Queering workplaces and professions happens all the time, although we might not realize it! If we take a narrow definition of Queer or Queerness (which I will capitalize throughout this blog), one focusing solely on the aspects of Queer that denote sexuality or gender identity, we miss out on so much that the term Queer has to offer. It is the nature of Queerness, after all, to go against the grain and to defy definitions. Thus, I believe that any time we make the places that we work or the ways that we work or how we interact with fellow members of society new or different, we are in some ways Queering those interactions/places. Maybe we make these things "strange and unusual" or maybe we go against the status quo. Maybe we just have a work picnic on the floor of the office thats cooked and served by the CEO to relieve stress (like many companies in Japan are doing, see the cool show "Lunch On!" from NHK to see some examples); there is not one specific strategy that serves as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Instead, a compassionate, creative, humanistic approach, in the myriad of ways that such an approach can manifest is needed, just like C.R Miller proposed in 1979 with her “A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing" which still hasn't fully taken hold, it seems. 40 years later, for some of us, her position seems obvious, like something that should go without saying; humans write, therefore any form of writing is humanistic or has humanistic value. Yet, the conventions and traditions of formal academic writing still hold that professional, scientific, and "authentically" scholarly work should be without bias, without personal touches, as concise as possible, and meant for an audience that is supposed to be fully and truly knowable so they can be written to most effectively. For just a few of countless examples, see Walden University's "Scholarly Voice" writing guide, and UNC Chapel Hill's Science Writing Handout. Clearly, there is contention between these ideas and solutions of any kind are difficult to come by. It may forever be a game of chess where one player is "in check" and moves a space away to get out, only to be put in check again when the opponent moves one space closer, with neither player willing to take a draw. Nonetheless, I find making suggestions to be worthwhile. We never know which suggestion is going to spark a change for the better, for compromise.
How are objects like video games Queer, anyway? Is it nothing more than being "strange" or "different" or is there more to it that non-Queer folk wouldn't pick up on? An at least partial answer comes from Giffney and Hird's 2008 collection of essays Queering the Non/human. They relay to us that first and foremost, in 2003 Jeffrey J. Cohen wrote that Queering is "at its heart a process of wonder". They go on to explain the importance of using the term Queer. Giffney and Hird acknowledge that the word holds a heavy weight that has burdened many people far too greatly and that many people today feel ambivalent, or vehemently against its use, but they emphasize that these reasons make its continued use and reclamation all the more important. They mention the fluidity, the urgency, the non-normative and the embodied nature of Queerness, all of which I hope to engage in some ways throughout my work. Yet, all I think we need at forefront of our minds is wonder. If we can wonder about the possibilities for good that are out there and feel the wonder these possibilities could bring, we can know the unknowable and undefinable notion that is Queer.
Nonetheless, in this blog, I'll discuss ways in which research about video games, playing video games, and otherwise embracing our nerdiness about games can help Queer technical and professional writing and communication in both academic spaces and professional work spaces. My love of video games knows no bounds and most everything I do these days involves promoting the plethora of ways that they can improve the world, if they are just used correctly. That's why I decided to take on this particular project this semester. This blog is the (ongoing) culmination of the work I have done while learning about technical and professional communication and writing for the first time as a doctoral student.
