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Game Studies Guild explores social issues, representation in video games

March 14, 2019
Members of the Game Studies Guild discuss at the MSU Digital Scholarship Lab on March 13, 2019.
Members of the Game Studies Guild discuss at the MSU Digital Scholarship Lab on March 13, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

From world-building to coding, a lot goes into videogames before they can move from production to the screen. The Game Studies Guild at Michigan State aims to educate the community about the history behind games, the politics involved, as well as the social aspects such as accessibility, racism and the role of LGBTQ representation in games. 

“From the beginning, it was developed with a particular focus on issues of inclusion, diversity and social justice in games,” Co-founder Cody Mejeur said. “I would say that the focus — particularly on trans and queer issues — emerged organically from the people who have become a part of the Game Studies Guild.” 

Mejeur also explained the focuses of the Game Studies Guild come from what the students involved are studying. By bringing together groups across campus, they aim to build connections and discuss the work they are doing with games in the process. 

Mejeur is a Ph.D student studying English with a focus on video games and narrative, but not all members have a direct tie to what many might think of when it comes to video games. Two student coordinators, Dan Fandino and Ronny Ford, are Ph.D students studying history and medieval literature. However, their subjects extend to non-academic interests in the form of storytelling elements in games.

“It can be quite a hot topic, it can be very toxic,” Fandino said. “There’s a lot going on, but at the same time, these games can reach so many different people. I think that’s part of the importance — to be able to look at it both as something speaking to the moment we’re in, and to the way they think and the possibility to reach so many more people.”

During the 2018-19 school year, they covered transmisogyny in the “Dark Souls” video game, colonization in “Bloodborne” and accessibility issues in a wide variety of games. On April 10, they will host a talk called “Queer Games,” centered on the game “Gone Home.”

The gaming community has historically been a place LGBTQ people have not always felt comfortable engaging in, Ford said. It’s not uncommon to hear homophobic slurs thrown around both casually and with spite in gaming chats. 

“I think it’s important to establish these kinds of communities because the gaming community, as it stands, hasn’t really done the work to do that,” Ford said. “You log on to play ‘Overwatch,’ and you turn on your headset — you’re going to hear some nasty things.”

The meetings and events are hosted in the Digital Scholarship Lab, located in the MSU Main Library. According to Jonah  , co-founder of the Game Studies Guild and the VR and Video Game Collection Coordinator in the lab, the lab’s mission is to create a collaborative space that anyone can use and feel welcome in. In the past, the lab co-hosted the annual Comic Books Forum, where they worked to incorporate themes of diversity and inclusion into the panels.

“Creating a space in which we can talk about these issues is really important because there are queer people who play video games everywhere — there are lots of us,” Ford said. “For me, it’s about creating a space where we can talk about things academically and critically.”

The work of the Game Studies Guild not only includes discussing issues within the games, but fostering a place where gamers can come together to play them, preview a play-through or sit in on a speaker series. They welcome students, staff and faculty, and live-stream many of their games on Twitch so those unable to physically attend can still be involved.

“The way that I think about this organization is that the most important thing is cultivating an environment where people feel they can speak openly,” Ford said. “That’s why we wanted to have these different kinds of events, so that we can include as many different kinds of people as possible.”

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