Play Preferences and the Gendering of Gaming

Play Preferences and the Gendering of Gaming

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4534-9.ch004
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The aim of this chapter is to highlight the gender divide in regards to play styles and game preferences. The chapter considers how gender differences in relation to play and preferences reinforce and perpetuate the view that computer games are a male domain and a predominantly male leisure pursuit. Additionally, the authors discuss what makes women, and girls play differently and in what ways the genders differ and why this might be. The chapter also discusses the view of masculinity as the dominant ideology of play within the game industry, with feminine play viewed as “other,” trivialised and marginalised by the mainstream industry.
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Computer gameplay as a specific activity takes place within and forms part of a culture that is not gender neutral. (Dovey & Kenedy, 2006, p. 36)

After discussing the impact of computer games in society and culture it is not surprising to hear that a large proportion of American teenagers play games (Jones, 2003; Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2008). However the gamer population is by no means restricted to teenagers. According to recent findings by the Entertainment and Software Association the average age of a gamer regardless of gender was 30 in 2012 a reduction from age 37 in 2011 (ESA, 2011a, 2012). In this chapter we want to consider the gender divide with regards to play and preferences, including play styles and game genre preference’s that have been found to differ between the genders. Chapter one highlighted the importance of computer games in the current climate; specifically in terms of their current economic, cultural and media impact. This chapter will discuss the specifics of play and consider how play styles and preferences can differ; between the genders. In 2008 the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that game play was nearly universal across teens in America and it could even be suggested that for children in many countries including America, the UK, Australia, many parts of Europe and amongst many Asian countries to not play computer games is viewed unusual.

According to sociologist John Huizinga (1955) play is vital and an essential part of human life. Play in childhood is viewed as a means for children to understand the social world (Mead, 1934) and role-playing games in particular enable children to understand different roles, gain a sense of empathy and the viewpoints of others (Kato, 2010). The growing popularity and importance of games in our culture makes a discussion of the gender divide within games a pertinent and timely issue. As this chapter will discuss, play including digital play is deeply affected by the cultural construction of gender. Play and leisure, like work, are embedded in our cultures and therefore discussions of play with regards to the gendered digital divide is an important area of research and may enable a deeper understanding of gender and culture.

Computer game consumers are becoming more diverse especially in the advent of game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and Microsoft X Box Kinect which play more social and interactive games. Women in particular are increasingly making up the gamer population and market especially in terms of the afore mentioned Nintendo consoles with recent figures saying that women represent 51% of Wii users and 53% of DS users (ESA, 2011b). However, as we will discuss throughout this chapter, and ultimately throughout this book, there are a number of gender differences that exist within games culture. In general, games are viewed as a male pursuit and females are less immersed in the culture of games. Highlighting the importance of games in culture today Jenson and de Castell (2011) argue that “over a remarkably short span of time, digital games have come to command an increasingly important role in social communications” (p. 1), and therefore they suggest, to which we agree, that it is important for us to find out “how and under what conditions girls and women play the way they do, without attributing to that way of playing in and of itself any enduring or fixed significance” (Jenson & de Castell, 2011, p. 10). The beginning quote again by Jenson and de Castell also acknowledges that computer games have moved on significantly from the lone socially isolated player image and are now part of how people communicate; they are social and allow players to interact with each other. This aspect will be explored later in the chapter through a specific look at MMORPG’s.

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