc. – and are key to solving the mysteries both within and outside the television set.

<15> While the protagonist’s companions are only granted one Persona – or, rather, their initial Persona with a potential morphed upgrade – the protagonist is able to summon and change between multiple Personas over the course of the game. Each Persona has its own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and skills, and the player must learn to strategize around the game’s mechanics and logics to succeed in the game. If an enemy is weak to fire, summoning a Persona with a fire-skill like Agi will ease the difficulty of the battle (and in some cases determine the victor from the beginning). The relative strengths of each Persona are determined, in typical RPG [4] fashion, by their statistics related to their levels. While Personas may level up in a traditional RPG manner – by fighting and killing monsters, or “shadows,” to gain experience points – the player can increase their levels upon summoning by fostering deep relationships, known as Social Links, with members of the town that correspond to a specific Persona arcane. That is, if I want to summon Pyro Jack, of the Magician Arcana, I can befriend Yosuke to improve Pyro Jack’s strength. The levels of the player’s Social Links with townsfolk, represented numerically between 1 and 10 for each individual townsperson, correspond to the improved strength of that Arcana’s Persona. Further, some Personas are only summonable when the Social Link with the corresponding townsperson is “complete” (i.e., at level 10), and for the protagonist’s teammates, increasing their Social Link upgrades their fighting skills and Personas’ abilities. The sanctioning of these Social Links by the battle mechanics of the game make them central to the player’s success. 

<16> Fittingly, these social links are also the primary mechanics through which normative sexuality is deployed via the game’s implied player. Out of the 22 Social Links in the game, 6 have “romance” options available for the player [5]. Intrinsically, these options offer little variance from their “non-romance” counterparts – that is, it doesn’t alter gameplay significantly. While the player has incentive to “level up” all 22 Social Links, the only incentive to follow a “romance” track in a Social Link are slight alterations in the dating scenes and a reward, in the form of a gift, from one of the romance options on Christmas Eve. Regardless, the game’s treatment of these romance options, and the non-romance options, deploy normative sexuality through its constructed ideal player. I turn to three major aspects of these Social Links unveil the game’s normative sexual logics: (1) its treatment of Kanji Tatsumi, a debatably gay/bisexual character;  (2) the romance dialogue choices necessary to romance Naoto Shirogane, a debatably female-to-male transgender character; and (3) the construction of the implied player as compulsorily heterosexual through its dialogue options with both Kanji and Naoto over time.

<17> Kanji Tatsumi is initially characterized as a ruffian, and rumors around school position him as a truant, a member of a biker gang, and a bully. When the protagonist and his fellow schoolmates realize that Kanji will be targeted next in the string of kidnap-murders, they question his mother for details on Kanji’s recent behavior and stalk him to learn more information. During the protagonist’s first in-person encounter with Kanji, the player is led to believe Kanji is potentially gay or bisexual.

Other hints and subtle clues are sprinkled throughout the game’s narrative prior to Kanji’s abduction, but his sexual orientation serves as a primary site for his Shadow’s embodiment during the TV world encounter. The team must traverse a men’s bathhouse to save Kanji, with short cutscenes hinting that the bathhouse serves a men’s hook-up and cruising joint. When they encounter Kanji and his Shadow, arguing over the “real” Kanji, his Shadow makes explicit statements about his affinity for men and distaste for girls.

While the narrative pushes some of these concerns aside, framing Kanji’s Shadow’s homosexuality and the process of “coming out” merely as metaphors for his fear of rejection, the player is left to interpret Kanji’s sexuality for the remainder of the game. What is important, however, is the game denies the player the opportunity to insert a comment at the end of this conflict that directly relates to the topic of sexuality or sexual orientation. Given three options to respond to Kanji’s conflict over rejection and hypermasculinity with one of three comments divorced of the topic of sexual orientation – (1) “That’s a part of you, too”; (2) “You need to be brave”; or (3) “You’re not alone.” – the player must adopt the “implied player” logics of the system, one that pushes aside the issue of sexuality, to traverse Persona 4 as an ergodic text.

