Amateur video games fill WSRC exhibit
“Took the long way home but it wasn’t long enough,” one video game starts. The point of the game is not to escape from the cops or to accomplish a robbery. The point turns out to be much more poignant. Long Time Coming: A Game about Pointed Conversations by Sagan Lee and Nadie Lessio is about coming home to your boyfriend, trying to avoid letting on about being unfaithful.
This was just one of the games in Leaps and Maneuvers, currently on view at the Women’s Studies Research Center in the Kniznick Gallery. The exhibit, which opened last Tuesday, features video games created by women and other people conventionally discriminated against in the gaming industry. The works come from participants of Dames Making Games, a Toronto-based non-profit that seeks to, according to its website, “run a wide range of programs and events for women, non-binary, gender nonconforming, trans and queer folks interested in games.”
On Wednesday, Soha Kareem, a director at Dames Making Games, came to speak at the WSRC about her organization and what it is fighting against. She talked about how women in gaming, in addition to being discriminated against, have repeatedly been harassed. As an example, she used Anita Sarkeesian—an activist who speaks out about misogyny in the gaming culture and has received death, rape and bomb threats because of it.
In an email to the Justice, the Rosalie and Jime Shane curator and director of the arts, Susan Metrican, said that Sarkeesian was actually her inspiration for the exhibit. “Somehow I stumbled upon Anita Sarkeesian’s video web series called Feminist Frequency … and then started to do research about video game exhibitions,” she said. “I found that DMG had shown their work at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I was very curious about that because I hadn’t had any experience mounting an interactive exhibition before.”
The games displayed are largely socially conscious and many of them have strong take-away messages. They are certainly not technologically advanced, with pixelated words and images, and very simple capabilities. But the games take on complex and real-world issues, causing the player to think about greater contexts than simply shooting the bad guys.
The first attraction in the exhibit is a television that plays on a loop—portraying the games on view, played by an automated mouse. But the fun part is the next station, where viewers of the exhibit can see how the games work for themselves.
BrokenFolx by Arielle Games depicts four characters, each in difficult situations they encounter concerning their gender identity. The player clicks through each of their stories in which the character and another off-screen character engage in a dialogue. The player does not make any active decisions in the game except for choosing in which order to play the stories and is free to click through at his or her own pace. One character is a feminine-appearing cat who is conversing with her family members. It is clear from the conversations that the character has recently come out. The father suggests that he is entitled to some father-son time. The brother suggests it’s just a phase. The father ends up spewing hateful slurs in a text message. The scenarios are heartbreaking and some are deeply disturbing. But once the player clicks through all the characters, the game ends on a heart-warming note saying that whatever happens, “We always, always, always heal.”
In Phone Home by Jen Costa, Kaitlin Smith and Noreen Rena, the player must navigate a call with the character’s mother. The player has multiple options from the first scene, when they decide to pick up the phone, until the end, when the mother tells the daughter to tell her brother to get a hair cut. There did not seem to be an explicit point to the game, but it was interesting and refreshing in the authenticity and mundane nature of the playing experience.
The final station is a computer-automated tarot card selector named Techno Tarot. The player sits in an alcove at a table laden with candles and rocks. Music plays in the background. The experience is a relaxing one even as the tarot card reading experience is very robotic—with a robotic voice reading the cards and a blue robot figure shown to represent the card reader.
Although the exhibit was very impressive, there could have been additional context about the organization Dames Making Games and about the games themselves. There were small cards near the gaming stations, but the information was not clearly accessible and the quotes on the wall did not suffice.
There were also some technical difficulties with the games. Metrican commented, “The games in the show are indie games, so a player might encounter some bugs along the way. I would say if you do encounter a problem with a game, it’s probably because there are too many running at one time!”
“The truth has a tendency to slip out when you least expect it,” read one of the last scenes of Long Time Coming.” The same can be said for this groundbreaking exhibit where the truth about what people can do can be found in these extraordinary video games.