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Gender, Masculinity And Video Gaming: Analysing Reddit’s r/gaming Community
 3030282619,  9783030282615,  9783030282622

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Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming Analysing Reddit’s r/gaming Community Marcus Maloney Steven Roberts Timothy Graham

Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming “Online gaming cultures can be intense sites of affect. In this compelling account of the aftermath of the #GamerGate controversies concerning women in gaming, the authors trace how misogynistic discourses and feelings were expressed and contested. Devoting particular attention to discussions on the Reddit platform, this book tells an important story of how gendered harassment and hate speech against women can be both intensified and challenged via these kinds of online engagements.” —Deborah Lupton, Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia “In Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming, we are taken into the politically charged world of video gaming and masculinity, not through simplistic takes on infamous media controversies but by a careful charting of the gaming community’s engagement with gender issues. Recognising the genuine desire to see positive social change within the industry and the wider gaming community, alongside the limitations to progress so far, this important book should inform thinking on how gender inequality is further eroded moving forward.” —Mark McCormack, Professor, Sociology, University of Roehampton, UK “This is a timely and much needed text. Through new and original research Maloney, Roberts, and Graham explore the aftermath of the #Gamergate scandal, and suggest that this constitutes what may be a key turning point in what is the increasingly contested gamer community. This well written, theoretically and empirically informed text, explores various aspects of the evolving nature of gamer communities and identities, and points to a future where we may be seeing the start of a more inclusive space. This is therefore an important source for any scholar or student interested in gamers, game communities, and how these are changing.” —Garry Crawford, Professor, Cultural Sociology, University of Salford, UK

Marcus Maloney • Steven Roberts Timothy Graham

Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming Analysing Reddit’s r/gaming Community

Marcus Maloney School of Humanities Coventry University Coventry, UK

Steven Roberts School of Social Sciences Monash University Clayton, VIC, Australia

Timothy Graham Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia

ISBN 978-3-030-28261-5    ISBN 978-3-030-28262-2 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Pivot imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


Marcus: Big thanks to Charlotte Butler (best. line manager. ever), Thomas Murtagh, Ben Kyneswood, Chris ‘Rick’ Smith, Kris Lovell,  Peter Finkenbusch, Frank Magee, Darren Reid, John Grima and the rest of the Coventry University School of Humanities; Kirsten McLean, Brady Robards and Dharma Arunachalam at Monash University; Catherine Strong, Scott Doidge, Sara James, Nicholas Hill, Mark and Senem Mallman, and Paul Campbell; my best non-uni mates, Timothy Lording, Bronwyn Owen and Jez Taylor; and my Mum, Dad, brother, Julius, and cats, Mork and Mindy. Steven: Thanks as always to my wife, Cansu Kilicaslan, the keenest supporter of my work and ideas, and to my children, Olivia and Aydin, for inspiring  me always. Also props to all those who make and sustain the thriving working environment in the wider research community to which I gladly belong, and who, even if they haven’t realised, have been important in my thinking, researching and writing over recent years—in no particular order: Karla Elliott, Andrea Waling, Brady Robards, Signe Ravn, Alan France, Dharma Arunachalam, Brittany Ralph, Meg Young, Elsie Foeken and Asher Flynn. Timothy: To my parents, John and Anne—without your unending support and love, none of this would have happened. To Matt, for all the time we spent playing Nintendo as kids—in retrospect, I now see it as purely educational. To Kate, for always encouraging and believing in me. To Hannah, for showing me how to ‘feed the good wolf’ in work and life—you are truly an inspiration. To my partner, Anne, through thick and thin you have always supported my dreams—I am so grateful and hope that I can always do likewise. Finally, to my son, Francis—you bring pure joy to each day. v


1 Introduction  1 Idle Hands, (Folk) Devil’s Playthings   4 Why Reddit?   6 Methodology  10 Data Collection and Text Processing  11 Methods of Analysis  12 Discussion of Methodology  15 Ready Player One  16 References  18 2 Hegemonic, Inclusive and Geek Masculinities 23 Hegemonic Masculinity  25 Geek Masculinity As Hegemonic Masculinity?  28 Adding to Connell’s Tools  29 Conclusion  32 References  33 3 Computational Survey 37 Voting and Sentiment Analysis  39 Topic Model Analysis of ‘Masculine Gendered’ /r/Gaming Comments  48




Topic Model Analysis of ‘Feminine Gendered’ /r/Gaming Comments  53 References  56 4 Masculine Discourses in r/gaming 59 ‘I’m Very Glad You Enjoyed This Game but I Actually Hate It’  61 ‘I’m So Confused Why I’m Failing. I WAS Following the Damn Train’  67 Competition and Cohesion  70 References  72 5 Feminine Discourses in r/gaming 73 ‘Half Naked Women Make Literally Every Single Thing Better’   75 ‘Spare Me the Bullshit …’   78 ‘If You Weren’t Female They’d Harass You for Something Else’   80 ‘… Not Even If You Were TheLastDudeguy on Earth’   82 Battlegrounds and Contestations  85 References  87 6 Conclusion 91 References 100 Index103

List of Figures

Fig. 3.1 The most downvoted comment in Reddit history—Electronic Arts and the ‘Pride and Accomplishment’ debacle Fig. 3.2 Downvoted comment scores for MG versus FG comments Fig. 3.3 Upvoted comment scores for MG versus FG comments Fig. 3.4 Sentiment score counts for MG versus FG comments Fig. 3.5 Intertopic distance map (IDM) of the 30 MG topics via multidimensional scaling on two principal components Fig. 3.6 Intertopic distance map (IDM) of the 30 FG topics via multidimensional scaling on two principal components

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List of Tables

Table 3.1 Table 3.2 Table 3.3 Table 3.4 Table 3.5 Table 3.6 Table 3.7 Table 3.8 Table 3.9

Summary statistics of vote scores for MG versus FG comments (highest and lowest by group shown in bold) Top five most downvoted comments in the MG dataset Top five most upvoted comments in the MG dataset Top five most downvoted comments in the FG dataset Top five most upvoted comments in the FG dataset Topic labels for the MG dataset of /r/gaming comments Themes derived from the MG topic positions on the intertopic distance map Topic labels for the FG dataset of /r/gaming comments Themes derived from the FG topic positions on the intertopic distance map

41 43 44 45 45 49 52 54 55




Abstract  In this book, we draw on data from Reddit’s subreddit, r/gaming, in 2016–2017  in order to examine the extent to which the video gaming community is an increasingly ‘contested’ space: one in which the gendered marginalisation highlighted by an emerging body of research finds itself confronted by under-researched and under-theorised shifts towards greater inclusivity. The introduction provides an outline of the issues in focus, and a discussion of the book’s methodology and research design. Keywords  #GamerGate • Masculinity • Geek • Toxic • Video gaming • Reddit As an event that now defines gender relations in the video gaming community, and in turn serves as a requisite backdrop for related research, 2014’s #GamerGate controversy will be familiar to many readers of this book. However, to briefly recapitulate: the scandal began when Eron Gjoni, the dejected ex-boyfriend of female ‘indie’ game designer, Zoe Quinn, posted a defamatory blog about the messy end of their relationship. Quinn, Gjoni claimed, had slept with Kotaku video gaming website journalist, Nathan Grayson, who subsequently published a favourable review of  Quinn’s video game, Depression Quest. Minimalist and affecting, and not really intended to ‘entertain’ as such, Depression Quest is ­representative © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




of a movement in game design towards more philosophical, and less hypermasculine, gaming experiences. The game had indeed garnered some favourable reviews (e.g. Smith 2013; Hernandez 2013), along with considerable backlash from a vocal contingent of mostly male gamers who felt that it represented a ‘social justice warrior’ politicisation of their hobby (Parkin 2014). Via an updated blog, Gjoni slyly revised his sexist accusation of impropriety—Grayson had not written a review of Depression Quest—but not before the original ‘Zoe Blog’ had been reposted on 4chan, an online forum notorious for being an unmoderated safe-haven for hackers, trolls and general purveyors of hate speech. While the reposting of the blog was done so under the guise of concerns around ‘journalistic ethics’, it provoked an online ‘swarm’ of protest, hate and gendered harassment towards Quinn. Furthermore, Quinn did not remain the sole focus of the gendered vitriol: another prominent female member of the gaming community, the feminist YouTube gaming critic, Anita Sarkeesian, also came under fire, along with anyone else who sought to highlight the discriminatory nature of Quinn’s treatment. Quinn and Sarkeesian appeared to represent a threat to the gaming community’s established masculine order, and both women remain to this day in the crosshairs of those who aggressively oppose video gaming’s changing sociocultural landscape. This core story of backlash to gendered disruption is a familiar one, and part of the wider social tensions and polarisation currently facing Western societies. Indeed, to quote Muriel and Crawford (2018: 2), ‘we can certainly shed new light on important aspects of contemporary society through the study of video game culture’. This latter point is an important one with which to start this discussion of gender, masculinity and video games: as a defining event within the gaming community, #GamerGate must also be understood as an expression of broader social relations in English-speaking countries, and how they are presently in flux. Indeed, seeking to understand the scandal as something that occurred ‘over there’ in the gaming community, with ‘those’ gamers as victims and culprits, is myopic at best. To be sure, there are unique characteristics to the gaming community, and to forms of communication mediated by new media technologies, that helped shape #GamerGate, but the core tensions underpinning this ‘teaching moment’ (Mortensen 2018: 790) follow broader patterns. In this sense, the scandal should be understood as evidence of not just how gender inequalities persist into the twenty-first century, but also how these inequalities are being



