Getting to Know Your CMNS Faculty: Sarah Christina Ganzon

November 27, 2023

Sarah Christina Ganzon is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research revolves mostly around the areas of game studies and digital fandom. Recently, she finished her thesis on otome games in English, and otome game players. She holds a PhD in Communication Studies at Concordia University and an MA in English Literature from Cardiff University. Previously, she also taught courses in the University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University and Concordia University.

We sat down with Sarah to learn more about the newest faculty member in the School of Communication!

Tell us about your academic journey.

I would say it started out around the time I finished my master’s at Cardiff in Wales. After graduation, I mostly worked in publishing and tech journalism, but because the post-recession job market and the anti-immigrant sentiment was so bad in the UK, I went back home to the Philippines. I was invited to send an application to my home department at UP (University of the Philippines) Diliman mostly to teach literature, writing and cultural studies courses. While I initially was being trained to be the resident Victorianist, my job experiences and cultural studies work in Britain already shifted me towards media studies. Around the time I was teaching in the Philippines, I got to publish some of my first papers on game studies and transmedia narratives.

During one pop culture conference in St. Louis, I got stuck in a limo with Gina Hara, who was then the coordinator at Concordia’s TAG (Technoculture Art and Games). She encouraged me to correspond with Mia Consalvo, who eventually took me on as a PhD student at Concordia.

During my first year at Concordia, Gamergate was happening. Suddenly, things we initially could not talk about—sexism and racism in tech—when I was working in these industries, became important conversations. I also became my PhD cohort’s international student rep quickly, and I got roped into writing and co-hosting the local Filipino community radio collective. Thinking about intersectionality in tech thus pretty much shaped my research going forward.

I got interested in a very niche Japanese game category designed for women—otome games, because this was what I published mostly on. And hilariously, I started writing about otome games because one weekend on my first winter semester, I caught a really bad cold and I was still grieving because I found out my poor dog died in the Philippines. Because I was sick and going through a period of seasonal depression, I downloaded a game called Dandelion. It’s a dating simulator made by Cheritz—an all-female game company from South Korea. Because I needed to turn a paper in for my games industry course with Mia, I ended up writing about Cheritz. This eventually expanded into my PhD dissertation, with Mia’s encouragement.

After I graduated, I became my PhD department’s Pokemon evolution after I got hired as an LTA teaching visual communications courses. It was a hectic year, but I loved it, especially when I was given a course on communications and colonialism where students brought in so many stories and conversations that in many ways also helped me grow as a scholar.

But that was how I got started: it was a lot of lovely accidents and opportunities, but these accidents led me to wonderful people and communities who mean a lot to me and supported me throughout this journey.

Why did you choose this profession?

I come from a medical family in the Philippines, so when I told everyone I wasn’t going to be a doctor that sent shockwaves to my family, especially my Itay (Dad). But now I think Itay gets the last laugh because I ended up as a doctor anyway.

Teaching was something I grew to love, because I get to learn new things every time. While academia is not perfect, I do enjoy academic freedom. This helps a lot in writing and research because this means I don’t have to do the kind of company ventriloquism one has to do when writing for particular tech publications.

And because I do games research, one thing I do enjoy is turning elaborate rants and frustrations with games and game culture that annoy me into papers. For example, receiving a permaban from the real-time dating game Mystic Messenger, somehow got me to think a lot about how games tend to perceive and structure womens’ time. Another time, an experience I had with a video game fanfiction group where I was told off for not italicizing Tagalog words in my work got me to write about the kinds of racism I experienced in game fandoms. So, there is a recurring pattern here. But the ability to write about these turns the experience into something that helps in the long run.

Tell us about your current areas of research.

Game studies is my main area of specialization. While game studies is broad field-wise, ranging from specialists in psychology to literature, I tend to concentrate on games as media and in relation to other media, hence my sub-interest in transmedia narratives, and on communities who play games. I am highly interested in thinking about representations in games—particularly the cultural politics of these representations, games in relation to globalization, popular feminisms as we see them in games and fandoms, games in relation to political communication—especially thinking about player communities and/as political fandoms, games and how they construct memory, player practices in relation to affect and political economy, and informal media practices of player communities, especially in East Asia and South East Asia.

My player studies work also intersects with a lot of fan studies work on fan labor, affective economies, and postfeminism in fandoms.

Both game studies and fan studies are growing a lot these past several years. It’s important for academia to create critical discourses right now, especially when we have game companies trying to perform diversity discourses while continuing to crunch their workers and use exported labor especially for animation work, or when we have players taking advantage of the online components of NBA 2k and Animal Crossing to create critical conversations about black lives and freeing Hong Kong. There’s a lot to be done and it feels like one could never run out of things to write about.

What is your proudest career achievement so far?

That would be helping jumpstart the conversation on otome games. While I was certainly not the first to publish on it, being able to write a significant part of the literature helped build my reputation as game studies’ otome game specialist. I do think looking at otome games is important because it shows the contributions of women, especially Asian women, in multiple game cultures.

What projects are you currently working on?

Apart from turning my dissertation on otome games into a book, I have a few things lined up project and research-wise.

Currently, I am relaunching a project on how activists used the game Animal Crossing to protest during the pandemic. It’s a project I am interested in especially in expanding conversations about games in relation to public spaces, games’ connection to other platforms, and forms of solidarity that can form in player communities.

I am also making a game about student journalists in the Philippine Martial Law. It’s a project I’m doing in thinking about games in relation to memory, which I think is relevant given the rise of the Far-Right in the Philippines, which seeks to erase these narratives.

What is your favourite thing about teaching?

The best thing about teaching is how one gets to learn so much from students.

One example: in my visual communications class at Concordia last Winter, we had a day wherein we talked about aesthetics that different social media platforms privilege. We formed discussion groups by drawing lots. The group that picked Snapchat had the initial reaction of “OMG, this is so old!” But then that led to the question of “Yeah, but why does it feel so old?” And that led to a really wonderful discussion on habitual media.

I also enjoy seeing how creative students can be. One time at Concordia during the semester when I taught the course on communications and colonialism, we were discussing Partha Chatterjee’s “Whose Imagined Community.” I decided to ask my students to break the ice by picking a section of the text, and anger translating said section similar to Key and Peele’s Obama’s Anger Translator skits. While there were some initial hesitations, we all ended up having a blast, and it was fun seeing all the creative re-interpretations of such a heavily theoretical text.

What courses will you be teaching in the future?

Most of what I’ll be teaching will most likely be game studies courses, and other related communications courses.

What would you say is your main motivation for your work?

For now, I want to participate in the project of de-westernizing and de-colonializing game studies. So much of game studies is still very Western and AAA focused. By writing more about games and player communities that are less centered on North America, I hope I can contribute to making it less so.

I am also a firm believer in paying things forward. I know I got here because I had lovely people who supported me, so I want to do the same for the students here.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m in game studies, so the work-play dichotomy is a bit murky to me.

Because most of what I write about are digital games, board games help me relax a bit. Because board games are also very social, this is also how I get to know other people. I also mod games from time to time, and I have copious amounts of fun getting games to crash.

I also watch my fair share of k-dramas, read manga and write fanfiction.

Hikes are also super fun. I tend to love a good hike to take breaks from writing.

What books do you currently have on your nightstand?

At the moment, I have Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klien’s Data Feminism, and Renyi Hong’s Passionate Work.

But I also have a manga called Superman vs. Meshi (Food). If you want to see the Justice League having emotions over food, this is the manga to read.