Giuseppe Femia on Reparative Play in Dungeons & Dragons

Congratulations to UWaterloo English PhD candidate Giuseppe Femia, whose article “Reparative Play in Dungeons & Dragons” on D&D and queer game studies was recently published in the International Journal of Roleplaying.

This article examines the creation of queer rhetoric through role-play to find the reparative value that Dungeons & Dragons (1974-) can potentially provide the queer communities. My work focuses on the concept of reparative play, an adaptation of reparative reading which was first proposed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in 1995 (Sedgwick 2003). Reparative reading explores alternatives to heteronormative ideals through the act of reading. Instead of getting caught up in the problematic implications of a text, the alternatives are foregrounded (Sedgwick 2003, 137). Reparative play then expands reparative reading into the realm of play, where one explores the pos-sibility for a sustainable queer livelihood through play (Vist 2018). I conclude with an observation of safety tools designed for tabletop RPGs, that enable reparative play. This work will be posited alongside an autoethnographic reflection of my own role-play experience as a means of demonstrating reparative play in practice. My work is founded on Sedgwick’s (2003) Touching Feeling, Kara Stone’s (2018) “Time and Reparative Game Design,” and Sarah Lynne Bowman’s (2010) The Functions of Role-Playing Games. These scholars observe role-play as a method of queer performativity and identity exploration. I propose that through the embodiment of a D&D character, set in a more accepting world, the players can enact reparative play to give an accurate and positive representation of themselves while promoting alternatives to heteronormative culture.


Dr. Ashlee Bird on Indigenous Representation in Video Games

The UWaterloo Games Institute , headed by English’s Dr. Neil Randall, will be hosting Dr. Ashlee Bird on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 — 1:00 PM TO 2:00 PM EDT/UTC-4. Dr. Bird’s talk is titled “From Custer’s Revenge to Red Dead Redemption: Changing the Language of Indigenous Representation in Video Games.”

This is a free and hybrid event! Registration is required.

Dr. Bird will emphasize the two types of language taking place in video games: mechanical, coded language, and visual, representational language. She presents the importance of teaching the history of Indigenous representation in games and will break down various examples from Custer’s Revenge to the Mortal Kombat and Red Dead Redemption series to demonstrate these types of gamic language. Building upon these examples, she centers on the problematic ways players have historically translated the messages they are being presented within the digital medium of the video game. She illustrates how these translations result in harmful narratives about Indigenous avatars becoming cemented within the overarching discourse and design of games. Finally, she will look at new Indigenous works and how inclusive and decolonial game design and practices like ROM hacking can push back against these established narratives and the ways in which players read them, and instead create sovereign digital spaces for Indigenous peoples.

About the Speaker:

Dr Bird is a Native American game designer and PhD in Native American Studies. She is Western Abenaki and originally hails from the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Her work  theorizes digital sovereignty, drawing on Native American studies, media studies, and game studies to address representations of Native American characters in video games. The work analyzes specific colonial methodologies being replicated within game spaces in order to then replace these with decolonial methods of game design being undertaken by herself and fellow Native game designers with a focus on what she terms “synthetic Indigenous identity,” oriented around promoting Indigenous futures.  Her work has been featured in the InDigital Space at the ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Festival in 2018 and 2019 respectively. She is also a founding member of the UC Davis ModLab, an experimental laboratory for media research and digital humanities.

Meet our newest PhD grad: Dr. Sarah Currie

Congratulations to our latest UWaterloo English PhD graduate, Dr. Sarah Currie! On Wednesday, April 26th she successfully defended her dissertation, “The mad manifesto.” Dr. Currie was supervised by Dr. Jay Dolmage, with committee members Dr. Heather Love (UWaterloo English) and Dr. Madelaine Hron (Wilfrid Laurier University). The internal/external was Dr. Kim Nguyen, and the external was Dr. Fady Shanouda, of Carleton University. The abstract follows.

The “mad manifesto” project is a multidisciplinary mediated investigation into the circumstances by which mad (mentally ill, neurodivergent) or disabled (disclosed, undisclosed) students faced far more precarious circumstances with inadequate support models while attending North American universities during the pandemic teaching era (2020-2023).

Using a combination of “emergency remote teaching” archival materials such as national student datasets, universal design for learning training models, digital classroom teaching experiments, university budgetary releases, educational technology coursewares, and lived experience expertise, this dissertation carefully retells the story of “accessibility” as it transpired in disabling classroom containers trapped within underprepared crisis superstructures. Using rhetorical models derived from critical disability studies, mad studies, social work practice, and health humanities, it then suggests radically collaborative UDL teaching practices that may better pre-empt the dynamic needs of dis/abled students whose needs remain direly underserviced. 

