Since Oct. 2016, Mahshid Mayar has been an assistant professor of American Studies at Bielefeld University. In her current position, Mahshid follows two broad lines of research; while she engages with the ‘blank’ in postmodern American literature (‘erasure’ and ‘blackout’ literature) for her second-book project, she also conducts research on digital games, where she theorizes the study of digital games and examines game titles that open dialogues on history and culture. Since early 2019, Mahshid has been a member of the central committee of the Arbeitskreises Geschichtswissenschaft und Digitale Spiele.
Banal, Boring, Banned: Unplayability in Digital Games
Frowning frantically as you look for a replacement to the missing link to a controversial game; scratching your upper arm in boredom; hesitating to press the ‘next’ button; averting your gaze from the screen; going online to vent about the banality of the newest release by your favorite gaming company; breathing with difficulty in shame or shock…. You are working your way through an unplayable game. Labeled banal or boring, or banned by various gamer communities, unplayable games are titles that are received with mixed reviews and that either come with (1) varying degrees of ‘un-play-ability’ inherent in them, or (2) are received by gamer communities as such. Examining a number of digital games, ranging from Everything to September 12th and from Muslim Massacre to Super Columbine Massacre RPG, I wish to theorize a category of games that are at odds with the founding tenets of an industry so narratively and structurally conservative and so entirely profit-driven. To this end, I raise and try to answer a number of questions: What does unplayability in digital games connote? In what respects do playable and unplayable games stand apart? What motivates companies other than financial profitability to produce unplayable games in the first place? In other words, is playable the bare, expected minimum a game has to be in order for it to be marketable? And, finally, once dismissed as ‘unplayable,’ what do we do with unplayable games?0