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Jessica’s talk was on gaming mothers, a three-year project on how they juggle time, play and family. The research is based on an awareness that there is currently no other research on gaming mothers. There is, however, Jessica stated, some research on older gamers.

The research itself is based upon what people do in everyday life (and the outcomes of this) and how new communication patterns may be formed through the combination of play and everyday life. The research involves discourse analysis, participant observation, emails, interviews, qualitative face-to-face, and game lab setups. Something that they found from this was that gaming life was very much considered to be interconnected with everyday life.

Jessica showed us a Mountain Dew commercial in which two women are at a supermarket, notice that each is buying the opposing coloured Mountain Dew and break out into World of Warcraft characters. This was shown as an example of play mixing in with/becoming part of the everyday.

The idea of the mother, Jessica explained, was a fixed role. The mother was expected to be policing or supportive, and certainly outside of gaming discourse. Jessica stated that she found that gaming mothers mostly played alone, to have time to themselves, even when playing online games such as WoW. Jessica asked what productivity meant with relation to gaming mothers and suggested that productivity lies away from established norms.

Gaming mothers tended to give sensible reasons for playing when asked, such as to relax or to spend time with the children. Also worth a mention here is the weightloss club “Wii Mommies” in which the Wii Fit system was used to lose weight, with consistent reports of weight loss.

The way gaming mothers talk about play, Jessica stated, is interesting because it’s as though they make excuses for play. An Example cited included it not being fair on others if they stop playing. Jessica said that excuses are made for playing in the first place and also for continuing play. She also asked why it is that they speak this way, and why it is hard to accept or admit that they actually like playing rather than playing games to be good for them or for pragmatic purposes.

Questions included how many of these mothers brought the consoles into the household, how this play affected the family, why you would choose to play alone, and the decrease of play with age.

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Anne-Mette’s work  was on how identity was constructed, with particular reference to Turkle’s self-representation through the text, Taylor’s “duality of presence”, Gee’s “projective identity”, and the idea of cyborg identities. Anne-Mette was particularly interested in gender identities in virtual communities, whereby a male could play a female but also have a different presence in an online forum, and so forth. She described her approach as literary/ludic with postmodernism.

In this particular forum, the only place accessible to non-members of the guild is the recruitment page. Beyond this page, players are able to make texts about themselves and their characters, and these texts encompass self-description at many levels. Here, Anne-Mette showed us one player’s descriptions by way of an example. This, she said, showed a typical example of the player’s coherency and ability to shift between texts.

We looked at said individual’s application to join the guild, whereby he stated himself as male and his profession, at which point the text was changed (he stated that he had Worg pups rather than children, a reference to the game). He then switched directly into the game as he spoke around the character of his female dwarf and congratulated himself for choosing her rather than a Night Elf. Anne-Mette questioned here whether this was because he related to the characteristics of the Dwarf better. Finally, he stated that he could be online for two afternoons per week.

Later, after being accepted into the guild, this individual posted about joining in the action, the later about what had happened. Later still, he posted a YouTube clip of something outside of the game. He also on occasion invited other guild members to stay at his.

Anne-Mette discussed the matter of the description of the main character being in the third person and how this might complicate matters and how players are shifting between positions and identities without issue. Finally, she brought up the idea of the cyborg: these self-stories might be reminiscent of the cyborg being assembled and disassembled. Furthermore, the cyborg as a symbolic figure of the breakdown of dualities was an interesting element. I would be interested to see what conclusions Anne-Mette draws from looking at other player/characters.

Questions were regarding Anne-Mette’s position in the guild, how she was accepted as a researcher in the guild, how the other guild members react to this, and Anne-Mette’s desire to be accepted both as a player and as a researcher.

Before I begin my write-up of this talk, I would just like to state that the sound quality on the video made it rather difficult to follow at times. I hope I got the main points, though! Because Shira was not available to answer questions, but she can be contacted through her website, http://www.shirachess.com.

Shira’s talk involved the entitlement of women to leisure time, how this is achieved, and how the structure of certain games might be seen to reflect this structure. Shira spoke about how women manage their time, Simulated Productive Play, and the idea of simulation and the spectator as housing a duplicated identity which might be achieved through both physical and representational spaces.

Developer Big Fish Games had the following to say of their franchise: “Manage time, customers, and money in games for the serious goal-setter.” Shira pointed out here that this hardly sounds like a game at all. She moved on to speak more on the Diner Dash series, whose audience is apparently 95% female of average age 35, with 60 million downloads in the franchise, giving it quite an expansive network. Shira explained that the reason these titles were so popular with women was because it represented the household, the stereotypical domain of the woman. The labour, she stated, is emotional, and this household structure is replicated through the game. It is productive: the structure involves waiting on tables, seating customers, cleaning messes, and so forth. This is work in a game.

Shira mentioned the third Diner Dash game, where the main character is on vacation and is roped into assisting on a cruise ship after an incident in which the crew quits. Shira stated this as the main character using her traits as a powerful woman to case for others.

