Our discussion of feminism on Tuesday – particularly about it presenting alternate viewpoints or giving a voice to marginalized populations – made me think of the game September 12, playable here:


You can get the gist of the game in about 30 seconds so I won’t describe it in too much detail.  Basically, you can shoot missiles at a village that has both terrorists and normal citizens.  The missiles almost always end up destroying property and killing innocent people, causing normal villagers to turn into terrorists.  There is no win state – basically the more missiles you shoot the more destruction you cause and the more people turn into terrorists.

So!  I’d like to go through Shaowen’s qualities of feminist interaction.  As I understand it, all of the qualities must be present within an artifact for it to really be characterized as feminist so we’ll see how this game ranks on the feminist-o-meter.

Pluralism: “the quality of pluralism refers to design artifacts that resist any single, totalizing, or universal point of view”.   I think that September 12th certainly does this by questioning the viewpoint in which collateral damage is an acceptable part of warfare.  The game also manages to sort of present two viewpoints at the same time.  The player’s point of view is that of someone bombing this town (the cursor is a mousehair and the POV is first person) – perhaps an American soldier on an airplane.  The second viewpoint is that of the villagers.  Instead of bombing the town and walking away we have to stick around afterwards to see the destruction we have caused, the people we have killed, hear the wailing of the mourners, and ultimately see the transformation of villagers into terrorists as a result of our actions.

Participation: “The quality of participation refers to valuing participatory processes that lead to the creation and evaluation of design prototypes.” Hmm.  While I don’t have any evidence either way, I suspect that the designers did not go out and form any particularly close bonds with potential players.

(Side note – perhaps this reveals a difference between art and design.. Shaowen’s qualities are specifically for “feminist interaction design” but I would consider this game artwork.  Does artwork need to be created through a process that immerses the artist in the world of the viewer/player/user?  )

Advocacy – The quality of advocacy engages with the dilemma of, on the one hand, advocating progressive changes and, on the other hand, imposing the artist’s values on users.  September 11 certainly does this – it advocates for users to re-think our policies on war and understand the consequences of our military actions.  However, I don’t feel that it really imposes any ideologies because it does not actually suggest any particular solutions, it just encourages us to think.

Ecology: “the quality of ecology in feminist interaction design integrates an awareness of design artifacts’ effects in their broadest contexts and awareness of the widest range of stakeholders throughout design reasoning, decision-making, and evaluation.  It invites interaction designers to attend to the ways that design artifacts in-the-world reflexively design us”.  I don’t really know how to evaluate this one so I’m going to give it a solid “maybe”.

Embodiment: I don’t think I understand this quality well enough to explain it, but from the examples given (emotion, fun, spirituality, etc) I think that this game fits in.  It doesn’t understand the user as a machine but as someone who sense-makes and who can form and change viewpoints and feel empathy for a group of people.

Self-disclosure: “The quality of self-disclosure refers to the extent to which the software renders visible the ways in which it effects us as subjects. Self-disclosure calls users’ awareness to what the software is trying to make of them, and it both introduces a critical distance between users and interactions, and also creates opportunities for users to define themselves for software.”  This gets a “maybe”.  I do think the game is very clear about its objectives, on the start screen it says: “This is a simple model you can use to explore some aspects of the war on terror.”  What is the software trying to make of the player?  Someone who is more thoughtful about the war on terror.  While not exactly stated, I think it’s pretty implicitly clear.  Do users have opportunities to define themselves for the software?  No, but they have the opportunity to define themselves for themselves (by choosing to shoot or not shoot – the intro says “The rules are deadly simple.  You can shoot. Or not.”)


So the game didn’t exactly fare as well on this little test as I’d thought it might.  While I wouldn’t call it solidly Feminist (according to Shaowen’s constellation of qualities) I would certainly say that it has some properties of feminist interaction.