Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
PaperSession-37: Gaming & Inequalities
Saturday, 05/Oct/2019:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: David Jian-Jia Cumming
Location: O314

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9:00am - 9:20am


Jennifer Jenson1, Suzanne de Castell2, Karen Skardzius3

1The University of British Columbia; 2The University of Ontario Institute of Technology; 3York University

In early 2019, Overwatch professional player, “Ellie” quit playing just weeks after having been named to one of the teams seeded into the professional league. The harassment cited as a reason to leave was related especially to whether or not “Ellie” was truly “female”. Not much later, Ellie was revealed (and confirmed by Blizzard, the parent company of Overwatch) to be an account created by a male player. This paper sets out to map the controversy that ensued from a self-styled “social experiment” of playing while female.

This paper brings this current “revelation” into conversation with past, more fully embodied/manufactured identities to better understand why this case is particularly important to internet studies. To this end, we begin by briefly describing some earlier, more familiar cases of people revealed to be someone other than, in online spaces, they said they were. Then, we further outline the instance of Ellie: its uptake by mainstream media, prominent Youtubers and Twitch streamers, and its discussion on internet forums like Reddit and 4Chan. Paying particular attention to the ways these discussions frame the “trick” played in disguising Ellie’s ‘true’ identity (singular), we suggest that this kind of case has always been galvanized by an underlying conviction that the best gamers are always and only men, and one contribution internet scholarship can make here is to show how these discursive patterns are unhelpful in understanding contemporary identificatory politics and practices in online spaces.

9:20am - 9:40am


Sam Srauy1, John Cheney-Lippold2

1Oakland University, United States of America; 2University of Michigan

Video games, like all media, serve as sites in which cultural issues are investigated, contested, and ultimately circulated (i.e., cultural production). Past research on racism in games focused on minority representation. What has received less attention is how racist discourses make their way into game texts. Electronic Arts’ FIFA series is unique in that its selling point is its perceived realism. Furthermore, the game mechanics relies on volunteer coders to maintain congruence between the game characters and the respective real-life athletes. This study empirically investigates how realism allows racism to be encoded into a video game text, despite developers' intention to the contrary. We examine public data from, a website associated with Electronic Arts’ FIFA series of soccer video games. We analyzed six years’ worth of game data to examine how volunteer coders’ rating choices encode dominant US racial beliefs into seemingly neutral in-game characters. MANOVA analysis indicated that statistically significant differences along racial lines were encoded by volunteers as they attempt to keep the characters realistic. We argue that through an attempt to be realistic, volunteers encode their social biases, a theoretical lens Galloway (2004) calls social realism. We conclude that racial disparity was encoded into the game because attempts to encode athletes realistically into the game resulted in a reliance on racism for legibility.

9:40am - 10:00am


Brendan Keogh

Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Game development and distribution have, over the past decade, come to rely on a small number of corporate platforms for both development and distribution. However, at the fringes of the videogame field are an increasing number of smaller alternative platforms such as Pico-8 and but also Twine, Bitsy, and PuzzleScript that are created and maintained by individuals and communities, not corporations. This paper considers such platforms to be ‘grassroots’ platforms due to their communal focus, and it explores the ways in which such grassroots platforms either explicitly or implicitly provide alternative or resistive logics to platform governance for their cultural producer communities. Whereas the dominant platforms strive for a perception of neutrality where they are “rewarded for facilitating expression but not liable for its excesses” (Gillespie 2010, 356), grassroots platforms are explicitly non-neutral in their positioning by their creators and communities as not the dominant platforms governing the videogame industry. Drawing from semi-structured interviews (n=150) and surveys (n=280) with non-commerical videogame creators, this paper provides a critical analysis of grassroots platforms and their users to argue that such platforms highlight the ways within which individuals and communities of creators are navigating the logics of platform capitalism. Grassroots platforms thus provide a useful complement to existing literature on the platformisation of cultural production.

10:00am - 10:20am


Mahli-Ann Butt

University of Sydney, Australia

The gaming community has been contoured by divisive issues around the exacerbation of sexism, racism, and harassment. These tensions culminated in 2014 in the shape of #gamergate: a decentralised online harassment campaign against women and feminism in gaming. Gamergate continues to intensify a heightened climate of hostility especially felt by women and minorities.This ongoing feminist ethnography has emerged from an imperative to create interventions into the increasing normalisation of online and offline harassment. In it, this research analyses the affective labour of how people navigate and ‘cope’ with discrimination in gaming cultures.

This paper will present vignettes of the larger research project of how online harassment has coloured people’s lived experiences, through thick-descriptions of in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with 7 women who play videogames with their romantic partners. These interviews gesture towards a rich complexity of affective relationships at the nexus of gaming, romantic relationships, and the everyday lived experiences of women. To avoid bringing attention to their gender, harassment, and unwanted confrontations, women are hypervigilant. In similar ways to self-defence tactics, women constantly avoid using headsets to communicate with other players, keep clear of conversations about playing videogames, and minimise the performance of their femininity in public gaming spaces.This paper critically examines the dynamics of how the increasing normalisation and public gamification of online harassment impacts women’s engagement with gaming, as well as how ‘online’ harassment may invade into their intimate relationships and domestic ‘private’ spheres.

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