Posts Tagged ‘digra 2009’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tanya began her talk by emphasising the notions of the popular press with regards to the threat of games and the ill-effects these are perceived as having. She expressed this as a concern, whereby human sexuality is essentially reduced when it’s actually extremely complex. The questions Tanya asked us throughout the talk regarded exactly how to define sex and its appearance in games, and indeed what is really happening in the games we play. She drew attention to Floyd and Braithwaite’s statement that there is, in fact, actually very little sex within games if we look at games historically. However, Tanya engaged us with the idea that perhaps our notions of what pertains to be sex or sexuality in games should be more flexible. She stated that there is little explicit sex in titles perhaps because of the production costs relating to this, the limited input of games devices for producing this, regulatory bodies, and the already-abundant cyber sex opportunities. She also stated that, although there has been little sex in games, the places where it has been used should be examined.

From here, Tanya’s talk was split into three sections: representations, sex as a game mechanic, and libidinal economies in games. The latter of these received less attention due to time constraints. In the ‘representations’ section, Tanya showed us two clips in which, she explained, one could clearly see the cinematic conventions of representing nudity that had clearly been borrowed by the games industry. The first clip was from Beowulf, in which smoke and cleverly angled shots hide the genitalia during a fight sequence. Something that struck me about this scene was that the warped body this man was fighting was not given any of the same allowances. Indeed, said body received maximum exposure, in stark contrast with the fighter. Tanya described the hiding of the genitalia as ironic and related it back to Lacan and the hiding of the phallus.

The second clip was from The Simpsons and showed Bart nude, riding his skateboard. This scene follows the same cinematic conventions in which rear shots and everyday objects are lifted to the correct level in order to hide the genitalia. It subverts this convention in the middle, however, when Bart rides on the other side of the hedge which happens to have a gap at the right level, thus exposing the genitalia for a moment before the conventions return. Tanya discussed that many of these cinematic conventions are utilised by games, especially in cutscenes where they can draw upon the cinematics in order to render sexuality. An example of this would be Mass Effect whereby the scenario of the sex act depends upon which characters one chooses to interact with throughout the game. In Viva Pinata, a more family-oriented title, the creatures were shown to dance around, followed by a baby arriving.

Tanya went on to describe sex in terms of a game mechanic, in which she also drew reference upon games in which the sex is built into the game itself: Seven Sins and Playboy: the Mansion. Sex in these games is noted as a means to an end. Japanese ‘ero’ or dating games will reward the player with a sex scene at the end providing specific criteria are met. Yet, there are also games which hide the sex: Warcraft was stated as an example where, in creating a building the units appear, albeit with no suggestion of the sexual act. Tanya stated that perhaps the reason why games with cyber sex content are not particularly popular is perhaps because of internet chatrooms and Massively Multiplayer titles, where players already have room to express these desires.

Finally, Tanya pointed out that perhaps we are looking for sex in games in the wrong places. She showed us a clip from Assassin’s Creed where the main character was stated to have erotic charge in the way he moved and dispatched of enemies.  The game The Path (http://thepath-game.com/) was also referenced with relation to this. Tanya’s final point was perhaps the most pertinent: where should we be looking for sex in games?

In questions, Tanya made reference to the notions of sex and sensuality, libidinal desire, Deleuzian thinking on desire as being read in what you do, and crossovers between real life and the game world in multi- and single-player titles. With reference to the Assassin’s Creed clip, one final point was made: whose position of desire is it spoken from?

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