<18> The erasure of player agency related to sexual orientation is more pronounced in a later scene with Kanji and Yosuke, the protagonist’s presumed “best friend.” Out on a camping trip with their school, Yosuke, Kanji, and the protagonist all share a tent late at night, at which point Yosuke’s nervousness and panic over Kanji’s sexuality are brought to light.

Once again, the player’s choices are limited and one is forced to adopt the position of the implied player, here more explicitly disconnected from conflict regarding sexual orientation. The ergodicism of Persona 4 is temporarily placed on hold, as in the case with the former scene, as the traversing of this text merely requires a few presses of the “X” button. The moment ergodicism is re-inserted into the text, the player is granted options that deny any meaningful intervention into the conflict. Not only do the responses narratively position the implied player as both non-gay and non-ally, the actual effects of those choices are inconsequential. Any intervention the player attempts to make at this point yields the same results – Kanji storms off to prove his masculinity and (hetero)sexuality. Rather than merely emphasizing a compulsory heterosexuality for the implied player, the heterosexual position the player must adopt is non-agential and neutral – tolerant at best; explicitly sexist and implicitly homophobic at worst. As the game progresses, its logic requires the player adopt ultimately one connection to Kanji in order develop their relationship further – that of tolerant friendship. Kanji’s sexuality is muted for the remainder of the game, instead drawing attention to his gender performance. The player must support some of his more “feminine” hobbies in the course of his Social Link to remain his friend, and, unlike in the case of the female party members’ Social Links, their relationship mechanically remains platonic. The player is never permitted to engage in conversations about sexuality, nor is he allowed to flirt, romance, or date Kanji despite the rather explicit positioning of Kanji as queer – gay or otherwise. Despite lacking a compulsory heterosexual narrative as in the case of Final Fantasy IX (Square 2000) for Consavlo’s (2003) analysis – indeed, in Persona 4 (Atlus 2008), the protagonist is not required to engage in romantic or sexual endeavors if the player does not pursue them – compulsory heterosexuality at the level of the implied player still reigns supreme.

<19> Kanji, however, is not the game’s only queer character, for we are introduced more directly to the unnamed character from Kanji’s first scene later in the game. Naoto Shirogane [6], a first-year student and ace detective, works with the local police agency in an effort to solve the abduction and murder cases plaguing Inaba. Read as masculine for the vast majority of the game – remember that Kanji explicitly refers to Naoto as a “guy” upon their first encounter – Naoto must confront the issue of gender identity and expression when kidnapped and pitted head-to-head with Shadow Naoto.

As in the case with Kanji and his sexuality, Naoto’s gender is marked as merely metaphorical, instead serving as a stand-in for Naoto’s frustrations with adult-centric society. But unlike Kanji, the player is able to engage in flirtatious and romantic interactions with Naoto over the course of Naoto’s Social Link. Romance follows a similar formula to friendships in Social Links: the player is presented 2-3 dialogue responses to given scenarios and must choose the best reply to increase the accumulated points in the Social Link. For romance, though, one or two specific dialogue options over the course of the 10 Social Link levels must be chosen to “turn on” the “romance flag,” which alters the dialogue options and some scenarios to follow. For instance, when increasing your Social Link rank with Chie Satonaka from level 8 to level 9, you are presented with the following dialogue options:

(1) “Will you be my girlfriend?” – Turns on “romance flag”
(2) “I’m counting on you.” – Does nothing.

This example makes the “romance” option a fairly obvious, active decision, and is reflective of the majority, though not all, of the romance flag scenarios.

<20> Naoto’s romance flags, however, are less explicitly about courtship and flirting and instead make primary Naoto’s female biological sex. For the player to successfully “romance” Naoto, the player needs to turn on two romance flags – one at Social Link 5/6 and one at Social Link 7/8. The first flag requires the following dialogue choice:

Naoto: “Why couldn’t I have been born male…? / It would have been so much easier for me… I could have done what I wanted to with gusto… / It’s funny isn’t it…? ……”

Dialogue Choices:

(1) I'm glad you're a girl. – Romance Flag #1
(2) Your gender doesn't matter. – Improved Friendship
(3) Nothing you can do. – No change in relationship

For the implied player, this means adopting a set of (hetero)sex-primary logics to pursue romance. While the second option seems more egalitarian – and actually improves your friendship rating with Naoto – the pursuit of romance under the implied player logics of Persona 4 requires a bastioning of heterosexuality above all else. While this relationship could and probably would be considered a queer relationship, the emphasis on Naoto’s sex above Naoto’s gender secures that the romance maintains a compulsorily heterosexual norm. If the player fully adopts these normative logics, the player will be rewarded with a scene on Christmas Eve with Naoto, featuring Naoto’s unveiling of a fully-feminized gender performance.

