Framing the Gamer: A Study of Invented Marginality

de Wildt Lars Bonenfant Maude Therrien Carl Khaled Rilla
2020 DiGRA ’20 – Proceedings of the 2020 DiGRA International Conference: Play Everywhere

Since 2014, discussions about gamer identity have been topical, and they remain so. Recently, for instance, Real Games traces the boundaries of what ‘counts’ as real games (Consalvo & Paul, 2019), for a ‘gamer’ subculture that is uniquely tied to its medium of choice. The issue of ‘gamer’ identity has been a subject of study since at least 1983 (Kiesler, et al.); and analyses of the oversexualization of women have appeared since Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkin’s From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (1998). Later, studies regarding gender, race, sexuality and class have followed suit (cf. Leonard, 2006; Hitchens, 2011; Shaw, 2014). Indeed, much scholarship suggests a split, on the one hand, between the overrepresentation of white, male, cis-gendered heterosexual player identities within games; and, on the other hand, the actual diverse player base that supports and plays these games (e.g., IGDA, 2019). If gamer culture is perhaps unfairly seen by male gamers as the site of paradoxically marginalized, white male “nerds” (cf. Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2012), it remains relevant, but unclear, how this nonetheless hegemonic identity was constructed. Historical game scholarship suggests that such identities were formed long before the internet afforded a global community to collectively co-construct such a subcultural identity (e.g., Kocurek, 2015; Therrien). More particularly, the inspection of game magazines suggests that “gamers” were quintessentially constructed in the 80s and early 90s, as game magazines targeted and thereby created a male-dominated and sexist target audience in local (national) contexts (Kirkpatrick, 2015; Therrien & Lefebvre, 2017). Additionally, this calls to attention the local and often ethnocentric contexts in which games were made and marketed for a specific audience (e.g., Mukherjee, 2017; Švelch, 2018; Wolf, 2015), and the role that paratexts have played therein (Consalvo, 2017).