In January-February of 2017 I took a journey down the West Coast of North America by Amtrak, going from as far north as Vancouver, Canada to as far south as San Diego. On the way I made a series of documentary short videos about people doing interesting things with games. They’re being published by ZAM, First Person Scholar, and Paste Magazine
Skeleton in a Beret is a short film about transgender people getting to know themselves via their video game avatars.
As a trans activist and a historian of games, this intersection between trans identities and game avatars has been interesting to me for a few years. It came up in my book Dreamcast Worlds, and in my work on early issues of Memory Insufficient. But the issue always seemed too complex to be tied down in writing; when you put everything down as a singular narrative that needs conclusions and concrete takeaways, you risk closing down the ambiguities and diversities in favour of some easy-to-digest narrative such as “many trans people transitioned in games before they did so in real life”.
A recent project by Eden Film Productions to help trans people to make documentaries opened up the opportunity for me to learn filmmaking skills, work with a team of other trans people, and get mentorship from an experienced documentary maker. The result was this short film on two trans people’s complicated feelings about their own identities and their experiences in their favourite videogames.
Critical Distance is a somewhat rare type of website, and it can be difficult to get across what we do. We’re not quite academic, but we act as public educators. We’re part of the games press in some ways, but we’re not a “gaming website” as such. My job is to make Critical Distance more easily understood, more frequently recommended, and more productively used by a wider audience. Just as an art curator designs a gallery space, I have been trying to make our site design communicative and welcoming.
For many years now, the main thing people saw when they reach our website was a big wall of text. In that text, some truly essential work was happening, but the presentation was off-putting to many readers. After I became Senior Curator I started to hear more from those readers directly. It was clear that a change was needed if we are to increase our audience and demonstrate our use to people more readily.
I spent about 60 hours redesigning the Critical Distance website to encourage people to think of us not as a link blog, but as an educational resource. Now, the first thing people see when they access our home page is a big search bar inviting them to learn what kind of writing might exist on a randomly-selected topic. I also incorporated some flashes of colour and unusual css transformations on the featured images, to make the site look lively, without looking noisy.
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Travelling through the maps and screens of three Dreamcast games, follow the network of players, developers and events that contributed to the Dreamcast phenomenon. This is a spatial history of videogames, focusing on a time when 3D, open-world virtual play spaces first became possible.
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