Thursday, May 28 • 5:30pm - 6:00pm
The_Critical_Is: Mapping New Approaches to Video Game Criticism

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How might we think and discuss video games, both within and beyond the classroom? The video game, perhaps more than any medium, presents unique challenges to those seeking to engage with it critically: not only is it an immensely hybridized medium, drawing from film, animation, sound, writing, and code, but its key distinguishing feature—interactivity—grafts poorly onto “static” forms of critical representation, like writing. How can we talk about video games in ways that engage with the entirety of their material and formal complexity? How can new and disruptive methodologies transform our research questions in productive ways? 

These are the core questions of our digital humanities project The_Critical_Is, an experiment in video game scholarship and critique. For HASTAC, we propose a curated panel of lighting talks on our project, addressing both the scholarly questions it has raised, as well as the research methodologies we have developed. 

The_Critical_Is, viewable at http://thecritical.is, is a web platform through which a core group of players and researchers explore a variety of approaches through which to think, in words, images, and sounds, video games. Currently, we are exploring two games in the Assassin’s Creed series that address representations of enslavement in the colonial Caribbean. These games—Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation—thematize complex relationships between race, colonialism, enslavement narratives, historical trauma, individual and collective memory, and technology in intriguing ways. Through blog posts, podcasts, edited videos, and—most integral to our vision—live streamed gameplay, we not only dig deep into these two games, but also offer a template through which other groups, whether of researchers or students, can structure conversations about video games, particularly ones that engage in novel ways with questions of race and gender. Our project not only asks challenging questions of the power dynamics inherent to contemporary gaming design and culture, it thematizes those questions in the form of our inquiry.

For our HASTAC panel, our four core participants will each offer a brief paper on a major critical or methodological aspect of The_Critical_Is. While each member of our working group has an institutional affiliation, The_Critical_Is sits outside traditional sites of scholarly inquiry. We see this liminal position as affording us an opportunity to place experimentation at the center of our practice. Alexander’s paper will focus on Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry to tease out the possibilities and problematics of representing enslavement, particularly in a mainstream, digital, and playable format. Bain will explore themes of transhumanism within the Assassin’s Creed series and think machine aesthetics and the (ex)portability of bodies. Guy’s paper aims to provide a frame for understanding Assassin’s Creed: Liberation and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry as works of historical fiction in order to give us the tools to ask, among other things, “What happens when we play with history?” Moro’s paper discusses our methodological approaches as a means of tackling questions of historiography and the archive when dealing with video games and interactive media.


Elizabeth Murice Alexander

Graduate Student, Cornell University

Kimberly Bain

Post-Baccalaureate, 5CollDH
avatar for Jeffrey Moro

Jeffrey Moro

Senior Post-Baccalaureate Resident, Five College Digital Humanities
Jeffrey Moro is a Post-Bac with Five College Digital Humanities, with research interests in electronic literature, media archaeology, and critical code studies.@jeffreymoro 

Thursday May 28, 2015 5:30pm - 6:00pm EDT
Lincoln Room Kellogg Center

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