Bulge Lab: An Alternate Reality Game about Body Image, Masculinity, and Viruses

Michael DeAnda
Illinois Institute of Technology

I engage digital game design as a method for making arguments about socio-political structures, and thus situate it within the context of Digital Humanities. Gaming culture is often criticized for its lack of diversity both within the industry, amongst the understood player-bases, and within the representations in video games. Adrienne Shaw’s critical work engaging gaming audiences revealed that different facets of identity and personalities allow players to identify with a wide array of characters, thus she argues that characters offered to players need challenge normalized and privileged bodies in how they are represented.
Responding to Shaw’s call for diversity in gaming representations, I discuss the process of designing my design research for the creation of Bulge Lab, an online Alternate Reality Game (ARG). Through my discussion of conducting a survey with video game players who identify as men and have sex with men, I argue that folk knowledge offers interesting potentials for survey designs when engaging categories of gender and sexuality which have an array of practices, constructions and expressions. Drawing from Nancy Van House’s feminist study of forms as interpellates, I offer ways to engage cultural competencies and subcultural knowledge when studying communities to better understand their lived experiences and quotidian positionalities. As researchers in a social setting in which categories of gender and sexual identities are under constant renegotiation, we must be aware of the ways our methods interpellate our subjects and limit them, especially when engaging with LGBTQ audiences. My proposed use of folk knowledge in surveying is a necessary affordance for people to heal from toxic structures of gender binarism and heteronormativity.