In This Article Feminist and Queer Game Studies

  • Introduction
  • Critical Overviews and Core Texts
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Feminist Theory and Games
  • Queer Theory and Games
  • Critical Race Theory and Games
  • Game Design
  • Platform Studies
  • Transmedia
  • Feminist Ethnography
  • Player Practices
  • Performance
  • Sex and Sexuality
  • Gendered Play
  • Harassment and Toxic Gaming Cultures

Communication Feminist and Queer Game Studies
by
Adrienne Shaw, Alexandrina Agloro, Josef Nguyen, Amanda Phillips, Bonnie Ruberg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0235

Introduction

To date, there are no general overviews of feminist and queer game studies, though there are several core texts, edited collections, and special journal issues. Much of feminist game studies might more rightly be called women’s game studies, as the feminist goals of the work were largely focused on ethnographic and qualitative scholarship on women and girls who play and make games. Research on masculinity in games comprises a much smaller subcategory of research. A related but separate thread of this work includes feminist analyses of game texts, as well as feminist critical game making praxis. Importantly, feminist game studies has existed for as long as game studies has been around (being formally named as such around the year 2000), questioning essentialist and hegemonic approaches to gender differences in game play and production. However, it took several years for feminist game scholarship on the whole to adopt an intersectional approach that could account for how gender presentation, sex, sexuality, race, age, embodiment, and so on shape game play experiences, the game industry, and textual representation. As feminist game scholarship became more intersectional, moreover, queer game studies (which has many overlaps with feminist game studies) coalesced in the early 2010s, owning in part to a slow but increasing acceptance of game analysis in departments more traditionally associated with queer theory (such as comparative literature and film studies departments). Moreover, an increase in mainstream representations and discussions of sexuality, a critical mass of game studies work on gender and sexuality, the rise of a queer indie game movement (due in part to new distribution channels and free design software), and academic conferences such as Different Games and the Queerness and Games Conference, all helped lead to a proliferation of queer game studies work. Similar to the trajectory of earlier feminist game studies, early work in this area focused on analyses of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) game content, players, and the game industry. The emergence of queer game studies communities, however, also corresponded with queer game design communities taking a queer approach to games beyond literal forms of representation. Moreover, queer game scholarship has come to represent a new paradigm through which queerness as a lens is used to question norms of design, play, and representation.

Critical Overviews and Core Texts

This section focuses on works that offer an important starting point for scholars entering these fields. Malkowski and Russworm 2017 and Ruberg and Shaw 2017, for example, provide critical overviews of the state of feminist and queer game studies. From a little over a decade earlier, Kerr 2006 offers an introduction and history of the study of game play and the game industry while King and Krzywinska 2006 offers a necessary introduction to the analysis of games as texts. Both touch on questions of gender—and in the latter case, race—in terms of who gets to make, play, and be represented in games but they importantly do so from a feminist perspective that includes analyses of power structures and the social constructions of gendered and racialized difference. In addition, Nakamura 2007, Everett and Watkins 2008, and Murray 2018 provide valuable theoretical insight into how digital spaces and texts (including but not limited to games) represent racialized and gendered differences, what these practices demonstrate about the industries that design them, and for whom they appear to be designed. Shaw 2014 reviews how questions of representation have been addressed in games but also utilizes feminist qualitative audience research to make sense of how members of marginalized groups (looking at the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality) interact with representation (or lack thereof) in digital games and media. Finally, Humphreys 2017 and Phillips 2018 consider how feminist and queer reflexive academic practice can inform game studies and encourage scholars (and designers and players) to use their work to promote social justice.

  • Everett, Anna, and S. Craig Watkins. 2008. The power of play: The portrayal and performance of race in video games. In The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning. Edited by Katie Salen Tekinbas, 141–166. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Everett and Watkins analyze what games simulating urban culture like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas teach children about race and gender, particularly Black masculinity. They trace the game’s “racialized pedagogical zones” (p. 150) that allow players to play in and around race and gender, which they argue is a form of minstrelsy that has more to do with cultural perceptions of Black men than the realities they inhabit.

  • Humphreys, Sal. 2017. On being a feminist in games studies. Games and Culture.

    DOI: 10.1177/1555412017737637E-mail Citation »

    Humphreys argues that feminist perspectives are increasingly urgent in the era of #GamerGate, which offers an extreme example of what happens when white men strategically deploy notions of marginalization to maintain their power over a community. She encourages game studies scholars to interrogate their own positionality and practices within the field, which has thus far not been proactive in promoting feminist perspectives and nurturing the marginalized scholars within its ranks.

  • Kerr, Aphra. 2006. The business and culture of digital games: Gamework/gameplay. London: SAGE.

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    This book offers a critical overview of digital games, their history, and different academic approaches to them. It offers one of the most comprehensive overviews of the structure of the game industry (at least when the book was written), including labor issues, cultures of production, and the global networks of game development. Kerr also provides a nuanced and non-essentializing analysis of how the industry and broader game culture construct gender.

  • King, Geoff, and Tanya Krzywinska. 2006. Tomb raiders and space invaders: Videogame forms and contexts. New York: I. B. Tauris.

    E-mail Citation »

    King and Krzywinska provide an early model for studying across the technological, narrative, ludic, and cultural dimensions of video games, arguing that all of these are important for a full understanding of gaming. They engage widely with game studies, from classic anthropological perspectives to more contemporary (for 2006) studies of global and political economies, and offer useful introductory descriptions of important concepts in the field.

  • Malkowski, Jennifer, and TreaAndrea Russworm, eds. 2017. Gaming Representation: Race, gender, and sexuality in video games. Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The chapters collected by Malkwoski and Russworm offer a range of intersectional perspectives on gender, race, sexuality, and other matters of representation that positions them as not merely window dressing, but fundamental to the systems that drive video games.

  • Murray, Soraya. 2018. On video games: The visual politics of race, gender and space. New York: I. B. Tauris.

    E-mail Citation »

    Murray argues for the value of bringing together game studies, cultural studies, and visual studies in order to understand the importance and implications of video games, especially as they relate to the politics of identity. She models this approach by looking at a selection of AAA video games, through which she addresses issues of racial passing, the fragility of whiteness, and the ideologies communicated through in-game landscapes.

  • Nakamura, Lisa. 2007. Digitizing race: visual cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Nakamura’s book presents case studies of early-2000s Internet culture and their visual representations of race online. The case studies include AOL Instant Messenger buddy icons, avatar uses in pregnancy networks, and others. This book uses representation to illustrate how the Internet is not a racially neutral space and that digital racial formation takes place with the intentional identity constructions or absences of people of color online.

  • Phillips, Amanda. 2018. Game studies for great justice. In Routledge companion to media studies and digital humanities. Edited by J. Sayers, 117–127. London: Routledge.

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    In this essay, Phillips outlines potential ways for scholars in game studies to advance commitments to social justice through their work. Such strategies for engaging social justice include recognizing ethical responsibilities to the subjects of research, moving beyond elements of fun, and pursuing lines of inquiry that complexify conventional and commercial discussions of diversity and inclusion.

  • Ruberg, Bonnie, and Adrienne Shaw, eds. 2017. Queer game studies. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This was the first anthology to bring together scholars, critics, and designers looking at the relationship between queer theory, queer studies, and game studies. The short chapters are designed to offer introductions to theoretical, methodological, and design topics in queer game studies.

  • Shaw, Adrienne. 2014. Gaming at the edge: Sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    To understand the relationship between identity, identification, and representation, Shaw interviewed people who play digital games and fall outside the market constructed norm of heterosexual, white, and cisgender male gamers. She found that identification with characters was not always predicated on identifying as a member of the same demographic group as the character, and that for these players seeing themselves represented in games was contextually rather than inherently important.

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