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The Hegemony of Play


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Title: The Hegemony of Play

DiGRA Tokyo 2007 Situated Play
The Hegemony of Play
Janine Fron Ludica
Tracy Fullerton USC School of Cinematic Arts
Jacquelyn Ford Morie USC Institute for Creative
Celia Pearce Georgia Institute of Technology
  • A womens game collective devoted to creating a
    more gender-inclusive environment for game
    research, art, design and education.

The Argument
  • What is The Hegemony of Play?
  • Coined by Pearce/Fullerton at a 2005 lecture by
    Bernie DeKoven at USC
  • Describes the exclusionary power structures of
    the computer game industry that have narrowed the
    conception of both play and player in the digital
  • Supported by conventional wisdom that game
    industry trajectory is entirely market-driven
  • We argue that this is a self-fulfilling prophesy
    designed to justify practices of both production
    and employment which are flagrantly biased and

  • Underlying Assumptions
  • Three levels of unexamined assumptions in this
    defense of the game industrys status quo
  • Production process and environment in which
    digital games are created
  • The evolution of technologies of play
  • The cultural positioning of games and gamers.

Underlying Assumptions Infused our notion of
games with values and norms that reinforce that
industrys technological, commercial and cultural
investments in a particular definition of games
and play, creating a cyclical system of supply
and demand in which alternate products of play
are marginalized and devalued.
  • Structure
  • The power elite of the game industry is a
    predominately white, and secondarily Asian,
    male-dominated corporate and creative elite
  • Represents a select group of large, global
    publishing companies in conjunction with a small
    handful of massive chain retail distributors.
  • This hegemonic elite determines which
    technologies will be deployed, and which will
    not which games will be made, and by which
    designers which players are important to design
    for, and which play styles will be supported.

  • Rationale
  • Exclusionary rhetoric of play based on the
    construction of a hardcore gamer as its primary
  • All others are considered minorities, although in
    actuality they constitute a majority, e.g., women
    and girls, older males, racial/ethnic minorities,
  • Aided and abetted by game review and advertising
    infrastructure that valorizes certain types of
    games and marginalizes others
  • Prevalent in spite of the fact that the most
    successful commercial games have been inclusive,
    esp. of gender, e.g., Pac Man, The Sims, etc.

  • The Situation
  • The Hegemony of Play is the proverbial Elephant
    in the Living Room.
  • Some have critiqued
  • Cassell and Jenkins, etc. (1998)
  • Grainer-Ray (2003)
  • Kafai, Heeter, Denner, Sun et al (forthcoming)
  • Only a few have called attention to its
    underlying structures or raison dêtre
  • Flanagan
  • Laurel (2001)
  • Taylor

  • Our Call
  • Because game studies is working with the material
    of the Hegemony of play, for the most part, we
    have bought into and help to perpetuate it
  • Play should not be controlled by a hegemonic
  • We are calling on the game studies community
    adopt a critique of the Hegemony of Play rather
    than perpetuate its rhetorics
  • As scholars and educators, this is our
    prerogative as game designers, our mandate.

  • How Game Studies has Played Along
  • Because we study their games, we often
    inadvertently valorize and fetishize their work
    without interrogating it
  • The Hegemony of Play has driven the discourse of
    what is and is not a game embedded in
    discussions of taxonomy are the underlying values
    of the video game industry
  • Because of the self-perpetuated demographic, the
    majority of player-centered research concerns the
    gamer (i.e. male player). Gender is often not
    called out or not considered of consequence
  • We have helped perpetuate the exclusionary
    construction of gamer in our writing, and
    educational practices

The Production Environment
  • IGDA 2005 Study on Workplace Diversity
  • In the U.S., 88.5 of all game development
    workers are male
  • 83.3 are white
  • 92 are heterosexual
  • Most interesting ins the qualitative data of
    comments published in the appendix

  • Comments from IGDA Study on Diversity
  • The industry is not diverse. The people
    interested in games and computers in general are
    not diverse. Most programmers are men - because
    men tend to like programming more often than
    women do. Its just the way it is. - M, 24,
    White, Canada
  • Games are made by White Males, for White Males.
    I'm all for a diverse industry, it just isn't
    there. Marketing in the entire industry is very
    poor. Games either make it or don't, then copy
    the ones that do. - M, 28, USA
  • I don't think workforce diversity has anything
    to do with making great games. Hiring should be
    based solely on skills, work ethic and
    personality. Race, gender, sexual orientation and
    ethnic background have NO bearing on hiring
  • M, 35, White, USA
  • The most qualified person should be hired,
    beyond that I don't care what sexual preference,
    color, creed or any other pop culture label they
    are. - M, 26, White, disabled, USA

  • Qualified?
  • Encoded to exclude experience in related areas,
    such as educational software, HCI, and other
    fields which have better female representation
  • Playtesting is usually where designers get their
    start because most frequently gamers are
    hired, few of these are women
  • The game workplace requires excessive hours and
    promotes a locker-room ethos which makes the
  • The types of games being produced are of less
    interest to women
  • Representation of women in games is often a

  • Early Girl Game Movement
  • Theres a six billion dollar business with an
    empty lot next door. Liddle and Laurel
  • Question had all the hallmarks of a good
    research problempuzzling, consequential and
    complex. (Laurel 2001)
  • Purple Moon came out of a research lab, not a
    commercial game company
  • Now used as the failure that proves the rule, in
    spite of other successes such as Barbie.

