Perhaps it is not the fantastic at all. Perhaps it is instead how science fiction is always in some way about the present. It is an exaggeration, a recontextualization, a defamiliarization. Science fiction takes some aspect of life in the present and blows it out to its logical extremes to see where things breakdown. The best science fiction gives us ways to think about our actual lived circumstances, unencumbered by material reality and with the perspective gained by getting a little bit of distance.
In this capacity, the role of science fiction is changing, and becoming more urgent. As Gerry Canavan will point out in his piece, the rate of technological advancement has never been faster, bringing head-mounted displays, touch screen technologies, cloning, private space travel, and so on into modern life. Simultaneously, we are witnessing something of a renaissance of science ction in contemporary culture. From Avatar to Interstellar to Disney’s plans to release a new Star Wars movie every year or so, the genre has never been more popular, nor more main- stream. Given the rapidity of change these days, one could hardly blame us for wanting to get a little perspective. Coincidently, however, science ction ceases to be all that fantastic. Indeed, it is increasingly familiar. Its tropes, themes, images, and conventions have become the way we comprehend and describe our real, non-fiction lives. What distance is there to take as the stuff of science fiction rapidly becomes the stuff of our everyday?
The pieces that appear in this special issue might not all resemble classic examples of the genre. Sure, we have robots looking for love, post-apocalyptic scenarios, and space travel. But we also have a neighborly black hole cleaning up the block, a time traveler shopping at TJ Maxx, and singles seeking stability in the age of advanced pharmaceuticals. The diverse pieces gathered here think about science fiction in the mundane: the wonder of television and the space race, leftover pieces of spacecraft floating in post-anthropocene space, a sense of alienation in a cup of coffee.
What strikes me about the selections that follow is that, though they take and use the tools of the genre, the alternative worlds they imagine do not seem so far off. This, I think, is why now is the time to explore and enjoy science fictions, to see what new speculative frontiers have opened for literature. Perhaps we’ll nd they are closer to home than we expect.
This week I’ll be presenting at the PCA/AVA national conference here in New Orleans. Below is the panel description with abstracts:
“Damsels, Bronies, Tennos, and Toons: Gender Matters in Video Games” Thursday, April 2, 2015 – 11:30am – 1:00pm
Given the recent media attention and continuing backlash against women gamers, journalists, and game studies scholars–from Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian to actor Felicia Day–our panel brings together a range of interventions and perspectives on why gender, sexuality, and feminist critique matter in and for games and gaming culture. As media and games scholar Lisa Nakamura argues, “[M]uch of the pleasure of videogames comes at the expense of women and people of color, both literally and figuratively.” Looking at avatars, gamer behavior, posthuman identities, and queer(ing) mechanics, our panel hopes to challenge the gendered and normative status quo in games and to antidote some of the anti-feminist and anti-academic vitriol and violence in gaming cultures.
Come Get Some: Duke Nukem, Damsels in Distress, and the Default Avatar Anastasia Salter
School of Visual Arts and Design, University of Central Florida
Male game avatars, from the sexually challenged Leisure Suit Larry to the stripper-rescuing Duke Nukem, share a hypermasculine construction and offer a space to consider male wish-fulfillment through gendered play. The focus on male as actor in these games holds consequences for the perception of feminine in gamer identity. Games are already a highly charged space for gendered discourse, and while the female avatar has often been considered, the ubiquitous white male warrior avatar has gone relatively unremarked thanks to his status as “default.”
Bronies on the Iron Throne: Perceptions of Prosocial Behaviors and Success Bridget Blodgett
Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies, University of Baltimore
Gaming culture is full of stories in which heroes receive their due reward, often embodied in the form of a woman alongside property, status, and wealth. These narratives are often translated into a perception of action and reward. White knights, or men to the rescue, are a common form of advocate in gamer communities. We will trace how the belief that men should be rewarded for their “good behaviour” is often a point of internal conflict within masculine gamer groups when issues dealing with women or marginalized groups arise.
Posthuman Possibilities: Gender in Warframe Timothy Welsh
English Department, Loyola New Orleans
In Warframe, a free-to-play, co-op, third-person shooter, players take on the role of a “tenno,” a mercenary trained to wear specialized suits of armor called “warframes.” Though tennos may wear any frame they like, each suit has a clearly defined—and at times regressively represented—gender assignment. For this paper, I read warframe models with and against lore and community discussion boards to chart the matrix of gender organizing play. My goal is to determine whether Warframe opens a space for fluid, posthuman identities and performance between narrowly defined poles of a gender binary.
Queer (Im)Possibility and Straightwashing in Frontierville and World of Warcraft Edmond Y. Chang
Drew University, Department of English
The blogger of Not Quite Literally posted a provocation titled “World of Warcraft is Inherently Queer” arguing that the virtual space of games like WoW offer an “other” space where “the boundaries of gender [and sexuality] are expanded, eviscerated, and recreated into something entirely new.” This paper hopes to antidote the assumption the virtual is “inherently” queer and to unpack what I call the interactive fallacy. Through a close reading and close playing of Zynga’s Frontierville and Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, this presentation interrogates the ways that gender and sexuality in games is both normative and subversive.