This foregrounding of Naoto’s sex over gender in the framework of romance and sexuality is another site of normativity in the implied player logics of Persona 4 (Atlus 2008). Naoto still adorns the same clothes, mannerisms, and vocal patterns as before the abduction, suggesting that Naoto does in fact still identify as a boy and expresses gender as masculine despite the narrative’s construction of gender-as-metaphor. But the game’s implied player is heterosexual, and the requisite securing of heterosexuality is mapped onto the romance mechanics of Naoto’s Social Link.

<21> These two key sites – the non-sexuality of the player’s permitted relationship with Kanji and the hyper-heterosexuality of the player’s permitted relationship with Naoto – are indicative of both the influence of gamified heteronormativity and, more importantly within the contexts of Gamer Theory (Wark 2007), game logic’s inability to fully envelop human sexuality and play. For Wark, the limits of gamespace – the social realm of gamified global capitalism – are exemplified in the failure of game logics to work in SimEarth (Maxis 1990). He states,

…gamespace does not encompass and account for every action. Only those inputs that take the form an agon between competing forces in the market can be calculated. …SimEarth lacks one of the usual criteria for a game – what we might call a satisfying “win condition” that terminates its algorithm… SimEarth maps the limit of gamespace. What gamespace usually excludes – the residues that pile up out-of-sight out-of-mind – are here included, and they are the source of the problem (Wark 2007:209-215).

Similarly, in the framework of sexuality and gender, the game attempts to include its residual others – unproductive playful queer sexuality and the interstitial playing-with-gender trans experience – and is incapable of mapping its inherent logics onto these included others. Kanji may be queer, but not fully within the compulsory heterosexuality of Persona 4’s (Atlus 2008) implied player. Naoto may be trans, but can only exist as a sexual being when hetero-norms are made primary. For the critical gaymer, these algorithmic allegories – allegorithms – are reflective of daily experience in a heteronormative gamified global capitalsm and yield a critical gaymer standpoint under the rubric of sexuality akin to Wark’s gamer standpoint in Gamer Theory. One is then able to turn to the a game’s mechanics and question deeply about its inherent and underlying sexual and gendered logics – why is a romance simulated through numerical increments of 1 to 10? Why is the “10” in a romantic relationship equated with the climactic sexual encounter? Why are there “gendered” armors that cannot be physically adorned by certain characters? Most importantly, why is my protagonist silent and agentially in my control during interactions with other characters except in moments surrounding anti-normative sexualities and genders? Again, as Jonathan Alexander attests, “in the player’s relationship to his/her character and the characters’/players’ interactions with one another… sexuality and gaming intersect and manifest” (2007:181).

Modding as Resistance

<22> A critical standpoint regarding sexuality and gender in gamespace may yield critically-conscious gaymer subjects, but this doesn’t immediately lend itself to playful resistance. If anything, it might paradoxically lead to an end to play, as the virulent heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality of games discourage and frustrate gaymers’ pathways to play. And yet, in practice, gaymers exist and gaymers play. How do gaymers, then, navigate these limited algorithms, reflective of the limits of gamespace’s logics of sexuality, to permit resistant play? That is, I am interested in the ways in which gaymers come to understand and interpret the logics of the game and instead of merely theorizing against them, rework and reformulate them in envisioning alternative options. While playful resistance theoretically might manifest in many different forms surrounding games, I turn my attention in this article to a particular construction of spaces of playful possibility through the practice of “modding”.