  • The struggle
  • Once women do make it into the game industry,
    they often have to battle with sexist attitudes
    about design and content
  • Female designer Nour Polloni insisted that the
    female leading character in a new game she was
    developing wear baggy pants, but the the all-male
    creative team wanted her to dress her in a string
  • Women in the IGDA comments supplement complain of
    the boys-only ethos, and other practices that
    are alienating to women, e.g. Booth babes at
    industry expos excessive overtime lack of
    work/life balance a general locker-room attitude
    that pervades the workplace

  • The Reality
  • In spite of blatant exclusion and discrimination,
    the ESA estimates that 38 of all gamers are
  • Women over forty are the fastest-growing gaming
    demographic the game industry often dismisses
    these as only playing casual games, which is
  • The best-selling games historically have been
    those played by women (Pac-Man, Myst, The Sims)
  • Given these figures, what would happen if women
    and girls were marketed to instead of against?

Technologies of Play
  • Historical Modes of Play
  • Prior to the advent of the computer game, game
    rules were adjudicated by players themselves,
    e.g., playground rules, house rules, etc.
  • Digital games introduced machine-adjudication and
    the notion that the player must beat the game
  • Players must now prove they are good enough for
    the game (DeKoven 1978)
  • Computer controllers create a barrier of entry
  • FPS games, for instance, favor spatial rotation
    skills that are cognitively harder for girls and

  • The 19th Century Board Game Industry as a Model
    for the Future?
  • The printing press shifted the folk nature of
  • Board games in 19th Century America
  • First form of home entertainment
  • Leveraged emerging leisure time of middle class
  • Marketing strategies provide unique insight into
    the cultural concerns of the day

  • The Market
  • Much is made of 7 billion a year in game
    software revenue
  • Yet this pales in comparison with the board game
    industry, e.g.
  • The Sims 60 million units worldwide
  • Monopoly 750 million units worldwide
  • This begs the question
  • Why dont video games sell more?

  • Early Board Games
  • First board game published in the U.S., Mansion
    of Happiness, was designed by a woman (Parker
    Bros., 1894).
  • A serious game whose goal was to lead a good

  • Early Board Games
  • First board game to be patented Lizzie Magies
    The Landlord Game (1924), designed to teach the
    iniquity of rental
  • Later bought by Parker Bros. to make way for

Commerce (Ottoman Lith 1900)
Images from Liman Collection, New York Historical
Society used with permission
Pillow Dex (Parker Bros.)
Round the World with Nelly Bly
Elite Conversation Cards (courtship genre)
Images from Liman Collection, New York Historical
Society used with permission
Sewing Game
  • Some Discoveries about the Early Board Game
  • Games were designed for families less gender
  • Both game advertising and game packaging showed
    players males and females across generations
    focus was on playing together, enhancing family
  • Women are seen in engaged in a variety of active
  • Other discoveries
  • The Sociable Telephone, featuring a female player
  • Department Store, where you play shop owner
  • Womens Basketball in a search on Moby Games
    were were able to find 0 video games on this theme

  • The Pastime Girls
  • Early board games were manufactured by women,
    drawn from the garment and shoe industries
  • As a result, most games were tested with
    primarily female players

George Parker conducting a playtest with the
Pastime Girls
The Cultural Positioning of Players and Play
  • The Third Gender
  • Hardcore gamer has become ground zero in
    digital games
  • Characterized by an adolescent male sensibility
    that transcends physical age, embraces highly
    stylized graphical violence, male fantasies of
    power and domination, hyper-sexualized,
    objectified depictions of women, and rampant
    racial stereotyping and discrimination
  • Fullerton The Third Gender
  • New fictional variation of De Beauvoirs
    subjective male male position normative and
  • Game industry
  • Our job is to take lunch money away from 14-year
    old boys.

Representations of Masculinity Nina Huntemann
has pointed out that these stereotypes are just
as damaging to males These games, which
utilize the cutting edge of computer technology,
send very particular messages about what it means
to be a man. Significantly, the overwhelming
lesson about masculinity is that violence is the
preferred means for accomplishing goals,
resolving conflict and even for creating and
maintaining interpersonal relationship with
women. Nina Huntemann, Play Like a Man
Gender in Video Game Advertising
Hope for the Future
  • Nintendo
  • With the rebranding of the Gameboy and the
    introduction of the Wii, Nintendo is returning to
    the tradition of 19th Century Board Games
  • Family-oriented
  • Gender-inclusive
  • Multi-generational

  • So far, so good
  • Nintendo featured the Wii at the annual
    conference of the American Association of
    Retuired Persons (AARP) Wii is now becoming a
    standard feature in senior centers
  • Since writing this paper, the Wii has become the
    top-selling console

Digital Arts and Culture 2007 Perth, Australia
  • Tracy Fullerton
Tracy Fullerton
Celia Pearce
Jacquelyn Ford Morie
Janine Fron
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