Playing Politics: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Game of Masculinity in Online Culture
In the year 2015, we are all gamers. Even those of us who don’t partake in Call of Duty deathmatches or hunt for dragons on the plains of Azeroth in World of Warcraft (even those of us who have no idea what the first half of this sentence means!) find ourselves engaging with digital games and game-like objects all the time: on our smartphones and our Facebook feeds, in viral marketing campaigns, at school and at work. As such, gaming culture is no longer a niche group for hobbyists. It is now a large and influential consumer demographic. However, gaming culture is experiencing some growing pains as more and more different kinds of people, particularly women and girls, are entering into the scene. Accounts of female game developers and feminist critics being harassed and stalked online, having their private documents hacked and shared, and even receiving rape and death threats that include their home addresses are regularly making the news. Sexism and homophobia have always been a problem in gamer culture, but why is it reaching a critical mass at this moment? And what can this moment teach us about the performative, collaborative, and sometimes combative ways that American culture enacts race, gender, and sexuality?
In Playing Politics: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Game of Masculinity in Online Culture, I examine literature, film, and video games to explain how the term “gamer” has been constructed in the popular imagination using an innovative combination of poststructuralist gender theory, close textual reading, and a rigorous analysis of visual and verbal online posts. The gamer identity is policed from within across overlapping textual sites such as novels, games, press releases and advertisements, forum posts, and Internet memes. These texts simultaneously shore up an embattled form of geeky masculinity and serve as a tool of intervention for women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals demanding broader access to gaming culture. These competing discourses are creating rifts within the culture, as recent trending topics like #GamerGate, an online movement that has resulted in threats and harassment aimed at female game developers and critics, have shown. Looking at the cultural practices of online gamers can enable academics to re-think their understanding of identities commonly thought to be rooted in the body. I argue that we can best understand how gender and sexuality function in our increasingly networked world if we think of them using gamer logic.
Under contract with the University of Iowa Press