This reading, Becoming a Player: Networks, Structure, and Imagined Futures, by T.L. Taylor, is a chapter from Beyond Barbie & Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming.
Looking at my own experience coming into a gaming culture, my entrance to the culture was greatly shaped by who introduced me and what access I had to technology. I remember in high school that many of my friends played games, but I did not have a computer at home. During our LAN parties, I usually had to play on someone else’s computer when they were taking a break. The group was primarily boys and a couple of their girlfriends. Not all of the girls played – some just came to hangout with the group. After high school I was dating someone from that group and we moved in together. He introduced me to World of Warcraft (WoW). After leveling a character to 20 on his account and indicating that I’d like to create my own account so I could play with him versus playing whenever he was not logged in, we built a second computer system. I was immediately accepted into his guild, which also had a few real life friends of ours that he met in college. I had a network of friends in real life that introduced me to a game that we all played together and I had access to my own computer.
I recognize that my WoW experience certainly does not speak for everyone. I know women who did not have a real life network connected to their gaming network and who struggled to feel accepted inside the gaming community without any “references” and who struggled to be taken seriously in their real life network simply because they played games.
T.L. Taylor makes a key point when she says that it’s impossible to provide a single answer to the question of what women want in games because there is not a singular “woman” on whom to base the answer. Women want to play the same games as men – the question is less about what they want to play and more about how are they introduced to play.
Women gamers are not anomalies. They are not unicorns. They should not be treated as such.
How does the industry transform their on-boarding of new players without making the process gendered?

  • As research on computer games grows, the area of professional computer gaming is the most unexplored
  • Gaming community continues to struggle with gender and play debate and whether men and women can play together enjoyably and equitably
  • Seeing increasing gender segregation of pro players and stratification including single sex teams
  • “Glamorization” of women players (Frag Dolls team sponsored by Ubisoft; proposed reality show based on Danish women’s clan from CounterStrike)
  • While the pro scene struggles to reconcile gender and play, the game industry more consistently asks “what games do women want?”
  • Poor assumption that there is a single answer dovetails unfortunately with notions of (bio-)gender difference in understanding play (e.g. men like first person shooters because of historical roots to being hunters of the tribe)
  • “How can we do research and write on the subject in ways that do not a priori essentialize or assume difference through the very construction of our projects, the formulation of our questions, the performance of our ethnographies and interviews?”
  • “There is no single construct of “woman” that we can describe, analyze, capture, and reproduce for the benefit of industry.”
  • Context of and structure around game play matter
  • Social networks and access are core considerations for play; most people come into game culture via their networks and learn to be gamers within those social contexts
  • Many women playing MMOs were introduced by a family, friend, or coworker
  • We would be remiss in not recognizing that this is also the case for men
  • The path we take into game culture is vital
  • We have long looked at game mechanics as an explanation for who inhabits this space — how people come to know about a game, get reviews, get the game, learn it, and have people to play with is deeply informed by social networks
  • Women gamers often isolated not because they do not have women friends who play, but because they do not know their friends play — too often women gamers occupy a closeted gamer identity
  • Configuration of domestic and public space, available resources, and women’s ongoing social negotiation around their desire to play need to be more centrally considered
  • Population of women that does play games is frequently seen as an anomaly rather than taken as a prime informant for understanding how play works
  • Industry actively cultivates existing male demographic to the point of ignoring others; companies know that part of playing is being continually brought into game culture and told you have a place there
  • Industry rarely give women this attention and when they do, it is for a constrained slice of “girl games” such as The Sims, which have been legitimized for women
  • Chicken/egg question: did women flock to The Sims because they like it or because they were strongly targeted and pushed toward it? (dollhouses, family play, etc.)
  • Existing women players seen as oddities even in research vs seeing them as informants to understand what it takes to inhabit gamer culture
  • Technology is historically gendered, computers historically masculine, leisure with computers historically inhabited by men; categorizing game mechanics as gendered is misguided… the tech itself is already gendered
  • “Girl games” generally serve to reify social constructs
  • Even games that do not build gender differences into mechanics are still behind when it comes to art and marketing (e.g. World of Warcraft)
  • Stop trying to identify “feminine” game mechanics… instead make sense of the symbolics of the material world in which game circulate
  • Consider how gaming DEVICES are implicated in our discussions about who games and why
  • Edu-art in Denmark — run ongoing play sessions, bring groups of women to net cafes and teach them to play games — the women already have connections to one another OUTSIDE of the game group — pull in existing social networks that become play communities

Taylor, T. L. (2008). Chapter 4: Becoming a player: Networks, structure, imagined futures. In Y. B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner & J. Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond barbie & mortal combat: New perspectives on gender and gaming (pp. 50-65) MIT Press.

Leave a Reply