Restorying Trans Game Studies: Playing with Memory, Fiction, and Magic for Transformative Identity Work

In this talk, Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (“Tess”) argues that game design - like magic and activism - is a framework for invoking and materializing seemingly impossible desires for ourselves and our world.

When: November 29, 2022, 7-8:30pm
Where: Online on Zoom
Register here: https://tinyurl.com/mrkvyf4u
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In this talk Theresa Jean Tanenbaum ("Tess") argues that game design - like magic and activism - is a framework for invoking and materializing seemingly impossible desires for ourselves, and our world. Within the "magic circles" of both play and witchcraft we assert truths about the world that are decoupled from the often-arbitrary rules and power structures that govern daily life. She will discuss J Li's single player pervasive game "Twain": a game whose central mechanic is to enlist a single player into believing for a moment in a past that is impossible. Twain invites players to briefly rewrite their own memories to include a fiction that can't possibly be real, but which feels immediate and viscerally true within the experienced reality of the game. She will also consider the work of transgender game designer Avery Alder, who talks about this in terms of choosing to believe in the impossibilities. Alder argues that when the world is arranged to tell a story that robs you of any power, it is up to you to instead choose to tell yourself stories that restore that power. Much like J Li's "Twain," Alder's games invite their players to inhabit alternative selves, as they move through their daily lives.

Tanenbaum will unpack this idea of play as a site for radical, emancipatory, identity work as a foundation for an emerging "trans game studies" practice. She will draw a connection between a constellation of allied theories and practices including, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Amy Stornaiulo's work on restorying, Dorothy Holland et al.'s concept of figured worlds, Jonaya Kemper's work on emancipatory bleed, Jerome Bruner's work on narrative as reality, Bernard Suits' concept of a "lusory attitude," Maya Deren's writings about witchcraft and "successful deviants, " and her own work on design fiction, steampunk, and allohistorical fictional imaginaries. She takes an explicitly autobiographical approach to these ideas, as a transgender woman, game designer, and practicing witch. In the spaces where these ideas intersect and overlap, she sees a seed to grow a trans game studies that doesn't just "represent" trans people's experiences, but instead recognizes how games, play, and story are entangled in the ways that we discover ourselves, confront and process our traumas, and defy the impossibilities imposed upon us by the oppressive normative social order.

Bio: Dr. Theresa Jean Tanenbaum ("Tess") is a songwriter, performer, game designer, artist, activist, and Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine, where she is a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. Her work is playful, provocative, and interdisciplinary, frequently straddling the line between art, design, and research. She seeks to create possibilities for social and individual change, using participatory narrative to highlight how the identities that we inhabit in the world are contingent and negotiated. These experiences of transformative theatrical play create new models of being that are emancipatory, allowing oppressed and marginalized people to inhabit evocative new identities that reclaim the power and agency denied to them.

This series is hosted by the Games & Society Lab at the Department of Game Design, Uppsala University Campus Gotland. The series explores the use of analog role-playing games as vehicles for lasting personal and social change.

Learn more about Transformative Play at Uppsala and join the TPI mailing list: https://www.speldesign.uu.se/research/games-and-society-lab/transformative-play/

Learn more about the Games & Society Lab at the Department of Game Design: https://www.speldesign.uu.se/research/games-and-society-lab/

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Visuals by Liliia Chorna.

Last modified: 2022-11-02