My professor for this course, Dr. Matt Cox opens his recent work, "Working Closets: Mapping Queer Professional Discourses and Why Professional Communication Studies Need Queer Rhetorics" (2018) with the following assertion:
"In recent years, professional communication studies have begun to more fully turn to long-overdue conversations about the roles of gender and race (e.g., Frost, 2015, 2016; Haas, 2012; Herrick, 1999; Rohrer-Vanzo, Stern, Ponocny-Seliger, & Schwarzbauer, 2016) as they relate to professional communication. As a result, there have been meaningful conversations about how these historically marginalized groups have been negatively affected and a turn toward encouraging “cultural competence” in institutions and workplaces (Williams & Pimentel, 2016, pp. 1–2). Of course, our own professional organizations within professional communication studies (e.g., the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, and the Special Interest Group on Design of Communication) have rich histories of women (although less so for people of color) in leadership and key roles. Those visible roles, however, have not always translated into in-depth and frequent conversations about gender and race in major publications and research (although, again, there have been instances of these going back many decades). And studies of sexuality and gender identity issues relating to professional communication and workplace practices remain significantly paltry." (p.2)
When he writes that the studies of gender identity in TPC are "significantly paltry" and a need for "cultural competence" in the workplace, I see myself trying to do that work of filling those gaps and building those competencies through the idea of using gaming to Queer our work spaces. Even though I'm taking an approach that, as I've stated, intends to go beyond gender and sexuality, the significance of gender and sexuality (and all other forms of positive and compassionate representation and equality like Shaw and others in my literature review mention below) shouldn't be ignored. Queer people are at the forefront of making positive change across societies in so many ways (and they have done so for so very long), including gaming. For examples, see Bonnie Ruberg and Amanda Phillips' “Not Gay as in Happy: Queer Resistance and Video Games” (2018); it is the introduction to the special issue Queerness and Video Games of Video Game Studies. That entire special issue of Game Studies, the Technical Communications Quarterly special issue in 2016, Games in Technical Communication (volume 25, issue 3), Winter Downs' "Trans Women, the Queer Games Scene, and DIY Game Design" (2015) for GeekGirlCon and "Taking Game Designers to School: Queerness in Games" (2017) by Eric Starker for Queer Space Magazine show that work like this to Queer TPC through games is groundbreaking and crucial work.
Luckily for me, the course that this project comes from was well scaffolded. I initially found myself intimidated by the idea of TPC because I had no experience in this sub-discipline of rhetoric. I worried that I would have to play catch-up to be on the same level as my classmates, who all had prior experience with business, communication, or the TPC program at ECU. Instead, our first project asked us to define TPC for ourselves, which lends itself well to this project. We can't Queer something if we don't know what it is and what it could become.
As a part of my search to find out what exactly TPC is, I turned to a source right beside me in my office: Technical Communications Quarterly. The journals are there because the journal used to be edited and housed at ECU. Although the spare print copies of the scholarly journal did not provide a clear answer, I thought the website might. The “Aims and Scope” page of the website gave me my first clues about what TPC is. The page details some of the topics that appear in the journal including: “…the role of digital technologies, ethics, the rhetoric of workplaces or professions… dialogue between academics and practitioners … and connections between social practices and organizational discourse” (Technical Communications Quarterly, 2018, para. 1). This list shows us some of the major points of interest for the field.
These points of interest demonstrate that technical writing and professional communication are not literary or the other types of writing students usually do in university; they are types of writing and communication concerns that occur in the workforce or that employees and professionals use to conduct business, and other workplace matters, especially those of a digital nature. Nonetheless, readers and I can probably glean all of that from the name of the discipline itself, “technical and professional communication and writing.” But, does that mean we (newcomers to the discipline) fully understand what it is? Not really! I realized that these aforementioned sources are less geared toward students and newcomers and more toward stakeholders or other administrative audiences for purposes of accreditation, which is not what I need. What I really wanted and needed was a textbook definition.
Luckily, I found just that. ASM International’s (ASMI) textbook Engineer’s Guide to Technical Writing (2001) provides chapter one online for free. This chapter, “What is Technical Writing?” defines technical writing for the introductory Engineering student. This chapter’s purpose aligns well with my purpose because technical writing began as a field for teaching engineering students (Connors, 1983). The chapter states that technical writing encompasses a variety of types of writing across the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields and across skilled trades. Reports constitute many of the everyday documents that members of these fields will create (ASMI, 2001). The chapter goes on to define technical writing based on ten main characteristics, which are as follows:
Another Engineering resource that I found helpful in understanding TPC is IEEE’s Professional Communication Society (IEEE PCS) website.
