QGCon: Where Academia, Games, and Queerness Converge

Convention season is just about over! But apparently, conference season is in full swing. This weekend I had the opportunity to attend QGCon, a queerness and games conference at UC Berkeley.


(Image via QGCon)

The event was free to the public and covered topics such as masculinity, sexuality, game design, GaymerX, and the future of queerness and games. They even had a pizza party and session of outdoor games!

I was only able to make it to part of the conference, and I wish I had been able to see more of it. The two speakers I saw were very different and while their topics were related, the things I took away from each were very different.

Queer Shame, Gamer Shame

The first talk I went to was entitled “Thwarted Enjoyments: Queering Gamer Shame” by Samantha Allen. While heavily academic in nature (as was the entire conference), Allen made her talk very relatable and she knew when to tone down the jargon. She even went so far as to point out that “affect” is just another way of saying emotion that academics and clinicians use to feel smart. I laughed (as did many others in the room) because it’s true.

Allen’s talk was centered around shame. I spent my summer studying a model of therapy by Dan Allender, whose practice mainly focuses on the treatment of sexual abuse survivors. His view of shame is that is the result of being “seen” by others (whether they be imagined or real) or by yourself in your worst moments. Shame comes from embarrassment at having something done to you that you do not wish to have happened, or that is unspeakable. Shame is wanting to hide.

The shame that Allen spoke of in her talk, based on another theory by another scholar (whose name I cannot for the life of me remember), is very different. In this theory, shame is the result of wanting to continue to do something after you have been reprimanded, denied, or blocked from doing so.

In this sense, queerness and gaming (or geekiness in general) are very similar. Shame comes from being told that being queer is not okay, or that gaming is a waste of time, or counterproductive. Both queers and geeks feel the need to hide their pursuits then, and feel ashamed to admit who they are.

The talk then moved on to how the queer world and gaming world intersect. Allen described a trans woman who used video games to explore her identity. Her World of Warcraft characters allowed her to exist in a world as a woman. She was able to use that character to safely explore who she was and learn how to become a strong woman who can stand up for herself.

When queer youth (and adults) are blocked from being who they are in the real world, they turn to games to create their own world to explore. Queer people are great at using their shame and changing it into enjoyable experiences in order to survive.

After hearing that, I thought about what would happen if a queer youth came into therapy and their therapist tell them that they are playing “too many” video games. In therapy, you’re supposed to be able to be yourself. A good therapist would not make their client feel judged for being queer…but gaming is not part of the typical cultural competency. How would it feel to be told by your family that you’re no good because you’re gay, then have your therapist scold you for the thing you use to survive?

Probably not so great. Clinicians need to learn to be sensitive and understanding about more than just race, religion, and gender.

Another thing that Allen brought up was the fact that queer gamers usually less effected by gamer shame than straight gamers are. They’ve already gone through queer shame, so what does a little gamer shame matter? Typically, gamers may be looked down upon, but they are usually higher up in the food chain than queer people are. The youth described in my earlier scenario might survive some gamer shame…or could be devastated by their therapist shutting them down without realizing it.

The biggest take away Allen listed for her talk is that straight gamers who feel gamer shame have experienced a small piece of what it is like to be queer. This in no way means that gamers know exactly what it is like to have society oppress them and take away their rights. It just means that gamers have the internal experience of shame for doing something that they love and being who they are.

Video Games = Candy?

The second talk I was able to attend was a keynote by Kathryn Bond Stockton entitled “If Queer Children Were a Video Game”. This talk was very different from the first one I listened to.

Stockton’s presence was so exuberant that it filled the room. She spoke well, and I could tell that she likes slam poetry and using humor to drive in a point. The problem for me was, she was hard to follow.

Now, I’m sure she had plenty of good points to make, but her use of gigantic words (many of which I had never heard) and the fact that her topics jumped all over the place made it seriously hard to pick out the salient ideas. (There I go using big words).

It mainly proved to me that I am not that kind of academic. This is why I decided to be a practitioner; to stay away from having to write papers with words that no one with less than a Master’s degree can understand. It’s also why I want to work with adolescents…you have to put concepts into words they can understand. Things are much simpler with them.

In any case, Stockton did have some good points, that I was able to pay attention to. Unfortunately the ideas went by so quickly that I couldn’t take notes to tell report on them…other than video games are like candy.

We want them so much that we beg and plead with our parents for them. At times we overindulge in them. We play them for pleasure until the point of pain (one of her big words jouissance). She didn’t outright say this but they are good for us in moderation, and can cause problems if used too often.

Stockton is not a gamer, and most of her research and writings are on queer theory and LGBT issues. I wish I would have been able to follow better (I was also starving…that might have had something to do with it), or pick her brain about some ideas from an outside perspective.

So that was what I picked up from the conference. It was exciting to me that a conference like this was being held. Topics like video games are rarely deemed worthy of being spoken of in an academic setting.

It’s important to have discussions like this and I hope to see more conferences that cover geek culture in the future.

….Even though the jargon might go over my head.

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