TITLE: Gaming Masculinity: Trolls, Fake Geeks & the Gendered Battle for Online Culture
AUTHOR: Megan Condis
RELEASED: May 2018; University of Iowa Press
GENRE: Non Fiction
KEY INFO: Feminist Pop Culture critique, online gaming, gaming culture, gender theory
REPRESENTATION: Women, People of Colour, LGBTQ
CONTENT NOTICES: misogyny, sexual harassment, discussion of GamerGate, excerpts of abusive quotes, homophobia, transphobia
As a trans person who has been gaming their entire life, I am all too familiar with the harassment that marginalized gamers often face in the gaming community. Whenever I was ‘read’ by other gamers as a girl I would face constant invalidation of my identity as a gamer, being told that I should get back in the kitchen, sent inappropriate or offensive messages, and being otherwise victimized by my fellow gamers. Once I started taking hormones and my voice began to sound more androgynous I became terrified of ever speaking over a gaming mic for fear of the type of harassment I would face. After a while, I stopped playing games online, with the exception of Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG, because I could no longer cope with the treatment I faced every time I attempted to play online.
These type of experiences are exactly what Megan Condis discusses in ‘Gaming Masculinity‘. It is a relatively short read which provides a fascinating insight into the ‘gendered battle for online culture’ and how this is contextualized within real-world politics. She explores how the dominant culture within gaming, (cis) straight, white, middle-class men, use tactics of trolling, memes, gaslighting and outright harassment to maintain a geek monopoly over gaming.
In introducing us to the topic, Megan opens her analysis of gaming culture with the all too fresh reminder of #Gamergate, where women in the gaming industry were subjected to harassment and violence at the hands of “true gamers” who were “protecting” their turf from ‘sexy sidekicks, filthy casuals, and fake geek girls’. In using #Gamergate as an opening to her book, Condis provides us with a perfect example how ‘how gender politics are being filtered through and produced by the logic of gaming‘ which she then goes on to articulately expand upon throughout the rest of the book.
I really appreciated the way that Condis discussed some very difficult ideas but broke them down into clearly defined chapters and subheadings. We spend time exploring online gaming as an arena for the battle of toxic masculinity and the use of trolling and memes as a tool of surveillance, discipline, and power; the normalization of rape and racism; the validation of toxic masculinity through #GamerGate, Trumps’ presidency and the AltRight; and lastly, the gamification of the real world. All of these chapters are nicely interspersed with what Condis names ‘Game Breaks’ where we take a short break to look at gaming examples such as Far Cry 3 and Bioshock.
My favorite chapter by far was chapter 3, ‘No homosexuals in Star Wars’. I am a huuuuge Bioware fan, if you hadn’t already guessed, and Dragon Age and SW: TOR are some of my favorite games of all time. As a fan though, I am all too familiar with how LGBTQ gamers have been treated by both Bioware and “true gamers”. This chapter provides a really fascinating insight into the raging debate for greater inclusivity within Bioware and the gaming community as a whole, providing real-life examples and quotes from “real fans” who feel that there is “no place for sexual politics” in games.
I’m inclined to say that – on an online gaming forum – your sexuality is of no concern to anyone else. I’m not going to ask you and frankly, I really couldn’t care less. I’m here for the game. I’m not here to have people tell me whether they are lesbian, gay or straight or to start any debates about equality… You have brought that conflict and imposed it on a group of people who – for all intents and purposes – transcended the whole issue in the first place… There is no war on these forums that you haven’t brought on yourself with this thread.
I admired Condis’ intersectional approach to this topic and her discussions of how gaming masculinity affects women, people of colour and LGBTQ people, although she does mostly focus on cis women. I would have liked to have seen more space dedicated to breaking down the experiences of women through spending more time looking at women of colour and queer women, rather than this homogenous group of women that Condis often talks about. I also noticed that although she talks about ‘LGBTQ people’, her primary focus seems to be on cis lesbians and gay men but never expands this into trans peoples experiences of gaming. Additionally, as someone who was introduced to online gaming by a cis gay boyfriend several years ago, I know first-hand that gaming masculinity is not exclusive to straight, white, heterosexual men. Yes, they are definitely the dominant category but I think it really needs to be acknowledged that toxic masculinity is something that affects and is transmitted by all men, not just the category that Condis focuses on.
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed how Condis used theories like Butler’s gender trouble; Foucault’s surveillance, discipline and power; and technoutopian disembodiment especially in light of the recent hype around Ready, Player One because damn are those things relevant to that book. By using such theories, Condis frames gaming masculinity within a framework of gender performativity and reconstructing manliness through a mastery of technology. In this, she argues that “we have not come to disregard our bodies; nor have we transformed them into accessories. Instead, we imported them into the digital landscape, reducing the brave new world of the Internet into one resembling the familiar old one.” I LOVED this analysis and would happily read more of Condis’ work on this topic. The only suggestion I have is to maybe break down the academised language in order to make the book more accessible to others who may not be familiar with reading academic language. Gaming Masculinity is such a fantastic book that it would be a shame for others to miss out just because of this.
Overall, a brilliant book that I really hope more people pick up and start talking about!
Thank you so much to the University of Iowa Press for allowing me to read Gaming Masculinity for free via Netgalley in an exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my review.