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Other Games, Other Histories

Jodi A Byrd (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

What could a history of game studies be from the perspective of a queer Chickasaw feminist scholar? Should this be a disciplining manifesto, a polemical call to arms for radical transformation, a survey of the existing scholarship that has thus far framed games ludologically as fun, as sportsmanship, as design, or as epic struggles for political power where the player rather ominously wins or dies? I’m a bit of an interloper as a recent arrival from Indigenous studies to video-game studies, a field that represents both the end of history and the ahistoricity of pop-culturally–oriented archives that are presentist at best, and at worst, complicit with an industry derived from settler militaristic technologies and platforms and compelled by niche markets to innovate faster and faster to saturate more and more households at the structural level of occupation. And then there is the problem of what the history of game studies has been: Greco-Roman, European, cis white male, heterosexual, orientalist, algorithmic, and code driven with the techno-optimism of Silicon Valley alongside Jane McGonigal’s fundamental belief that games have and will save the world once they unite the collective brain power of all the gamers and bend them to a single task—and if not all that, then peak 1980s geekery with a hint of liberal multiculturalism thrown in, if Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is anything to go by. It is as if the history of game studies has only ever been an imperial read-only memory to be mined, played, and spatialized within the conscriptions of conquistador archives already known and yet to be discovered.

Yet, outside and submerged within such dominant and normative historiographies, other stories persist, and scholars including Lisa Nakamura, Jack Halberstam, Tara McPherson, Adrienne Shaw, Bonnie Ruberg, Soraya Murray, Beth LaPenseé, Donna Haraway, and Edmond Chang to name a few have shown us that a history of game studies is also broken and undisciplined, that it has been feminist, queer, Black, Indigenous, anticolonial, and anti-imperial all along, that games, whether they consist of embodied sports, tabletop dice rolls, or digital and virtual worlds, have long arcs of their own that show us, for just one instance, how cricket might have emerged from the sacred and ceremonial bat-and-ball games of the Americas before contact, transformed beyond the boundaries of C. L. R. James’s memoir to become a site of gaming decolonial resistance throughout the former colonies of the Caribbean islands and the Indian subcontinent.1 Likewise, baseball, America’s favorite pastime, is, as Choctaw author LeAnne Howe might tell us, a tribalographic story of Indigenous invention and survival that taps into Southeastern American Indian epistemological and ontological modes of being grounded in the space of play through relation to community, to land, and to the social and political obligations of all life beyond the human.2 Let a history of games be one that focuses on those submerged and contrary stories that counter the possessive logics of colonialism and imperialism. Let us imagine play outside the capitalistic restraints of labor and leisure already ingrained within how we conceptualize fun, self-care, and downtime. Let us be capacious in the work and refuse the normative gatekeeping of academic disciplines to embrace the broken and disruptive alongside the algorithms, codes, technologies, and rules that make games playable at all. Finally, let us think beyond the magic circles, game boards, and playing fields of territorializations to consider how the spaces in which we play have histories all their own just waiting to be told.


1. ^ C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary (1963; repr., Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

2. ^ LeAnne Howe, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (San Francisco, Aunt Lute Books, 2007).