The IEEE PCS website includes a constitution for the society. In this constitution, the “Field of Interest” section (Article 2) gives better detail about what exactly some of the attributes from the ASMI chapter might be referring to: “the study, development, improvement, and promotion of effective techniques for preparing, organizing, processing, editing, collecting, conserving, teaching, and disseminating any form of technical information...” (2009, para. 1). Article 2 also lists some of the major types of documents IEEE PCS would use to communicate this information: “...Web sites, CD-ROMs, interactive video, online help, technical proposals, reports, and documentation, other printed and electronic publications...user interfaces, [and] usability evaluations” (2009, para. 2). With these two Engineering sources, I find a solid definition of TPC starting to form.
How to Elaborate?
Two ways to elaborate on what technical and professional communication and writing are involve looking back at the history of the field (which I just briefly mentioned above) and looking at what TPC is not. The Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) website outlines the histories of the society and technical communication on the “About STC” page (2018). Their brief version of the history pairs well with the more detailed account provided by Robert J. Connors in his chapter “The Rise of Technical Writing Instruction in America” (1983) because their passage continues into more recent history than the Connor’s chapter. Of particular interest is the fact that, in 2009, the STC succeeded in lobbying to have “technical writer” recognized as its own profession by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (STC, 2018). This fact leads to one idea about what technical communication was not: before 2009 it was not a profession that the Bureau officially recognized, and therefore they did not track statistics about working in that career. I was surprised by this fact, considering that the field has existed for over 100 years; scholars cite the booming era of technological growth from the Industrial Revolution to the World Wars as its starting point (STC, 2018; Connors, 1983; O’Hara, 2001). In addition, several common misconceptions represent what TPC is not.
It seems a fairly commonly-held misconception that TPC involves only manuals, pamphlets, or “Help” pages providing instructions and sometimes the misconception about these types of documents goes even further (which is also an aspect that intimidated me; I don't want to do these types of writing). In her article, "Why You Should Consider a Career in Technical Writing" (2016), Kate Schneider finds that some people do not even realize those manuals and help documents are actually written by real people. Yet, technical writing consists of so much more than these types of writing (and it is all written by real people). TPC is also more than just scientific reports and lofty business documents.
According to Julie Gerdes at Writing Commons (2014), even the caution signs on a construction site or the washing instructions tags on our clothes are forms of TPC that many people encounter all the time. Technical writing is also more than just alpha-numeric texts as well. STC (2018) writes that the as the field grows and changes, visual and responsive (to mobile devices) texts are increasing in use and popularity, which Schneider (2016) confirmed when she mentioned that one of the forms of writing that technical writers could be responsible for is video tutorials.
How to Go Beyond a Definition?
There are many ways to go beyond dictionary definitions of TPC. Often these ways of going further involve a researcher’s area of interests or a company or community’s writing needs. In fact, it is common for these two ways of going beyond a definition to overlap. Scholars in TPC are increasingly interested in social justice and community engagement work that not only further the academic side of the discipline, but also serve as models for company leaders and employees who may want to encourage others in their profession to become more engaged in the role that a business may play in its community and making that relationship about more than money.
Angela Haas and Michelle Eble’s (2018) newly edited collection, Key Theoretic Frameworks: Teaching Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century (KTF) consists of twelve chapters contributed by TPC scholars who each approach TPC with the “social justice turn” in mind. In their introduction, Haas and Eble defined the social justice turn of TPC in terms of globalization. They wrote:
"Because globalization is continuously broadening our understanding of who we are as and pedagogues, we must systematically interrogate the relationships between globalization and technical communication…Thus, while technical communicators may appreciate the international, professional, and economic gains afforded to us by globalization, we must also interrogate how we may be complicit in, implicated by, and/or transgress the oppressive colonial and capitalistic influences and effects of globalization. As Carolyn Rude (2009) reminds us, we have the potential to both “function as agents of knowledge making, action, and change” for some and function as agents of oppression—albeit often unwittingly—for others (183)." (2018, Kindle Location 204-217).