<23> Modding refers to the fan production – and, I would argue, dissemination and consumption – of packages of edited code from (commercial) video games that alter gameplay. These packages of edited code are referred to as “mods,” short for modifications. Tanja Sihvonen in her cultural analysis of modding and the culture of gaming surrounding The Sims (2000; 2004) franchise argues that “gameplay and modding [are] constitutive elements of games, especially in the analysis of games as sociocultural texts” (2011:29). Indeed, mods are, perhaps, the digital age’s manifestation of a book club. They represent a core component of fan consumption practices surrounding commercial games, and, unlike a book club’s relationship to the text as a site of varied readings, “mods” conceptualize games as oriented toward a far stricter, ideologically-charged implied player. Rather than orient the player toward a post-play “reading” of a game, as would make sense for non-ergodic texts, mods permit players to rework [7] games that facilitate varied types of play within the confines of the ergodic game world. What mods have the capacity to do politically is create new spaces for resistant play. While the SI encouraged the occupation of factories during the French uprisings of the late 1960s, mods now reflect occupation and reappropriation of spaces of possibility in the digital age. I offer four examples of what I understand as “queer mods” for their capacity to rework the conventions of gender and sexuality in the confines of the games to which they are patched. While these mods may not have been made by self-identified gaymers, the resistant play facilitated by these mods reflective of the sorts of resistance gaymers engage in through playful sexualities or gender performance.

<24> First and foremost, gaymers are quick to acknowledge limitations on relationships as in the case of Persona 4 (Atlus 2008). The implied player as compulsorily heterosexual is a dominant feature of the game throughout. An awareness of the heteronormative logics of a game’s algorithms is heightened for gaymers when the logics are overwhelmingly compulsory. The same holds true in the case of Mass Effect (BioWare), wherein players are granted the option of playing as either a male or female protagonist Commander Shepard, but only granted a pseudo-same-sex romance option for the female player.[8] Companions Kaidan Alenko for the male Shepard and Ashley Williams for the female Shepard were cut out of the final release as viable romance partners. Acknowledging the limits of this compulsory heterosexuality, gaymers dug into the algorithms of the game and uncovered content intentionally inaccessible in the official release of the game. They produced a mod to patch to the game’s code and alters the behavioral options permitted by the game’s algorithmic architecture.

In this case, gaymers uncovered algorithms in the game that were displaced in the final public release of Mass Effect. Holding true to Wark’s assessment, “[t]o the extent that the gamer theorist wants to hack or mod the game, it is to play even more intimately within it… Like any archeologist, the gamer theorist treats these ruins of the future with obsessive care and attention to their preservation, not their destruction” (2007:22). In this case, the mod was rather non-invasive, merely deleting a block on inputs in the game that render these algorithms obsolete under the finalized version. Nevertheless, this mod opens up a space of playful possibilities otherwise erased under the controlling, heteronormative logics of the game’s implied player.

<25> Other mods are more invasive and directly address more ubiquitous algorithms in the game’s underlying architecture, but simultaneously require a more critical eye on the part of the gaymer. Creators of the “Equal Love Mod” for Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare 2009) and a teenage male pregnancy mod for The Sims II (Maxis 2004) deploy such a critical approach to gamic algorithms in these respective games by finding the explicit connection between normative concepts of gender and sexually-regulatory game mechanics. The creators of the “Equal Love Mod” understood that Dragon Age: Origins takes into account the protagonist’s gender, chosen at the start of the game, in myriad conversations with non-player characters throughout the game. The game reads the protagonist’s gender as an on/off flag, or something akin to “If character = male, then … Else …” This algorithmic thinking is the only factor determining the dialogue options for the player in the case of sexual or romantic conversations. Reworking the algorithm allows male and female protagonists to choose dialogue trees irrespective of their gender. The end-result is often queer romantic or sexual conversation.

This mod destabilizes the game’s internal logics of normative gender by simply shutting those logics down by turning on all gender flags at the same time, disrupting the either/or logic of male/female integral to the system’s dialogue trees. This means that, unlike the gendered mod in Mass Effect that simply expands options, this Dragon Age mod destabilizes the inherent logics of the game system in order to expand those options. The teenage male pregnancy mod for The Sims II pushes this resistance further by acknowledging gender and age are merely “flags” in the game and marriage, love, partnership, and pregnancy are merely characterized in the game as “events” (see Consalvo 2003b:23-24).