increasingly highlighted and contested. Put simply, the #GamerGate controversy evidences both social continuity and social change, despite a preponderant focus on the former. Like so much social phenomena, there were also complexities to #GamerGate that, in the justifiable name of maintaining focus on the issue of harassment, remain under-acknowledged in both journalism and scholarship. First, the defamatory blog about Quinn came on the back of longstanding and legitimate concerns over the increasingly cosy relationship between gaming journalism outlets and studios/publishers. This concern for ethics in gaming journalism had reached another apex some years earlier, in a somewhat reverse manner, when journalist for Gamespot, the highly respected Jeff Gerstmann, was fired from his position soon after giving an unfavourable review to Kane and Lynch: a game widely acknowledged as mediocre and  for which Gamespot had received considerable amounts of money to promote (Plunkett 2012). Following this line of questionable gaming journalism ethics, some good faith actors found themselves drawn in to the side of those who were wrongly—and in many cases, disingenuously—framing the Quinn and Grayson case in similar terms (Singal 2014; Young 2015; Mortensen 2018). This occurred despite the claims of impropriety being both false and, in any case, retracted by Grayson. There had also for some time been a growing ‘powder keg’ divide in the community between, on the one hand, socially progressive industry professionals, and the gamers who shared their views; and, on the other, that abovementioned contingent of mostly male gamers who felt threatened by the many ways in which their once-niche hobby was becoming more mainstream.1 This divide between a self-styled ‘hardcore’ and an allegedly out-of-touch ‘elite’ remains apparent in this community—a divide which, again, follows broader social patterns. One thing is for certain: as a leisure pursuit and subculture, video gaming has long been a masculinised social space. Indeed, while increasing numbers of girls and women now engage in gaming, boys and men remain the predominant social actors in shaping discourse—both in virtual gaming spaces and on related social media. Mirroring other historically masculinised cultural spaces, such as those associated with various sporting codes, the gaming community has been identified in numerous studies as ‘an unpleasant or openly hostile space for females’ (Ratan et al. 2015: 440) in which general and sexual harassment is highly prevalent. Indeed, due in part to the breadth of media attention that #GamerGate elicited, this new media community has come to be viewed as a prime case study in



broader concerns around gendered forms of harassment across the internet. However, there is also underexamined evidence of a growing movement in the community towards the promotion of more socially progressive values and attitudes (e.g. Nugent 2015; Thomsen 2015). In this book, we draw on data from Reddit’s subreddit, r/gaming, in 2016–2017—the aftermath of #GamerGate—in order to examine the extent to which the gaming community is an increasingly ‘contested’ space: one in which the gendered marginalisation highlighted by an emerging body of research finds itself confronted by under-researched and under-theorised shifts towards greater inclusivity. The purpose here is not to minimise the significance of the former; on the contrary, we believe that, by highlighting evidence of sociopositive counter forces—and ideological diversity, more generally—the hegemonic normative assumptions that encourage gendered marginalisation/harassment will be further undermined. Put simply, if we seek to instigate social change in this space (or anywhere), it helps to have a clear-eyed sense of where it is already occurring, in what ways, and then how it might be harnessed. Much has been written about #GamerGate as an exemplification of the toxicity that is seen to plague the gaming community. What ultimately distinguishes this book is its focus on #GamerGate’s ongoing aftermath, and how, in very real and substantial ways, the scandal may have inadvertently marked a sociopositive turning point.

Idle Hands, (Folk) Devil’s Playthings Before proceeding, there is a broader and, again, under-acknowledged sociohistorical context to our topic that is important to outline. Ever since its popular uptake in the 1980s, video gaming, and the boys and men who engage in the hobby, have been the focus of an arguably free-floating societal anxiety that has attached itself to a range of distinct issues. First, there were the 1970s and 1980s’ concerns around delinquency in the video arcades—an extension of preceding concerns around pinball arcades—that were grounded in longstanding and discriminatory fears over the leisure activities of working-class male youth (Karlsen 2015). Before home computers and consoles were able to match the technological capabilities of the video game arcade cabinet, the hobby frequently played out in these public spaces and, like the dance halls of the early 1900s, they were widely imagined by greater society in gendered moral panic terms, as proverbial ‘dens of sin’ (Pierson 2011: 24).



With the technological advances of both home computers and gaming consoles in the 1990s, gaming moved chiefly and irrevocably from the public sphere to the private, and the focus of anxiety in turn became more individual-psychological—on the ‘effects’ of the hobby. Here, male violence emerged as the central issue: specifically, the extent to which violence in games elicits violent inclinations and actions in male gamers’ real-world engagements. While the link has always seemed ‘common sense’ to some, decades of research have led to no definitive conclusions (see e.g. Dill and Dill (1998) for an overview research in the 1990s). Yet, clear echoes remain here of other ‘effects’-based moral panics focused on a procession of earlier new media forms: for example, comic books and rock‘n’roll in the 1950s–1960s (Cohen 2002), and heavy metal music (Gay 2000) and Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s–1980s (Laycock 2015). Alongside the concerns over gender relations we examine in this book, video game addiction represents the other contemporary cause célèbre (e.g. Rettner 2019). Beyond the scope of our study, this issue remains open to debate but, as sociologists, we would argue that the historical context we outline should be an integral part of any understanding of it. In the case of gendered marginalisation and harassment, the evidence is undoubtedly much clearer than that which has ever been offered for the claims made about video gaming and delinquency, violence or addiction. In other words, there is no question that gender inequality remains a significant issue in this historically male-dominated space, and that overt expressions of sexism and gendered harassment do occur with regularity (Massanari 2015; Salter and Blodgett 2017). However, as an intersecting factor, it is imperative to reflect on the genealogy of broader societal anxiety that has long shaped characterisations of this new media form, and the boys and men who engage with it. Indeed, the two facts are not mutually exclusive: it can be correct to say that gender inequality remains a problem in video gaming, and that video games and male gamers meet the criteria of what Stanley Cohen (2002) seminally described as ‘folk devils’. Also, and as above, in continuing to address gender inequality across broader culture and society, it is important to stay mindful of society’s tendency to project its most intractable problems onto easy targets. What we see in this terrain, as the following pages attest, is a dynamic battle pertaining to gender equality and progressive values, one that is reflective of wider social trends.



Why Reddit? The research undertaken here rests on a dual approach utilising both computational and qualitative analysis of data sourced from the Reddit social media platform. With approximately 234  million unique user accounts (Alexa Internet 2019), Reddit has rapidly emerged as one of the internet’s largest platforms for user-generated content. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media platforms, Reddit’s appeal derives from its relatively basic open-source codebase that offers users a unique degree of freedom to make use of the platform as they see fit. The platform’s user-­ generated content is organised into a set of thematic communities, or ‘subreddits’, in which reside a range of related discussion topics, or ‘posts’, and the user ‘comments’ that each topic elicits. While Reddit is not ostensibly aimed towards any particular interest, its many subreddits ‘often reflect a geek sensibility, with many revolving around computing, science, or fandom interests’ (Massanari 2017: 330). With over 17.5 million subscribers (Redditmetrics 2018), r/gaming is one of the platform’s most popular subreddits. As an online space devoted to discussion of video games, r/gaming’s popularity reflects Reddit’s broader tendency towards both ‘geek culture’ and, more specifically, interests associated with the ‘geek masculinity’ (Massanari 2015, 2017) of the site’s dominant gender demographic (Sattelberg 2019). There is, therefore, an inherent synergy between our focus on the gaming community and drawing data from Reddit as a social media platform closely associated with it. Widely considered the community’s natural home on social media, it is a platform in which the predominately male userbase feels relatively comfortable engaging in transgressive, indeed often offensive, ways. A significant driver of this is the way in which Reddit user identities are generally weakly tied to real-world ones, a characteristic that harkens back to the earlier ‘web 1.0’ social media era of chat forums and the like. In other words, while moderation and policing have increased over time, Reddit is a relatively libertarian discursive platform, and thus an ideal space for examining people’s genuine, ‘no holds barred’ views and attitudes. Indeed, after 4chan, Reddit was the next port of call in #GamerGate’s swarm-like spread across the internet. The platform’s ‘wild west’ reputation continues to hold especially true for r/gaming which has maintained a ‘much more relaxed moderation’ (Massanari 2015: 122) culture in the face of the more robust forms of policing increasingly found elsewhere on the platform.



