Gam­ing and so­cial jus­tice

Game Cu­ri­ous has the event for you

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Tali Iose­le­vich Cul­ture Writer

The col­lec­tive pro­vides an ac­ces­si­ble av­enue for en­gag­ing in rad­i­cal so­cial jus­tice top­ics for play­ers with any back­ground. [Pa­pers Please] en­cour­ages play­ers to ques­tion the le­git­i­macy of bor­ders and na­tion­al­ity, and re­flect on cur­rent refugee crises. Game Cu­ri­ous carves out spa­ces for sub­ver­sive dy­nam­ics to grow, bloom and boom.

Video game cul­ture is not of­ten syn­ony­mous with so­cial jus­tice or rev­o­lu­tion­ary change. For peo­ple who grew up largely ex­cluded from it, par­tic­u­larly folks who are not white, cis, or mas­cu­line- pre­sent­ing, or who don’t have the funds to sus­tain a gam­ing habit, the gam­ing com­mu­nity can feel alien­at­ing. Those fa­mil­iar with the Gamer­gate ha­rass­ment cam­paign are acutely aware of the dif­fi­cul­ties in hold­ing dis­cus­sions around sex­ism and rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the gam­ing com­mu­nity. Game Cu­ri­ous, a new Mon­treal col­lec­tive, is chang­ing the way peo­ple in­ter­act with video games. By us­ing video games as a medium to dis­cuss im­por­tant is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion, po­lice mil­i­tarism, and con­sent, they are fos­ter­ing a gam­ing com­mu­nity that en­gages so­cial jus­tice is­sues in a wel­com­ing and ac­ces­si­ble en­vi­ron­ment.

What is Game Cu­ri­ous Mon­treal?

On its web­site, Game Cu­ri­ous de­scribes it­self as “a book club for games.” Sup­ported by the Mount Royal Gam­ing So­ci­ety (MRGS), Pix­elles, Que­bec Pub­lic In­ter­est Group (QPIRG) Con­cor­dia, and As­so­ci­a­tion for the Voice of Ed­u­ca­tion in Que­bec, they of­fer “a se­ries of free pub­lic events aimed at cre­at­ing a space for peo­ple who are new to games, or who feel marginal­ized or ex­cluded by the dom­i­nant cul­ture.” The col­lec­tive pro­vides an ac­ces­si­ble av­enue for en­gag­ing in rad­i­cal so­cial jus­tice top­ics for play­ers of any back­ground — from those who’ve al­ways been cu­ri­ous but have never played, to those who’ve clocked in many hours at their fa­vorite video games. This ini­tia­tive al­lows peo­ple with any level of ex­pe­ri­ence to con­trib­ute some­thing im­por­tant to the dis­cus­sion of in­clu­siv­ity in games and gam­ing spa­ces.

Game Cu­ri­ous’ weekly themed work­shops

The work­shops take place on Sun­days at 2 p.m. in Café Aquin, on the sec­ond floor of UQAM. Free food is of­fered, with plenty of ve­gan op­tions avail­able. The space is wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble, and ser­vices such as child­care and French-English whis­per trans­la­tion are of­fered. There are lap­tops fea­tur- ing games re­lated to each week’s dis­cus­sion. Zines ex­plain­ing Game Cu­ri­ous’ safer space pol­icy and lo­cal grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as Sol­i­dar­ity Across Bor­ders, are also avail­able. Af­ter giv­ing play­ers sev­eral hours to test out each game, a round ta­ble dis­cus­sion is held to talk about the games, their im­pact, and how they re­late to the theme of the day.

The first work­shop in the se­ries this year was held a week ago with the theme “Im­mi­gra­tion & Bor­ders.” Show­cased games in­cluded Pa­pers Please (2014), Bor­ders (2017), I’ll Take Care of It (2017), Bury Me, My Love (2017), and Penal­ties (2013). The dis­cus­sion cen­tred mostly around Pa­pers Please, a game where you play as a bu­reau­cratic bor­der agent forced to ei­ther al­low or deny peo­ple’s en­try into the fic­tional post- Soviet coun­try of Arstot­szka. The game forces play­ers to be com­plicit in the sys­tem of op­pres­sion that up­holds the racist ideal of the “model im­mi­grant.” It gives play­ers in­sight into which as­pects of im­mi­gra­tion are reg­u­lated. At a cer­tain level of the game, they must even deny those whose out­side ap­pear­ance doesn’t match the gender on their pass­port. As the game pro­gresses, the player is also forced to make choices be­tween tak­ing care of their fam­ily or join­ing the re­sis­tance move­ment, at their own cost. Though the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing this game is te­dious and me­nial, it en­cour­ages play­ers to ques­tion the le­git­i­macy of bor­ders and na­tion­al­ity, and to re­flect on cur­rent refugee crises.

In I’ll Take Care of It, you play as a young Latina im­mi­grant who is be­ing ha­rassed by face­less, heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized im­mi­gra­tion agents, who wear hel­mets dot­ted by two shin­ing red eyes. She seeks the help of a ‘ bruja’ (a Latina witch) liv­ing in her apart­ment build­ing who comes ready to brawl the next time the po­lice ar­rive. This power fan­tasy in­spires the player to fight back against the likes of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) in the U.S. by declar­ing that “any­one can be a bruja,” and shows the im­por­tance of sup­port net­works for im­mi­grants.

Penal­ties is an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal game by a Pales­tinian refugee in the U.S. This es­cape-the-room hor­ror game has a self-harm con­tent warn­ing, and in­duces feel­ings of anx­i­ety and for some, claus­tro­pho­bia. It in­ten­tion­ally makes the player feel trapped, choice­less, and des­per­ate with the hope of es­cape. Th­ese feel­ings par­al­lel what it’s like to be suf­fo­cated by op­pres­sive struc­tures up­held by eth­nona­tion­al­ism and bor­ders.


Video games, like any piece of me­dia, do not ex­ist in a vac­uum. Video game de­sign and con­tent re­flect the dom­i­nant ide­olo­gies of the con­text in which they are pro­duced. Ig­nor­ing and re­fus­ing to dis­cuss the pol­i­tics of video games only feeds into the alien- ation and marginal­iza­tion of cer­tain groups. On that back­drop, Game Cu­ri­ous carves out spa­ces for sub­ver­sive dy­nam­ics to grow, bloom, and boom.

Up­com­ing Game Cu­ri­ous work­shops re­volve around the themes of Polic­ing and Pris­ons on Fe­bru­ary 4, Fem­i­nism and Con­sent on Feb. 11, and Cap­i­tal­ism and Workers Strug­gles on Feb. 18. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Game Cu­ri­ous web­site has links for all the games show­cased so far, so if you’re un­able to at­tend a work­shop they’re there for you to ex­plore. The col­lec­tive also plans on host­ing work­shops to teach peo­ple how to cre­ate video games of their own, with a group game- mak­ing event ( also known as a Game Jam), fol­low­ing shortly af­ter. If you’re in­ter­ested, make sure you stop by to play some games and to par­tic­i­pate in the dis­cus­sion. Game on, com­rades.

Ji­awen Wang | Il­lus­tra­tor

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