Hyperrhiz 21

Ribbon Cutting: A Game for Breast Cancer Awareness

Jennifer Roth Miller
University of Central Florida

Stephanie Vie
University of Central Florida

Citation: Miller, Jennifer Roth and Stephanie Vie. “Ribbon Cutting: A Game for Breast Cancer Awareness.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.g03

Abstract: Ribbon Cutting is a game created to defamiliarize the mainstream narrative and key concepts of the pink ribbon breast cancer movement in order to create a space for players to insert new opinions and pursue additional directions toward curing breast cancer.

Keywords: breast cancer, game, Twine, pink ribbon, immutable mobile, cause marketing, memes.


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All year, but peaking in October, individuals, organizations, and corporations use the pink ribbon symbol to engage with the breast cancer cause. The symbol has become increasingly ubiquitous, and the general consensus it that it represents awareness. However, “awareness” is a generic term representing a myriad of socially constructed concepts, most notably health and fundraising.

What does the image of the pink ribbon mean, or stand for? As the pink ribbon is used over and over, a kind of hegemonic, or dominant, understanding of what it stands for builds. Ribbon Cutting is a digital Twine game that seeks to describe the hegemonic meanings of the pink ribbon, while simultaneously challenging and supplementing them. The non-linear game playfully builds from viewing the pink ribbon itself as a meme (Blackmore; Dawkins; Shifman), or cultural replicator; a genre (Wiggins & Bowers), or format for entry into a conversation; and what Liza Potts, drawing on Bruno Latour, calls an “immutable mobile,” or an object that is mobile but can’t be changed by individual users (and therefore is “immutable,” or unchangeable). Using these theoretical lenses, the game plays with the idea of Internet memes  and their inherent irony to gradually and humorously move players away from only understanding breast cancer and health philanthropy through dominant views and instead supplementing these dominant views with alternative directions. Indeed, Ribbon Cutting defamiliarizes the pink ribbon campaign, showing players that the issue is not as simplistic as it may seem upon first glance, and that the cause is complicated by the entanglement of actors and belief systems that relate to breast cancer.

Ultimately, Ribbon Cutting boldly advocates for a new paradigm (Kuhn) in health philanthropy that prioritizes grassroots digital citizens’ networked activity over fundraising as the currency of power and change. Our aim with Ribbon Cutting is to demonstrate how both collective non-profit organizations and individual citizens may leverage the affordances of memes and games to expand digital citizenship beyond virality. They can do this through fostering participatory culture and dialogue. Ribbon Cutting is a digital game that leads players through a guided process that begins with hegemonic beliefs about causes and ends by subtly and personally challenging and enhancing directions for causes. Ribbon Cutting, while about breast cancer, showcases a process and approach that has the potential to impact any of the causes that digital citizens deem important presently or in the future.

Play Ribbon Cutting

Works Cited

Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press, 1999

Dawkins, Richard. “Memes: The New Replicators.” The Selfish Gene, edited by Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press, 1976, pp. 245 - 260.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Potts, L. Social Media in Disaster Response. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Wiggins, B. E., & Bowers, G. B. “Memes as Genre: A Structurational Analysis of the Memescape.” New Media & Society, vol. 17, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1886-1906. doi:10.1177/1461444814535194