I’m Sure Your Woman-Arms Will Be Able to Lift It: Queering Affect, Interface and Phenomenologies of Privilege in Anna Anthropy’s Realistic Female First-Person Shooter

Abstract:

Anna Anthropy’s Realistic Female First-Person Shooter is a frustrating game. In it, the player is tasked with “saving the world” but every action she attempts—from raising her gun to running through space—is intentionally difficult, fragmented, and ultimately impossible. The futility of the player’s actions becomes clear as she must aggressively mash buttons to perform simple tasks, cannot see the space around her when she raises her weapon, or is forced to fail a level because it’s her “heavy flow day.” Anthropy’s RFFPS is a critique of the supposed fluidity of identification and the “homogenous” experience of liberation and control that exist within first-person-shooter-type games. The game queers, or makes hypervisible, the experience of oppression in space, reminding the player that she is incapable, and powerless, through the way the game utilizes the experience of frustration and discomfort.

RFFPS critiques the ways in which rhetorics around software and the first-person shooter have been geared toward a phenomenology of privilege. While designers and players might expect to experience space as continuous, actions as immediate, and choices as possible, this experience of space is actually indicative of a particular historical and material relationship of power between bodies, spaces and technologies. What happens, then, when a game intentionally attempts to re-create a phenomenology of oppression? When a player is not allowed to act, make choices, or move through space seamlessly? Uncomfortable affects like frustration illuminate the limitations of the user, and the ways in which she is not inherently a part of or complicit with the software—revealing that she is, in fact, separate from and controlled by it instead.

In this paper, I draw from affect theorists like Sara Ahmed, and software theorists like Wendy Chun, Alex Galloway and Janet Murray to examine the way frustration can be mobilized to challenge rhetorics around video games as “freeing.” Through pointedly utilizing uncomfortable affects, RFFPS makes hypervisible the ways in which spaces, acts and feelings of comfort and control are differentially accessible to marginalized people, questioning and queering dominant narratives around technology and video games as “liberatory” and “immersive.

 

Bio:

Whitney Pow is a Ph.D. candidate in Northwestern UnivWhitney Powersity’s Screen Cultures program. Her research lies at the intersection of queer studies, space studies, surveillance studies and video game studies, examining how video games can queer and make hypervisible forms of ideological and biopolitical control. Whitney is also a graphic designer and video game designer and 2014-2016 research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab.

Website – www.whitneypow.com

Twitter – @whitneypow, or http://twitter.com/whitneypow