- FULL TEXT of an interview of ANNA ANTHROPY by WHITNEY POW for AUTOSTRADDLE DOT COM
- 1.) I read your article, "Rise of the Video Game Zinesters" on the Escapist and thought it was brilliant. I loved it when you wrote "the medium [video games] is going to have to push beyond the endless retelling of the same story by the same privileged authors." When was the point where you started feeling really frustrated with the commercial video game industry? What kinds of stories did you see being repeated over and over? When did you decide to start creating scratchware, and why did you decide to do it?
- it miiiight have been when i played fear: retro helix 2 (or something like that). i bought this game just cuz i heard that it had two women protagonists who kiss and fuck, but within moments of playing it i realized that the only reason they do this is because the developers assumed i was a nerdy seventeen-year-old boy who was titillated by seeing stereotypically desirable women rub their faceplates against each other. i realized that there were no games about footlicking super-pervo queer women, and then i made the cognitive leap to: that's probably because there are no games BY footlicking super-pervo queer women! and then, of course, it was obvious what i had to do.
- 2.) In "Rise of the Video Game Zinesters," too, you wrote that "there's a growing number of people who ... create free games simply to make their voices heard." What is it like speaking with a minority voice in a field that's typically unwelcoming to women and queer people? How do you feel about the misogyny that's so prevalent within video game culture? How do we fight back and retaliate against this system — both as video game designers and video game players?
- LOUDLY. when you're speaking from the margins you have to shout to be heard. all of my games are undeniably - even by the most sheltered, asocial nerd - about women who are queer, women who happily inhabit one side or the other of GETTING STEPPED ON. the reality of my identity is unavoidable, and with it the reality that women like that don't just exist, they're also playing and making games. i've built up a lot of social capital through those games - people who like "indie games" follow me on twitter, and then suddenly they have to listen to me scream about gender.
- 3.) The description for your book on the Seven Stories Press website mentions how the "pervasive 'gamer' culture of privilege and misogyny ... has so far obscured the potential of what could be the defining cultural medium of a new millennium: games." How do you feel about the misogyny and (oftentimes straight, white male) privilege that's so deeply intertwined with gaming culture? How did this start? And how do we stop it?
- it's a long story, that i think starts with engineering schools in the seventies. technological fields have always been alienating to women, because of the high cost of education, academic discrimination, lack of a room of one's own, etc. - even though the first programmer was a woman! (give ada lovelace a look-up sometime.) but to cut to the chase, we've entered this vicious cycle where this small group of mostly straight cisgendered white dudes are making games for other straight cis white dudes, who'll grow up and be allowed to make the next generation of games. and so what we've got is a monoculture. well, a monoculture's not going to be the defining cultural form of ANYTHING.
- the solution, i think, is for more people who speak from marginalized perspectives to MAKE games. queer people, people of color, trans people, old folks, women of all stripes and bodies of all ability. the means are there, the only problem is to get all these people to care about a form that's for forty years been dominated by dudes talking exclusively to and tea-bagging each other. at bluestockings on my book tour, a lady told me she's been having a hard time convincing her peers, people with radical politics who'd have a lot to contribute to games, to actually CARE about videogames. and i told her, that's part of why i wrote the book: to say, games don't HAVE to be about space marines fucking aliens with chainsaws if we don't want them to be.
- 4.) You said in your interview on NPR that the video game is the best medium to use to make an "audience feel frustration." I think this description is spot-on. I noticed this in many of the games you've worked on — Mighty Jill Off, dya4ia, Lazer Bitches and RFFPS are all all include elements of frustration in the gameplay. When did you realize that frustration was so well conveyed in video games, and how did you decide to use this to your advantage? Do you see a connection between the frustrations of the video game form and the frustrations that minorities experience on a day-to-day basis?
- i think any kid has had a frustrating experience with videogames. i was cruising this girl on fetlife (this is not an endorsement of fetlife), and she identified videogames as the earliest form her masochism took: she'd cry and whine and throw the controller and "always come back for more!" that's what mighty jill off is about. frustration is a powerful tool because STRUGGLE is at the heart of any story worth telling, especially any struggle about being a marginalized member of society. the experience of starting hormone replacement therapy was nothing BUT frustration after frustration: obviously, any snapshot of that experience was going to be dominated by frustration. and that's dys4ia.
- 5.) I loved your game dys4ia. I thought it managed to bridge the obvious but weirdly under-used gap between interactive video games and memoir because it conveyed the frustration you were going through when you were undergoing the saga of hormone replacement therapy. How did you decide to put make this game? Did you make as a way to vent your own frustrations? Were you looking to reach out to other transpeople? Why did you feel this was the best way to send your message, versus a more narrative approach (like the one you took in Encyclopedia Fuckme or RFFPS)?
- i think dys4ia is pretty similar to encyclopedia fuckme or realistic female first-person shooter in the way it leads the player through a story. sometimes you have to yank the player around by the neck and sometimes you let her figure out how long her leash is herself. i always knew dys4ia was going to be explicitly, unambiguously confessional: I HATE HAVING TO SHAVE MY FACE. I HATE HAVING TO SNEAK AROUND THE WOMAN'S BATHROOM. so it made sense to flip from page to page like some kind of diary. i figured if i was frustrated, other trans folk might find it comforting to know that they didn't have to rage alone. hothead paisan always helped me cope, even after diane dimassa veered down to transphobia town.
- 6.) How did you decide to put together the levels in dys4ia? I love that they're these minigames that are relatively simple to complete (like moving a tetris-like tile through a tetris-shaped hole) but ultimately frustrating to get through. Where did you get the concept for these minigames? Why did you decide to use the minigame as a main vehicle of expressing the experience you went through?