Finally, Shira asked about Simulated Productive Play and whether or not that was a third shift for many women.

If you want to know more about Shira’s work, please do contact her with questions at the aforementioned site.

Alison’s talk involved women’s access to gaming and the implications of this. She asked us to think about how games are situated gender-wise and the focus on masculinity in games. She stated that it was a very heteronormative and hypermasculine practice, and that females were trespassers on the ground of the male player.

An “historical construction of maleness” is central to video games, Alison stated. Women in this situation are considered unlikely to be audiences and are therefore marginalised. There is, Alison said, a tendency to make anything in gaming that does not follow hetereonormative convention inferior, and that action and adventure should be left to the male audience.

Alison argued that games are played based on access to them and that girls might not specifically choose to play games because they simply were not offered the choice to do so. Because of the perceived increase in access, men claim expertise over games, Alison stated, which undermines the female connection to them. She considered that girls who did not have access to games might think that they were for boys and therefore not play them. This affects future perceptions of such matters.

After speaking about the Wii and its lack of an ideal market, Alison also addressed the divide between the hardcore and casual gamers and stated that although many people do both, there is a perceived gender divide in place. Female play in this way is scorned. Games which are quick to pick up and play are ideal for people in a situation where they might not be able to spend time on working towards mastery or finding a save point.

Alison pointed out that there is a shrinking gap between male and female players, but female players are nonetheless framed as sexualised, in part due to structures embedded within the games themselves.

Alison stated that a possible future research direction might be to look at trends in handheld devices and the access and practices associated with such play.

Questions included those regarding the hierarchies in place, the discourse of the industry, types of masculinities and femininities that come into play,the manipulation of the female player (the PC as masculine and consoles as feminine, for example) and therefore the language of games/marginalisation.

The goals of this presentation were to consider the young female voice through an ethnographic perspective. The long-term implication of this was stated to be to create a fuller image of what is going on, and to consider girls’ gameplay and preferences as contrasted with those of boys. Pink games were initially referenced, and questions were considered about who these games are actually aimed at and who in the industry makes these kinds of decision. Based on conversations with individuals with the industry, Kelly and Shanly became interested in these questions. Female gamers, they stated, increased by five percent between 2008 and 2009, but the way things were perceived in the industry was often very different to literature on the subject.

Kelly and Shanly spoke about what they had done so far. They followed three groups of girls aged between twelve and sixteen. These girls already played games and had access to them. The aim of this aspect of the research was to see the differences in play between individual and social play. The second phase of this research would be to see how these preferences evolved, and the third was to establish long-term patterns in their gameplay. These groups were chosen based on pre-existing social groups and centred around Guitar Hero.

Kelly and Shanly reported four core findings from this observation.

1. Collective play. Girls played differently to the previous research that had been conducted on boys. Girls tended towards play styles that involved everyone, even when the games were not designed to be played in that way. Sometimes, the girls would make and follow their own rules in these games.

2. Playing outside the limits of the game. This involved mimicry of avatars, dressing up, taking photos, and adding their own moves.

3. “Context shapes play”. Based upon Diane Carr’s work. This was stated to be more complex than they had realised. Girls were described as being in their own (everyday) spaces, and switching over between different games and preferences occurred extremely quickly. Sometimes they would also play games with boys, for example, but this would be a phase.

4. “The Grey Zone”. These are gender-inclusive titles. Kelly and Shanly described that it seemed that girls would make this type of game out of a game, even if said game did not allow for this.

One final point of note was that Kelly and Shanly considered that moving games further into this ‘grey’ area could be beneficial, and that they were not specifically looking at games for girls but to actively find out what it is that girls like about games.

Personally, I was quite interested in how their presence affected the performative aspects of the girls. Questions included the danger of generalising on such matters, neutrality of games testing, the idea of games being specifically marketed towards the male audience, and play contexts.

Nicholas’ talk involved us looking at men and women in professional play and how they structured themselves on the occasions when they were present, with particular reference to a team of players of Halo 3 in North America who called themselves ‘NerdCorps’. Nicholas described their successes at attending various gaming tournaments across the world, including the World Cyber Games in Germany, which involved more than eight hundred players from various countries, involving fourteen games. This, Nicholas described, was a feeling of ‘making it big’, and a realisation of the sheer globalisation of Halo 3 games. The dreams of professional gaming opportunities, it seems, are rather closer than we might think, to the point that Nicholas described how professional gamer Tom ‘T-Squared’ Taylor has been featured on bottles of Dr. Pepper. It is not just Halo that these major tournaments exist for, either, for Nicholas described a Guitar Hero tournament also being in existence. Gaming, it seems, might be big business.

Whilst Nicholas stated that he was not initially looking at the opportunities for women in the scene, it was noted how limited these opportunities were when he was involved in attending these global tournaments. Furthermore, women who attended such events were often sexualised, branded as ‘Halo hoes’, who would ‘pick up’ men at events. Similarly, ‘Booth Babes’ and such like are there to interact with the players and push the product they are advertising. Nicholas questioned why these women were at such events and put it down to them assuring the safety of a homosocial, heteronormative space in modelling a stereotypically masculine product. Nicholas described how the majority of women who were present at these events were involved in the service industry, not in participating in the events, thus providing a monopoly over the prizes by men. Nicholas also described how only four or five mothers were usually seen at these events, even those involving younger players.