Adrienne Massanari (2017) argues that both Reddit and, more specifically, r/gaming ‘provide fertile ground for anti-feminist and misogynistic activism’. Echoing Massanari, Marwick (2017: 180) depicts both as governed by ‘a type of middle-class, white masculinity that privileges technical expertise and command of pop-cultural knowledge, while narrowly circumscribing proper “geek” identity within a raced and gendered framework’.2 Aspects of Massanari’s (2015) groundbreaking book—Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit—are worth discussing in some detail here, as our own research to some extent represents an expansion on, and critical response to, the relevant views expressed therein. Massanari (2015: 129) portrays the geek masculinity that governs gaming culture as follows: [It] privileges the white, able-bodied, young cisgendered male over the woman of colour, for example, or the homosexual older man, or the disabled trans woman. This is not to say that these individuals are not active in geek culture but that they remain marginalised, relegated to its fringes, and frequently silenced.

The second part of Massanari’s equation—the marginalisation and silencing of diverse perspectives—is front and centre in our study, at least as it pertains to gender. There is no question that geek culture, generally, and the gaming community, specifically, remain governed by masculine social norms. In many respects, this is a product of sheer force of the numbers of boys and men who engage in and with the site, and who proceed to construct the space as a masculine domain. However, as Massanari (2015: 129) herself goes on to note, there are also increasingly numerous documented instances of conflict between the community’s reactionary and progressive elements, centring on issues of gender, sexuality and race—#GamerGate being the definitive example. In their similarly influential book, Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media, Salter and Blodgett (2017: 90) aptly describe this as a ‘battlefield over gamer identity’. There is some slippage here: on the one hand, geek culture is conceived of as an inflexibly marginalising system that effectively silences diverse voices; on the other hand, geek communities are also increasingly marked by ideological conflict and resistance. Massanari (2015: 129) squares this circle by arguing that such flash points contribute to a ‘feedback loop’ that further silences dissent, makes the community less attractive to non-hetero-male outsiders and ultimately reinforces the status quo. Salter and Blodgett (2017: 95)



appear equally cynical, arguing that gamer diversity subsists only ‘on the margins’ of the culture. This part of the theoretical equation is unsatisfying. Following a logic found in Connell’s (1995) concept of hegemonic masculinity—the dominant conceptual apparatus for theorising masculinity and power for the last 40 years (discussed in Chap. 2)—there appears to be insufficient space for making sense of positive social change. To whatever extent, and at whatever pace, if change is occurring in the gaming community—as is being documented with respect to masculinised spaces elsewhere—we need to make it visible and properly theorise it in order to harness its productive potential. To be clear, the work of Massanari has been indispensable to understanding how sites like Reddit play a key role in online (gendered) marginalisation, and how these expressions of inequality play out in geek culture more generally. However, in both Massanari’s and others’ similar work, the analytical and methodological focus begins and ends with instances of reprehensible behaviour and discourse; a focus that limits the capacity to explore a fuller picture of what might be occurring in this space. Indeed, in their more or less exclusive focus on ‘particularly nefarious instances of masculinist abuses of power’ (Moller 2007: 265), there is an in-built and totalising drive to define the gaming community by its worst elements and overlook the potential for ‘more mundane, ordinary gender expressions’ (Maloney et al. 2018: 6), or even explicit expressions of inclusivity. Furthermore, with respect to what we referred to above as a ‘vocal contingent’ of reactionary and often toxic male gamers, it is not at all clear whether they represent the community’s hegemon; a cohort acting out in response to its weakening position; or some fluid mixture of the two. Here, a qualitative, and perhaps controversial, distinction should be drawn between those in the community who engage in openly sexist/ misogynistic behaviours, and a broader group who feel threatened— indeed endangered—by the socially progressive turn they are witnessing in their culture and community. Both groups would clearly prefer that time stood still, and the latter provides natural cover for the continued behaviours of the former, but they are not of a piece. The deep insecurity that drives any number of male gamers to decry the alleged invasion of ‘social justice warriors’ into their hobby, and engage in a ‘show of solidarity and defence against feminist gains and norms’ (Nicholas and Agius 2018: 2) can only suggest that the ground is shifting. Echoing our own sociohistorical outline above, Mortensen’s (2018: 797) discussion of #GamerGate provides an important starting point for examining these



seemingly counterintuitive claims of victimhood, one that must be integrated into any analysis of gender power dynamics in this space: [Gamergaters] believed firmly in their own status as victims … To understand how consumers of time consuming high-tech entertainment can even briefly consider themselves victims of a large scale, global conspiracy to suppress them, look at how gaming has been treated. The gamergaters had grown up actively engaging in a hobby where they were on the one hand catered to by increasingly inventive designers and creators and at the other hand vilified by the value-conservative who feared what this seductive new medium might lead to. They had been trained to be defensive.

So, how do we account for the change that all sides in the community see occurring, and that prevailing scholarship seems reluctant to fully recognise? The simplest explanation relates to the increasing numbers of girls and women now engaging in the hobby—as players, journalists/critics and programmers/designers. Here, Quinn and Sarkeesian represent a dual-Rosa Parkes of sorts—no longer content to see girls and women relegated to the back of this bus—but there are many other important figures. Indeed, too many to list. While this no doubt continues to play a significant role in change, the sheer scope of ideological division and diversity we uncover in the predominately male gamer space of r/gaming elicits a second, and complimentary, explanation. Put simply, masculinity itself is changing, or at the very least is being openly contested, and in the following chapter we integrate into our theoretical framework some useful sociological research at the forefront of understanding this broader social shift. Together, the two explanations represent a far more convincing and, yes, optimistic feedback loop: as the attitudes and behaviours of boys and men continue to change in gaming spaces, girls and women become more likely to enter them, and vice versa. Furthermore, there is a tendency to not just imagine, but also theorise Reddit as a hive mind, and view the subreddits as a selection of specific self-serving echo chambers. It is in such spots that the ‘worst of reddit’s tendency toward hipster or “edgy” racism or sexism’ (Massanari 2015: 84) becomes apparent. Massanari (2015: 92) notes that Reddit’s hivemind function ensures the site is ‘supremely effective at mobilising around political issues’ and yet, at the same time, ‘can also create a space where alternate viewpoints are discarded or where deliberation around important public issues happens infrequently’. This arguably risks understating the



significant amount of diversity in perspectives and viewpoints in any given subreddit and on Reddit as a whole. For instance, Massanari also tells us that the widely used ‘OP [original poster] is a faggot’ meme as an effort to police undesirable community behaviour (such as the OP not following through with the end of an enticing story) is widely endorsed, but at the same time held up as being ‘problematic’ and ‘unsavoury’ and the thing that many Reddit users most hate about the site (Massanari 2015: 57). As we will go onto show, r/gaming, while largely defined as a negative homosocial space in which sexism is rife and gender inequality supported, is better defined as one in which marked contestation, and the battle for ideas, is a defining sub-characteristic. This is not to deny the very real and pervasive nature of sexism on Reddit, such that, as Massanari (2015: 134) explains, ‘the [broader reddit] community seems to passively accept that women will often receive public comments or private messages about their appearance and sexual availability/desirability’. It is also absolutely not to offer a #NotAllMen-type3 retort. Instead, we see our book mirroring points frequently woven into Massanari’s (and Salter and Blodgett’s) analysis, but that are overlooked in discussions of such work and/or of the site more generally. These include, for example, Massanari’s (2015: 134) acknowledgement of the ‘the mixed reactions’ to negative comments about women’s sexually charged posts of their own bodies: ‘[S]ome recognis[e] that it constitutes slut shaming, others that the poster may have a sexual interest in exhibitionism, others still that … [such] posting stems from a deep seated insecurity and desire for attention.’ The point of paying attention to such nuance offers practical as well as theoretical benefits. Through painting a picture of nuance, we follow recent calls to ‘shine a light’ on productive and positive performances of masculinity (Flood 2019). Through this same process we can document the lived possibility for different, kinder forms of interaction and gender performance, while undermining the hegemony of the most odious and negative components of masculinity that operate in this space.

Methodology In this section we detail our methodology, including data collection and processing, computational and qualitative methods of analysis, and briefly discuss the challenges and opportunities of the hybrid method used in this study.



