Video Games and Social Inequalities: Understanding Gaming Culture Through Online and Offline Practices

Cameron, Anna, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Press, Andrea, AS-Media Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines gender inequality in video game culture. The domination of “geek masculinity” in this field has resulted in an environment where white women, people of color, and LGBTQ people face persistent hostility and harassment. This project looks at how dominant and subordinated groups who play video games understand their role in the culture and how they challenge and perpetuate social inequalities within it. By considering race, class, gender, and sexualities, this work seeks to understand the connections between media, community, and gender inequality. To answer these questions, I conducted 78 interviews between June 2017 and September 2018 with people over the age of 18 who play video games. I also observed two weekend long gaming conventions as well as eight meetings of a weekly gaming group. I found that cisgender heterosexual men typically began playing games at an early age that allowed them to effortlessly develop gaming habitus and gaming capital, making them oblivious to the larger structures of inequality they were enmeshed in. Women with these high-status men in their networks repeated these values to find status for themselves, thereby replicating the barriers that prevent gaming from becoming more diverse. Marginalized players tended to avoid the types of mainstream, competitive games that gave some players status and the opportunity to social connections, which I attribute in part to differences in embodied experiences. I attribute differences in attitudes about representation to differences in trust in gaming institutions, with players typically taken into account by the gaming industry finding industry solutions sufficient if they acknowledge a problem at all. In contrast, players marginalized by the gaming industry tended to be skeptical of industry attempts at diversity, and often did not expect or look for representation in games at all. These findings show that gaming culture contains many different facets that are often ignored in favor of the most public elements and shows how unnoticed daily practices can accumulate into larger inequalities.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Video Games, Gender, Media, Audience Reception, Sociology
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