Dissertation: Changing Stakes

adventures in gaming, autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

The seven weeks since I began my latest design project, working title/codename “TRACES” have been busy, but I’ve already talked a bit about that, so I won’t go too far into it — first, Ars Electronica, then guest-lecturing, then QGCon, then Different Games, and then a family event in New York City. This, alongside further issues with Tom’s work situations. My apartment still needs to be painted, and we still have furniture to build, rooms to fix up, and boxes to unpack. One thing that I haven’t mentioned that took up a fair bit of time and energy recently is that I released an open letter talking a bit about Tom’s situation. You can read it here if you want to. There are times when this situation makes me completely unable to work, both because my help is needed, and also because it’s incredibly stressful. So I want to be sure to note that, for autoethnography purposes.

All of that means that I haven’t had a lot of breathing room to focus on the project — but things are moving ahead, little by little. Technology is on its way. I have started to write the game’s story and script. I am thinking about aesthetics, and rules, and context. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about time travel — I’ve run two sessions of my time travel RPG with my usual RPG night group, and am aiming to run a third one soon. I’ve also started to read Ryan North’s How To Invent Everything (which is a guide for stranded time travelers to recreating modern amenities and “civilization”). My spouse and I are watching (re-watching, in my case) Altered Carbon. So yeah, I have been thinking a lot about the future and about time travel.

I thought consuming this media about time travel and thinking about the rules of the technology of this world, linked to the thinking about societies and gender that I’ve been doing in relation to The Left Hand of Darkness, would be all the “research” that I needed to do for the writing. But I should have been reading about fascism, bigotry, the darkness of human history.

I wanted to tell a story about my transness and feeling undervalued and underappreciated in a conservative country’s art world context, feeling alienated by people who were supposed to be peers. I wanted to tell a story of hope and community, even if just as the backdrop for a society that did value the characters in question. But now, the stakes have changed. The real-world ones.

It didn’t happen overnight, and maybe they haven’t actually changed as dramatically as all that. But the facts remain that a major world power (the United States) and a neighbour to my country, who is currently electing conservative leaders all over the place, is trying to legislate transgender and intersex people out of existence, based on pure bigotry, ignorance and hatred. This is just the latest in a series of exhausting, dehumanizing events in the United States. Fascism never went away, really, but it just keeps rearing its head in government-mandated ways and somehow each moment feels like that’s as bad as this administration can get. And somehow people keep normalizing these new situations, or somehow believing that there are “two sides” that have equal validity and a right to be heard.


This game…might not be what I thought it was going to be.

DISSERTATION: On QGCon and Community

autoethnography, critical making

I’m tired. Exhausted, in fact.

But I’m also energized, renewed, re-invigourated. For all of the ways that Ars Electronica was alienating, the Queerness and Games conference, which I co-organized and which happened this weekend at Concordia with the help of TAG and Milieux, made me feel like a part of a community.

One of our keynotes, Mattie Brice, talked about finding inspiration in performance arts, in the Happenings of the sixties, and, in its own way, I think QGCon is a Happening. It’s a temporary space where the usual rules are in some way suspended. It’s a space of caring, softness, kindness and vulnerability.

I’m not too sure exactly what I expected from the event, but it wasn’t exactly this. I had a great time at the last QGCon in 2017, but this time, maybe because I was closer to the event, it felt like there was a real, tangible presence of…I don’t even know what to call it… Hopefulness? Goodwill? permeating the space.

Organizing the event took a great deal of energy and labour, and I had to take on a lot as one of the local organizers. I wish I had been able to get more rest.

But nevertheless, while before I wanted to make a game about alienation, I think I want to make a game about feeling alienated and finding others who mitigate that feeling.

I’ve still got to sit down and design this project, but ideas are forming in my mind.

Rather than trying to find others for competitive reasons, maybe this can be a game about trying to find others so that you can be reunited, so that you can find community and hope in each other.

I’m reminded of a game that we showed at Princess of Arcade called Secret Agent Party. That’s a game that requires a lot of players in a contained space. I wonder how I can make this game playtestable or workable with very few people present or very many people. Maybe I need to narrow the scope.

Maybe static objects can also be people in some version of the game and give you info, but in other versions, the static objects are being worn and carried by others. So that, if there are only a few players, the story is filled in from static objects that stand in as people with histories (thinking of the programs you find in Transistor), but in a version with more players, those objects can then be on players who are also scanning you.

Thinking about the themes of Time Travel that I was working with, maybe it makes sense for there to be echoes or traces of people even if the people themselves aren’t always visible.

Well, just some design thoughts inspired by QGCon and sleep deprivation (please don’t worry — I’ve slept two solid 10 hour blocks since QGCon or more, even if I am still tired).