The Games Men Play: How Students Use Video Games to Construct Masculinity

The Games Men Play: How Students Use Video Games to Construct Masculinity

Eric Niemi (Northern Illinois University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0522-8.ch004


This chapter conveys the results of a study examining how male students use video games to construct their masculinity. Applying a critical discourse methodology, the study provides insight into how men construct their masculinity within video game discourse communities and how the construction applies to other discourses. It examines how men enter the discourse, what they learn in the discourse, and then how they apply that learning to other discourse communities. It concludes with recommendations and suggestions regarding how video games are a critical part of popular culture that facilitates construction of an identity through the multitude of encounters and relationships within the discourse.
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There is a common misconception that video game players are overweight, social awkward individuals that reside in their parents basement either shunning human interaction or living as ticking human time-bombs waiting and planning to express their rage in angry outbursts of violence. Likewise, the misconception exists that video games not only encourage this behavior but stick men playing these games into a place where they eschew adult responsibilities and fail to reach their human potential. In either case, video games are a cause for the regression and stunting of men and masculinity development (Kimmel, 2008).

These assumptions and misconceptions are, of course, false. This study examines the traditional problems associated with video games and men to uncover if and how men are able to construct a masculine identity within these discourse communities. Given so many public misconceptions about video games and men, this study investigates the relationship to determine interactions and effects between the two.

Research about video games and media suggests these are rich and fecund sites of semiotics representation (Gee, 2004; Jenkins, 2008). What it does not explore, however, is how these video impact the development and constructions of masculinity. Hence, the purpose of this study is to investigate and inquire about how two-year college men construct their masculinity using referents and encounters from video game discourse communities. It situates itself at the intersection of semiotics, video games, and college men and masculinity to examine how each relate to and impact one other. Importantly, it seeks to understand how constructions of masculinity lead to the development of identity and leads to the challenging and resistance of hegemony.

What follows is a brief outline of significant concepts and research that comprise the background literature for this study. Next, there is a brief overview of the study’s design and participant selection. This is followed by findings related to how the participants entered video game discourse communities, what they learned and internalized, and then how they applied that learning. Finally, it concludes with discussion and recommendations for further study.

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