In other words, the more globalization exposes technical writers and communicators to new and different people and ideas, there are two typical reactions: either learning from and embracing differences to grow together, or fearing and shunning differences to exert power. Faced with these possible reactions, the contributors to KTF have each shared a variety of ways that TPC writers can consciously choose the former reaction; a few examples of these are Erin Frost’s chapter on using the theory of apparent feminism as a means of acknowledging the role of embodiment (people’s identities and lived experiences) in what would constitute effective risk communication for various communities and Marcos Del Hierro’s chapter on how Hip Hop pedagogy and de-colonial theory can and should subvert the standard that TPC should be distant and “objective”, although, there is no true objectivity; there is always some kind of bent and the dominant bent only seems objective because it ignores marginalized peoples. Special issues of TPC academic journals are also a helpful place to look to see the current state of research interests and community needs in the field.
Some of the major journals in TPC are: Journal of Business and Technical Communication (JBTC), Technical Communications Quarterly (TQC), Technical Communication (TC), Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (JTWC), and IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (IEEE TPC). Looking at the subject of all the most recent special issues from these journals would give beginners in the field an idea of where research is going. JBTC’s most recent special issue was Rhetoric of Entrepreneurship: Theories, Methodologies, and Practices (2017) whereas JTWC’s was Graduate Preparation for Research (2017). These two special issues show that across the field, different groups of scholars and professionals have different concerns: some with the training of graduate students and some with how entrepreneurs communicate. One of TCQ’s recent special issues was Games in Technical Communication (2016), which is of particular interest to my research and how I would like to enter the realm of TPC (as you can see from this blog!).
How Will I Contribute to the Definition?
I hope that this essay so far has at least suggested that I would like to contribute in much the same way as scholars I mentioned in the “How to Go Beyond a Definition?” section. Before this class and before this assignment, I was rather intimidated by the idea of technical and professional communication and writing and I honestly thought I might be able to skirt by without much effort in the professional communication aspect of the PhD program. I thought I was only interested in rhetoric and writing sans workplace, technical, or scientific forms of rhetoric and writing, but I have been proven wrong (thankfully). I now see that my interest in video games as educational tools aligns well with the goals of TPC. I cannot ignore the fact that video games are a form of technology with an entire discourse surrounding them and unique forms of communication used to create and disseminate them when I seek to use them in the classroom.
The social justice turns that I hope to engage as a part of my contribution to the field are the theories of feminisms, queer studies, and accessibility (or disability) studies. The voices of women, queer people, people of color, and disabled people in the video game discourse are still mostly silenced. Hints at this silencing are apparent in the names of authors that contributed to the special issue of TCQ. The first (main) authors are all men except one, but this disparity is not just an issue of whose name is listed first on an article; it is representative of the state of the discourse as a whole. After investigating a list of the top fifty video game development studios via GameDesigning.org (2019), I found that only one of them has a woman among their CEOs, presidents, heads of studio, or founders (Shannon Studstill who is head of studio for SCE Santa Monica Studio, creators of the God of War series of games) and the only non-white race represented among these company leaders were men of Eastern and Southern Asian heritages. Thus, whenever possible, I hope to use my work as a platform to research and privilege these voices where they have previously (and still currently are) disenfranchised.
Video Games in the Workplace?
In this section you'll find a literature review that provides suggestions and discusses some of the existing research about integrating games or gaming concepts into the workplace. Examples worth mentioning in academia/in the classroom/school setting include classroom gamification (links to Macie Hall's "What is Gamification and Why Use It in Teaching?" (2014) at Johns Hopkins' Innovative Instructor Blog) and having games available in student lounges. Here at my university, East Carolina University, our new student center has a gaming room with various consoles an arcade cabinets.
