Thursday, February 13, 2020

All the invisible women - and English as a second language

Recently an interesting article by Amanda Phillips combining PUA rhetoric with game studies history has made some waves in social media, so I decided to have a look at it. Particularly as it was speaking about something I was part of: Gamestudies.org, in year one.

The article is addressing the affective tone of the development of game studies, and as such that is a pretty subjective thing, and agreeing or disagreeing doesn't really matter much. I read it mostly hoping to have fun and get an idea about how people understood what we did.

Imagine my disappointment when we apparently didn't do anything. The article discussed the tone of Espen Aarseth's initial editorial statement, and that was it. It did pretend to include more authors by citing Aarseth, but without letting us know they cited Aarseth: "One author in Game Studies 1, no. 1, even casts new media studies as a 'pseudo-field' invented 'to claim computer-based communication for visual media studies.'"

Once I saw that, I realised that this was a paper that did not engage in historical precision, or even a proper close reading of Aarseth's editorial, but on how a very specific group of people felt about game studies. And if you write about your own feelings and those of your friends, or as the abstract clearly states, a limited affective history, it also explains all the participants who became invisible in this discourse, and the cultural distinctions that are ignored.

Once upon a time we were quite proud of the many very strong women in game studies. Marinka Copier was vital for the first game studies conference, DiGRA. The group that started the Digital Games Research Association had a strong, although not a completely balanced, gender representation, and after the first three years with Frans Mäyrä as president, there were three female presidents: Tanya Krzywinska, Helen Kennedy and Mia Consalvo, until William Huber took over in 2016. The group that started Gamestudies.org had two women and two men among the editors, one women and two men as review editors, and four "collaborators", where one was a man.

In the later discussions of what gamestudies in Europe consists of, these women are to an almost spectacular degree forgotten. Most of them, myself included, had different approaches to games than the more structuralist understanding that articles like Phillips' argue against. Perhaps due to this we were not good enemies in the so-called narratology-ludology debate, and so we were ignored in all positioning papers in literature theory based writing. Perhaps since we are women we were ignored in all discourses about the male-ness of game studies. Emma Vossen, who has written a Ph D Phillips cites actively, has interviewed a group of scholars, but in these interviews the names of most of these original, strong and important women from Gamestudies and DiGRA are not on the radar of neither the interview subjects or the scholars.

Since this is an affective history, the feeling that only the men were important for game studies in Europe is probably entirely correct for an American scholar. But this affective history, that claims to have closely read the writings of Aarseth, forgets one more thing. Aarseth is a Norwegian scholar. English is his second language. And for an American to analyse affective signals in the writings of someone who writes in their second language must be really complicated.

Norwegians are abrupt, direct, and often sharp. Foreigners experience us as rude, inconsiderate and ignorant of common manners. Any scholar who understands about affect (at least the Massumi school) would know that it is based on pre-cognitive experiences, sensations that are hard to analyse, because they rely on experiences which are not quite interpreted. And when your first, affective language is Norwegian and not American English, that matters.

Still, of course, Amanda Phillips feels what she feels when she reads these articles. Emma Vossen has made her own choices when trying to unravel who have power and who have access in game studies. But they are both writing from a very particular position, about a history constructed from a distance about something that was built from a small, diverse (yes, diverse: the group that established DiGRA spoke 9 different languages, the first working group in Gamestudies spoke 6 or 7 different languages), up until that point invisible, community that came together for a series of efforts that has had a huge effect on a field. And it is a level of reflexivity about Phillips', and also Vossen's own position in relation to what they write about, I would have liked to see in their different, otherwise interesting analyses.

And now some of you will claim that I am defending a friend I have worked with for 20 years, and I am annoyed at not being mentioned. Nah, those who know me know I am not blind to Espen's flaws (he knows too), and I am quite happy with not being a tall tree that draws this kind of attention. A little occasional recognition and a job is what I want most of all. :)

But I am really disappointed that Helen, Aphra, Marinka, Susana, Anja, Lisbeth, Jill, Sal, Celia, Mia and all the other women who were part of starting Gamestudies.org and DiGRA have been treated as if they have not had any influence on the history of building a field. There were women at the table. Those who choose to only focus on the men who appear to be great targets for criticism are also complicit in making the women disappear. And these fantastic ladies are a lot more than boring ghosts.

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