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.
The collective provides an accessible avenue for engaging in radical social justice topics for players with any background.
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 featuring 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. This 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.
[Papers Please] encourages players to question the legitimacy of borders and nationality, and 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 alienation and marginalization of certain groups. On that backdrop, Game Curious carves out spaces for subversive dynamics to grow, bloom, and boom.
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.