(Credit goes to Edmond Chang, who was the one to point me towards LIM in his lecture “(Un)Loving Mechanics: Queerness + Straightwashing in Digital Games”. )
The other day, I tried search for a synonym for “going by.”
Which got me thinking:
And games that do a good job of representing the struggles that come from inhabiting a liminal space. Racial passing has a long history, particularly in the US, where colorism has defined and shaped, and continues to define and shape the society that we live in. The idea that each passing year (ha. Pun intended) presupposes forward progress is one of the biggest lies that we, as a generation, have been sold. Because “forward progress” has become synonymous with suppression of the past; we’ve forgotten that everything we see today is iterative. Everything we see today–from our technology, to the way we think of ourselves, to social issues–are all repeated from the past. Police brutality? Think Jim Crow. Mass incarceration of minority youth? Think slavery. (There’s a reason why people are calling the use of incarcerated individuals to dig Boston out of feet of snow “slavery.”)
But, I digress. Passing.
How does a game incapsulate such an experience? As someone who grew up with a mother and sister who pass as white, and as someone who, herself, has passed, there’s a slick, oily feeling that came with watching and enacting “whiteness.” I say “whiteness” because what I enacted in moments of passing was not a skin color, but an entire way of approaching individuals who were darker skinned than myself, of interacting those who were as light as myself. “Whiteness” was a mindset and a culture–one that was absolutely essential at moments in my life.
Which brings us to:
(New thread: can I just say how much of an academic crush I have on merritt kopas? Thread done.) A web-based digital game created by merritt kopas, LIM is a pretty straightforward game. The player controls a little square that flashes different colors.
You try to navigate through a series of maze-like corridors that led to wide, open “rooms” where other squares are positioned. These other squares are usually one solid color. To pass through the “room” you have to literally pass–become the same color as the other squares.
That’s the easy part.
Sticking to one color immediately makes the camera begin to zoom in on your square. As you get closer and things become more claustrophobic, the camera begins to shake, at first very gently. By the end, however, you end up with something like this:
You can’t hold onto the colorant eventually, regardless of whether or not you’re still holding down the button to stay one color, you change. And then the other squares attack.
One part about the construction of the game that I really appreciated, however, was the way that it will frequently break–and break without solution. In one memorable moment for me, after barely escaping a horde of squares, I found myself stuck along a wall, unable to move. The effect? Absolutely chilling and terrifying.
The game, like many others, produces anxiety in the player; but what this game excels at is producing anxiety that can become productive. It’s the sort of anxiety that begs the player to think deeper and question harder. I can’t help but want more. More games like this. More conversation. More, dare I say, progress.