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Left for Dead: Tactical Safe Spaces and Rogue Chinese Archives on the Gaming Platform Steam


In this paper, I consider how Chinese gamers modify both ideologies and technologies on the gaming platform Steam. Working from Mayfair Yang’s notion of “socialist space” and Lefebvre’s “representational spaces,” I argue that these gamers seek to transform their representational spaces into reality by “modding” the content and code of computer games and archiving roguish discourses on the tactical safe space of the Steam Workshop. Because of these modders’ paratextual activity, a China-specific version of the Steam client will be released in the near future, thus censoring Steam as is in mainland China. To better understand this “China Steam” swap and the relationship between modding and censorship, I employ a diachronic approach, examining historical precedents of other “propaganda archives” in both premodern and modern eras. Moreover, I engage with fan fiction studies to further conceptualize modding and censorship, fusing de Certeau’s “strategies and tactics” with Abigail De Kosnik’s “rogue archives” and thus putting forth the framework of a tactical safe space. After laying out this approach, I share the process and findings of my “guerilla netnography” of Chinese modders on the Left for Dead 2 (L4D2) Workshop, detailing three categories of mods and their associated paratexts. Finally, I turn to Steven J. Jackson and Cuban thinkers and scholars to show how modding is a part of a larger sociopolitical narrative of repair and inventiveness in post-socialist contexts such as the PRC, in which modders turn the socialist ideology of the state upon itself.

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