First Monday Speaker Samantha Blackmon on a Critical Analysis of Gaming

“What is your favorite game?”

While individuals who consider themselves serious “gamers” enjoy posing this question, Dr. Samantha Blackmon points out that inquiring about one’s favorite game may have many hidden, and often negative, implications.

Blackmon presented as the Block 6 First Mondays speaker to a nearly full audience in the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre. She expounded on her lifelong passion for gaming and consequent research on gaming and identity. Often referencing her start-up website, “Not Your Mama’s Gamer,” throughout the lecture, Blackmon demonstrated to her audience a practical application of the convergence of humanities and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary work in eradicating social stereotypes, particularly through a feminist and racial lens.

Photo by Shane Rose

Blackmon is an associate professor of rhetoric and games studies at Purdue University and researches identity formation through gaming. A devoted gamer of over 30 years herself, Blackmon is eager to analyze video games from a feminist perspective and increase female representation in the gaming community.

During the early 2000s, while browsing gamers’ blogs and listening to gaming podcasts, Blackmon realized that there was a lack of female representation among gamers. Upon bringing this concern to one of her graduate students, the student suggested that Blackmon start a podcast. In January of 2011, Blackmon and co-founder Alex Layne, Assistant Professor of Technical Communication and Professional Writing at Metropolitan State University, launched the first series of podcasts and blog posts on their site, “Not Your Mama’s Gamer.”

NYMG differs sharply from conventional gaming blogs and podcasts. Unlike typical gaming sites which are normally devoted to explicating cheats and hacks, new releases, or high scores, NYMG is devoted to unpacking gaming from a feminist perspective. NYMG bridges the chasm between industry and academia by inviting researchers to have a dialogue on graphic design, racial and identity formation, and cultural influence on games.

Additionally, NYMG hosts annual spring, summer, fall, and winter “gaming marathons” for their “Gaming for Good” initiative. These events attract children from local schools who gather together to learn about games and programming. Each “gaming marathon” partners with local campaigns or charities to raise funds for their communities. In the past, NYMG has supported The Trevor Project, the American Civil Liberties, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Stop Soldier Suicide.

Furthermore, in October 2015, NYMG launched an initiative titled, “Invisibility Blues,” which is a video series exploring gaming through a critical race theory. For the moment, NYMG aims to produce a total of nine episodes which will cover various topics including character representation, women of color and intersectionality, race and fantasy games, queer issues, and the myth of the white messiah.

Blackmon’s overarching vision for NYMG is to eradicate gaming stereotypes through scholarly dialogue. Already defying the gamer norm as an African-American woman herself, Blackmon hopes for other minority-identifying individuals to contribute to the conversations surrounding cultural gaming.

The ostensibly innocent question, “What’s your favorite game?” unconsciously alienates women and social minorities who may not share similar gaming interests with the predominantly male population of gamers. Through NYMG, Blackmon has coalesced the humanities and STEM fields and opened critical dialogue on long-standing social divisions.    

Blackmon’s lecture is part of the 2017–2018 FemStem Symposium, which is organized by Professors Heidi R. Lewis of Feminist and Gender Studies and Andrea Bruder of Mathematics and Computer Science. According to peakrader.com, the symposium “illustrate[s] how the interdisciplinary study of power and inequity […] necessitates pedagogical and scholarly collaboration among intellectuals in myriad fields within and outside of the academy.” Lewis and Bruder aim to increase students’ awareness of social issues occurring outside of the classroom, which “enables them to work collaboratively across multiple fields of study.”

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks, class of 2021, is majoring in the humanities. She is from Champaign, IL, and is passionate about delivering authentic and reliable news to readers. She intends to pursue a career in writing following college.

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