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Robin Longobardi profile

Robin Longobardi

Robin Longobardi

Brunel University London (2023)
robinlongobardizingarelli@gmail.com
He/His or Mr

Supervisor(s)

Dr Marco Benoît Carbone

Thesis

Design practices and transgender agency in video games in independent and mainstream contexts (2005-2022)

About

In the past two decades, trans theory has conceptualised gender identity and bodily autonomy, advocating for self-exploration and political affirmation. This focus has been reflected in game studies’ interest for video games’ potential for trans representation. Yet, a thorough, critical investigation of medium-specific features, such as character customisation, embodiment, storytelling, and in-game player agency, is still lacking. This project fills this gap by addressing design and player agency in independent, trans-affirmative games Dys4ria (2012), WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT (WAHBOTTAN) (2020), and Tell me Why (2021), vis-à-vis mainstream products sporting similar features, as Nintendo’s Miis (2006), The Sims 4 (2016), and Cyberpunk 2077 (2022).

Key issues arise. Who owns transgender representations in games, and what is the emancipatory potential of play as identity exploration? How do medium-specific features support transgender affirmation? To what extent are transgender designers able to draw legitimacy and benefit from introducing transgender themes? Ultimately, to what extent can video games facilitate the emergence of transgender agency?

This project addresses these issues by blending a critical investigation on the medium with autoethnography and player reception studies to analyse the emergence and challenges of trans-affirmative games in the gaming industry. The research discussess what trans games mean and who owns and benefits from them. It focuses on a series of independent, trans-owned games that have been impactful for trans players, despite garnering limited success compared to blockbuster products. Independent trans games allow one to analyse relations between trans representation and medium-specific characterisation, body customisation, and agency in interactive storytelling. These are compared to similar features that appear in mainstream titles, where the introduction of trans themes may qualify as a display of performative equality, part of a hegemonic culture that benefits from the cultural appropriation and the rainbow-washing of trans ‘themes’.

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