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Video game displays social issues

Jolivette Mecenas, associate professor of writing and director of the writing program, presents “Video Games as Civic Discourse? Protesting the Tijuana/San Diego Borderlands in the Digital Art of Coco Fusco and Ricardo Dominguez,” Monday. In her lecture, Mecenas explains how two digital artists are using a video game they created to protest a border dispute. / photo by Hunter Cole

Jolivette Mecenas, associate professor of writing and director of the writing program, presents “Video Games as Civic Discourse? Protesting the Tijuana/San Diego Borderlands in the Digital Art of Coco Fusco and Ricardo Dominguez,” Monday. In her lecture, Mecenas explains how two digital artists are using a video game they created to protest a border dispute. / photo by Hunter Cole

Amanda Larsh
Staff Writer

Most video games do not inspire players to contemplate social issues.

Save the princess from the castle, avoid the barrels being thrown at you by a monkey or shoot the aliens in space —that’s generally the gist of today’s video games.

But in the latest faculty lecture, “Video Games as Social Dis­course? Protesting the Tijuana/San Diego Borderlands in the Digital Art of Coco Fusco and Richard Dominguez,” Jolivette Mecenas, associate professor of writing, discussed the expansion of social protest to more unconventional media.

“How can we broaden student’s civic discourse literacy to include perspective of others who are not U.S. national citizens within U.S. national borders?” Mecenas asked.

By exploring the video game created by Fusco and Dominguez, Mecenas attempts to involve students and citizens in civic participation, questioning held beliefs.

“At first I was skeptical about the way she was going to put it together,” said Al Clark, associate vice president for academic affairs. “But the game presents social discourse in a unique way.”

Created in 2005, “Turista Fronterizo” is a simple video game that takes the player on “a virtual journey through the San Diego-Tijuana borderlands” in an attempt to demonstrate the nature of trans-national crossing, according to furtherfield.org.

In the game, the player has the option to choose from four characters: “Gringa Activista,” an anthropology student and activist; “El Gringo Poderoso,” a bi-national businessman; “El Junior,” a middle-class “dude”; and “La Todológa,” a migrant worker.

The characters are then placed in a Monopoly setting, except the characters all start with different amounts of money and skill sets.

Mecenas said that by having a role-playing aspect, the artists are forcing players to look at the characters and their situations in a different way.

“You keep going because you want to overcome challenges. Not this game. You just keep loosing or pay your way through it,” said Mecenas.

Mecenas focused on the activist candidate, whose double standards are evident by drawing cards that have her writing stories protesting the war on drugs, but later crossing the border to buy cheap Viagra.

She also places stickers to stop worker exploitation in Nordstrom’s bathrooms, then spends $100 to not look suspicious.

“What’s her agenda?” Mecenas asked. “She’s protesting these conferences, but she benefits from them.”

The migrant worker, on the other hand, never wins. She starts out with the least money, and it was almost impossible not to wind up stuck in jail when playing as her.

“The policies work for others, but not for her,” Mecenas said. “It’s a satirical critique.”

“I was interested and fascinated, it’s relevant in today’s world,” said Ruth Trotter, professor of art. “They bring a lot of challenging ideas to our general culture and challenge academia to discuss discourse. She takes it farther by analyzing it to become a vehicle for rhetoric.”

“I thought it was an extremely interesting approach to make civic discourse more available to students and large parts of the population,” said Clark.

Mecenas said she hopes that by combining newer forms of media with social activism, a younger generation will experience different ideas that challenge long-held opinions, pushing them from their comfort zone and enabling them to respond to civic problems.

Amanda Larsh can be reached at amanda.larsh@laverne.edu.

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