March 13th, 2006

Maybe you’ve noticed if you’ve been clicking through the latest “In the News” links, but, recently, a nice little bird flew by and told me about an academic publication called Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. Their current issue, “The Play’s the Thing: Games, Gamers, and Gaming Culture” is all about — you guessed it — video games. Some of it’s a bit condescending, but for the most part it’s really great stuff.

Of the most interest to people like you and me (okay, maybe just people like me) is probably Natasha Chen Christensen’s article “Geeks at Play: Doing Masculinity in an Online Gaming Site.” It’s all about how male players in one Quake server (largely young, white males) recreate traditional expectations of masculinity in an online space. It also focuses on the performance of gender in a non-physical environment, and the construction of aggressiveness, not through muscle, but through text.

Of course, Christensen could stand to lose the whole “geek” thing, and at least one remark about the irony of showing off heterosexuality since everyone knows gamers don’t have girlfriends anyway. But, other than that, I really would recommend reading the whole thing. To start you off, try these tasty excerpts:

On the formation of real-life masculine ideals:
“Organized sports were used in this time of crisis in order to reaffirm male superiority and male sexuality. Sports allowed men to demonstrate their physical prowess, and it was through this demonstration that sports became a way to establish male bodies as superior…”

On masculine physicality in a non-physical space:
“Rather than transcending the body-bound image of modern Western masculinity, Quake online reproduces the value placed upon the muscular male physique. The characters represent the players behind the computer with only color and name to distinguish the identical perfect bodies.”

On “doing masculinity”:
“The discourse in the chat logs is an overt show of masculinity. Winning and losing take on gendered overtones in order to dramatize superiority and manage defeat. In this next level, exaggerating wins and justifying losses most frequently take the forms of using sexuality as a threat both by homophobic references and homoerotic references and by using excessive violence to threaten others…”

On sexual aggression:
“Homophobia was obvious in many interactions throughout the server logs. However, the number of references using homoeroticism as threats was unexpected. Within the Quake server, homophobia was only an insult inasmuch as it was a reference towards being a recipient of male sexuality. In essence, being insulted for being homosexual was a parallel to being compared to a female. Males as aggressors were viewed as masculine whether the sexual aggression was directed towards women or men. Being superior was directly translated into penile penetration…”

On pre-programmed homoeroticism:
“This idea of sexual aggression is not only apparent in the player’s interactions, but it is also built into the structure of the game. Whenever a player is fragged, an obituary appears announcing the player’s death. The sexual overtones of these obits are unmistakable. For example, when a player is killed by another player’s nail gun, the obit that appears reads “Player1 was nailed by Player2.” When a player is killed by another player’s rocket launcher, the obit reads “Player1 rides Player2’s rocket.” Once again, the reference is to penile penetration. Another reference to being penetrated by a penis occurs when a player is killed by a lightning gun. In that occasion, the obit reads “Player1 accepts Player 2’s shaft.” In an explicit allusion to fellatio, when a player is shot by another player’s shotgun, the obit reads “Player1 chews on Player2’s boomstick.””

Mmm mmm, tasty!

Tags: Blog

4 Responses to “Manliness without the Muscle”

  1. Kira Says:

    Very interesting, I’ll be sure to read more of the actual piece. Also, although I’ve never played Quake, I find those “obituaries” that the author mentioned quite hilarious.

    Keep up the good work Bonnie ^_^.

  2. Bonnie Says:

    I find those "obituaries" that the author mentioned quite hilarious.
    Yeah, aren’t they great?

    Thanks, Kira!

  3. Alleister Says:

    I don’t know what to think about it, other than that i find it insulting.
    Homophobic behaviour is usually a sign of very young players who just dont know better, i have never witnessed such behaviour with older players.
    I have played with and against pure woman clans and even against very supirior female players i have never read insults that implyed anything sexual.
    The reason that Quake 1 had identical player characters was because of short memory. My goth, it ran on pathetic 8Megs of ram!
    Compare to Quake 2 or 3. Yeah, i play a giant orb walking on hands because that makes me feel so supermale!

    Observing some 14 year olds on a public server and extrapolating in general to male players is not the way to get valid insights.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    Alleister, I think you raise a valid point that isn’t stressed enough in the article (and is a definite symptom of an academic author coming in and attempting to claim she understands a community she isn’t actually part of), which is that she’s working with a very limited group, and her findings can only be said to apply to that group.

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