Josephine Baird

Research question

How does videogame design create educational opportunities and space for the exploration, expression and embodiment of trans subjectivities?


I ground my approach to this question within Rose Klein’s (2020) argument that “queer” pedagogy and games have a distinct overlap as they provide an opportunity to teach the critique and questioning of normative structures. Ze argues that “[q]ueer play can be used to augment and support queer pedagogy, and conversely, queer pedagogy can inform new ways of building opportunities for queer play…” Games as systems can encourage a player to interact with, learn from and subvert those systems. I will explore how this creates unique educational opportunities and space for the exploration, expression and embodiment of trans subjectivities.

I will draw on a game-based-learning approach as employed by the likes of Samantha Allen (2016), Justin Egan (2019) and Emma Kostopolus (2017) as I will explore the potential of videogames to provide opportunities to teach on trans experience. I will however, avoid any over-simplification of the ways in which affect may be generated through gameplay, what influence it may or may not have and on whom; and indeed, I will problematise the way the notion of “empathy” is often positioned as the primary, or only, means of education on issues of marginalised communities in videogames (Teddy Pozo, 2018). To do this, I will use a close-reading auto-ethnography methodology as employed by the likes of Jim Bizzocchi and Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (2011) and Brendan Keogh (2014). They argue for such a versatile methodology in the analysis of the multifaceted experience of videogames as well as their function as complex socio-cultural media. In this sense, I will be analysing games as “assemblages,” as argued for by T.L. Taylor (2009).

Furthermore, I will locate my readings in the traditions of queer theory and intersectional feminisms, inspired as I am by theorists like Bonnie Ruberg (2019), Soraya Murray (2017), Ann Antropy (2012), Adrienne Shaw (2014, 2011) and Jess Marcotte (2018) – who, in the last decade especially, have examined games from these perspectives as both products and producers of socio-cultural discourse and show how they function as unique sites for potential social modelling, representation, experimentation, and opportunity for change.

I contend that by examining how videogames can model socio-cultural systems we can examine how experience may be communicated as well as provide opportunities to express and explore trans subjectivities in a safer and pedagogical context. I will look at the opportunity that videogames might provide for non-trans (cis) people to learn about trans experience – by modelling aspects and metaphors of society and allowing players a safer space to learn in – but I also wish to look at this from a trans player’s perspective. For example, Mark Griffiths et al. (2016: 59) suggest videogaming can be of direct benefit to trans people, specifically as “a way to explore gender roles and boundaries in a safe environment.” Given, how challenging and even dangerous it can be for trans people to express, explore or embody their subjectivities in an often-hostile socio-cultural environment, videogames can provide an opportunity to do so in a virtual space, modelled either on the societies which we reside in or fictional, metaphorical ones.

This is how I shall look at certain videogames as a site for trans people to learn and explore our trans subjectivities, perhaps experiment or practice with being in certain social environments or begin to embody our sense of self through a game-based experience. Finally, given that games are effectively systems that can be models or metaphors for socio-cultural systems, I will explore them as sites to learn how to challenge, alter or subvert those systems.

I am inspired by Mattie Brice (2017) who positions video games as an opportunity to educate or even provide solutions to the “wicked problems” of social inequalities and the need to provide a way for “a large amount of people to change their behaviour or mindset...” I will present the ways in which games could model systems of gender and also provide opportunities to learn how to play with, subvert and challenge problematic socio-cultural conceptions of gender and gender inequalities.