Games, Life Writing

The Final Automedia Game Club Meeting

Last Thursday, our automedia game club met for our final meeting. For this meeting, we just decided to talk about anything related to automedia games or auto/biography theory, or anything that was not on our list. It was a really illuminating and great discussion.

The original schedule did have a specific game, of which we briefly discussed: Sean Han Tani’s All Our Asias. Although the game is not described as auto/biographical, it was described as a “deeply personal game” in a Waypoint interview with Sean Han Tani and Danielle Riendeau. So, we discussed how to analyze games that incorporate possible auto/biographical content in a fictional game. Or, specifically to All Our Asias, the role of memory in constructing a life narrative. But mostly we talked about the PS1 visuals that are used, that really communicated the abstract fuzzy content of memories and how these very abstract visuals resonated with the general title of “All Our Asias.” If the game is a “deeply personal game,” there was some creative distance in the abstraction and fictionalizing of the personal content so that it would connect to other Asian American experiences.

A group member then brought our attention to an article written by Kawika Guillermo called “Can You Live A Video Game? Autobiography and Living the Author in Video Games.” In that article, Kawika writes,

As Robert Yang said, “no one makes personal games,” and it’s not difficult to see why. First, the gaming player-base is international, so the political implications of telling “identity stories” would have totally different meanings to non-American players, and may cause the game to look provincial.

While not explicit, Kawika points out that “personal” or “identity” stories may not be accepted or be misconstrued by other players. They will be dismissed as “not a game.” Yeah, that bullshit. Or, in the case of That Dragon, Cancer, people criticized the creators for “profiting” off of the passing of the creators’ child.  Kawika goes on to describe that his experience playing automedia games is characterized by frustration.

The article made us think about the autobiographical pact for games. The pact, as it is understood in a/b studies, is an agreement between the reader and author that the name on the cover of the autobiography is the same as the character in the novel. It’s a pact that establishes it’s truth claims and that the life narrative is an auto/biographical narrative. Usually, the reader is the one that has to be convinced. But other than a few scandals (such as the James Frey A Million Little Pieces controversy) or some playful blurring what is real and not real in life narrative by the author, readers accept the truth claims “until proven guilty.” This is a wide generalization but it led us to this point: for games, the autobiographical pact is tricky and precarious because the toxic culture around games don’t want personal games or don’t believes games should be or can be personal. They refuse to accept the pact and might (but not always) refuse to play the game or acknowledge the games’ truth claims. Or the game becomes a target for hate campaigns. So although Robert Yang says “no one makes personal games,” people do. Yet, he points to the larger risk of making personal, auto/biographical games, especially for marginalized devs. The discussion made reconsider the autobiographical pact and how I understand it working in games.

We then looked at Lizzie Stark’s post “Designing Autobiographical Games.” Her focus was on designing auto/biographical LARPs (Live Action Role Playing). None of us have participated in LARPs, but we discussed the possibility of table-top RPGs and how tricky it is to tell a life narrative when players have so much more agency. We scrolled through the rules of the game, and it was a lot to absorb so we didn’t chat much about it other than sharing Stark’s rules for her auto/biographical games.

And that concluded our meeting and the summer club. It’s sad that it has to end, but with a looming defence date, two courses to teach, and some papers to work on, I’ve got my hands full for the next coming months. But it’s something I’d like to do again simply because it’s just good to chat out scholarly stuff in an informal non-academicy way/setting. Despite some academic talk, our conversations were mostly about our experiences playing the game and our thoughts on the life narratives and how they were told through the medium of games. And those conversations were highly informative for my thought processes and academic tinkering with automedia games.


The Dissertation

What? I took a vacation!?

I took some time off. A full 2 weeks. I did nothing. Well, I did things but completely non-academic things. It felt so scary, and during those whole two weeks I had moments of “maybe I’ll just do an hour or two of work.” My supervisor had to all-caps at me to take the time off for chrissakes. I thanked her for that. But the prompt to take the vacation (and what I had to keep telling myself throughout the two weeks): I submitted my dissertation!

Yup, dissertation is submitted and my defence is scheduled. Wednesday September 19th. I’m so excited and terrified all at the same time. I’m excited to complete the PhD, to reach this final milestone, but also terrified of what comes after.

And part of the reason of why it was so hard to take a break was because of being scared of what comes after. If I want to pursue an academic career (which I do), the publish or perish model haunts every minute that I take off. I have uncompleted essays, books to read, future research to plot out, courses to teach in the Fall, and like a dozen other things on my mind. Shouldn’t I be doing those things? was the question that haunted my mind when I found myself just figuring out what to do for the day or the afternoon.

But instead, I played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and binged the fantastic podcast #SecretFeministAgenda. It was more of a Stay-cation, but still as effective. The podcast by Hannah McGregor was really crucial in reaffirming my choice to lay on the couch and do things for my self care. Although I recommend the whole podcast, these two episodes were great reminders for me during my vacation: Hufflepuff Self Care with Kaarina Mikalson and Slow Down!

I’ve returned to work this week, but it’s been going slow. And instead of panicking about it, I’m okay with it. I feel less worried about it, although I never stop worrying. I’m also trying to make more time for creative things (which I haven’t done in over a year, I think…) and for friends/family. Everything seems manageable. Those projects I have in mind still have hypothetical deadlines, but they no longer seem as urgent.

And on that note, I’m off. Here’s a picture of my dog, Bilbo, doing what he does best: enjoying the summer: