Acoustemologies of the Closet

In The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality, ed. Mark Grimshaw (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 337–48

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Online video games in recent years have increasingly supported voice-chat functions that enable players to speak with one another using microphones connected to computers and consoles. Vocal communications greatly assist collaborative and competitive gaming by offering a quick hands-free means of verbal exchange. But even with its obvious utility, voice-chat has been denounced by some players and critics as an unwelcome development in game design. This chapter explores the social ramifications and critical conversations that have emerged from the coming (out) of voice in online gamespaces. What happens when players of online games drop their masks and introduce their own voices into a virtual space? How do the sounds of these voices influence players’ actions and relations? What factors bear on the differing proclivities of players to speak out? And what new masks—new fictions of identity—might materialize when voices of players conjure ambiguous, multiplicitous, or duplicitous identities? By extending metaphors of the prosthesis and the closet, I show how technologies of voice-chat in video games foster practices of assimilation, repression, deception, and revelation. In doing so, I interrogate traditional characterizations of voice as a site of authentic, agentic expression. I conclude with insights into the sexual politics of voice-chat in the audibly male-dominated communities of online first-person-shooter games.