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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Serious Play: Race, Game, Asian American Literature

  • Author(s): Fickle, Tara
  • Advisor(s): Lee, Rachel
  • McGurl, Mark
  • et al.

"Serious Play: Race, Game, Asian American Literature," argues that games are narrative fantasies of perfectly equal opportunity that can help us reconceive of what it means to be a minority in contemporary America. Race's idiomatic evolution into a "race card" points not just to identity's growing immateriality and "virtualization" but to its increasingly intimate relationship with the ludic. Asian American authors in particular have seized upon the possibilities of transforming identity into an object of play, in part because gameplay opens up a space to challenge stereotypes about the group's "Tiger Mother"-esque obsession with work and apparent allergy to "frivolous" endeavors. Rereading Asian American literature through its literal and proverbial games, from the convivial mahjongg club at the center of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club to the game-theoretical model of the "prisoner's dilemma" captured in Japanese American internment novels, "Serious Play" reveals that it is not the Asian American ability to work but to play that offers the most cogent insight into identity formation as a simultaneously personal, political, and ludic pursuit.

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