Dressing Commander Shepard in pink: Queer playing in a heteronormative game culture

Special issue: Experience and Benefits of Game Playing

This article explores the strategies of queer playing of video games and their relationship to the heteronormative game culture. Its premise is that most video games are, either implicitly or explicitly, heteronormative and the inscribed player of such games is in the majority of cases a heterosexual male. In order to achieve the same level of identification with an avatar and to enjoy a similar gameplay experience as the heterosexual player, the LGBT player may have to deploy various strategies to challenge the game and work around it, or to find the LGBT content which some more progressive games offer. The study is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with six players (5 males and 1 female) who identified themselves both as homosexual and as players of the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series, games that include several opportunities to initiate same-sex romance. We have identified three different queer playing strategies: imaginative play (queer reading of unspecified or heterosexual characters), stylized performance (the use of gay stereotypes to mark one as queer) and role-playing of a LGBT character. However, players do not seek sexuality in games to the same extent as they do in film or TV, and they tend to use these strategies, and especially the latter two, reluctantly or with reservations. These reservations may be linked to our finding that LGBT players consider their gay (or lesbian) identities disconnected from their identities as players or gamers. This can be explained by the mutual exclusivity of gay communities and the heteronormative game culture.

Video games; LGBT community; heteronormativity; queer playing; gender
Author biographies

Tereza Krobová

Tereza Krobová is a Ph.D. candidate at Charles University in Prague. Her research focuses on issues related to gender and representation in the media, especially in video games. She works as an editor of online news outlet and cooperates with NGOs that deal with human rights and gender mainstreaming.

Ondřej Moravec

Ondřej Moravec is a media studies graduate from Charles University in Prague. He has also studied screenwriting at the Faculty of Performing Arts in Prague. He worked in Czech public service television, and now he works as a film festival programmer. His main research interest is combining film and game techniques in audiovisual works.

Jaroslav Švelch

Jaroslav Švelch is a lecturer and researcher at the Charles University in Prague’s Faculty of Social Sciences. He was a Fulbright visiting researcher at MIT’s GAMBIT game lab from 2007-8 and a Ph.D. intern at Microsoft Research New England in 2012. His work focuses on local histories of computer games, social uses of digital technologies, humor in virtual spaces, online language management, and the concepts of monstrosity and adversity in games.

Anthropy, A. (2012a). Dys4ia. Adobe Flash. Newgrounds.

Anthropy, A. (2012b). Rise of the videogame zinesters: How freaks, normals, amateurs, artists, dreamers, dropouts, queers, housewives, and people like you are taking back an art form. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Asociace herního průmyslu. (2011). Herní průmysl v roce 2011[Gaming industry in 2011]. Praha: Asociace herního průmyslu.

Benaquisto, L. (2008a). Codes and coding. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 85-88). Los Angeles, Calif: Sage Publications.

Benaquisto, L. (2008b). Open coding. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 581-582). Los Angeles, Calif: Sage Publications.

Benshoff, H. M., & Griffin, S. (2004). Queer cinema: The film reader. Psychology Press.

Berger, A. A. (2002). Video games: A popular culture phenomenon. Transaction Publishers.

BioWare. (2005). Jade Empire. PC. 2K Games.

BioWare. (2007). Mass Effect. XBox 360. Microsoft Game Studios.

BioWare. (2009). Dragon Age: Origins. PC. Electronic Arts.

BioWare. (2010). Mass Effect 2. PC. Electronic Arts.

BioWare. (2011). Dragon Age II. PC. Electronic Arts.

BioWare. (2012). Mass Effect 3. PC. Electronic Arts.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. London: Routledge.

Cassell, J., & Jenkins, H. (2000). From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and computer games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19, 829–859. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639

Consalvo, M. (2003). Hot dates and fairy tales romances: Studying sexuality in video games. In B. Perron & M. J. P. Wolf (Eds.), The video game theory reader (pp. 171-194). London: Routledge.

Gaynor, S. (2013). Gone Home. PC. Fullbright.

Gaider, D. (2013). Sexism and sexuality in games. [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/194571/Video_Sexism_and_sexu

Gaver, W. W. (1991). Technology affordances. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 79–84). New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/108844.108856

Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. R. (2010). Women and gaming: The Sims and 21st century learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Greer, S. (2013). Playing queer: Affordances for sexuality in Fable and Dragon Age. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 5, 3–21. https://doi.org/10.1386/jgvw.5.1.3_1

Hall, S. (1980). Encoding/decoding. In S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, & P. Willis (Eds.), Culture, media, language (pp. 117-127). London: Routledge.

Halperin, D. M. (1997). Saint Foucault: Towards a gay hagiography. OUP USA.

Haraway, D. (2013). Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. London: Routledge.

IGDA. (2014). Developer satisfaction survey 2014: Summary report. International Game Developers Assocation. Retrieved from www.igda.org/resource/collection/9215B88F-2AA3-4471-B44D-B5D58FF25DC7/IGDA_DSS_2014-Summary_Report.pdf

Jagose, A. (1996). Queer theory: An introduction. New York City: New York University Press.

Kennedy, H. (2002). Lara Croft: Feminist icon or cyberbimbo? Game Studies, 2(2). Retrieved from http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/kennedy/

Klevjer, R. (2006). What is the avatar? Fiction and embodiment in avatar-based singleplayer computer games (Doctoral dissertation thesis). Bergen: University of Bergen.

Maxis. (2000). The Sims. Electronic Arts.

Moravec, O. (2014). Vývoj reprezentace LGBT menšiny v počítačových příběhových RPG hrách a přijímání homosexuální tematiky hráči a herními vývojáři [Progress in the representation of the LGBT minority in narrative RPG video games and the acceptance of queer topics by gamers and game developers] (Master’s thesis). Charles University in Prague, Prague.

Mulvey, L. (1989). Visual and other pleasures. New York: Macmillan.

Nintendo. (1981). Donkey Kong. Nintendo.

Preissle, J. (2008). Analytic induction. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp 15-16). Los Angeles, Calif: Sage Publications.

Reich, J. L. (1992). Genderfuck: The law of the dildo. Discourse, 15(1), 112–127.

Rich, A. C. (2004). Reflections on “Compulsory Heterosexuality.” Journal of Women’s History, 16(1), 9–11. https://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2004.0033

Rockstar North. (2008). Grand Theft Auto IV. Rockstar Games.

Rutter, J., & Bryce, J. (2006). Understanding digital games. London: SAGE.

Shaw, A. (2009). Putting the gay in games: Cultural production and GLBT content in video games. Games and Culture, 4, 228–253. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412009339729

Shaw, A. (2010). What is video game culture? Cultural studies and game studies. Games and Culture, 5, 403–424. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412009360414

Sliwinski, A. (2007, April 11). Gay gamer survey results with large hetero inclusion [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.engadget.com/2007/02/26/gay-gamer-survey-results-with-large-hetero-inclusion/

Square Enix. (2005). Final Fantasy XIV. Square Enix.

Sullivan, N. (2003). A critical introduction to queer theory. Edinburgh University Press.

Taylor, T. L. (2002). Living digitally: Embodiment in virtual worlds. In R. Schroeder (Ed.), The social life of avatars: Presence and interaction in shared virtual environments (pp. 40–62). London, New York: Springer.

Vorderer, P., & Bryant, J. (2012). Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences. London: Routledge.

Wirman, H. E. (2011). Playing The Sims 2: Constructing and negotiating woman computer game player identities through the practice of skinning (Doctoral dissertation thesis). Bristol: University of the West of England.





PDF views