Todd Harper, PhD
My academic background is in media and cultural studies, with a particular interest in game studies. Methodologically, my work is primarily qualitative in nature. In the area of game studies, I focus on their place in culture and how games work as mediated communication. I also have a strong secondary interest in both e-sports/competitive cultures and representations of gender and sexuality in games and gaming culture.
Some of the broad questions my research addresses include:
- How do cultures of play develop around games and gameplay?
- How do games reflect and contribute to cultural discourse?
- In what ways can the diversity of representation in games be improved?
- How can the unique qualities of games be leveraged to represent queer lives?
For more detailed information on my work and background, refer to my curriculum vitae [Last updated: September 2014].
The Culture of Digital Fighting Games: Performance and Practice
Routledge, December 2013
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:
Rules, rhetoric, and genre: procedural rhetoric in Persona 3
Games and Culture 6 (5): Analysis of the role-playing game Persona 3 using Ian Bogost's procedural rhetoric framework.
Digital pitchforks and virtual torches: Fan responses to the Mass Effect news debacle
Convergence 17 (3) -- Co-authored with Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton. Examines fan responses to sensationalist Fox News story about sexual content in the Bioware title Mass Effect.
Queer tales of morality: the press, same-sex marriage, and hegemonic framing
Journal of Communication 59 (4) -- Co-authored with Carol Liebler and Joseph Schwartz. Mixed-method analysis of how stakeholder groups define and discursively use terms for same-sex marriage in the news.
"Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: the Culture of Fighting Games"
Comparative Media Studies/Writing Colloquium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 10/31/13
"Creating Culture in Virtual Worlds"
MIT Museum Talkback 360 series, 3/31/14 (with Prof. Fox Harrell, MIT)
[For a full list, please refer to my curriculum vitae]
"Straight-for-pay: performativity and sexuality on SeanCody.com"
Winner, Top Student Paper, LGBT Studies Division
Assoc. for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication annual conference, August 2009
Analysis of specific gay pornography site and how its content packages and performs hegemonic masculinity for its target audience.
"Gay-for-play: addressing the challenge of relevant gay game content."
Association of Internet Researchers annual conference, October 2011
Ethnographic study of a small student game design team and their process in creating a video game explicitly designed to include queer-relevant content. (See also "A Closed World" below)
"Dragon Gay-ge? Same-sex romance options in Bioware games"
Popular Culture Association annual conference, April 2012
Examination of same-sex romantic content in role-playing games by Bioware, specifically the gameplay mechanics exhibited by major titles in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series.
"Punish or pardon: community values in player-sourced e-sports moderation"
Digital Games Research Association annual conference, September 2013
Interview study looking at how players of League of Legends use the game's "Tribunal" community moderation tool; specifically, why and how users come to decisions on whether to pardon or punish reported negative behavior.
During my time at the MIT Game Lab (and before it, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab) I led two student design teams tasked with creating games to support my research.
Flash-based browser game by Team Fabulous. Research project examined the challenges faced and strategies used by a student team designing a game explicitly intended to include queer-relevant content.
Text adventure game by Team Backhand. Focus of research project was to develop a game that faciliated study of if and how a player's self-identification impacted their playstyle and game choices.
Current teaching: University of Baltimore:
COSC 150: Introduction to Game Design
Introductory survey of digital game design, intended to expose students to various aspects of the game creation process and prepare them for future coursework.
COSC 250: Game Scripting
Entry-level game programming course focusing on introducing students to the basics of programming and how it can be used to create software prototypes.
COSC 320: Game Concept and Design
Mid-level course on the game design process, including prototyping, analysis, and creating documentation.
COSC 469: Game Development Project I
Upper-level capstone class intended to prepare students for creation of an end-of-program digital game project. Focus is on developing a pitch, working in a team, and prototyping.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
CMS 100: Introduction to Media Studies
Introductory-level course for Comparative Media Studies majors in critique and analysis of mass media texts. Covered numerous topic areas, including TV, film, radio, fan culture, and digital games. Mixed theory with practical application in writing and lab settings.
CMS 300: Introduction to Game Studies
Mid-level course in the theory and criticism of digital games. Conceptual rather than practical course focusing on critique, analysis, form, structure, and culture. Students are given exposure to both what makes games unique as a medium, and how theory and design come together in game texts.
CMS 607: Theory and Practice of Player Research
Upper-level research methods course for undergraduates, focusing on audience research tools and work in the games domain. Combines introduction to empirical social science and both qualitative and quantitative methods with exploration of how audience research can be applied to games and gaming culture.
CMS S60: Game Design for Expression
Special topics class on the creation of small-scale games (digital and non) intended to express personal histories and experiences. Two-part structure focusing on exposure to and critique of current exemplar games followed by game design workshop of student projects.
MDIA 105: Introduction to Mass Communication
Intro course for non-majors in the history, industry, and criticism of the mass media, from print to new media.
MDIA 380: Age/Race/Class/Gender and the Media | MDIA 486A: Media and Identity
Upper-level course on issues of diversity in the media, from race/ethnicity, to gender, sexuality, and beyond. Course involves theoretical concepts and in-class group application through screenings and critique.
MDIA 279: History of Media
Mid-level course on the history of mass media, specifically broadcasting. Course structure focused on print up through internet, with three areas of analysis per medium: regulatory, content, and technological.
MDIA 486: Digital Games and Representation
Special topics course on the games medium and how they portray ideological and discursive content. Combines analysis of game content with exploration of gaming fan cultures and how games are represented in other media.
Included here are a few selected posts; you can read my blog in full here.
"Day in the Sun" -- reflection on Will O'Neill's game Actual Sunlight
"She's Got the Look" -- discussion of games and stereotyped characters, particularly in fighting games
"Saintsception" -- on the Saints Row franchise and the pleasurable submission of play
"The Subtle Knife" -- analysis of approaches to "background" queer characters in games
"Take the Risk" -- piece on necessary mindsets for adding diversity to games, written for the MIT Game Lab blog and reposted as a Gamasutra featured blog.
Freelance Games Writing:
The following articles were written for online game publications.
"EA Discusses a Full Spectrum of Diversity" -- article for Paste Magazine on the EA Full Spectrum event about LGBTQ issues in gaming culture.
"Different Games Conference Comes to NYC" -- preview for Paste Magazine of the 2013 Different Games Conference.
"Erasing your audience isn't 'fun': the false choice between diversity and enjoyment" -- opinion piece for gaming outlet Polygon exploring how the gaming industry often falsely casts "fun" and diverse content as mutually exclusive goals.
"GaymerX2: For Everybody" -- summary and review of LGBTQ gaming convention GaymerX2 for Paste Magazine.
These are talks given at venues outside academic conferences and settings.
"How to Subversively Queer Your Work" -- I arranged this panel for the 2014 Game Developer's Conference, along with Samantha Allen, Zoe Quinn, Christine Love, and Mattie Brice. The panel discusses various small but important ways in which game designers can add queer diversity to their work.
Finding a Good Fit: On Being Fat and Queer in Gaming: Talk given at the GaymerX2 conference in San Francisco, July 2014. I spoke about how both video games and queer culture deal with people of size, as well as ways in which games allow fat players to fight back against negative portrayals/stereotypes.