at indiecade in october, i gave a presentation entitled NOW WE HAVE VOICES: QUEERING VIDEOGAMES. it was recorded, but as i have been unable to get an answer from the indiecade organizers as to when the recording will be online, i present here the text and slides (represented as numbers in brackets – click on them to see the slide) of my speech. what’s missing is the question & answer session following my presentation and the amazing discussion that came out of it. (an audience member asked my opinion on a criticism he’d received on the way a game of his presented what, according to the critic, were false gender choices; as i answered, i realized i was talking to aaron reed, and that i was the critic he was referencing.)
also, here’s the text of a speech i gave in november at the sf art institute.
NOW WE HAVE VOICES
queer games are important. we’re going to stop and meditate on this slide for a moment. read it to yourself, mouthing it silently. or read it out loud. internalize it, absorb it into your mind-brain, allow it to influence the discussions and conversations you are going to have here at this conference and after you leave.
queer games are important. i think there are people who recognize that fact, because a number of queer games  were invited to be part of this games festival, to be recognized as being among the most important games of 2012. Or, rather, the most important INDEPENDENT games of 2012. Each of these games was, in fact, produced by a handful of people each.  almost all of them.
queer games, it may shock you to discover, are NOT coming from the mainstream videogames industry. that’s because the industry’s model doesn’t allow for them. that model is:
 straight white developers produce games  that straight white games journalists market to  straight white “gamers,” some of whom will be recruited to be the next generation of game developers and produce the next generation of the SAME VIDEOGAME for the next generation of straight white gamers.
this is the industry model, or, if you prefer, we could call it a VORTEX, or maybe a BLACK HOLE. but when i think of all the amazing things we COULD be doing with games, “prison” seems the most accurate.
naturally, a system that privileges only a small minority of people – in fact, the one group of people that has the least experience of oppression – is not one that’s going to produce art informed by a very wide range of human experiences or perspectives.
mainstream games are monolithic.
mass effect presents a world where the bro-dude commander shepard is more thrown by someone claiming to believe in god than by a man casually speaking about his ex-husband. in this world, “gay” is a checkbox on a character sheet, a boolean, a binary bit, not an experience that greatly changes one’s life, identity, and struggle. token characters are not the product of queer experiences.
actual queer experiences offer perspectives on identity, on struggle, and on romance that could be entirely different.  my friend mattie brice wrote about this very thing: she argues that most straight games are interested only in the pursuit. once the girl (or if you’re playing a bioware game and you’ve hit the right checkbox, the boy) has been won over, the game stops being interested. whereas queer games tend to explore the actual dynamics within the relationship.
her sample games were christine love’s DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, BABE, IT JUST AIN’T YOUR STORY and my ENCYCLOPEDIA FUCKME AND THE CASE OF THE VANISHING ENTREE, both games with tremendous names.
oh, and mass effect 3 was the control group.
games by queer people, people of color, people who aren’t able-bodied, people who are women – because in 2012, women are still a marginalized voice in the games industry – have a great deal of perspective and experience to offer an industry  that is incapable of producing games from those perspectives.
 so if mainstream games culture has no place for these perspectives, where do they go?  mainstream games having no space for them, marginalized people have to CREATE a space for themselves in videogames. and that’s exactly what they’ve done, by inventing new communities and repurposing existing tools.
 this is a program called TWINE. it was created in 2009 by a guy named chris klimas.  it’s a hypertext tool – chris used it mostly to make simple branching stories: click on a link, see another passage in the story.  this is what the program looks like on the inside. it doesn’t look like code, notice. the tech community is pretty famously misogynist, remember: women aren’t generally encouraged to pursue tech careers in the first place, and once they do, they’re discouraged from staying by a hostile culture of entitled men.  but twine doesn’t involve coding. it doesn’t require the author to create additional assets, like GRAPHICS and SOUND. and it’s free. if you can type a short story, you can make a twine game.
and queer and women authors, strongly discouraged from participating in mainstream games culture, have made twine their own.
it’s an entirely different picture, a “videogames” that looks completely different. this “videogames,” informed by perspectives and experiences that are often very different from these guys’, deals with subjects  that are very different than those we usually see in mainstream games. 
communities like this exist because of the inventiveness of marginalized people and their will to be heard even when the system is committed to silencing them.  but they also exist because of programs like twine, because of free blogging services like twitter, because of the internet. all these things have contributed to the DECENTRALIZATION of the means to create videogames. and that’s what’s letting people outside the mainstream – outside the small minority who are allowed to make videogames – get their foot in the door.
the more people we allow to make games – the more people we EMPOWER to make games – the more voices we add to the chorus. and in a form that’s so homogenous, we need those voices so badly.
 in a form that’s so dominated by senseless, gratuitious violence, it took a game like  LIM, by merritt kopas, a simple, abstract game about colored squares, to remind me that violence in videogames can be harrowing, can make me FEEL, can connect with my own fears and struggles and experiences. violence doesn’t have to be chainsaws and aliens and sniper rifles.
LIM is a game about a color-changing square in a world where most squares are either brown or blue, and react with hostility when your color doesn’t match theirs. by holding a button, the player changes color to blend in with the squares that are closest, though this causes the player great psychological stress, and it becomes difficult to maintain the illusion indefinitely.
 it’s such an abstract game that i am reluctant to diminish its power by ascribing any one meaning to it. but to me, as a trans player, the metaphor i see is one about passing, about being slippery in a world of rigidly defined genders who will smother, silence, or destroy what doesn’t fit.
it is the kind of experience straight, white, able-bodied cis-gender men are LEAST equipped to give us. and our games, our form, the boundaries of our experience would be smaller, dimmer, without games like this. the more voices speaking, the more games begin to look like you, and me, and all of us.
for lack of voices, all we would have is silence.
i leave you with my closing thought: