One issue that Braxton Soderman provocatively brings up in his discussion of causal games and gender, but which seems to fall somewhat by the wayside is the role of waiting. Waiting, using Kracauer’s theory of waiting as that which is emptied of space produced through modernity, becomes structured as a active passivity where “those who wait” attain a positive openness, where uncertainty or waiting is a site of possibility.
These signs of decay and possibility, which Soderman reads in the causal game, Diner Dash, offers grounds from which he makes a known a certain weariness in the move away from the value of critical engagements with representation. What is at stake in this shift away from representation in gaming, according to Soderman, is the representation and in the case of gender, the study and portrayal of women in gaming becomes a superficial and institutionalized mode of representation. Rather than solely a matter of gameplay, a critical engagement with gaming requires both an inquiry into gameplay as well as representation.
Causal games, for Soderman, marks an emergent visibility among women gamers and a couple ascription femininity to mass culture that poses a threat to “hard-core” gaming culture, a culture ironically already marked as mass culture. This feminization and role of gender, however, is negotiated through technology and science, sites where erasure of such negotiations occur within the image of the woman. Soderman writes,
“Representation in general is attached to the arguably most blatant problem concerning the representation of women in games and subsequently pushed aside in the same stoke as this troubling issue.”
In what does this in general become a means of containment for other articulations of women that are possibly through digital technologies and avatars? Referencing Harraway, technology facilitates “femininity as an automation, a coded masquerade,” where the cyborg emerges as a multiplicity of categories and indeterminate grounding. What kinds of representations is Soderman pointing to?
In Diner Dash, Soderman posits that the player is always expectant for an arrival of an event – the end of the rush. He compares this state to the state of the viewer of soap operas, subjects who “lie not ‘at the end of expectation,’ but in expectation, not in the ‘return to order,’ but in (familial) disorder” (17). The series of endless shifts for Soderman are driven by a complex relationship between desire and fulfillment, an endless third shift that becomes “a symptom of late capitalism which points toward an unresolved problem which can only be solved socially and not in terms of the individual.”
Rather than passing time, Soderman argues that it needs to be embraced, invited in, using Bejamin’s phrasing, “a valorization of expectation of some resolution, ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’” This expectation, which is always uncertain is reminiscent of Ien Ang’s discussion of the stakes of postmodernity and late capitalism in his essay, “In the Realm of Uncertainty: the Global Village and Capitalist Postmodernity.” In Ang’s text, it is capitalist postmodernity that is a “true realm of uncertainty”, with the mixture of “resistance and complicity occurring within it” (171). How can we think of waiting, especially the woman who waits in these terms? How do women, as figured in videogames, function in this paradigm? Can we see Soderman’s reading of video games and their relation to gender as still a modernist problem as an argument that complicates Ang’s theory or vice versa? In his reading, does Soderman performa similar kind of waiting as one who “engages with reality, the everyday – not necessarily dismantling it and dymystifying it into abstraction nor fleeing from it through the embrace of its illusions, but “reading” it, discovering within it signs of both possibility and decay” (2)? What seems to offer more possibilites for Ang, seem to offer something else for Soderman, an issue that I would like to further address in section.