Data Collection and Text Processing We first performed a database query on the historical Reddit archive available through the application programming interface (API). Specifically, we extracted all comments from /r/gaming authored between 01 January 2016 and 01 January 2017. The resulting complete dataset contained 6,546,628 comments, authored by 797,398 users across 271,008 posts. Next, we conducted several text processing techniques to prepare the text data for computational analysis using topic modelling. First, we performed word ‘stemming’ on the text corpus to ensure that words with a single root are not regarded as separate terms (e.g. ‘bodies’, ‘body’ and ‘bodily’ are stemmed into a single root word ‘bodi’). Second, we removed ‘stop words’ from the corpus (e.g. common English words such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘the’), which is a common practice to filter out words that are not semantically meaningful (Wallach et  al. 2009). We then set a lower bound on the minimum of words comments should have in order to be included in the analysis. We removed comments with less than ten words, as the topic modelling requires that ‘documents’ (i.e. user comments) express a sufficient amount of information (i.e. terms or words) for the model to function correctly. We also removed URLs from the data, given that these are not useful for the analysis. Given this book’s focus on gendered forms of discourse in the gaming community, the next stage involved filtering the complete dataset to extract any comments with masculine gendered (MG), and then feminine gendered (FG), nouns and pronouns. To do this we implemented a grammar-­based approach whereby comments would be included for further analysis if they included one or more of the following terms: for the ‘masculine gendered’ dataset, the terms were ‘man’, ‘men’, ‘guy’, ‘guys’, ‘male’, ‘he’ or ‘his’; for the ‘feminine gendered’ dataset, they were ‘woman’, ‘women’, ‘girl’, ‘lady’, ‘ladies’, ‘female’, ‘she’ or ‘her’. The decision to include only those comments featuring basic masculine/feminine nouns and pronouns helped ensure a basic degree of relevance to this study, while also being crucial to the study’s openness: had we, for example, also included the sorts of feminine gendered pejoratives often seen in online marginalisation/harassment, the model would have ultimately delivered a portrait of the community skewed towards these forms of discourse. Indeed, our aim here was to identify patterns of evaluative ­gendered



commentary, negative or otherwise, that might naturally emerge with the nouns and pronouns. Altogether, these text processing steps resulted in two final datasets: 138,977 ‘feminine gendered’ comments, authored by 78,321 users across 47,632 posts; and 451,155 ‘masculine gendered’ comments, authored by 191,175 users across 135,752 posts. As the basis for the research undertaken here, the two datasets, herein denoted as MG (masculine gendered) and FG (feminine gendered), aim to capture forms of discourse in r/gaming that are explicitly grounded in either masculine or feminine terms. As an analysis of 2016–2017 r/gaming comments reduced in the above manner, we do not claim that what we present here represents everything that might have been potentially relevant to understanding how gender operates in this space. However, the circumscription of male/female nouns and pronouns helped ensure that everything within our datasets was geared towards a fundamental relevancy. Methods of Analysis As discussed, our methodology represents a multilayered hybrid of computational and qualitative approaches. The computational method of analysis involved descriptive statistical analysis, natural language processing (NLP) and unsupervised machine learning in the form of topic models. First, we used standard descriptive statistics to describe the makeup of the MG and FG datasets. In particular, we were interested to know if, and to what extent, comments are upvoted or downvoted differently for each dataset. This also enabled us to order the comments by number of votes. In this way, we gained insights into what were the most highly ‘upvoted’ and highly ‘downvoted’ comments for each dataset.4 Second, we examined the emotional valence of MG versus FG comments in /r/gaming. To achieve this, we used an NLP technique known as sentiment analysis. This approach involves automatically calculating the sentiment of a text based on its words and grammatical features. Sentiment scores normally range from negative to positive on a scale. For example, on a scale from −4 (extremely negative) to 4 (extremely positive), the sentence ‘So angry … I hate rainy days and REALLY HATE Mondays’ might receive a score around of −4. On the other hand, the sentence ‘So happy … I love rainy days and REALLY LOVE Mondays’ is extremely positive and might receive a score of 4.



In this study, we used a state-of-the-art sentiment analysis tool known as VADER (Hutto and Gilbert 2014). VADER (Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner) is a lexicon and rule-based sentiment analysis tool that is specifically attuned to sentiments expressed in social media. It is empirically validated by multiple human judges and constitutes a ‘gold-­ standard’ sentiment lexicon that obtains human-level accuracy for calculating the sentiment of texts in microblog-like contexts, such as comments on Reddit or tweets on Twitter. Lexicon ratings for words using VADER range from −4 to 4, with 0 representing ‘neutral’. For a given text, the ‘compound score’ is a metric that calculates the sum of all the lexicon ratings of words in the text, which is then normalised between −1 (most extreme negative) and +1 (most extreme positive). We applied this technique to calculate the compound sentiment scores of comments in the MG and FG datasets. This enabled us to examine patterns of emotional valence directed at each group. Third, topic modelling was performed on each dataset to extract and identify the underlying themes that are driving discussions of men (MG) and women (FG) on /r/gaming. As this part of the analysis is quite in-­ depth, we now provide an introduction and overview of topic models, including how we applied this model. Informally, topic models can be said to extract ‘topics’ from text by unveiling hidden thematic structures in a collection of text documents. For example, if the input to the model was a collection of recent speeches by US President Donald Trump, then we might find that the President mainly talks about topics such as ‘national security’, ‘tax cuts and provisions’, ‘China’, ‘infrastructure plans’ and ‘Russia investigation’. More formally, topic models are ‘generative models which provide a probabilistic framework for the term frequency occurrences in documents in a given corpus’ (Grun and Hornik 2011: 1). For an overview of probabilistic topic models that balances ease-of-reading with technical detail, see Wood (2014). Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) is the particular type of topic model used in this paper (Blei et al. 2003). LDA topic models treat each document as a mixture of topics, and each topic as a mixture of words. This allows documents to ‘overlap’ each other in terms of content, rather than being separated into discrete groups, in a way that mirrors typical use of natural language. LDA represents a set of text documents in terms of a mixture of topics that generate words with particular probabilities. For example, the comment ‘My girlfriend likes to use my Switch as a device for



doing sketches, so I never get time to use it’ might be largely generated from a topic such as ‘Women using game accessories and devices’, associated with words such as ‘girlfriend’, ‘device’, ‘switch’ and ‘time’. For LDA, the number of topics must be specified prior to running the model. Therefore, researchers need to decide how many topics they wish to have in the model. There are a variety of approaches to selecting this number/value, although currently there is no standard practice. The hierarchical Dirichlet process is often regarded as a robust approach to choosing an optimal number of topics; however, our MG and FG datasets were too large for it to be tractable (Teh et al. 2006). As a result, we used a mathematical technique combined with a heuristic approach that aimed to maximise the interpretability and usefulness of the topics while also retaining statistical rigour. Specifically, we used Ponweiser’s (2012) approach to model selection by harmonic mean. We fitted 35 different LDA models using different numbers of topics ranging from 2 to 70 (sequenced by intervals of 2). Based on these models, we were then able to evaluate which number of topics resulted in maximising the harmonic mean of the log-likelihood values, given the data. Next, we generated a plot with the harmonic mean of the log-likelihood values (y-axis) for each of the 35 models (x-axis). Using Cattell’s scree test (Cangelosi and Goriely 2007: 10) we then identified the inflection point or ‘elbow’ in the plot, after which there were no significant increases in log-likelihood values, which we found to be around 30 topics. Given that 30 topics appeared feasible and reasonable from an analysis perspective, we selected this as the number for further analysis and interpretation. As discussed, the purpose of the topic model analysis was to examine what kinds of themes and discourses were giving rise to, or in a sense ‘driving’, masculine gendered and feminine gendered commentary on /r/ gaming in 2016–2017. The process of interpreting the topics and assigning them labels followed a sequence of iterative steps. First, and in generating both and MG and FG model, we generated a list of the top 20 most ‘important’ terms for each topic. By important, we mean terms that have the highest probability of occurring within a given topic. Drawing on the previous example, a topic labelled ‘Women using game accessories and devices’ might have the following top four words ordered by probability (in brackets): ‘girlfriend’ (0.08), ‘device’ (0.06), ‘switch’ (0.055) and ‘time’ (0.05). Subsequently, for each of the 30 topics in the MG and FG models, we undertook the following steps. For the MG dataset, we extracted a sample of 15 comments from our corpus that have a high



probability (>0.5) of belonging to that particular topic, with the FG topic model requiring a larger sample of 50 comments per topic. Each comment is itself described by a probability distribution over topics, such that a given comment might be ‘mostly about’ Topic 9 (p  =  0.7), ‘partially about’ Topic 4 (p = 0.2), with the rest of the 28 topics constituting the remainder (0.1). While topic modelling provided a broad and automated sense of what is spoken about in feminine gendered discussions on r/gaming, this methodology does not offer a sense of how these themes and topics play out in terms of sentiments, attitudes and general tenor of discourse. In order to address this final, crucial layer of inquiry, we conducted a more conventional qualitative analysis of the full set of 450 MG sample comments (15 sample comments per each of the 30 topics), followed by a similar analysis of the 1500 FG sample comments (50 sample comments per each of the 30 topics). In making in-depth qualitative sense of these datasets, we began by examining them at their ‘global’ level—in other words, with a focus on patterns of discourse across the 30 topics—in order to codify the sample comments into broad categories as they relate to the theoretical frameworks we discuss in the next chapter. The qualitative discussions of the MG and FG sample comments set can be found in Chaps. 4 and 5, respectively. While the qualitative analysis in these chapters examines commentary first and foremost at the abovementioned global level, we also explore patterns of meanings within the topics/themes generated by the MG and FG models. Discussion of Methodology What we have thus far described as a hybrid methodology, combining computational and then qualitative approaches, can also be viewed as a form of ‘symphonic social science’ (Halford and Savage 2017). As Halford and Savage (2017: 1134) suggest, ‘sociologists should engage with big data analytics because it is happening, with or without us. Better, big data may offer new resources for sociological research, resources that—unfamiliar or not—are only accessible through computational techniques.’ Taking up this challenge, what distinguishes our study from those with a similar focus and aims is its ‘symphonic’ integration of multiple computational methodologies, both as a discrete pillar of analysis and as an automated means through which millions of user-generated comments were wrestled down to sets of thematically organised sample comments for