This renders the algorithms easily malleable and alterable for queer play. Male pregnancies in the un-modded version of The Sims II were limited to adult males following alien abductions. Adult males could give birth to green half-aliens, but not full humans. Similarly, teens were not capable of giving birth. This mod deactivates both the gender and age flags confining pregnancy and alters the pregnancy-as-an-event code, permitting the teenage boy to become pregnant and give birth to a human baby. Like the mod for Mass Effect (BioWare 2007), these mods reappropriate content otherwise inaccessible in the commercial version of the game, but unlike the Mass Effect mod, the content isn’t merely “unlocked” but is rather produced through the possibilities now permitted in the mod’s reappropriation of code for queer play.

<26> The last example of queer modding I wish to provide might appropriately fit under what Tanja Sihvonen terms “pornographic hacking.” She claims,

In the depths of modding, there is something I call ‘pornographic hacking’, which is the result of a profound symbolic penetration of the insides of the code; in this treatment, the game code gets twisted as if ‘perverted’ (2011:104).

The Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment 2010) “sex mod” fits this definition less for its pornographic representational content and more for its reappropriation and alteration of the game’s code for pornographic simulations. Despite taking place in the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Las Vegas, the commercial release of the game is surprisingly de-sexualized. The game permits the player to engage in sexual intercourse in sex worker establishments, such as the Casa Madrid, but unlike the scenes in Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare 2009) or Mass Effect (BioWare 2007), sexual encounters are regulated to black-screens and simulated orgasmic noises. The Fallout: New Vegas sex mod appropriates pieces of code in the system – its dialogue trees, character poses, and the “Speech” perk mechanic – and opens up otherwise unthinkable sexual encounters in public spaces throughout the game. Truly, by Sihvonen’s definition, it is a perversion of the code.

The mod allows players to engage in public sex, fisting, and fellatio with characters the game otherwise deem non-sexual. While the commercial version of the game regulates sexual acts to particular spaces and particular (non)representations, this mod reopens all spaces in the game as sites for sexual encounters and permits the representation of those encounters in-full.

<27> What is important about all of these mods, though, is that they do little to alter the actual structure of the game overall. While the same-sex romance mod for Mass Effect (BioWare 2007) is far less “invasive” – or “perverse,” in Sihvonen’s (2011) language – compared to the sex mod for Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment 2010), neither these nor the Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare 2009) and The Sims II (Maxis 2004) mods greatly influence the overall structure of the game. For Mass Effect, the galaxy is still threatened by the Reapers. For The Sims II, the parenting that follows the teen male pregnancy is still largely identical to that of adult females. What these mods do, however, is yield spaces of playful possibility for gaymers, allowing exploration of these spaces in invasively resistant yet ultimately playful ways. The game itself is inconsequential; the possibilities for play in these mods are thrust. Though still bound by algorithms, even if edited ones, the algorithms themselves in these mods do not comport with the gamified global capitalism of gamespace. The orientation and focus of these moments of playful resistance have nothing to do with competition or even an ideology of the “equal playing-field,” but instead are oriented to the appropriation of space for free play surrounding queer sexual and gender desire.


<28> Focusing on queer modifications of contemporary video games may seem untimely, given that over the past decade or so, commercial video games have increasingly become more “inclusive” with regards to LGBT content. Video games now feature outspoken LGBT characters from Makoto in Enchanted Arms (From Software 2006) to Carol and Greta, ghouls and lesbian life partners, in Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios 2008). In 2009, Rockstar North released the downloadable Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, which took players through two of Liberty City’s nightclubs owned by the eponymous Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince. Simultaneously, designers have expanded options for same-sex romance, from the villagers and townsfolk of the Fable series (Big Blue Box 2004; Lionhead Studios 2008; 2010) to a number of the schoolyard boys in Bully (Rockstar Vancouver 2006). Bioware consistently includes romanceable same-sex partners in their story-driven RPGs (2007; 2009; 2010; 2011) and actively support their LGBT consumer base.[9]

