Melissa Kagen Bio
Melissa Kagen received her PhD from Stanford University in 2016, worked as a Lecturer in Digital Media & Gaming at Bangor University 2017–2019, and is now a visiting scholar at the MIT Game Lab in association with the board games & colonialism project. She has recently published work in Game Studies, Convergence, Gamevironments, and The Year’s Work in Nerds, Wonks, and Neocons. She is also an Associate Editor of the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds and is co-editing a special issue on Wandering Games for publication in spring 2020.
This project examines the critical play of a variety of games about immigrant and refugee experience. These "border games" take place within fictional or actual borderlands and follow characters either in transit or trapped in detainment centers between nations. Spanning a range of genres, each deals differently with the major problem posed by their content—how to create a sensitive procedural rhetoric around migration. Drawing from Flanagan's conceptualization of critical play and Mukherjee's work on the ambivalence of postcolonial "playing back," I explore the possibilities of critically playing border games and the extent to which each game's design (dis)allows for certain forms of play and protest. I focus on three paired case studies—Escape from Woomera (EFW Collective 2003) and Smuggle Truck (Owlchemy Labs 2012); Papers, Please (Lucas Pope 2013) and Liberty Belle's Immigration Nation (iCivics 2014); and Bury Me, My Love (The Pixel Hunt 2017) and The Waiting Game (ProPublica 2018). By considering both the design of these border games and the metagaming practices that have developed around them, I show how postcolonial misplay of fictional games draw more effective critical attention to injustice than the most well-intentioned and serious educational game.
Partial funding for this event provided by the Illinois Global Institute (IGI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign