Playing gender in video games
Video games can be understood both as the rigid and fixed system of meanings as well as a depiction of a deliberative environment open for reading and pleasure at the same time. My dissertation focuses on this contradiction, specifically in the context of gender. It would be beneficial to understand how the audience interacts with various kinds of texts. I want to show the new kind of interactivity of video games and the ability of a reader to participate in their own experience. At the same time, this ability highlights the complexity and fluidity of the (gender) identity.
My thesis is based on the assumption that the ideal player, a sort of an implied reader in mainstream or blockbuster video games is still primarily a heterosexual man. In this sense, players are active – they construct narrative of the video game and also they co-create pleasure of playing. They do not need to read texts the preferred way, but they can create very specific meanings, gender identity included. As a result, video games can be subversive tool that can contribute to deconstruct gender stereotypes and gender stable identities.
My dissertation is divided into two parts. In the first section, I intend to outline the discourses of gender representations in video games using the discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003) of selected video games and their surrounding texts. The second part of the dissertation will focus on the audience. I will interview Czech players – both regular and occasional players, individuals with declarative non-heterosexual or heterosexual orientation, or considering themselves members of the LGBT community.
(Playable) characters can be understood as the densification of gender stereotypes, expectations and standards. I shall analyze selected forms of preferred femininity and hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005) and the very specific principle of watching and controlling the playable character. Playing video games in this sense paraphrases the concept of the male gaze (Mulvey, 1975). The dissertation should also investigate whether the gender categories are fixed or fluid, complementary and hierarchical, and what kinds of sexuality video games offer.
On the account of the interactivity of video games, the player is connected with a fictional world in a whole new way. This identification with a main character and its intensity varies across video game genres. I would argue that we can expose these different strategies by men or women players, heterosexual or non-heterosexual players and consequently we can speak about subversive or even queer playing (whether conscious or not). According to Donna Haraway (2013), the connection between the players and their avatars can be described as a Cyborg. It is not only a game character, but the players themselves and their identities, their own imperfect bodies expanded or exceeded within the fictional world. Playing video games becomes a potential practice of identity fragmentation.
Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity Rethinking the Concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859. doi:10.1177/0891243205278639
Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. Routledge.
Haraway, Donna. (2013). Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge.
Mulvey, Laura. (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Imlportfolio [online]. Retrieved from: http://imlportfolio.usc.edu/ctcs505/mulveyVisualPleasureNarrativeCinema.pdf