The manifesto leaves the reader with discrete calls to action that foster more critical performances of intersectionally inclusive UDL classrooms for North American mad students, which it calls “mad-positive” facilitation techniques:

  1. Seek to untie the bond that regards the digital divide and access as synonyms.
  2. UDL practice requires an environment shift that prioritizes change potential.
  3. Advocate against the usage of UDL as a for-all keystone of accessibility.
  4. Refuse or reduce the use of technologies whose primary mandate is dataveillance.
  5. University environments are non-neutral affective containers.
  6. Operationalize the tracking of student suicides on your home campus.
  7. Seek out physical & affectual ways that your campus is harming social capital potential.
  8. Revise policies and practices that are ability-adjacent imaginings of access.
  9. Eliminate sanist and neuroscientific languaging from how you speak about students.
  10. Vigilantly interrogate how “normal” and “belong” are socially constructed.
  11. Treat lived experience expertise as a gift, not a resource to mine and to spend.
  12. Create non-psychiatric routes of receiving accommodation requests in your classroom.
  13. Seek out uncomfortable stories of mad exclusion and consider carceral logic’s role in it.
  14. Mad-positive teaching centers madness to create radical resistance to carceral logics.
  15. Create counteraffectual classrooms that anticipate and interrupt kairotic spatial power.
  16. Strive to refuse comfort and immediate intelligibility as mandatory classroom presences.
  17. Create pathways that empower cozy space understandings of classroom practice.
  18. Vector students wherever possible as dynamic ability constellations in assessment.

Our newest PhD grad, Dr. Betsy Brey

Congratulations to our newest PhD, Dr. Betsy Brey who has successfully defended her PhD dissertation, “Digital Dialogism: Space, Time, and Queerness in Video Games.” She was co-supervised by Drs. Neil Randall and Gerald Voorhees, with committee members Drs. Ken Hirschkop and Heather Smyth. The External Examiner was Dr. Cody Mejeur and the Internal/External Examiner was Dr. Luke Potwarka. The abstract follows.

“Digital Dialogism: Space, Time, and Queerness in Video Games”

Video games are multimodal pieces of media; they communicate meaning through many layers of signification including aural, visual, narrative, mechanical, and more. To understand the ways that games communicate meaning and influence interpretation, it is crucial to not just examine the various layers of game modalities, but the ways that those layers communicate with each other. By adapting Mikhail Bakhtin’s literary and language theory of dialogism (1981), this dissertation argues that because games are multimodal, they have layers of different “voices”that communicate ideas about the game to its players. These dialogic modalities “speak”different meanings to players, who then transform their interaction with these modalities into a narrative whole.Joining queer theory, narrative theory, and game studies, this dissertation examines one of the most successful video game titles to date, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), which in addition to its widespread popularity, has also been identified by white supremacist groups as a game that supports white nationalist causes. Through a dialogic analysis of temporal and spatial languages within the game, this dissertation identifies narrative, genre, gameplay, and representational elements of Skyrim that support white nationalist play while also silencing potential anti-racist perspectives within the game.Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 work together towards a functional version of dialogism for the study of games, proving its relevance, formalizing the changes I make to the original theory,and indicating how important dialogic readings can be. Chapter 4 argues that the construction of timespace of Skyrim follows a chronotope of domination, where the player’s use of and engagement with the game are devoted to the control of time and space. Chapter 5 examines player self-narration and embodiment in queered space, looking at how spaces communicate to players, and Chapter 6 makes the case that player use and manipulation of queered time in the game encourages players to understand and interact with Skyrim in particular ways. Together,these chapters suggest that the ways players are oriented to play Skyrim, based on its spaces and temporalities, points players towards narratives that normalize and uphold instances of white supremacy based on narrative, interactive, and mechanical means.

Undergrad on the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize longlist

Congratulations to UWaterloo English student Madeline Medensky, whose short story “Ash” has been longlisted for the the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize. As CBC states, “Madeline Medensky is a student at the University of Waterloo majoring in English language and literature. She writes fiction, poetry and nonfiction and has published various pieces in magazines such as Creative Writing Ink and the The Antarctic Institute of Canada. She also has a self-published volume of poetry available, called Little Girl World. Growing up as a triplet and from a relatively large family in and of itself, her work explores what it means to be an individual, sharing in a world full of connection and separation, rivalry and response, and fear and hope.”

For more on the Prize, as well as the opening of Madeline’s story, see CBC.

Meeting New Arts Faculty

The Dean of Arts, along with members of the departments of Communication Arts, English, Philosophy, and Political Science, are very pleased to welcome four new faculty members who join Waterloo as part of the Black Excellence and Indigenous Excellence hiring initiative.

Dr. Paul Ugor, (BA 1996 University of Calabar, Nigeria, MA 2002 University of Ibadan, Nigeria, PhD 2009 University of Alberta), joined the Department of English Language and Literature as full Professor on January 1, 2023. Ugor’s research and teaching interests are concerned with new social processes—in global politics, the economy, information and communication technologies, cultural/textual representations, and in everyday life—and the social responses which these social changes elicit, especially from marginal groups like youth and women in postcolonial settings.