qualitative analysis. The conventional solution to the problem of making qualitative sense of ‘prohibitively large’ (Marwick 2017: 118) datasets is for researchers to pragmatically select smaller and more manageable subsets, usually on the basis of either perceived relevance or, in the case of an online forum such as Reddit, some or other subjectively determined measure of significance (e.g. choosing posts with the most comments). While not seeking to criticise these conventional human selection approaches, their limitations with respect to large datasets, in terms of widening the scope for confirmation biases and/or other problems of representativeness, are clear. By utilising computational techniques as our means of both organising and distilling a year’s worth of commentary on r/gaming, we argue that such issues were uniquely mitigated here. Furthermore, the two methodological pillars of computational and qualitative analysis each ultimately provided what the other could not: the former provided a series of key statistical insights and the organisation of data into overarching topics and themes; the latter provided a degree of semantic insight that computational techniques are (presently) incapable of achieving. In this sense, we see our work here as representing one symphonic methodological example of an ‘end-to-end model of disciplinary integration’ (Halford and Savage 2017: 1143). Viewed from another perspective, the methodology of this study engages in what Davis and Love (2019) term ‘theoretically generalisable’ internet research. In this way, ‘social media data are treated as instantiations of exact class concepts and positioned in ways that test theoretical hypotheses. Such an approach brings integrity to the research process and re-opens the potentials of social media data for advancing social knowledge’ (Davis and Love 2019: 645). The aim is therefore to generalise theoretical propositions about gendered attitudes and constructions within the gaming community, rather than focus solely on empirically generalisable results.

Ready Player One In this book, via an analysis of data from r/gaming, we expose a much fuller ideological picture of gendered discourse in the gaming community than that which has previously been offered. Chapter 2 provides a survey of the theoretical territory on gender and masculinities, including further discussion of emerging feminist work specifically focused on ‘geek masculinity’. Chapter 3 outlines the findings of our computational analyses in which we measure voting tendencies and emotional valence, and then identify the dominant gendered themes and topics driving discourse in



this space in 2016–2017. As discussed, this then provides the basis for Chaps. 4 and 5 which deliver a more conventional qualitative analysis aimed at gleaning an in-depth sense of the patterned meanings across the dataset. In combination, these three substantive chapters provide a sense of both the broader character of gendered discourse on r/gaming, and a more fine-grained understanding of the attitudes and sentiments playing out within. Finally, in Chap. 6, we tie together the various levels of analysis and conclude the discussion, looking also to future directions in research on gender and video gaming. Our research very much confirms the presence of marginalisation as a conspicuous element of gendered discourse in r/gaming but, importantly, it also uncovers a comparably significant counter element, along with a complexity of sentiments in between. Again, in a manner that reflects broader concerns around increasing polarisation in contemporary English-­ speaking societies (e.g. Sides and Hopkins 2015), the work undertaken here suggests that, rather than being chiefly governed by a toxic or hegemonic masculinity—theoretical frameworks we also explore in more detail in the following chapter—r/gaming is best viewed as a highly contested community divided along progressive-reactionary lines. We see our findings as extending, but also complementary to, the important work being undertaken by scholars such as Massanari in exposing the gender inequalities that persist in gaming cultural spaces. Indeed, without Massanari as a key element of its foundation, our own book would not exist. Our analysis shows that, beyond the persistent patterns of inequality, and accompanying instances of sexism and misogyny, something counter is at play. Avoiding the abstraction in much research that plays into the sorts of conservative ‘folk devil’ narratives about new media, this book exposes the way that masculinity in the gaming community is a contemporary ‘battleground’ of sorts. If we are to make even greater strides to more gender equitable cultures, identifying this complexity and the progress made, however small or subtle, is paramount (Roberts 2018).

Notes 1. As a key example of this broader discontent over the state of contemporary video gaming, and how the issue of gender politics is conflated in the minds of some ‘hardcore’ gamers with other issues, such as commercialisation and corporatisation, see ‘Gaming Culture, and How Its Changed’ by YouTuber, Worthabuy (2019).



2. In his research into the WWII-era culture of the British intelligence agencies, Historian, Chris Smith (2018) identifies a clear and fascinating precedent to this contemporary geek masculinity dynamic. 3. #NotAllMen is an online movement that came to prominence in 2017 to challenge concerns over patterns of masculine behaviour. As the title suggests, the core argument is that men as a group should not be defined by the sexist/misogynistic attitudes and behaviours that the movement alleges to be issues only with a minority. 4. As we discuss in Chap. 3, each individual post and comment on Reddit is accompanied by an upvote/downvote button that enables users to participate in voting on content to make it more/less visible on the site.

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Hegemonic, Inclusive and Geek Masculinities

Abstract  This chapter outlines the theoretical resources we deployed in our analysis of gendered commentary on r/gaming. Our use of masculinity theorising rests on an understanding of the subreddit as a ‘masculinised space’. While Reddit’s own data suggests that users are predominately male, r/gaming is not approached here per se as an online community comprised mostly of boys and men. Rather, we seek to make sense of r/ gaming as an online forum in which all users, regardless of their gender, operate within a space governed by a particular normative system. Keywords  Hegemonic masculinity • Geek masculinity • Inclusive masculinity This chapter outlines the theoretical resources we deployed in our analysis of gendered commentary from 2016–2017 on the subreddit, r/gaming. Our use of masculinity theorising rests on an understanding of the subreddit as a ‘masculinised space’. While Reddit’s own data suggests that users are predominately male, r/gaming is not approached here per se as an online community comprised mostly of boys and men. Indeed, due to the nature of this online research, we cannot make definitive claims about the gender of any given user who features in the multitude of comments in our data set (though it is often apparent that users are at least self-­identifying as either male or female). Rather, we seek to make sense © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




of ­r/gaming as an online forum in which all users, regardless of their gender, operate within a space governed by a particular normative system. Ultimately, it is the normative system itself which is in question here, the overarching tenor of related discourse, and the extent to which our related examination of this space might correspond with the theoretical perspectives on both ‘geek masculinity’ (more below) and masculinities more broadly. Our understanding of ‘space’ also chimes well with Atherton (2014) who, in his analysis of the military, writes: ‘[T]he Armed Forces are considered as “masculine institutions” insofar as the majority of their population is male, but also because they are a significant reservoir for the articulation of masculinity.’ Ultimately, what follows is a contribution to gaps that have seen ‘the centrality of the Internet’ and its associated effects on shifting patterns of leisure ‘still under-theorised in much masculinities research’ (Anderson and McCormack 2018: 18). In this chapter, then, we provide an overview of the conceptual tools that have been useful for us in making sense of the complex practices of sociality in the r/gaming community and especially how they play out with respect to gender norms and expressions. Our approach was inductive, with no fixed and preferred theoretical approach and no ambitions to ‘test’ a theory per se. As will become clear, we found this essential in trying to make sense of the enormous and hugely complex datasets. What follows is a discussion of a selection of theories and concepts that we feel has enabled us to best make sense of the multi-faceted nature of masculinity in the r/gaming community. In this way, we treat our collated apparatus as consisting of various ‘sensitising’ concepts, as Blumer (1954: 7) would have it, such that each concept ‘gives the user a general sense of reference and guidance in approaching empirical instances’. On this basis, the chapter proceeds by outlining and engaging with theories that focus on gender power, such as renowned work by Raewyn Connell on hegemonic masculinity, and specifically those in studies of gaming who note Connell’s influence (e.g. Massanari 2015; Salter and Blodgett 2017). Given an increasing turn to documenting changes in a masculinity, we also turn to Eric Anderson’s work on inclusive masculinity. This more positive strain of writing has become influential in its own right, but has also increasingly been integrated into studies trying to make sense of the coexistence of progressive change and traditional processes of gender power, both empirically (e.g. Roberts 2018) and theoretically (Hammarén and Johansson 2014). As we move through this terrain, we make clear how a number of specific concepts have utility for the present study.



The different theoretical lenses we discuss in this chapter all bring something particular to the analysis; indeed, our analysis indicates that no single theoretical formulation can alone properly and thoroughly explain the dynamics in the data. This is not to deny that our choices reveal our implicit assumptions in our research. There are of course ‘consequences of following one line of inquiry and […] implications of choosing between different approaches and theoretical positions’ (Pryke et  al. 2003: 3). However, our ambition from the outset has been to do justice to the complexity of the data and thus we approached this study as one that demands conceptual versatility.

