Transgression in Games and Play

Transgression in Games and Play

Kristine Jørgensen and Faltin Karlsen

The MIT Press: London, 2018

ISBN: 978-0262038652

I’ve only met one person who has played The Sims (Maxis) and hasn’t found enjoyment from employing transgressive behaviour to torture, maim, or kill their creations. They told me they had never harmed their Sims but joked they had created a simulation of a heterosexual nuclear family, which was for them, just as transgressive. Transgressions in games are multifaceted, with boundaries that shift depending on the player and the game. Transgression in Games and Play edited by Kristine Jørgensen and Faltin Karlsen recognises this nature of games and play to offer a truly compelling anthology.

From a typology of gaming transgressions (Holger Pötsch, 45-62), to queering role-playing games (Tanja Sihvonen and Jaakko Stenros, 115-129), to utilising war realism to make uncomfortable game content (Kristine Jørgensen, 153-185). The contributors see how fun and play can become annoyance, punishment, or harassment, and indeed all of these things at once. Beginning from the understanding of transgression as going “beyond the bounds or limits set by commandments or law or convention … to violate and infringe” (Jenks 2003, 2) and play as something precarious that “needs to be maintained unbroken but at the same time needs to be challenged and put at risk in order to remain interesting” (Jonas Linderoth and Torill Mortensen 2015, 6). The contributors lead us through connections of uncomfortable, provocative, and offensive content and play practices to highlight the ways in which transgression affect players, shapes gameplay, and even moulds the boundaries of our moral sensibilities.

I found myself particularly drawn to Faltin Karlsen’s essay, ‘Exploited or Engaged? Dark Game Design Patterns in Clicker Heroes, Farmville 2, and World of Warcraft’ (219-234), as a fascinating exploration of how transgression can be coded into a game as the main mechanic. Karlsen analyses the game design patterns in said games to suggest that certain game mechanics exist not to further enjoyment or fun but instead train a player to become hooked on a game. He quotes Jonathan Blow who states, “If you look at a game like Farmville, there’s actually no game there, it’s just a reward structure layered on reward structure layered on a reward structure with a hollow centre” (219). If you’re anything like me, when I think of transgressions in games, I immediately think of exclusivity and prejudice in the community. So, to see this side of transgression, in which it is just as integral to game design as avatars and narrative, was an enlightening experience.

Of course, this anthology would be incomplete if it didn’t dedicate a bulk of itself to exclusivity and prejudice within much of the gaming community. However, like the rest of the book, those essays that expose such transgressions shine a new light on unknown perspectives. Mia Consalvo’s essay, ‘Kaceytron and Transgressive Play on Twitch.TV’ (83-93), is an excellent example. Consalvo looks at the popular Twitch.TV streamer Kaceytron, her volatile stream, and the relentless misogyny hurled at her. Consalvo describes Kaceytron as an enigma, a persona that employs transgressive behaviour to troll or grief her audience, all while capitalising on the already transgressive microcosm that is her stream. Notably, amidst the slew of abuse, some viewers (and donors) attempt to defend Kaceytron from her would-be harassers. If the offender gets too zealous in their attempts to defend her, Kaceytron will call them out and ask the chat: “Can I get a no white knight in the chat?” after which her viewers will spam the chat with an icon of a “banned” white knight chess piece. Kaceytron even has a space on her stream to list the “TOP WHITE KNIGHT” of the stream (89-90). Consalvo draws parallels between Kaceytron’s white knight feature and Jenny Sundén and Malin Sveningsson’s (2012) female World of Wacraft players. Namely, both assert their own agency as players, they refuse ‘benevolent’ white knight sexism, that sees women as needing male protection in game spaces. Consalvo’s analysis is incredibly insightful, seeing Kaceytron’s unique forms of transgressive behaviour, which has made her one of sites most successful streamers, perfectly represents the risks, challenges, and rewards of games and play.

While I’ve outlined two essays, you will also find (among others), Torill Elvira Mortensen and Victor Navarro-Remesal innovative use of the Buddhist philosophy of Duhkha, or ‘thirst’ to propose that players may experience relief when they play with other peoples’ suffering in Nintendo’s Miiverse (2012). Marcus Carter and Fraser Allison’s discussion of the guilt that players have towards killing each other in the survivalist game DayZ (Bohemia Interactive 2017) and Alan Meades’ comparative analysis of English and America arcades and the regulations that led to the sanitization of America arcades while English arcades thrived as autonomous social arenas. Overall, this is an incredibly impressive anthology, with each essay being its own exploration into the world of games, play, and transgression. I would recommend this book to any Game Studies researcher who wants not only unique perspectives on transgressions but a more well-rounded view of games and their communities.