Department of Communciation
M/F? How Gamers are Taught to Discursively Construct Gender
Drawing on Foucault, Goffman, Shugart, de Klerk, Cameron, Kulick, and Edley & Wetherell, this study takes a critical discourse analyst's perspective in examining how players use socio-discursive practices to negotiate gendered social identities and norms. More than chatter, talk in the game involves the sharing, teaching and policing of ideas, values and norms within a tortuous system of game mechanics, digital tradition and wider cultural constraints.
Counter-Strike, played by millions worldwide, makes an excellent case study of gamer interaction. Transcription for this study was gathered digitally, and a number of different servers were analyzed for conversational sequences that clearly demonstrate more widespread trends in game communication.
Game messages are filled with disembedded references to broader social practice and pop culture. Messages are synchronous, reciprocal, personal, spontaneous, informal, and linguistically transgressive, performing variety of purposes: from task accomplishment, to entertainment, persuasion, and identity work. This study focuses upon the ways in which participants employ socio-discursive power and construct sexual identity within the game. Cameron (1997) suggests, "Gender has constantly to be reaffirmed and publicly displayed by repeatedly performing particular acts in accordance with the cultural norms . . . which define 'masculinity' and 'femininity'." The near-constant labeling of others with sexualized pejoratives in Counter-Strike attests to that. Young males use expletives, "(depending on the context) to break norms, to shock, show disrespect for authority, or be witty or humorous . . . they are part of a shared linguistic code, reinforcing group membership, and indicative of shared knowledge and interests . . . they have become associated with power and masculinity in Western cultures," (de Klerk , 1997). The extensive use of vulgar, misogynistic, homophobic language, then, is a form of social in-grouping. It appeals to a shared, if problematic, sense of what it is to articulate maleness. Through discursive conflict, players struggle to own conversational power and the performative achievement of manliness. Not content to express this struggle through the violent, macho and power-glorifying medium of the game play itself, gamers extend this combat into verbal channels as they discursively construct pejorative assaults and mitigate faces threats. In this way, the conversational expression of male sexuality in Counter-Strike can metaphorically match the intense combat themes of the game itself.
Discourse may play a stronger role in the construction of gender for gamers than the schoolboys de Klerk (1997) studied, particularly because of the Cartesian dualism imposed in digital play. While macho can be accomplished both physically and socially in face-to-face interaction, it is more difficult to demonstrate physicality in games. Slaughtering other players is only marginally macho, because one need not be macho to accomplish the task. World-champion chess players are not made macho by their accomplishments precisely because one may be emasculated and still manage the task. Likewise, it is through discursive interaction that gamers achieve masculinity in digital play. It is in the display of the mental or social strength that maleness is articulated in cyberspaces where the physical body is abstracted and only the movement of the eyes and hands externally marks the difference between 733T and n00b.
Cameron, D. (1997). Performing gender identity: Young men's talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity, in S. Johnson & U. Meinhof (Eds.) Language and masculinity. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Klerk, V. de (1997). The role of expletives in the construction of masculinity, in S. Johnson & U. Meinhof (Eds.) Language and masculinity. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.