- the experience was just so multi-faceted - there were so many fucked up things i wanted to whine about, and i didn't want to whine TOO MUCH about any one of them. my body / identity was so multi-faceted too - one of the fantastic side-effects of making a game out of forty different games is that the player became a shape-shifter: her avatar was constantly changing, it had no true, static form. every time i looked in the mirror i saw something different, something i liked or hated a little bit more. sometimes i saw a vicious villainess and sometimes i saw a shapeless lump. if i had to change every day than so, obviously, had the game.
- 7.) You mentioned in your interview with NPR that while you were making dys4ia, you were in "level three" of the game — "being on hormones" and experiencing "wild mood swings." You also mentioned that at the time, you hadn't personally gone through the fourth and level — getting through all of it. What was that speculation for the fourth level like? What were you hoping for for yourself? For other transpeople? And what kind of "it gets better" message were you trying to send?
- at the time i had no idea how the process could possibly end happily. i was preparing for some sort of schmaltzy ending about how "i'm miserable but at least i made an active decision for myself!" or "my girlfriend still loves me even though we never fuck anymore." i was actually extremely anxious about ending the game because i had no idea how to end on an up note. and then i kept putting the game aside to work on other games - last of them KEEP ME OCCUPIED, my game for the occupy oakland march in january - and when i came back to it things were actually getting better, and i knew what the ending would be.
- 8.) You also mentioned in an article on Gamasutra that you "put it [dys4ia] on Newgrounds because I thought, 'here is something people will never encounter otherwise.'" I love this. I was really surprised to find the game on Newgrounds, too. What kinds of distribution options do you have with a lot of the games you work on? How do you get the word out, and what do you think is the best way to do this? And how do you feel about the self-publishing culture that's happening today — people self-releasing ebooks instead of corporately published books, freeware instead of made-for-console games?
- so, i'm actually really shitty at marketing, and i'm content to post about my games once and then let brilliant gems like "silent game" languish unplayed on my website. which is why i employ my loud-assed submissive as my PR. word of mouth has gotten me more intelligent players than anything else. it's about hooking up with as many people as possible, USUALLY FIGURATIVELY, and having them genuinely care. i tweet and people retweet me. i announce that i'm going to chicago and people offer to put me up and buy me food for free. there are communities of people who care about the shit i say and without them i couldn't do what i do.
- 9.) Your work also deals with concepts of bondage and BDSM — I played through Encyclopedia Fuckme (and loved the surprising ending) and Mighty Jill Off and went through your "Smut" page on your website. Do you feel like the frustration/pleasure dynamic in bondage and BDSM can be effectively conveyed through videogames? What kinds of bondage and BDSM themes would you like to see more of in video games? And why don't you think we see more of these themes in games / in the world generally?
- do i ever! i mean, that's what mighty jill off is straight-up about: enduring frustration for the sake of pleasing your queen and meeting her expectations, and the kind of trust that's necessary between queen/slut and game/player for that to be possible. what kind of bdsm themes would i like to see more of in videogames? bdsm that's actually consensual and negotiated and desired by all parties, for starters. there's plenty of scenes in games of women being beaten and made to suffer nonconsensually. and that's because most people who make games are antisocial nerds with little experience negotiating relationships and images of kink that they got from law & order: special victims unit.
- but to be more specific, i would like to see more games where the landscape i walk on is made up of girls. just whimpering sluts, single-file. actually, i just got a mental image: you know super mario bros. 2, where you can pull stuff out of the ground? and the princess has this frame where she's like squatting down on the ground, head back, TUGGING so hard perspiration is flying in drops from her forehead? i think that could work really well in a game where all of the ground is made of girls.
- 10.) While frustration can be really well-conveyed in video games, what other emotions or experiences do you think video games in particular can offer the gamer? What experiences or genres would you like to see be explored more in video games?
- games are so good at tossing people into weird relationships and dynamics. i ran a four-player game in new york last month where people had to wear bras and tweak their nipples to make secret decisions. we had them sit on this old leather couch so that people might decide to start touching each other's nipples if they wanted. (a young miss pressed my slut's nipple-button with her tongue. pretty successful.) we could be making so many more games about flirting, about relationships, about human social interaction if games culture wasn't so erotophobic. but obviously i am not going to let games be sterile single-player macho fantasies without a fight.
- 11.) I just bought your book, "Rise of the Videogame Zinesters" from Seven Stories Press. I love the idea of people like me (queers, non-programmers) reclaiming video games as a medium, not only as gamers, but as people who influence gaming culture and possibly even make games, too. Where did the idea for the book come from — your frustration with the corporate video game system? Your desire to open up gaming and developing games to the masses? What kind of future would you like to see? What kinds of games would you like to see more of? And how can a person like me change the way things are going?
- i want a future where my mother can send me a game that she made. i want a future where you can log onto your grandmother's GameTube profile page and click on all the games on her "favorites" list to play them instantly - and also the ones that she uploaded. i want two high school girls to fall in love because one played the game the other made about growing up gay. i want people to better understand the ways that capitalist imperialism fucks them over because they played a game that allowed them to interact with a miniature capitalist system. when i'm an old woman, i want the average twelve-year-old to have made more games than i have in a lifetime.
- it's not gonna happen until we take videogames back, until we carve out a space in games for ourselves, until we remind them that the human experience is so much more diverse than their monomyth. games can be so much and they're so little. i'm tired of videogames failing to live up to my expectations, and i'm tired of having such a hard time finding a game to play about a dyke like me. my book is a manifesto, a do-it-yourself guide, and a wake-up call. it's also an autobiography - because if a fat queer trans dyke pervert like me can find a place in videogame creation, i'm pretty sure anyone else can too.
anna autostraddle UNCUT
queenofspace Aug 25th, 2012 548 Never
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