Ugor specializes in 20th and 21st century postcolonial anglophone world literature; African literature and cinema; African popular culture; cultural theory; media cultures in the global south; and postcolonial theory. He is the author of Nollywood: Popular Culture and New Narratives of Marginalized Youth in Nigeria as well as nearly twenty articles and chapters, and three edited collections. Ugor is well positioned to teach numerous existing courses, including Global Literatures, Race and Literary Tradition, as well as contribute to the revision of survey courses on historical literatures around the world, and integrate Black rhetorical and literary traditions as part of needed curricular development.

For more on Jay Havens, Laura Mae Lindo, and Rowland Keshena Robinson, see the Faculty of Arts Announcement.

Celebrating our Award-Winning Students!

The 2023 University of Waterloo Department of English Language and Literature Awards Ceremony was held on Friday, March 31, 2023, both in-person and online. Those of us who judged the awards know just how many amazing candidates there were, and how tough the competition was. We saw a diverse assortment of fantastic work, from creative writing, to essays, to co-op work reports, and more. Congratulations to all our award winners!

Undergraduate Awards

Albert Shaw Poetry Award: Nicole Cao, Honourable Mention: I. S. Bashirah
Award in American Literature and Culture : Rhiana Safieh
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature Award: Jared Cubilla, Marina Dobocan
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing: Chinye Obiago
The Canadian Literature Prize : Emma Smith
Co-op Reflective Report Award: Hanna Freitas
Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize : Amaya Kodituwakku
Donald R. and Mary E. Snider Literary Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction Writing: Emma Joan Watson
English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry: I. S. Bashirah
English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose: Nicole Cao
English Undergraduate Award for Academic Excellence: Amaya Kodituwakku, Emma Smith
Hibbard Prize for Shakespeare Studies: Nadia Formisano
Janice Del Matto Memorial Award in Creative Writing: Nadia Formisano
Olive Carrick Scholarship in English: Arabella Hareem Abid
Rhetoric and Digital Design Award: Saajan Kar
Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Hafsa Hassan
Walter R. Martin English 251 Award: Shawna Poechman

Graduate Awards

Beltz Essay Prize, Master of Arts : Rebecca de Heuvel, Hannah Gardiner
Beltz Essay Prize, PhD: Chris Rogers
David Nimmo English Graduate Scholarship: Kem-Laurin Lubin
English Graduate Award for Academic Excellence: Aleksander Franiczek
Graduate Co-op Work Report Award: Máire Slater
Graduate Creative Writing Award Prose and Poetry: Maša Torbica
Independent Graduate Instructor Award for Excellence in Teaching: Toben Racicot
Jack Gray Graduate Fellowship Award: Kellie Chouinard
Lea Vogel-Nimmo English Graduate Professionalization Award: Lara El Mekkawi, Aleksander Franiczek, Humaira Shoaib, Valerie Uher
Rhetoric Essay Prize, Master of Arts: Sarah Casey
TA Award for Excellence in Teaching: Chris Martin
W.K. Thomas Graduate Scholarship: Melissa Johnson, Dakota David Pinheiro

For more coverage, see the photo gallery and video.

Book Launch for Dr. Brianna Wiens

Join UWaterloo English’s Dr. Brianna Wiens, alongside co-editor Dr. Shana MacDonald, as they celebrate the publication of Stories of Feminist Protest and Resistance: Digital Performative Assemblies (Lexington Books 2023) with a book launch and creative reading. The event will be held at UWaterloo English’s Critical Media Lab, 151 Charles Street West (inside the Communitech Hub), Thursday, April 13 from 4-7 p.m. Refreshments and conversation to follow

Winter 2023 Science Communication Showcase

The Department of English and the Department of Communication Arts are excited to announce that we will host the Winter 2023 Science Communication Showcase from 8:30-5:20 on Wednesday, April 5th and from 10:00-5:20 on Thursday, April 6th, in Science Teaching Complex (STC) 2001 (second-floor foyer). This event will involve 29 sections of ENGL/SPCOM 193, 18 different instructors, and over 700 students.  

Students throughout the event will display projects that they have produced in this course, including conference posters, research projects, and media presentations. This is an opportunity to observe how ENGL/SPCOM 193 engages students with science communication to multiple audiences, and how the course engages with the University Communication Requirements (UCR) initiative. We are eager to share the course’s output with any interested visitors. 

Creative Writing Showcase and Open Mic

You are all invited to attend a Creative Writing Showcase and Open Mic on Wednesday, April 5, 2:30-5:00, in HH373. Refreshments will be provided. 

Hear some of the best student work from this term’s creative writing classes, and maybe even perform a short reading of your own at the Open Mic!

We hope to see you there!

Please RSVP here: