Reading response to Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity, by Adrienne Shaw, which was published in New Media & Society in 2012.
Quote from the article’s Abstract:
The demand for minority representation in video games often focuses on proving that members of marginalized groups are gamers. In turn, it is asserted that the gaming industry should focus on appealing to these players via targeted content. Being targeted as a gamer, however, does not a gamer make. Identity as a gamer intersects with other identities like gender, race, and sexuality. Negative connotations about gaming lead people to not identify as gamers, and even to not play video games. This article concludes, based on interview data, that those invested in diversity in video games must focus their attention on the construction of the medium, and not the construction of the audience as such.
Labeling vs. identification… A game company or marketing firm cannot tell someone whether or not they are a gamer. Not everyone who plays games identifies as a gamer and the definition of “gamer” can vary from person to person. Companies cannot build an audience by telling people that they belong in the audience – a person does not necessarily pay attention to messages directed at an audience if they do not consider themselves part of the audience. (Ever notice how once you start researching a product, like a specific car, you all of a sudden you start seeing ads for them everywhere? They were always there, you just weren’t in the audience before – it’s selective attention.) If games companies want to diversify the gamer audience, they should not do so simply by creating games specifically for individual groups and targeting marketing at those groups. Shaw says that making “girl games” and targeting girls in marketing only distances women from mainstream games. Why? Because identifying girls as a separate market further marginalizes them. People play games, both men and women. If game companies want a more diverse audience, then they should make diverse content, not segregated content.
Shaw looks at why a person might choose to identify, or not, as a gamer. I was recently sitting in on a class where a student was asked if she identified as a gamer and she said that she does not identify as a gamer because she does not think that she plays games often enough to be considered a gamer. For her, the amount of time spent with games defines whether or not she is a gamer. She said that she thinks a person who plays games everyday is considered a gamer. I do not play games every day, but I definitely identify as a gamer — our definitions are different. Shaw says:
Identification recognizes that people work within contexts in which particular identities are articulated, and that inhabiting certain identity categories can shift one’s relationship with another category (e.g. being both a woman and a gamer). This type of identify theory offers a way of addressing the relationship between identity, game play, and representation in games, which does not rely on labeling players based on their actions nor over-privileging certain identity categories over others (e.g. gender over race).
Shaw recruited people to interview for her study by using an announcement that called to “hardcore gamers, casual gamers, and everyone in between.” She says that some people wondered why she wanted to interview them about gaming when they did not see themselves as a gamer. People thought they would have no insight to provide on a subject in which they do not consider themselves experts. Some interviewees were inconsistent with identifying themselves as a gamer over the course of two interviews – first identifying and then changing their mind later. Shaw says that the action of playing games is a simplistic method of labeling someone as a gamer and that “the meanings attached to ‘gamer identity’ by industry, and academic and popular discourse, shape people’s relationship with the category.” I know someone who plays games on a weekly basis, but refuses to publicly identify herself as a gamer because of the negative feedback she gets from her family (even though she has a cousin of the same age who plays more often than she does and he does not get the same feedback that she does). One of Shaw’s interviewees said she was “ambivalent about identifying as a gamer because ‘there’s that whole negative connotation that gamers are nerds.'”
Choosing to identify as a member of a particular group affects one’s relationship to others, as well as the investments one has in that identifier. When it comes to gamer identity, this investment, or lack thereof, is applied to the medium as well. People tied their opinion of whether representation in video games is important to how they felt about games in general.
I personally identify as a gamer because I enjoy playing games and doing so is a big part of my life. I publicly identify as a gamer because I hope that the stigma and “negative connotations” surrounding the gamer identity will change. I do not seek out games that are specifically marketed toward women, but I do seek out games with content that includes women. I very much agree with Shaw’s findings. Game content needs be diverse to attract a diverse audience. Pointing out that women are outside the normal scope of “gamers” by creating games that are specifically “for women” says that regular mainstream games are not for women and that this new targeted content is also not for men.
Shaw, A. (2012). Do you identify as a gamer? gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity. New Media Society, 14(1), 28-44.