Though games studies has focused critically on representations and portrayals of queerness in games, there has been a dearth of such analysis applied to the source code or systems that undergird such portrayals. Critical code analysis, and analysis of system design, provides a fruitful new method of inquiry into issues of queerness in games. As an example of such work, I provide a critical analysis of the decompiled source code of RimWorld as it pertains to its model of romance and sexuality. Due to its lopsided, deeply gendered systems, this game provides a good starting point to consider the uses of critical code analysis in trying to unpack issues of queer representation in games. In particular, its encoding of gay men and women, erasure of bisexual men, and overrepresentation of bisexual women is apparent only through inspection of its source code, and is difficult to divine from gameplay observations.
Additionally, I examine the resistance that the initial piece received that questioned its purpose, and more broadly the utility of critically examining code. What do these resistances say about the relationships between code, ideologies, and criticism? By reading code as texts deserving of further investigation, we may open up new avenues for criticism and space for future models of romance that do justice to the complex realities of human sexuality.
Claudia Lo is a master’s student with the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, currently working at the Game Lab. Her research interests continually evolve, and currently include the relationship between different forms of anonymity and online community moderation, moderation in e-sports, and depictions of queer perspectives in games that do not hinge on character-based on-screen representation. In her spare time, she does amateur calligraphy and attempts to overcome Mount Backlog. Tea > coffee.