Introducing A norm-critical game culture

Game story

Linda Paxling is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Technology and Aesthetics working on a Vinnova-financed pre-study called “A norm-critical game culture”. The purpose is to identify norms and attitudes of future game developers, increase the knowledge of a norm-critical perspective in the gaming industry and experiment with the concept games in collaboration with the industry and the public sector.

Who is involved in the project?
The department of Technology and Aesthetics, Campus Karlshamn, Blekinge Institute of Technology.
Linda Paxling , Project Coordinator (PhD Student)
Lena Trojer, Mentor (Professor, Technoscience Studies)
Pirjo Elovaara, Mentor (University Lector, Technoscience Studies)
Kristine Jörgensen, (Guest Professor, Technoscience Studies)
Elin Hallgren, Project Partner (Consultant)

Could you expand more on the project and what your expertise brings to the project?

The pilot study is based on the project participants being the catalyzing assemblages.
Where in an innovation process should we (gender) equality enter? How do we question and change the current power structure within the gaming industry?
We believe this should be down in all levels of gaming and we want to address professional groups within (and alongside) the gaming industry. For the pre-study we focus on University Students studying digital media with an interest in games and norms.

The method we are using is called Participatory Action Research, a participatory-driven process where the researcher (Linda) and the participants (student group) together define problems and solutions relating to the given themes of games, stereotypes and innovation.
The method is also action-driven in that by understanding and learning from the game culture we also intend to change it.

We (Linda and Elin) are rookies in the gaming industry. We don’t know all the boundaries of the game culture and we believe this is an asset. This enables us to innovate and experiment with people and things in an unconventional way.

We bring with us knowledge on gender and IT, norm-critical pedagogics and intersectionality and a keen interest in creating a more inclusive game culture.

Which key areas of the industry do you believe are in need of revised thinking and cultural reform?
We believe that the game culture itself needs revision in becoming more intersectional. It’s not only an issue of hiring more female game developers. The gamer culture can be very exclusive and normative in its way of thinking and acting. The only way to address these biases is through critical thinking and recognizing one’s own privileged position. By exploring and documenting the stereotypes and norms in the gaming industry we will be better prepared for how revision can be done.

Where lays the responsibility?
The majority of the game companies are aware of the the biased situation but I don’t think they know how to make the necessary changes for changing the industry. And in some cases I don’t think they want to. Managers fear that the games won’t be as income-generative if they diverge too much from the norm.

– The games reflect the reality, one could claim.
– Yes, one reality, I respond then. But not mine.

This is an uncomfortable truth and something we want to address in our project.

I think we can take inspiration from the world of fan fiction where gamers place their take on their favourite games and the normative boundaries are blurred.

What is the main goal of the project and your aspirations for the future?
For the pre-study the goals are:

– to develop knowledge on game development and the gaming industry.
– to develop skills and methods on how norm-critical perspectives becomes an action in the gaming industry.
– to organize a hackathon focusing on norms and games for change and innovation.
Our aspirations for the future are big.

Based on our findings and evaluation from the pre-study we want to continue to expand the participatory-driven method in various locations within (and alongside) the game culture ie. game companies, game development teachers, gamers, politicians. And as an action-oriented process we want to build game prototypes that are innovative and income-generative.
We also see clear parallels between Gender and IT and Gender and Games and want to build bridges between these research- and industry-related fields.

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