In his essay “Engineering Queerness in the Game Development Pipeline”, Eric Freedman discusses the options and possibilities of queering, or creating freedom of choice beyond typical norms and sensibilities, game development on the level of game engine technology. He analyzes a range of engines from higher-powered, proprietary engines to entry level tools, discussing several examples of both; he also mentions how entry level tools that are often picked up due to accessibility also facilitate qualities that are valuable to queer developers. Freedman’s goal is to allow developers to consider how standardized game engines inhibit invention and modification due to corporations designing their engines to prevent tampering and protect their intellectual property; this in turn can prevent developers from coding what they want due to not being able to edit the engine’s code to an extent where their modifications would work as intended or at all.
Freedman first discusses the history and development of game engines from code to combinations of software assets to the complete premade engines currently used by many game developers. He also discusses how game studies are moving to analyze the nature of game development in addition to games and their mechanics. The selection of a game engine is an important factor in game development: choosing an engine and problem-solving to create what is desired using that engine produces unique end products, but each engine limits creative possibilities in its own way.
The essay continues by presenting three case studies in two segments: a large segment is devoted to Capcom and the development of the proprietary engines used in their Resident Evil game series, while the second segment focuses on the engines of Techland and Kojima Productions and how their coding reflects the priorities of these companies. Capcom’s use of proprietary engines has made it possible for various teams to work on different aspects of the same game, using the engine as syntax for the insertion of assets. Freedman discusses how the different engines used produce different kinds of games as a result of different assets interacting in different ways, mentioning how code itself is not fixed in nature but becomes increasingly fixed as it passes through the development pipeline. He also describes how various game mechanics, such as the ability to switch between characters during play or the visual depiction of damage taken on a character model, create narrative and embodiment. In the second segment, Freedman discusses how detaching engines from games creates an odd situation where something often considered the core of a game becomes useless to procedural analysis of a game or its mechanics when divorced from it. He also discusses how the surface values of an engine, such as visuals, affect and are affected by the structures lying under them.
Freedman also discusses the possible future of queer media studies in the study of software itself. In order to create queer games and game mechanics, engines must be constructed from the start to allow for their creation. Since code in itself does not have formal shapes, it should allow for all kinds of people with all kinds of goals to develop exactly what they want in practice as well as in theory. Freedman extensively references the history and development of queer coding and queering the field of computation in general, taking the stance that code analysis on its own is not enough to develop queer computation and an understanding must be developed between the function of code and how it is represented (f. ex. by offering values for character rigs other than the binary of male-female) in order to create as much possibility as possible before the process of development inevitably shrinks it in order to create a specific vision. In addition, the visions of developers should not be limited by what engines are available to them – both the simplicity of easily obtainable engines and the self-protecting nature of proprietary engines limit the options of developers in different ways.
Though simpler engines can allow for more queering, they also can create barriers based on education and class, such as through the lack of communication between the communities of systems which require knowledge of coding and those that do not. Freedman calls for further collaboration, co-creation and community building in the game development industry, the advancement of computational literacy in general, resource sharing, cross-platform combination of technologies, and queering code and freeing play through deeper understanding of the nature of game engines as something that creates both potential and limits.
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