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A&S Student Explores SF Novel 'Dawn' and Gaming Communities in Relation to Queerness 

By A Fish 

LEXINGTON;, Ky. — Oswald Research and Creativity Competition is a staple at the University of Kentucky. The competition is intended to promote creativity in all fields of study and accepts many varied forms of media as part of the competition. Colton Barton, a College of Arts & Sciences junior from Scottsville, Kentucky, received second place in the Social Sciences category for the paper “Gaymer Avatars: Analyzing the Relationship Between Gay Men and their Created Video Game Avatars” and an honorable mention in the Humanities: Critical Research categories for “A Potential for a Queer Utopia: Queer Futurity and Potentiality in Octavia Butler's Dawn” in the 2022-23 competition. He is also a UK (University of Kentucky) peer tutor.  

Q: What are the papers? Why did you write them and what has writing them and submitting them done for you? 

A: The Octavia Butler paper was written for one of my English courses. I am an English major, and so it was combining two of my interests into one. It was a longer paper, and the course was about Afrofuturism, which is a literary movement among Black writers to depict futures where African Americans, have a different life experience,. It's very complicated. I was connecting queerness to these books, and as I was reading, as a queer person, I really wanted to look at how queerness was viewed at the time these were written, which is the 1980s. And just how characters that were not normative in certain ways were constructed in these novels. 

Then the gamer avatar paper was for another class where we were doing a sort of digital ethnography type thing,  and we had to look at a community we felt connected the ideas of race, gender and sexuality to something cultural. I looked at video games specifically, and I wanted to connect my experiences growing up, interacting with other gay gamers and how they related to the avatars they were creating. 

Q: How did you get interested in these topics outside of the class? 


A: I came to UK as a computer science major and did not enjoy it, so I changed to English and then added gender and women’s studies later. It really was about taking courses that looked interesting. I really liked them and just expanded upon them. Most of my English courses have been in African American literature and then in gender and women’s studies,. I focus on queer theory and social justice. My interests were to combine those two things. That is where a lot of my research projects come from. 


Q: What does the Oswald competition mean to you? 


A: I did it last year as well, and I had a professor reach out to me and say, ‘I think this paper would be really good to submit to this competition.’ I was looking at UK’s LGBTQ+ resources and I really wanted them to improve, so I wrote that paper, and I won second place in social sciences last year (2022). As a queer person, I’m hesitant to write about queerness and LGBTQ people because I feel like there's a tendency for those things to be overlooked or not taken seriously. But after winning that (first) award, I felt like I wanted to do more. When I wrote more papers in the next few months, I had in the back of my mind, ‘Could I submit this?  Could I get more eyes on it?’  It was a way for me to get more people thinking about these topics. 


Q: What final notes do you have or what would you want people to like to take away from your papers? 


A: I think the main thing is that people should write about what interests them. I didn't even realize for the longest time that I could write about video games in English classes, because English is seen as mostly literature, some film studies on the side, and classics. But I want to write about science fiction. I want to write about fantasy. I want to write about video games. I want to write about things that are contemporary and currently developing in our society, and I think more people should do that. There's nothing wrong with the classics, but if you want to write about fantasy books that you read all the time, do it. There's plenty to be said about it, especially if you're looking at things like race, gender or sexuality, it's woven into everything we do.