Informatics Seminar Series
Winter Quarter 2024

Friday, March 1, 2024

“Utopian Funk: What Octavia Butler Teaches Us about Race, Play, and Games”

TreaAndrea Russworm
Microsoft Endowed Chair, Professor
Interactive Media & Games Division, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California

Where is utopia in games? While games are now considered to be works of art, video games have also long been considered escapist fantasies—convenient distractions, even. If such accusations could possibly be true, where do we go when we escape in the art worlds of contemporary games? When we retreat to slay dragons and zombies, conquer as soldiers of war, best our friends in games of skill and strategy, do we ever find ourselves in the classically theorized worlds that comprise the “good no places” of utopia? This lecture embarks on an earnest—and urgent—search to locate utopia in games while taking a high concept detour through the Black arts traditions of funk music, Blaxploitation film, and speculative fiction. Put another way, what can Black arts teach us about games, play, and our ever-elusive visions of utopia? Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage as we explore digital dreams, sights, and soundscapes together.

TreaAndrea M. Russworm, Ph.D. is the Microsoft Endowed Chair and a Professor in the Interactive Media & Games Division at the University of Southern California. She is also the founder of Radical Play (a games-based public humanities initiative and afterschool program), and she has been a professor and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UMass Amherst. A prolific author and editor, Russworm is a Series Editor of Power Play: Games, Politics, Culture (Duke University Press). She is the author or editor of three books: Blackness is Burning; Gaming Representation; and Theorizing Tyler Perry. With research expertise in digital culture, video games, and popular African American media, Professor Russworm’s scholarship and interviews have also been shared on CNN, The History Channel, Turner Classic Movies, in podcasts, and on streaming platforms like Twitch. She is a video game Hall of Fame voter, and she is currently writing a new monograph on The Sims and a book on race and the politics of play. Most recently, she is a co-founder of the Black Games Archive.

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