Submitted by Jean Hardy
On Friday, March 14th, the Digital Environments Workshop brought in merritt kopas to host a morning workshop and afternoon talk on trans women and video games, called “Working the Fractures: How Trans Women are Changing Digital Play.” merritt is a self-described “multimedia artist & game designer interested in play as a utopian project that contains a critique of the present and the seeds of potential futures” (from http://mkopas.net/about/).
The morning workshop was designed around four articles written by trans women game designers. The themes that emerged from the readings spoke to the kinds of experiences and desires that emerge from individual experiences that influence the ways in which people (and specifically trans women) navigate digital play. You can read all four articles and access the list of eight games that we were asked to play before the workshop as well at http://digitalenvironmentsworkshop.wordpress.com/readings-2/.
One reading I found especially helpful in thinking about transness, gender identity, and digital play was Samantha Allen’s “TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games.” Allen’s article contrasts the distinct ways in which games present access and constraint within their digital worlds. Specifically, she uses the seemingly limitless possibilities of exploration in a game such as Skyrim to contrast the extreme constraints that players face in Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia and merritt kopas’s Lim. Allen says: “These games, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit especially close to home for me. They dramatize my own experience, yes, but they are also compelling interactive tools for educating others about some of the issues I face as a transwoman. Simply put, I can’t ‘go anywhere’ and ‘do anything.’ Bathrooms, airports, locker rooms are all spaces that are either difficult or impossible for me to navigate…By constricting the movement and agency of the player, then, dys4ia and Lim reflect my own experience while also giving others a taste of what it might be like to tromp around in my high-heeled boots.”
Later in the afternoon, merritt gave a talk in Space 2435 of North Quad. The talk focused more broadly on the recent explosion of indie digital games being created by trans women. These games (and other creative independent outlets kopas notes, such as Topside Press) have offered an outlet for trans women to explore their own identities in ways that they are not allowed in many other spaces where they are expected to educate others on their transness. I encourage folks to follow the link above to the articles and games above and check it out for themselves.