<29> In this sense, it might seem rather counter-intuitive to focus a critical analysis on sexual normativity, queer content, and the “gaymer” experience in video games, despite limited published scholarship on the matter (Alexander 2007; Consalvo 2003a; 2003b; Shaw 2009). As designers have incorporated more and more LGBT-related content, however, the algorithms for confining and defining the means of engaging with that content have worked through Aarseth’s (2007) notion of the implied player, however vast and inclusive that “implied player” may be. While BioWare’s defense of its LGBT-related content was masterfully-crafted and worthy of praise, the mechanics of the game’s romance system, by virtue of the game’s ergodic nature, enforce normativity upon the player. Though romancing and dating Isabella in Dragon Age II (BioWare 2011) as a female protagonist resists the compulsory heterosexuality of game romance narratives that preceded it, the mechanics themselves are a normative, progressive structure, moving through a standardized series of hoops and steps to reach the end-goal of sex. It is precisely the opposite of free play; rather it is a universalized standard of sexuality that only works through rigid, step-by-step structures. Reflective of Empire’s global informatic control, the seeming flexibility of choice in romantic partners coupled with the standardization of queer lives and experiences via structured gamic algorithms becomes a major site of contestation. Indeed, “[f]lexibility is one of the core principles of informatic control… what flexibility allows for is universalization… the goal of total subsumption goes hand in hand with informatic control” (Galloway 2006:100-101). Inclusion does not erase the need for resistance, but rather it mandates it. The standardization of sexuality and gender, despite inclusion, still deploys key components of heteronormativity, if re-envisioned or re-packages as queer liberalism (Eng 2007) or homonormativity (Duggan 2002). Mods offer meaningful political alternatives to these commercialized and normative manifestations of LGBT content, instead facilitating something far closer to the “free play” envisioned by Johan Huizinga (1955) and Roger Caillois (2001).

<30> Though this analysis is limited to digital modifications of commercial video games, I wish to close by echoing Wark in asking the question “[w]hat would be mean to a hacker [modder] of not just games but of gamespace itself? … Could the gamer also be a hacker, a maker of rules for moves as well as of moves within rules?” (2007:198) I think in the daily practices of gaymers that download and use these queer mods, such a question finds its partial answer. Gaymers maintain their subject position as gamers, but simultaneously hack the system and produce mods that yield resistant play. They are both gamers – moving within rules – and hackers/modders – makers of rules for moves. What is left unanswered in this analysis, however, is what this would mean with regards to sexuality and gender in gamespace, the social realm of gamified global capitalism. What would political resistance that emphasizes the securing of spaces for playful possibilities over normalizing inclusion entail? While modern “rights” discourses of queer liberation are wrought with the limits of queer liberalism (Eng 2007) and homonormativity (Duggan 2002), I think the practices of gaymers and the production of queer mods illustrate that queer people “on the ground” are indeed finding ways to resist the powerful forces of sexual and gender normativity in gamified global capitalism outside of these limited approaches. The re-appropriation of space for sex in Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment 2010), the seizing of removed and silenced content in Mass Effect (BioWare 2007), and the challenging of gender-determinism in Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare 2009) and The Sims II (Maxis 2004) all reflect playful, anti-normative resistance for queer people. The question still remains of how to extend these mod(e)s of resistance to gamespace, but I think in answering that question we will find a grander queer liberation than the current climate of gamespace appears to permit.

Video Games

Atlus. 2008. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. [PlayStation 2]. USA: Atlus, USA.

Bethesda Game Studios. 2008. Fallout 3. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Bethesda Softworks/ZeniMax Media.

Big Blue Box. 2004. Fable. [Xbox]. USA: Microsoft Game Studios.

BioWare. 2007. Mass Effect. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Electronic Arts/Microsoft Game Studios.

BioWare. 2009. Dragon Age: Origins. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Electronic Arts.

BioWare. 2010. Mass Effect II. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Electronic Arts.

BioWare. 2011. Dragon Age II. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Electronic Arts.

From Software. 2006. Enchanted Arms. [Xbox360]. USA: Ubisoft.

Lionhead Studios. 2008. Fable II. [Xbox360]. USA: Microsoft Game Studios.

Lionhead Studios. 2010. Fable III. [Xbox360]. USA: Microsoft Game Studios.

Maxis. 1990. SimEarth. [PC]. USA: Maxis.

Maxis. 2004. The Sims II. [PC]. USA: Electronic Arts.

Obsidian Entertainment. 2010. Fallout: New Vegas. [Multiple Platforms]. USA: Bethesda Softworks.