Hegemonic Masculinity Online or otherwise, theorising masculinity and/or masculinised spaces has long relied on the foundational writing of Raewyn Connell, and especially her cornerstone concept of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1987, 1995). This concept is part of Connell’s broader theorising of the gender order, which explains that masculinities are not related to male bodies, but instead reflect men’s positions in our hierarchical social structure. Hegemonic masculinity refers to ‘the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women’ (Connell 1995: 77). Connell’s model of masculinity most notably delivers an understanding of how women and femininity come to be subordinated, and crucially, that the process of hegemonic masculinity legitimates the unequal political relationship between men and women, masculinity and femininity. Importantly, however, the model also illuminates that masculinity should be conceived as plural—that is, masculinities—and as a social structure that is hierarchically organised and relational. Her model thus provides a way of theorising the politics and inequalities within masculinity. At the hierarchy’s apex, ‘hegemonic’ masculinity represents a culturally idealised form of masculinity, and one which maintains dominance over other masculinities (and also femininities). While not to be associated with a particular set of traits per se (Messerschmidt 2012), it is often ‘characterised by numerous attributes such as domination, aggressiveness, competitiveness, athletic prowess, stoicism and control’ (Cheng 1999: 298). The archetype of hegemonic masculinity, though, is historically contingent and thus conflated with specific sets of characteristics that form the basis of a



culturally ascendant archetype at a given time and within a given social setting. It is always that which is ‘most honoured or desired in a particular context’ (Connell 2002: 28), and thus is an idea principally imposed/ legitimated through consent rather than force or coercion. Another crucial feature of hegemonic masculinity is that ‘only a minority of men express and perform its pattern’ (Whitehead 2002: 93). Indeed, it is an ideal that most men cannot attain (Edley 2017). Accordingly, another issue integral to the legitimisation of hegemonic masculinity is the subordination and marginalisation—but not elimination—of other masculinities that form as a result of the hegemonic process (Connell 1995). These others comprise masculinities that are ‘complicit’ (which do not necessarily achieve the normative standards of hegemonic masculinity, but nonetheless benefit from what Connell (1995) calls the ‘patriarchal dividend’); ‘marginalised’ (usually related to the social and economic oppressions of working-class masculinities and non-white masculinities); and ‘subordinated’ (most often associated with those masculinities denied legitimacy and power as a result of discursive and symbolic alignments with non-­ heterosexual identities and femininity). These ideas have been pivotal in research on men and masculinities, and remain influential in research across many social science disciplines seeking to expose and make sense of gender power differentials and abuses. That is not to say that the concept has gone without critique. Indeed, from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, these critiques clustered around various themes, well summarised by Jessica Pfaffendorf (2019: 1): Amid useful applications of the concept over almost two decades, however, there were also major criticisms: an overly essentialized concept of masculinity and masculine “traits,” an unsatisfactory theory of the “subject” and of the agency of both hegemonic and subordinate groups, inattention to patterns of embodiment tied to hegemonic masculinities, and the necessity of analysing hegemonic masculinities at different micro and macro levels.

To address these concerns around hegemonic masculinity, in a 2005 paper co-authored with James Messerschmidt, Connell provided a somewhat subtle adaptation of the concept. This ‘update’ rejected outright any accusation of essentialism, (re)stressing that ‘masculinities are configurations of practice that are accomplished in social action and, therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular social setting’



(Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 836). This was also the basis for ­rejecting accusation that her model represented a static conceptualisation of masculinity. On the issue of which ‘traits’ are emblematic of hegemonic masculinity, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005: 838) re-assert that there can be various models of hegemonic masculinities that ‘contribute to hegemony in the society-wide gender order as a whole’, despite there being no necessary correspondence between celebrated ideas and ‘the lives of any actual men’. The same paper also ‘flatly’ rejects the notion that both/either the body and the subject are erased in formulation of the concept, and instead sees both as central. On the latter, for example, they underscore that ‘human social practice creates gender relations in history. The concept of hegemonic masculinity embeds a historically dynamic view of gender in which it is impossible to erase the subject.’ As part of the renewal of the concept, Connell and Messerschmidt also accept the need to reject two important parts of the concept’s initial formulation: that is, the idea that it was possible to locate ‘all masculinities (and all femininities) in terms of a single pattern of power, the “global dominance” of men over women’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 846); and also the need to thoroughly transcend any reliance on trait terminology (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 847). These rejections also sit alongside some important reformulations. In relation to the gender hierarchy, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005: 848) suggest there must be concerted effort to incorporate into the concept of hegemonic masculinity recognition of the ‘agency of subordinated groups as much as the power of dominant groups and the mutual conditioning of gender dynamics and other social dynamics’. This idea is crucial to our study, given, as we will demonstrate, our findings point to considerable resistance to hegemonic masculine domination. Another part of the reformulation is also relevant. This pertains to the idea that hegemonic masculinity must be understood as possessing global, regional and local levels of analysis. The ‘geography of masculinity’ is complicated in any discussion of a (theoretically) global online platform, but there is correspondence with the Reddit platform and analysis at a ‘regional level’ hegemony, which is ‘constructed at the level of the culture or the nation-state, as typically found in discursive, political, and demographic research’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 849). In our efforts to document and understand the dynamics of this online space, we also seek to make clear the correspondences and overlaps between the regional and the global.



Geek Masculinity As Hegemonic Masculinity? In respect of the assessment of hegemony in r/gaming, and as outlined in the introduction, a further useful concept is that of ‘geek masculinity’ which has emerged in recent feminist critiques of pop-culture fandoms and, specifically, gaming cultures (Taylor 2012; Massanari 2015, 2017; Braithwaite 2016). Once a derogatory label, the term ‘geek’ is now often embraced as a form of self-description and oppositional badge of honour (Taylor 2012: 112). As it accords to masculinity, Braithwaite (2016: 3) insists that geek masculinity ‘disavows stereotypically masculine interests in favour of technology and gaming’, and ultimately represents ‘a way of doing gender in a specific situation and for a specific end’. This latter point is crucial because it reminds us that geek masculinity—while perhaps afforded lesser status in the wider culture and, arguably, reflective of both subordinated (through being feminised) and complicit (through the enactment of misogyny) masculinities—becomes and thus functions as hegemonic in its specific setting. In respect to gaming, and its attendant subcultural practices and spaces, the ‘specific end’ is the re-articulation of the gender hierarchy in ways that afford legitimacy, status and dominance. This is achieved through the relatively standardised practice of valorising mastery, which is a key component of hegemonic masculinity; but in this space, it is technological mastery that is valorised, with athleticism or physicality—other elements associated with hegemonic masculinity more widely—having little currency in the online world. This is entirely in keeping with Connell’s formulation, which proposes that masculinities—as configurations of practice—‘can differ according to the gender relations in particular settings’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 836). It is also aligned with earlier feminist articulations regarding how ‘technical competence is central to the dominant cultural idea of masculinity, and its absence [is] a key feature of stereotyped femininity’ (Wajcman 1991: 159). The so-called absence of mastery among women is part of the discursive mechanism that ensures the ‘continual rejection and negative framing of femininity within geek spaces’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: vi). Through such ideas, geek masculinity comes to ensure that women are actively subordinated in, and excluded from, presumed male spaces through acts of vitriolic misogyny—a phenomenon exemplified by #GamerGate. The picture that clearly emerges here is that the stereotype of powerlessness often used to represent the geek in cultural imaginings is wrong. As Salter and Blodgett (2017: 47) provocatively argue: ‘[G]eek



masculinity is not marginalised. It is instead an inevitable evolution of hegemonic masculinity in a culture where dominance and technical mastery are increasingly interwoven.’ Salter and Blodgett’s point in some ways overstates the position of geek masculinity in the gender order. Indeed, research has shown repeatedly that ‘geek’ sensibilities are indeed felt as marginal and stigmatised for many young men in and outside of educational settings, for example (Ward 2015; Messerschmidt 2017a), in similar ways to other non-normative masculine behaviours such as being gay (e.g. Birkett and Espelage 2015). Importantly, when it comes to geek masculinity, rather than a position of homogeneity, ‘social class, ‘race’, gender, cultural orientation, age and institutional environment all impact on young people’s ability to mobilise geek capitals’ (Mendick and Francis 2012: 21). This logic becomes clearer still when we consider that, beyond its sexist connotations, geek masculinity in gaming spaces is also seen to rely heavily on utilising discourses of racism, and homophobia (Nakamura 2012). This important point allows us to accept that geek masculinity can operate as a form of hegemony in the right circumstances, and/or for the right bodies, and serve to legitimate gender inequalities in a particular context. Retaining this understanding is better aligned with Connell and Messerschmidt’s (2005) reformulation of the concept of hegemonic masculinity, such that our interest remains not on the traits of the hegemonic form but on its relational dominance and prospects for subordination in any given social or historical context. The usefulness of geek masculinity as a site-specific framework is not lost here, but we proceed inductively, using HM the way Connell advises: that is, as ‘a means of grasping a certain dynamic within the social process’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 841).

