Abstract

Since 2010, there has been a rapid proliferation of political advocacy videogames tackling serious subject matter, particularly issues surrounding class, gender, and disability. Some, eager to champion such games as signs of the medium’s maturation, have been quick to declare such “empathy games” as exemplars of what they laud as one of gaming’s medium specific virtues: its supposed ability to “put players in another's shoes.” Others, particularly critics within Queer Game Studies, have been quick to point out problems with forms of representation meant to evoke empathy. Turning an eye towards both sets of critical responses, I argue that neither advocates for empathy games nor their queer critics sufficiently take into account the informatic context of empathy games. I assert that disability studies, with its analyses of of the relationship of technology, body, and cure provides an ideal avenue to explore to critique remediatory fantasies of empathy games beyond the stakes of representational politics. I describe empathy games as engaging in something I call “speculative capacitation,” a process that brings together speculation as a mode of imagining what it would be like to embodied otherwise and speculation as a means of wealth extraction. I find that linking both aspects of “speculative capacitation” opens a way for scholars to engage in informatic critique that connects forms of game difficulty to broader contexts, such as the biopolitics of machine interfaces and medical actuarial practice. I assert that such an understanding casts difficulty and its affordances in a new light that is necessary to begin disentangling a number of of embedded claims about the possibilities of representation, the value of simulation, the transparency of the body to bioinformatics, and the uses of empathy.

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