Rockstar North. 2009. Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. [Xbox360]. USA: Rockstar Games.

Rockstar Vancouver. 2006. Bully. [PlayStation 2]. USA: Rockstar Games.
Square. 2000. Final Fantasy IX. [Playstation]. USA: Square Electronic Arts.


Aarseth, Espen. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Aarseth, Espen. 2007. “I Fought the Law: Transgressive Play and the Implied Player.” Situated Play, Proceedings of the 2007 Digra Conference.

Alexander, Jonathan. 2007. “ ‘A Real Effect on the Gameplay’: Computer Gaming, Sexuality, and Literacy.” Pp. 167-202 in Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century, edited by C.L. Selfe & G.E. Hawisher. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Andreotti, Libero. 2002. “Architecture and Play” Pp. 213-240 in Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents, edited by T. McDonough. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Caillois, Roger. 2001. Man, Play, and Games. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Canossa, Alessandro. 2009. “Play-Persona: Modeling Player Behaviour in Computer Games.” PhD thesis, Danmarks Designskole.

Combahee River Collective. 2001. “The Combahee River Collective statement.” Pp. 29-37 in Theorizing feminism: Parallel trends in the humanities and social sciences, 2nd Edition, edited by A. Herrmann & A.J. Stewart. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Consalvo, Mia. 2003a. “Hot Dates and Fairy-Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games.” Pp. 171-94 in The Video Game Theory Reader, edited by M.P. Wolf & B. Perron. New York, NY: Routledge.

Consalvo, M. 2003b. “It’s a Queer World After All: Studying The Sims and Sexuality.” GLAAD Center for the Study of Media & Society. Accessed online at <>.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.” University of Chicago Legal F 139.

Duggan, Lisa. 2002. “The New Homonormativity: the Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Pp. 175-194 in Materializing Democracy: Towards a Revitalized Cultural Politics, edited by R. Castronovo & D.D. Nelson Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig de Peuter. 2009. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Eng, David L. 2007. “Freedom and the Racialization of Intimacy: Lawrence v. Texas and the Emergence of Queer Liberalism.” Pp. 38-59 in A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies, edited by G.E. Haggerty & M. McGarry. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Galloway, Alexander R. 2004. Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Galloway, Alexander R. 2006. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

Hansen, Jon Mikkel. 2010. “Designing Ethics: The Role of Aesthetics in Ethical Play.” Thesis, Media Technology and Games – Design and Analysis, IT University of Copenhagen.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Huizinga, Johan. 1955. Homo Ludens. Boston: Beacon Press.

Lukács, Georg. 1971. History and Class Consciousness, translated by R. Livingstone. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Marx, Karl. 1964. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers.

Rodriguez, Hector. 2006. “The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga's Homo Ludens.” Game Studies 6(1).

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 1997. “Gender Asymmetry and Erotic Triangles.” Pp. 524-532 in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, revised edition, edited by R.R. Warhol & D.P. Herndl. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Shaw, Adrienne. 2009. “Putting the Gay in Games: Cultural Production and GLBT Content in Video Games.” Games and Culture 4(3):228-253.

Sihvonen, Tanja. 2011. Players Unleashed! Modding The Sims and the Culture of Gaming. Amsterdam, NL: Amsterdam University Press.

Truth, S. [1851] n.d. “Ar’nt I a Woman?” Accessed online at <>.

Wark, McKenzie. 2007. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


[1] A “networked book” refers to an open text that can be written, edited, and read in a networked environment, such as the internet. The first iteration of Gamer Theory merged comments, insights, and feedback from multiple co-authors via The Future of the Book Institute, and can be read online here:

[2] I describe and define modding in further detail later. Tanja Sihvonen offers a basic definition: “modding can be defined in one simple and straightforward sentence: it is the activity of creating and adding of custom-created content, mods, short for modifications, by players to existing (commercial) computer games” (2011:37).