Adding to Connell’s Tools Connell (1995) asserts that hegemonic masculinity does not predict men’s behaviours, yet uptake of her work has led to particular and pronounced research attention being paid to dominative forms of masculinity. This is necessary and helpful, but it remains the case that the prospects for sociopositive change, or an alternative type of hegemony, as described by Howson (2006), for example, have been absent from Connell’s theorising, as well as from a great deal of research that utilises her frameworks. Moller (2007: 265) captures this especially well, contending that gendered power ‘should not be equated with or reduced solely to a logic of



domination’, and lamenting the tendency among those deploying Connell to inhibit empirical nuance by reducing men’s practices and motivations solely to forms of domination. Thus, while Christensen and Jensen (2014: 64) caution against assuming ‘that the most normative and legitimate form of masculinity in any society and at any historical point in time is also one that legitimates patriarchy’, much masculinities research seems to do just that, suffering from a narrow approach that invites researchers to ‘look out there … [for] particularly nefarious instances of masculinist abuses of power’ (Moller 2007: 275), and/or ‘present masculinity in singular terms as an assemblage of toxic traits, constructing men as “damaged and damage doing”’ (Lomas 2013: 167). To avoid focusing solely on such power dynamics and to achieve a more thorough analysis of a wider array of masculinity practices in the ostensibly masculine space of r/gaming, some additional concepts are useful for this book’s analysis. First, we can turn to recent developments proposed by Messerschmidt (2012; 2016), who has underscored the importance for researchers to ‘distinguish masculinities that legitimate a hierarchical relationship between men and women, between masculinity and femininity and among masculinities, from those that do not’ (Messerschmidt 2016: 33). Messerschmidt offers a conceptual vocabulary here that both complements and expands the possibilities for understanding masculinities, signalling the need to understand the difference between ‘dominant’ and ‘dominating’ masculinities. The latter involves ‘commanding and controlling particular interactions, exercising power and control over people and events’ (Messerschmidt 2017b: 75), while the former indicates masculinities that are the most celebrated, most numerically dominant, or currently widely accepted form in a particular social setting. In both cases, while there may seem to be an alignment with tenets of hegemonic masculinity, Messerschmidt (2017b: 75) notes that they cannot be deemed such ‘if they fail to legitimate unequal gender relations in a cultural context’. Taking this understanding into the analysis is important as it aids a more careful and reflexive assessment of r/gaming, ensuring that we take seriously any difference in size and scale between behaviours and discourses that are overtly hegemonic, and other masculinities that may be widespread but ‘non-hegemonic’ (Messerschmidt 2016). Somewhat overlapping with this emphasis on documenting the difference between hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinities, another useful conceptual development can be found in the work of Hammarén and Johansson (2014). While writing about homosocial relations more



­arrowly, they deploy Mouffe’s (2005) post-structuralist approach to n advocate careful attention to ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ masculine practices. The first mirrors Messerschmidt’s notion of dominating masculinities; the second, on the other hand, goes beyond being simply understood as non-­hegemonic, while also not necessarily being related to numerical dominance. Instead, the horizontal dimension is about sociopositive behaviours, and the explicit rejection of conventional dominative hegemony. One main difference between Hammarén and Johansson’s approach and that offered by Messerschmidt pertains to their respective stances on the possibilities for hegemony. Messerschmidt’s understanding of hegemony appears to rest on the widespread (but in our view incorrect) understanding that masculinities are only ever hegemonic if they culturally legitimate unequal gender relations. Hammarén and Johansson instead are explicit in arguing that researchers must ‘remain open to the possibility of discovering potential movements toward a redefined hegemony’ (2014: 7; see also Whitehead 2002; Howson 2006; Roberts 2018). In some respects, this difference is somewhat semantic—Messerschmidt also refers to a need to ‘facilitate the discovery and identification of “positive masculinities”’. Here he refers to those masculinities that may actually help to legitimate an egalitarian relationship (2016: 34), signalling this as an important task if we are to go about ‘pinpointing thus gender practices and relations that feminists support’ (2017b: 75). However, we find that a more forthright discussion of the possibility of redefined or even positive hegemony is conceptually better aligned with the concept’s Gramscian heritage (Howson 2006; Roberts 2018). Adding further capacity for theorising gendered discourses in r/gaming, we also make use of an extended version of Eric Anderson’s (2009) Inclusive Masculinity Theory (IMT).1 Chief among Anderson’s (2009) claims is that Connell’s concepts can no longer accurately theorise masculinity in Western cultures because these cultures are now characterised by decreasing or low (but not entirely diminished) levels of cultural homophobia—previously a defining characteristic of hegemonic masculinity. No longer governed by high levels of ‘homohysteria’—the fear of being thought gay—and with the declining significance of homophobia in the construction of a masculine self (McCormack 2012), Anderson (2009) proposes that, contemporaneously, many men espouse ‘inclusive’ attitudes and practice gendered behaviour that undermines the values of ‘orthodox’, or hegemonic, masculinity, particularly in relation to homosexuality and women. Some academics have framed this as a form of ‘hybridity’ in



which ostensibly inclusive acts are incorporated into a wider repertoire of masculine behaviours that ultimately serve to maintain hegemonic dominance (e.g. Bridges and Pascoe 2014). However, a great deal of recent empirical research underscores Anderson’s view that we are more likely seeing genuine transformation of gendered norms among some boys and men (e.g. Blanchard et al. 2017; McCormack 2012; Robinson et al. 2018; Roberts et al. 2017; Roberts 2013, 2017, 2018). Rather than resulting in a gender utopia where the work of gender equality activists is redundant, Anderson (2009: 8) contends that ‘in cultures of diminished homohysteria, two dominant (but not dominating) forms of masculinity will exist: One conservative and one inclusive’. Within the inclusive form, Anderson sees the coexistence of multiple masculinities, along with gendered behaviours of boys and men that are less differentiated from girls and women (Anderson 2011: 733). This results in a situation wherein inclusive masculinities may indeed be culturally esteemed among particular male peer groups, but in a manner that does not vie for dominance over, or attempt to marginalise/subordinate, other masculinities, including conservative/orthodox forms (Anderson 2009; McCormack 2011). While the empirical base for IMT was at first mostly derived from studies of middle-class young men and their attitudes towards gay peers, recent research has moved well beyond this. Using Anderson’s central concept of diminished homohysteria, for example, research has documented positive changes in relation to heterosexual men’s homosocial behaviours and sexual practices, though at present this body of work has not comprehensively addressed men’s relations with women (O’Neill 2015; for an exception see Roberts 2018).

Conclusion Relatively little research on masculinity uses Connell and Anderson in unison, though Caruso and Roberts (2017), Maloney et  al. (2018) and Roberts (2018) provide templates for how this can be done successfully. In the analysis that follows, as stated, we use ideas from these theorists, in combination with other theoretical lenses, with the aim of better theorising a full account of what Anderson describes as ‘two forms of masculinity’. As will become clear, we find these theoretical positions entirely compatible and, together, they provide a better means of understanding the emerging contemporary spectrum of masculine attitudes and practices. Through this approach of using a variety of ‘sensitising’ concepts we



feel we stand a better chance of achieving a ‘more holistic understanding of gender hierarchy, [and of] recognising the agency of subordinated groups as much as the power of dominant groups and the mutual conditioning of gender dynamics and other social dynamics’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 848). Indeed, while the specific environment of gaming has largely (almost exclusively) been associated with the (re)production of hegemonic masculine norms, we will go onto illustrate that discursive performances of masculinities in r/gaming in 2016–2017 cannot be adequately captured, or completely explained, through one framework alone. Our multi-faceted theoretical approach allows us to move beyond, but not deny, the ‘taken-for-granted’ normativity of hetero-­ masculinity in both games and their communities (Sundén and Sveningsson 2012), and the attendant idea that, in any given historical or social context, ‘one form of masculinity is culturally exalted’ (Connell 2005: 77).

Note 1. A somewhat parallel advance is offered by Elliott (2016, 2019). Her theorisation of caring masculinity is also focused on the possibilities for informing more productive, more egalitarian masculinities, though this pertains mostly to the ethic of care. This is an important and novel idea, but it has so far been mostly put to use in research on more practical relations between men and women, for example, abundantly in studies of fathering practices (e.g. Brooks and Hodkinson 2019; Leung et al. 2019). We have decided that an engagement with these literatures represents too much of a detour for a book in the Pivot format.

