115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deterritorializations and Reterritorializations: Re-Constructing Belonging via Queer Arab Video Games

Mary Michael, University of Southern California

Given that most work on queer games comes out of the context of an American queer scene, how might we re-imagine the appearance of queerness in game design within a non-American context? I argue that queer Arab media works to construct alternate notions of belonging by instituting a type of border/less thinking between binary constructions of containment. The institution of border/less thinking between concepts of containment translates to alternative constructions of belonging in that it works against basing belonging solely on homogeneity.

Proposal: 

The intersection of queerness and games has brought about emerging work that moves beyond the examination of representation of queer people in games, and instead focuses on the appearance of queerness via the design of the game or gameplay itself as a means of examining the potential subversive constructions of belonging that queer games can provide (such as Adrienne Shaw and Bonnie Ruberg's recently released anthology on queer game studies). However, given that most of this emerging work comes out of the context of an American queer scene, how might we re-imagine the appearance of queerness in game design, and thus re-imagine subversive constructions of belonging, within a non-American context? I answer this question by examining queer design aesthetics in queer Arab video games. This focus is not meant to represent queer design aesthetics of interactive media produced in non-Western contexts, but rather is meant to examine only a possible re-imagining of queer aesthetics based on current artistic movements within a specific non-American context. Provided that queer Arab video games do not currently exist (or at least have a severely diminished presence), I will theorize this set of queer design aesthetics in relation to the fields of speculative media and queer futurity.

I argue that queer Arab media products engage in a continuous and dynamic process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. This process allows for the subjects of queer Arab media products to keep defining and redefining their visibility and coherence as a community, thus producing new forms of belonging that do not rely on homogeneity. Drawing upon Allyson Field's work on non-extant media, I start my theorization by studying lateral queer Arab media artifacts (specifically the works of Raafat Majzoub, Soha Kareem, Salim Haddad, and Meem). The spatial and temporal constructions found in these lateral media suggest processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization similar to current meta-analytical scholarship on Arab cultural studies. The deterritorializations and reterritorializations of digital space as a way of reorganizing and speculating on physical Arab spaces suggests parallel processes of constructing assemblages of organic and inorganic material, as theorized by Jasbir Puar. Based on this literature, I argue that queer Arab media constructs alternate notions of belonging by instituting a type of border (or borderless) thinking between binary constructions of containment (the physical and the digital, the organic and the inorganic, the visual and the aural, the past and the present, etc.). With the introduction of a theorization and speculation of queer Arab video games to the collection of media being analyzed here, I introduce the institution of border/less thinking between a new binary construction of containment: the extant and the non-extant. By instituting border/less thinking between the containers of extant and non-extant, I introduce the possibility of new temporal relationships within queer Arab media to imagine multiple potential futures with various dynamic assemblages of belonging.

The institution of border/less thinking between concepts of containment also translates to alternative constructions of belonging in that it works against basing belonging solely on homogeneity. This is, of course, an understanding of belonging that counters American "out and proud" queer culture. This project is also designed as a precautionary step to theorizing queerness in non-American games to avoid the colonization of the conception of queerness within international games. Finally, this project offers a method of worldbuilding and game design that works upon already existing differences between those that have access to worldbuilding technologies and those that lack that access, in contrast to current popular theories and methods of game design (specifically those based upon procedural rhetoric) that tend to engage in the discursive violence of erasing those differences.