I was looking forward to listening to Kara Stone’s presentation.
While she locates her work in the realm of gaming, she refuses to follow the usual and trite narratives imposed by the gaming industry. Her goal is to inject games with affect, a term that she uses loosely to identify feelings, empathy, physical sensations, and improbably connection and relationships that are usually dismissed by the gaming industry. While these are all elements that occur during the act of gaming, they are mostly treated as after effects, or as personal reactions. In fact, the gaming industry tends to concentrate on the mechanic of a game, they privilege specific narratives and technological innovation and do not incorporate certain topics into their preferred repertoire.
Stone approaches gaming as an open field able to explore feminism and mental illness, all topics that are rarely considered worth of games’ attention, partially because the exploration of feelings is considered something that only women do, and mental illness is the locus of stigma.
Stone proposes to approach mental illness by using affect theory to break down the difference between ill and not ill, and to avoid oversimplifying the complexity of mental illness by turning it into something either absolutely negative (thus deserving pity) or decidedly positive (thus trivializing it).
There is the assumption that games should be fulfilling the desire of the (young) white male, but this doesn’t consider the fact that any emotional response is not just the response to videogame but also a physical and physiological reaction. And since standard controllers tend to hide such emotions, Stone decided to find ways to re-appropriate them and re-incorporate them back into her games.
Her style reflects her dissent from and disagreement towards the gaming industry:
1) she uses pixel art to create her games
2) she incorporates feminist theory
3) she makes games that reflect on the connection between astrology and mental illness, or about intimacy, or about medicalization
4) her narratives can be unpredictable
of course, reviews of her games have claimed that because of her style (pixel art) and her Indy look her games are not really games, but pixel art. Stone rejects this definition. In fact why cannot the game industry accommodate such different styles? How about other collectives, such as Molleindustria, whose satirical games use similar pixel art…are those not games?
Maybe, rather than just dismiss this type of work as just artsy, we should reflect more on the status of the game industry: often developers are caught into a fast paced, just in time production, whose only hope to get by is to produce more and more high tech. This leaves little room for content and reflection (if we except some interesting twists such as the recent disability Mario or the Indian Mario). Then, figures like Stone and Molleindustria are urgently needed to avoid turning the whole industry into a homogeneous business with little room for artistry.