There was, however, one female player that Nicholas saw regularly: a player who called herself Fatal Fantasy. She was described as the only female regular NerdCorps member, and one who was highly involved and skilled, particularly with ‘strategy calling’. Nicholas said she “Represented herself as both a desirable & unattainable heterosexual female, and as a highly-competent player” [taken from slide]. Fatal Fantasy was described as having a good grasp of the codified language required to succeed in playing the game, and also over ‘trash talking’ both her own and opponents’ teams. She was also very vocal about training the team she was on if they made an error.

Nicholas described Fatal Fantasy’s attitude towards her gaming as different from the male gamers. For example, she mentioned to him that she was allowed to play if she got good grades at school: something that none of the male players had ever told him with regards to their own limitations of play. Furthermore, Nicholas noted that Fatal Fantasy dressed in specific ways, informed him that she was there simply to game, and set herself as different from other girls who attended events, specifying that she was not gay or there to ‘pick up’ men.

Nicholas specified that he was describing what was occurring albeit on a far smaller scale, that the eSports industry is very male dominated and that women are marginalised at these events.

Nicholas was asked questions regarding how the players reacted to his presence as cameraman, the difficulty of understanding what is occurring on the screen when at an event unless one already has a good knowledge of the game, and the performative aspect female players must adhere to.

Ben’s talk was explained as looking at the representations of LGBT within the gaming world. His intention was to look at the theory and raise some of the issues of this representation.

Ben had been studying a site known as Gaydar, a large dating site designed to assist men in finding other men, which he described as making money from gay men a niche market. In this, he described, there are certain tensions in classification and representation. At this point we were shown a chart of how many gay men used hair straighteners in comparison to the number of straight men who did the same. This kind of study is designed to reinforce stereotypes and representations of people.

Ben moved on to how LGBT individuals are represented in games. http://www.GayGamer.net has a list titled ‘Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters’. This interested Ben because it showed how people connected with games beyond the intention of the designer and also beyond play. He referenced Jenson and de Castell (2008) and the requirement for a rethink of gender assumptions with relation to games. He then moved on to list some of the games and characters that LGBT people identify with and some games that have included LGBT content.

SingStar Anthems was labelled ‘queer edition’ due to the perceived identification of the LGBT community with certain tracks. Ben also described the box art, whereby it seems that one of the men is looking at the other, and the same with the women. Ben stated his surprise when he realised just how much LGBT content there was to find. This included a playable ‘camp’ character by the name of Ash from Streets of Rage 3 who was removed from play in the US version of the game, and the developing relationship between two female characters in Fear Effect 2 which was later said to be revealed to be included for teenage boys who wanted to see such things. Ben questioned why such content would be included in games and answered himself with a statement about “commodification of difference”. Further examples cited included Bully: Scholarship Edition, in which one can kiss girls and boys and even gain points for homosexual encounters. The Temple of Elemental Evil, Fable, and Fallout included the serious possibility of gay marriage. Ben stated that developers claim to aim for a more rounded experience in games with such content.

Cho Aniki is a game involving a sexual relationship between two men. Ben described said title as being filled with hypermasculinity and highly sexualised content (such as using sperm as a weapon). He also stated that some individuals considered the characters of Dance Summit 2001 as drag queens, which brought him to what I considered as perhaps his most central point of the talk. Ben pointed out that it doesn’t actually matter with these characters whether they are LGBT or not, it’s the case that if someone has thought that way about them then it is important. This brought with it further examples, including the infamous Tingle character from the Zelda series (incidentally, this character made #1 on the GayGamer.net aforementioned top twenty). This character is important, states Ben, because of the on- and offline commentary regarding the character and how that interacts with itself. These are, Ben says, contested characters.

As a final two examples of content in games, Ben cited games in which one must run away from gay characters or, more alarmingly, kill them. The final example mentioned was what is apparently considered to be a bug, in which one could partner and even have children with someone of the same sex.

To conclude, Ben stated that there is much content in games intended to make humourous statements, or to be homophobic and hetero-normative. However, there is also an inter-textual element in which characters are hidden, and the idea of guessing on contested subjects. Ben will be working ethnographically in future with the game SingStar and the LGBT networks forming within that community. He wanted to observe the ‘gaymers’ versus ‘gamers’ divide and the idea that individuals play games because they want to play them, not simply because they are LGBT. Finally, Ben urged us to look at pre-determinism and stated that perhaps women only play certain games because that is what they are comfortable doing, and not because of their sex.

Ben received a number of questions and spoke about the situation of inclusion of content and whether it can become more political, the interest (or lack thereof) of content being directed towards LGBT gamers, and the discourse of men playing the SingStar games.