Video game character customization has been widely touted as a step towards diversity and stronger self-expression in games, allowing more people to see themselves in the characters they embody through play. However, the confines of many current creation tools have also been criticized as limiting options based on normative values (including whiteness and maleness as defaults). However, the limits they inscribe through coding have their own fault lines, which allow nonnormative and even grotesque figurations to emerge, opposed to the intended limited customizability. Unable to find oneself within the options and constraints presented by producers, how can underprivileged groups create or encode themselves in these customizations? And what strategies of play are used to queer these gaming experiences?
Monster Factory is a YouTube series that is focused on building “monsters” by exploiting the edges of character creation tools. Hosted by Justin and Griffin McElroy, Monster Factory begins each episode by building a lovable monster, and then playing through a short section of the game with the monster as protagonist. These monsters take advantage of the “unnatural” extremes available in creators, and the play style of the hosts also functions as nonnarrative exploitation or play (usually using command line “cheats” or mods). Humor is derived from the unexpected juxtaposition of two different worlds, the natural world of the game and the natural world of the monster, as well as the oppositional play which confronts the audience with the possibilities and limits of their constructions.
In this presentation, I intend to explain how Monster Factory functions as both a comedic social critique of the inability to circumscribe personhood within gaming, negotiating with the gestures towards diversity organized by gaming companies, as well as a complication of the game form. While it rarely directly addresses the issue of diversity, the show’s focus on “loving” their monsters sublimates the intended usage of the game in favor of a new order, one that privileges the grotesque and the absurd to challenge the normative order of gaming.
Rebecca Stimson is currently seeking her MA in Cinema and Media Studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Her areas of interest include medium specificity and interactivity, discourses on authorship, and television history.