[3] “The performance of [a] reader [of traditional literature] takes place all in his head, while the user of cybertext also performs in an extranoematic sense… This phenomenon I call ergodic, using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning ‘work’ and ‘path.’ In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text” (Aarseth 1997:1).

p>[4] “RPG” stands for “role-playing game.” While all video games require you adopt some sort of role, either embodied in the avatar on-screen or an abstract role determined by the game’s mechanics and logics (like a God in The Sims or Civilization III), “RPG” refers to a particular genre of games. Defining RPGs has proved more an more difficult as more games incorporate formerly RPG-specific mechanics and tropes, but for more information on RPGs, please see: Archmage, 1998. “The Definition of a Role-Playing Game!” Accessed online at <>.

[5] Though there are 6 of 22 romance links, there are actually 7 dateable partners. The “Sun” Social Link houses both Yumi Ozawa and Ayane Matsunaga, but the player may only befriend and then date one of the two in a single playthrough.

[6] When referring to Naoto Shirogane, I refuse to use gendered pronouns. For this reason, sentences may appear a bit awkwardly-phrased, and you might see Naoto referred to by name more often than conventionally warranted.

[7] Tanja Sihvonen, in Players Unleashed! Modding The Sims and the Culture of Gaming (2011), produces a typology of game mods that is more inclusive that the definition of “re-working” I’ve provided here. For Sihvonen, “reworking” is one of four types of modding practices or effects in her typology (102). For my purposes, this is the most useful portion of her typology with regards to resistance and play, as it is the only type of modding that addresses the creation of new spaces, aesthetically and mechanically.

[8] Liara T’Soni is a romance option for both female and male protagonists of Mass Effect. She is part of a representatively-feminine mono-gendered alien species known as the asari.

[9] David Gaider, writer and game designer for BioWare, responded to homophobic reactions among straight players of Dragon Age II (2011) with the statement “The romances in the game are not for ‘the straight male gamer’. They're for everyone.” For the initial comments and Gaider’s full reply, visit BioWare’s forums here: <>.


[1] A “networked book” refers to an open text that can be written, edited, and read in a networked environment, such as the internet. The first iteration of Gamer Theory merged comments, insights, and feedback from multiple co-authors via The Future of the Book Institute, and can be read online here:

[2] I describe and define modding in further detail later. Tanja Sihvonen offers a basic definition: modding can be defined in one simple and straightforward sentence: it is the activity of creating and adding of custom-created content, mods, short for modifications, by players to existing (commercial) computer games” (2011:37).

[3] “The performance of [a] reader [of traditional literature] takes place all in his head, while the user of cybertext also performs in an extranoematic sense… This phenomenon I call ergodic, using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning ‘work’ and ‘path.’ In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text” (Aarseth 1997:1).

[4] “RPG” stands for “role-playing game.” While all video games require you adopt some sort of role, either embodied in the avatar on-screen or an abstract role determined by the game’s mechanics and logics (like a God in The Sims or Civilization III), “RPG” refers to a particular genre of games. Defining RPGs has proved more an more difficult as more games incorporate formerly RPG-specific mechanics and tropes, but for more information on RPGs, please see: Archmage, 1998. “The Definition of a Role-Playing Game!” Accessed online at

[5] Though there are 6 of 22 romance links, there are actually 7 dateable partners. The “Sun” Social Link houses both Yumi Ozawa and Ayane Matsunaga, but the player may only befriend and then date one of the two in a single playthrough.

[6] When referring to Naoto Shirogane, I refuse to use gendered pronouns. For this reason, sentences may appear a bit awkwardly-phrased, and you might see Naoto referred to by name more often than conventionally warranted.

[7] Tanja Sihvonen, in Players Unleashed! Modding The Sims and the Culture of Gaming (2011), produces a typology of game mods that is more inclusive that the definition of “ re-working” I’ve provided here. For Sihvonen, “ reworking” is one of four types of modding practices or effects in her typology (102). For my purposes, this is the most useful portion of her typology with regards to resistance and play, as it is the only type of modding that addresses the creation of new spaces, aesthetically and mechanically.

[8] Liara T’Soni is a romance option for both female and male protagonists of Mass Effect. She is part of a representatively-feminine mono-gendered alien species known as the asari.

[9] David Gaider, writer and game designer for BioWare, responded to homophobic reactions among straight players of Dragon Age II (2011) with the statement “The romances in the game are not for ‘the straight male gamer’. They're for everyone.” For the initial comments and Gaider’s full reply, visit BioWare’s forums here:

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