Play, configure, perform

Apologies for being away from blog-planet for so long – have been working on my thesis and conference papers. Working on my Theoretical Framework at the moment and trying to cover children’s configurations in games and gender performativity and relate it to game literacy. (see The Cultural Studies Reader Blog for a summary of gender performativity and Judith Butler’s notion of gender as performance). I also found this blog post from 2009 on the Queering Theory blog about Hanna Montana in (gender) trouble very interesting. On finding this article on Bryn Mawr News, I realised Butler is still very much alive. I wonder what she would think of her theory being applied to children’s gameplay.

I found that children perform gendered identities in relation to games and gaming technologies. For example, the PlayStation 3 and specific game titles were ‘boyed’ whereas the laptop and different game titles were ‘girled’ in one of my field sites. From a feminist persprctive, technology is a process of production and consumption, a form of knowledge and a site of gender domination in addition to a power struggle (Cockburn 1992, Lemish & Cohen 2005, Bosch 2007). Games can be seen as commodities that boys and girls use to construct meanings of their gendered identities. Different games acquire symbolic value and become signs of the self. Both boys and girls use games as a kind of conspicuous consumption, although in gendered ways, showing off things about games that are aligned with normatively gendered interests because they perform this for their peers. This kind of discussion forms an important part of my thesis.

Judith Butler - idea of 'doing' gender is central. Butler says: 'There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; ... identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.' (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it's what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are.

“Butler suggests that certain cultural configurations of gender have seized a hegemonic hold (i.e. they have come to seem natural in our culture as it presently is) — but, she suggests, it doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than proposing some utopian vision, with no idea of how we might get to such a state, Butler calls for subversive action in the present: ‘gender trouble’ — the mobilization, subversive confusion, and proliferation of genders — and therefore identity.

Butler argues that we all put on a gender performance, whether traditional or not, anyway, and so it is not a question of whether to do a gender performance, but what form that performance will take. By choosing to be different about it, we might work to change gender norms and the binary understanding of masculinity and femininity.” (Source: http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm)

I want to merge the idea of cultural configuration and gaming as configurative practice, drawing on new media theorists Moulthrop (2004) and Eskelinen’ s (2001) work.  New media such as digital games demand a new relationship to media, as it entails a “turn from consumption to participation, from interpretive to configurative practices” (Moulthrop 2004). Regarding games as configurable media in particular “we have to interpret in order to be able to configure” (Eskelinen 2001).  Configurative practices involve the “manipulation of dynamic systems that develop in unpredictable or emergent ways” (Moulthrop, 2004).  According to Moulthrop (2004), Eskelinen (2001) defines ‘configurative practice’ rather narrowly as the player’s strategic operation upon elements of a game, but he argues that it is possible to broaden this term significantly if we conceive of configuration as a way of engaging not just with immediate game elements, but also the game’s social and material conditions. My thesis examines children’s gameplay as configurative practice – a social and active process where gender performativity is a very important part of play – and analyses these configurations and performances as they are produced in play. This has implications for game literacy which will be my final chapter.

Angry Birds – SERIOUS business?

Wired magazine April 2011

I decided to dedicate a blog post to the Angry Birds phenomenon to remind myself of interesting episodes I observed with the children playing this game on my laptop during their time at a holiday club (my field site). If you’d like to know more about Angry Birds or are interested in flash and mobile games, read “In depth: How Rovio made Angry Birds a winner (and what’s next)”, a recent feature published in Wired magazine (this month’s copy, it’s cover is graced with our feathered friends too:). For the journos out there, this is a very well-written feature article  – except for the lead which says that games are a waste of time, but that’s probably an ironic lead because the article expands on the time it took for Angry Birds to reach the average Joe as well as how profitable this little loveable app has become. Not to mention the comments – they’re quite funny but also provide evidence of the kinds of things people think about in relation to Angry Birds. One of the first comments said ‘wish it was a little less violent’… You’re ‘killing’ pigs (that magically pop/explode without blood) because they stole your eggs. The moral of the story: don’t steal other people’s eggs. Just joking, but come on – Angry Birds being violent?

The six/three (you get less birds the further you progress through the levels) birds to complete a level made for some interesting turn-taking which the children came up with all on their own. There was also lots of competition, which led to the kids finishing more levels than I have. Mainly, I found it remarkable how they transformed the game, which although it can be played as a flash game online and many kids do so, is designed for a single user – as a flash game and more recently as a mobile app. One of the boys even reported playing the game on his dad’s iPad. So Angry Birds took on a new social meaning at the club – it was no longer a game designed for a single user or even casual gaming. For primary school kids, Angry Birds became serious business…