I’ll be a panelist in Braxton Soderman and Justin Keever’s Critical Videogame Theory Panel at SCMS in DENVER this April. Patrick Jagoda will also present, and here is my abstract:

An Autotheory of Critical Game Studies

The act of playing a video game is a highly individuated practice. Matters of politics, ethics, and theory are separate neither from the complex aesthetic image-making practices of video games, nor the idiosyncratic ways in which players engage them. Truly, some of the most intense experiences players have issue from their extended aesthetic engagements with games, and the deeply fraught political affects that emerge. Yet more often than not, games writing tends to presume a smooth, standardized expert engagement with a game as implicit to an authoritative analysis. But what opportunities arise as a result of a sustained, sometimes conflicted relation to a video game? Or unacceptable engagements? Or critical rejection?

In her testimonial to the nuances of black spectatorship, bell hooks has described an “oppositional looking” in which the friction between the subject and the observer opens up a space of possibility for counter-reading, agency and resistance to mainstream media. Art historian and visual studies scholar Joanne Morra has identified what she calls a “working-through” that is required for sitting with particular aesthetic objects of study. She describes repeated looking, thinking, failing, free association, sitting with, procrastination and other working practices as necessary processes for grasping what cultural objects mean. Likewise, Lauren Fournier has more recently engaged an expanded understanding of the autotheoretical impulse as feminist intervention, one that I argue may open up new possibilities for understanding video games as a visual culture form.

Fournier defines autotheory as a term that captures an “integration of theory and philosophy with autobiography, the body and other so-called personal and explicitly subjective modes…a self-conscious way of engaging with theory —as a discourse, frame, or mode of thinking and practice.” This presentation utilizes the critical feminist interventions of Morra and Fournier to consider the centrality of the self and theory (in tandem) as vital components of how critical game studies can evolve to better account for the performative components of play, for playing wrong, for “working through” games in unconventional, opportune permutations of theory and practice. Put another way, this talk proposes an autotheory for critical game studies.