Having this respite for students is a great way to Queer the way we think about what a college campus should be or should contain, because students are working hard and deserve breaks just like professionals in the workforce; school can remain serious and appropriately rigorous without losing sight of the importance of rest for our growth and well-being, yet many schools across education levels do seem to inadvertently lose sight these truths because of the extreme pressures of standardization (links to Nichole Zhang's "Standardized Testing Hurts Students" (2018) for Duke Youth) and of maintaining funding (links to "Most States Have Cut School Funding, and Some Continue Cutting" (2016) from The Center for Budget Policy and Priorities).
We also have instructors who engage with gamification concepts such as skill badges and quests! For example, this semester I had the pleasure of being a TA for Dr. Erin Frost, who taught a gamified English class titled "Gender in Gamer Culture" (ENGL 1500: Topics in Words, Images, & Ideas ). The class utilized quests and a point system and I think it went incredibly well. Teaching a class about games in and of itself is considerably Queer, even in 2019 when games are almost totally ubiquitous, and gamifying the class management/grading system took the class to another level.
L.M. Fry's Master's dissertation: Video Game Walkthroughs as Instructional Texts (2012) is a genre analysis of video game walkthroughs. These are texts that instruct the players on (ideally) every detail of a game and how to achieve their in-game goals (such as finding special artifacts, beating the boss, winning the race, etc.). She connects her research on these tutorials to pedagogy by demonstrating how these texts can be models of instructional writing for technical and professional writers. This text is useful to me because I want my contributions to TPC to be very similar to hers. It also represents a Queering of what western society typically considers acceptable forms of educational examples. Most of the time, anything "fun," related to leisure time, or connected to video games in any way is not deemed educational by the majority. Yet Fry clearly demonstrates the value of game walkthroughs to be used like any other similar tutorial-style text. Julia Mason contributes to this conversation with her "Video Games as Technical Communication Ecology" (2013) in Technical Communications Quarterly.
Much of my work involves writing lesson plans using video games as educational tools, including the immense values of video game walkthroughs and play-throughs (video recordings of players playing games, sometimes with instructional commentary). Even with our work (mine and Fry's), and the work of many others (such as James Paul Gee), I find the value of video games for educational purposes is still highly debated and understanding of the positive experiences that games can foster in players is still often contested; for many, it seems like video games are still considered not only a questionable, but also a marginal pastime.
Then, as Shaw below points out, to be a gamer today who doesn’t fit the gamer stereotype, is even more marginalizing. Thus, a gamer who is a woman, or Wueer, or represents other identities other than straight, white, male, middle/upper class, conservative, healthy, Christian, etc. is to be somewhat doubly marginalized (or intersectionally marginalized), which, to me, could all be considered ways of Queering that stereotypical identity. So, to use games, and those games that embrace these identities as educational tools, we are queering TPC. In other words, any profession that uses tutorials of any kind could make use of video game walkthroughs and I guarantee they'll learn a thing or two that makes a positive different in the way they train employees or clients and countless video game scholars agree.
In her preface to Gaming at the Edge (2014), Adrienne Shaw identifies herself as a queer woman who grew up experiencing media and life in a society where others were not just like herself (as an American on a military base in Japan). She goes on to say that her experiences were rather different than the typical American experience, in which young white boys and men are the typified gamer; all around her were gamers of many genders, races, and other identities, which partially led to her investment in positive representation in gaming. Yet, later in her studies, she found that that students of gaming studies and gamers alike didn’t care about representation. This attitude, which she thought might be a form of cognitive dissonance, was the exigence for this novel. The novel will be useful for my research because Shaw addresses how the challenge with games and other new technologies is how quickly they change. Because they change so rapidly, so does the social and academic conversations about them. Nonetheless, Shaw demonstrates through her examples and experiences that even though many people are talking, even groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) or large game development studios say they don’t have the time or resources to proactively work on positive representation; they can only fix problems if they arise.
