#DigiQueer: Social Dialogue on the Queer Potentials of Design

Critical play projects are often thought of as happening in a specific physical location, such as a game jam, conference, or exhibit, but social media platforms like Twitter can also provide sites of communal and critical play that are open to more people. We moderated a Twitter Chat, entitled {Queer|Digital}Texts and tagged #DigiQueer, on October 24, 2018. Twitter Chats are synchronous social media events often used in the HASTAC digital humanities community in which moderators pick a topic and guide an online conversation via Twitter with participants using a particular hashtag. We conceptualized this online conversation as a moment for participants to think through the intersections of queerness and design, and to collectively play with the possibilities for imagining and creating queer digital texts, broadly defined as games, electronic literature, and similar media. Through our experience hosting #DigiQueer, we observed how Twitter Chats offer potentially queer methods of knowledge production as they bring together practitioners, makers, researchers, and audiences.

We both work on the intersections of queerness and games. Michael Anthony DeAnda is ABD in Humanities and Technology at Illinois Institute of Technology studying how games marketed to gay men encode masculinity, interrogating the extent to which they envision healing from heteronormativity. He uses game design as research praxis to foster inclusion by developing games to examine the nuances of gender and sexuality. Cody Mejeur is ABD in English at Michigan State University studying narrative in games as a playful, embodied process that shapes how we understand ourselves and the worlds around us. In particular, they look to queer games to examine how games can use narrative to shape queer realities for players, and design experiments in cognitive humanities and neuroscience to investigate how players navigate those realities.

In our collaborations, we have wrestled with the intersections of queerness and games by challenging and resisting assumed codifications of queerness, while thinking through how media not only reflect culture but also develop it. We sought to generate thoughts on materializing queerness through the development of texts, especially by focusing in on queer creative practices and the relationships between texts and communities. In our hour-long conversation, we planned five questions for attendees that put queerness in conversation with design, shown below with a sample of responses.

  1. How do you define queerness? What texts have shaped your definition of queerness and how? What practices and experiences have shaped your definition of queerness and how?

    Think of queerness as prepositional: to/toward (a better future), against (oppression), and around (our bodies).

    In my life, queerness has meant passing as normative, trying to balance expectations of communities on how much "out" is out and "in" for groups. #DigiQueer

    — Dan Cox (@Videlais) October 24, 2018

    A1: Queerness to me is existing in a world which is not made for you, and being brave enough to make sure that *you* are a comfortable place for yourself. #digiqueer

    — Michael Budram (@T_DuVaul) October 24, 2018

  2. How can queerness inform our creative practices and texts we create? What are the difficulties of queering digital forms?

    A2: Disrupt! We can show it through hacking, changing, and adapting things to us and for us from the model or mold. The seemingly easiest but hardest to do in practice three things: creating new texts, sharing knowledge and skills, and teaching others to make.#DigiQueer

    — Dan Cox (@Videlais) October 24, 2018

    A2: but also...queer folks can just exist and pay no fucks to toxic structures that often influence realities. people are creating and producing dope shit. i often get critiqued b/c i like centering stories of joy and happiness. this too is resistance

    — ☆☆Unicorn Glitter☆☆ (@KishonnaGray) October 24, 2018

  3. What do creative practices offer our understandings and experiences of queerness?

    A3: Creative practices offer us the ability to share our queer experiences with others through our artifacts. Even if we feel that we belong to the same community, each person has their own unique story. #DigiQueer

    — Leo Bunyea (@leopution) October 24, 2018

    A3: creative practice wrt queerness helps me explore what's important about my own queer experiences. when i interact with others' queer works it gives me a sense of connection and community in what we share, and something to learn in what we don't. #DigiQueer

    — Rachel/RJ (@bluejeanne95) October 24, 2018

  4. What is the relationship between queer digital texts and our communities? What roles can digital texts play in building more inclusive communities and politics?

    A4: I think Queer digital texts can be acts of empowerment and resistance. We spend so much of our lives having other people tell us who we ought to be. Queer digital texts can be expressions of (and celebrations of) who we ARE! #digiqueer

    — Joshua D Savage (@JoshuaDSavage) October 24, 2018

    i mean, i think a lot of digital texts can't even exist apart from their communities. i'm thinking of fan work / transformative work, livejournal communities where trans women posted selfies. these are digital texts shaped directly by the needs of liminal communities#digiqueer

    — ☽ anna anthropy ☾ (@adult_witch) October 24, 2018

  5. What are some problems and pitfalls to designing queerly? Are there problematic intersections of queerness and digital texts? Are there ways our queer practices of making and designing could be more inclusive and coalitional?

    A5 queerness isn't the same across individuals, much less cultures. From a design standpoint, there may never be such a thing as true interoperability. We have to be okay with hyperlocal, unstable identities, which is both a challenge and an advantage #DigiQueer

    — Jamie Howe (@Gaymerbrarian) October 24, 2018

    like, if you have resources, make sure they're actually going to supporting members of our community in need, or what are you even doing as a queer in the academy?#digiqueer

    — ☽ anna anthropy ☾ (@adult_witch) October 24, 2018

Through this experience, we generated a lively discussion with participants that highlighted much insight into the trajectory of queer making in digital culture. As seen from the responses, queerness and culture operate together in precarious ways as demonstrated through the artifacts and practices that shape/are shaped by the understandings of these terms. While participants celebrated the queer potentials of making and the creative potentials of queerness, they were also weary of how queerness is codified, appropriated, and deployed to reinscribe existing social injustices while appearing to be more inclusive. In finishing, we would like to extend a question asked by Nicole Erin Morse, “Who do our theories serve?”

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