Play like a feminist is an essay by Shira Chess between academic reflection and feminist manifesto. As an essay, the text positions video games and the very fact of playing as an issue of gender equity and equality. Indeed, even if according to the author, women represent half of the gaming audience, they do not feel that they have appropriated the medium (p. 6). This is why, as the author states, feminist thinkers need to take ownership of this medium, hence the importance of also positioning Shira Chess’ text as a manifesto. In fact, Play like a feminist should not be simplified to an injunction to play in a certain way that would be feminist, but rather as an invitation to take ownership of the medium so that its milieus, practitioners and communities will be more diverse and inclusive in the future. According to her, play has power, and by harnessing that power, feminists can determine new strategies for overcoming cultural and political oppression – not only for women, but for all under-represented populations (p. 7).
In order to conduct her reflection, Shira Chess organizes the first part of her text around the following theoretical questions: what does it mean to « play like a feminist » and how to appropriate leisure time? The author thus begins her essay with a reflection at the crossroads of leisure studies (the interdisciplinary field devoted to the study of leisure), cultural studies, semantics and feminist studies. In the second part of her book, she conceptualizes video games through the prism of the links that the playful maintains with forms of protest. Otherwise formulated, Shira Chess proposes to consider video games as potential spaces in which feminist militantism can be expressed and developed, either through new creators or new audiences. All this allows her to share, ultimately, a feedback on gaming circles, spaces that allow everyone to appropriate the game as an activity, as a leisure activity and as a culture.
In a post-gamergate context, which here refers to a group of gamers campaigning against the access of women and other under-represented populations to video games, it also seems important to mention that Play like a feminist may also be a response to the accusations of « wanting to destroy hegemonic masculinity » (p. 85) that Shira Chess and other American researchers such as Adrienne Shaw have been subjected to.
To quote Shira Chess one last time, the expression ‘‘playing like a feminist’’ is a call to arms. It is meant to plead for more play, but in a way that strengthens our agency. Playing like a feminist is a very serious activity. Playing like a feminist can mean playing with abandon, but it can also be used to affirm our unwavering positions in favour of equality. It can be playful as well as aggressive (p. 133). Ultimately, it is fundamentally by this double key of reading, as essay and manifesto, that Shira Chess’ work finds a legitimate place in both academic and militant perspectives, both being here non-exclusive.
esteban grine, 2020.