This work piqued my interest in relation to queering TPC because I feel that this mentality of "we'll fix it later" instead of "let's prevent it now" is common in professions. Employees are often so pressed for time and overworked that taking on any extra responsibility beyond the essentials that are required is often far too much. Diversity in the workplace is a hot topic at the moment and has been for some time. See for examples: Harvard Business Review's "Why Diversity Programs Fail" (2016) by Dobbin and Kalev, Jane Burnett's "Tech Companies Don't Need Any More Diversity, Say Employees" (2017) for The Ladders and Clare McGrane's "The 'Pipeline’ Isn’t Causing Tech’s Diversity Problem: The Workplace is, and Here are 3 Ways to Fix It" (2017) for GeekWire.
Two further works that provide insights into this area of research are O'Riordan and Phillips Queer Online: Media Technology & Sexuality (2007) and Pow's “Reaching Toward Home: Software Interface as Queer Orientation in the Video Game Curtain” (2018).
Together, I see these works demonstrating ways in which technical writers can use gaming concepts or games and their supplemental materials to Queer our understanding of what technical communication is and should be. I want to argue that a sort of playfulness, experimentation, and wonder that gaming encourages would be good for technical writing in both the workforce and in academia for a variety of reasons that appeal to both employees and employers.
One reason is that a recent study by Brigham Young University found that gaming with coworkers could increase employee productivity by 20%, as discussed in Jenny Darmody's "Playing Video Games at Work Could Make You More Productive" (2019) for Silicon Republic. Another reason, suggested by Kirsten Oberprieler is that playing games unlocks inner motivation and learning instincts in positive ways that encourage growth, which is discussed in "Gamification: Why Employers are Embracing Games in the Workplace" (2017) by Tegan Osborne. Another is that in an 8-year-long study conducted by the American Psychological Association, researchers found taking breaks at work to play games has positive impacts on cognitive fatigue (i.e. reducing it, therefore reducing stress and poor decision-making at work), which is discussed in "Scientists Say You Should Play Video Games on Your Breaks at Work" (2017) by Kelly Kasulis for Mic and see the study itself at "Search for Affective and Cognitive Restoration: Examining the Restorative Effects of Casual Video Game Play" (2017) by Rupp et al. Furthermore as of about ten years ago, studies were showing that a large majority of companies in the USA were already using interactive game-like training modules, discussed in the press release by the Environmental Software Association titled "Use of Video Game Technology in the Workplace Increasing" (2008) with companies reporting satisfactory results from these training modules and intention to increase their use even more.
Lastly, the reason I find most important involves the importance of trying new things and embracing people's differences for the benefit of us all. We are all individuals working together and it is our differences that allow us to strive for the most good together because we can combine our strengths. Discussions of our differences in this way is something scholars often refer to as embodiment. My personal embodiment, as a future technical writer and rhetoric scholar is that of a Queer gamer, a fat gender non-conforming woman, a PhD student, and much more. These parts of my identity don’t encompass all of me, but they do make up parts of me and influence how I navigate and view the world. The gamer side of my is almost always inclined to suggest something “fun” or “playful” or a game as a way to learn or solve a problem because I find that gaming, fun, and playfulness engage learners and encourage them to take a more active and creative role in what they are learning about. When we are able to share our embodiment in the workforce that is when our strengths allow us to do the most good; completing divorcing play, games, and fun from the work we do is utter misery. Even playing one game on one console for the rest of a person's life would quickly turn to tedium.
My image of a technical writer and of technical writing before this class was a drab one. I thought it was all about tedious manuals and instructional documentation that no one reads, but that some poor low-level employee must be forced to write (because no one else would want to undertake that kind of painstaking task). Yet, every class period I have seen that my prior stereotype couldn’t have been farther from the truth (which is often the case). Still, I wonder if there is some grain of truth to that idea because of the way technical writing might be taught at the undergraduate level or in employee training, if the methods of instruction have stagnated. This is something I still need to investigate, but I hypothesize that I’ll find instances where games or gaming could help change these stagnations, or to solve other potential problems. If nothing else, I hope this project will allow me to change that stereotypical image that I had in mind for others, to show others that technical writing is so much more than people outside of the discipline might think.
I'm just your average fictional creature, living in a swampland by the sea.