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Computational Survey

Abstract  This chapter represents the first of our three substantive analyses of gendered discourse on r/gaming. Here, we offer two computational entry points for making sense of a year’s worth of gendered comments in this space. In the first section, we explore the voting tendencies of users when commentary is masculine versus femininity gendered; and then measure the emotional valence or ‘sentiment score’ elicited by each gendered dataset. In the second and third sections, we move into our topic modelling analyses of masculine gendered and feminine gendered commentary. Keywords  Topic modelling • Sentiment analysis • Big data • Reddit

This chapter represents the first of our three substantive analyses of gendered discourse on r/gaming in 2016–2017. While Chaps. 4 and 5 essentially mirror each other, in offering similar in-depth qualitative/theoretical discussions of masculine gendered (MG) and feminine gendered (FG) commentary, respectively, this chapter’s broader computational survey acts as both a discrete layer of our overall analysis, and as the foundation and backdrop for what is to come. Here, we offer two computational entry points for making sense of a year’s worth of gendered comments in this space. In the first section, we explore the voting tendencies of users when commentary is masculine versus femininity gendered; and then © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




­ easure the emotional valence or ‘sentiment score’ elicited by each genm dered dataset. Together, these two analytical components shine a light on how users evaluate gendered commentary. This section also acts as the first step in this book’s larger project of understanding how gender itself is evaluated in this space. In the second and third sections, we move into our topic modelling analyses of masculine gendered and feminine gendered commentary. The two models we present here deliver a portrait of the topical and broader thematic terrain of discourse—terrain into which we dig deeper in the two chapters to follow. Before proceeding, it is important to establish for the reader what is and, more importantly, what is not achieved with the computational analyses offered here. As suggested, this chapter represents the first and broadest step towards making sense of how gender operates in this gaming community. With respect to the voting and sentiment analysis, findings here provide an overarching sense of the evaluating tendencies of the userbase, but they give little indication as to the actual qualitative substance of what is being evaluating. While the beginnings of this task are undertaken in the relevant section’s discussion of the top five most upvoted/downvoted comments in the MG and FG datasets, our more in-depth examination of gendered attitudes/evaluations can again be found in Chaps. 4 and 5. Similarly, and as suggested in the book’s introduction, while the topic models provide a foundational sense of what is spoken about when the commentary is gendered, the task of shedding light on how gender plays out within topics/themes is also reserved for these later chapters. We would also like to stress that our decision to focus on semantically binary masculine and gendered datasets in no way reflects a binary understanding of gender itself on our part. On the contrary, here, we follow Judith Butler (2006: 9) in viewing gender as a ‘free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one’. However, Butler (2006: 36) also notes that, while the gender binary might be a culturally constructed ‘linguistic fiction’, it nonetheless remains a powerfully persuasive one; ‘produced and circulated … in an effort to restrict the production of identities’. As a book fundamentally interested in forms of popular discourse (in a particular subcultural setting), our use of gender binary datasets ultimately reflects the construction’s enduring sociocultural sway in language. In any given social setting, ‘he’ will mean something different to ‘she’, and our datasets are designed precisely to explore this relational dynamic in r/gaming.



Voting and Sentiment Analysis As briefly discussed, a key component of Reddit’s design is the ‘vote’ feature, which plays a central role in determining the ranking and visibility of content on the platform. On Reddit, each individual post and comment is accompanied by an upvote/downvote button that enables users to participate in voting on content to make it more/less visible on the site. The voting feature has been variously described in the literature as a sorting mechanism (Panek et al. 2018), a function (Massanari 2016) and a method to gain visibility (Rafail and Freitas 2019). Upvoted posts are pushed towards the front page (/r/all) as well as the front page of the individual subreddits on which they are posted, and upvoted comments are pushed higher up the comment thread within posts. This process governs how content is moderated on the platform and is arguably responsible for its global success and self-styled reputation as ‘the front page of the Internet’. In this study, the role that the vote feature plays on /r/gaming can reveal users’ attitudes towards gendered comments. Before engaging in this question, we must first ask: what are the affordances and meaning of the vote feature for users? Officially, Reddit informs users that the voting feature is designed to help make visible the kinds of content that they find interesting or relevant, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with it. However, in everyday practice, users respond to the affordances of the voting feature in unexpected and unforeseen ways. Perhaps the most notable example of such emergent behaviour is the mass downvoting that occurred for game developer Electronic Arts as a result of their ‘Pride and Accomplishment’ comment (Fig.  3.1). In November 2017, a user posted in the subreddit r/StarWarsBattlefront to critique the game Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and its drip-feeding to players of popular characters from the related film franchise: ‘Seriously? I paid 80$ to have [Darth] Vader locked?’ (MBMMaverick 2017). The EACommunityTeam replied to this post with the following comment: ‘The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.’ Viewed by many gamers as furtive management speak, the response resulted in the largest ‘downvote brigade’ (Massanari 2016) ever witnessed on social media, whereby the comment amassed −667,824 points and became the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. Going against its prescribed use by the platform, this example and subsequent studies suggest that the downvote feature can be



Fig. 3.1  The most downvoted comment in Reddit history—Electronic Arts and the ‘Pride and Accomplishment’ debacle

used as part of collective or mass protest by users (Kilgo et  al. 2018; Massanari 2017), and to express dislike or disagreement with content. We ask the question of whether, and to what extent, gendered comments (i.e. the MG and FG datasets) elicit a different prevalence of upvotes and downvotes. As Table  3.1 shows, average FG comments received a slightly higher number of upvotes (17.1) compared to MG comments (16.1). However, we also observe that FG comments were somewhat more polarising in terms of attracting upvotes and downvotes. In Table 3.1, we see that for the subset of downvoted comments (score less than the default score of 1), FG comments were downvoted slightly more on average (−4.82) than MG comments (−4.2). The inverse is true for the subset of upvoted comments (score greater than 1), where FG comments on average received 34.7 upvotes compared to 31.7 for MG comments. Across both the MG and FG datasets, the majority of downvoted comments had a score between −9 and 0 (inclusive), and the majority of upvoted comments had a score between 2 and 19. Figure 3.2 further illustrates how FG comments were consistently downvoted slightly more than



Table 3.1  Summary statistics of vote scores for MG versus FG comments (highest and lowest by group shown in bold) Data


Count (%)




All (n = 590,312)

Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine

138,977 (23.54%) 451,155 (76.43%) 19,191 (29.3%) 46,343 (70.7%) 69,774 (23.26%) 230,252 (76.74%)

17.1 16.1 −4.82 −4.2 34.7 31.7

−1121 −1525 −1121 −1525 2 2

18,760 16,684 0 0 18,760 16,684

Downvoted subset (n = 65,534) Upvoted subset (n = 300,026)

Downvoted scores by masculine VS feminine gendered comments 10000

Masculine Feminine


8000 6000 4000 2000 0 −10











Vote score

Fig. 3.2  Downvoted comment scores for MG versus FG comments

MG comments, with exception of comments that received a single downvote (score of 0), in which case MG comments tended to receive more downvotes. Similarly, Fig. 3.3 reveals a pattern of upvoted FG comments receiving slightly more upvotes compared to upvoted MG comments. Once again, the exception here is for comments that received a single upvote (score = 2), in which case MG comments received more upvotes.1 Overall, this demonstrates a clear, albeit also somewhat subtle, degree of polarisation in terms of upvotes for gendered comments. FG comments had a pattern of being downvoted slightly more than MG comments but, at the other end of the spectrum, FG comments also revealed a pattern of being upvoted more than MG comments.



Upvoted scores by masculine VS feminine gendered comments Masculine Feminine

17500 15000


12500 10000 7500 5000 2500 0









10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Vote score

Fig. 3.3  Upvoted comment scores for MG versus FG comments

To provide a sense of what kind of content was being highly upvoted and downvoted by gendered comment dataset in 2016–2017, Tables 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5 provide the top five comments in terms of number of downvotes and upvotes across the MG and FG cohorts. Comparing the top five most upvoted/downvoted comments in the MG and FG datasets, already we can see evidence of a social dynamic that both confirms and challenges established scholarship on geek masculine sociality (e.g. Shaw 2013; Massanari 2017; Salter and Blodgett 2017; Kendall 2012). Before outlining these complex dynamics, it is important to note that, as is the case with the analyses of Chaps. 4 and 5, in instances in which the meaning of a given comment was unclear, we would return to the original post and surrounding comments for context. With the most downvoted comments in the MG dataset, there is a clear pattern of disapproval towards the sorts of aggressively masculinised sentiments with which gaming culture is often associated. For example, the most downvoted comment contains both a sexual innuendo towards other users’ female family members—‘If I wanted a kiss I would’ve called your mother’—and reference to a ‘hate-boner’, a phallic geek term describing intense feelings of disapproval—in this case, directed towards the user in question. The second most downvoted comment includes an implicit endorsement of Donald Trump who was emerging during the period



Table 3.2  Top five most downvoted comments in the MG dataset MG top five downvoted

Comment text


It was a huge update with a lot of additions so I can understand the wait time. Everyone in this sub has such a hate-boner for this game so let the downvotes fly ¯\\\_(ツ)\_/¯. Edit: Bring it on. ∗∗Your downvotes fuel me!∗∗ E: That all you got?? If I wanted a kiss I would’ve called your mother E: What is the most downvoted comment, anyway? E: Dang and I thought the Reddit hivemind came out in swarms? You guys are the worst at being bees. E: ∗how low can ya go!∗ (I_am_Bearstronaut) The guy rocking a 2 hander weapon (no shield) is the one you consider a camper? I know I know. It’s only a joke. But like, as Trump so eloquently puts it: WRONG. (wovoka_) ∗Stares intently for 10 minutes trying to understand why u/cryptokhan thinks he has the same identity with a Numel Numb 2 Feet Tall Yellow and Green Giraffe Pokemon thingy∗. ∗Let’s see he’s yellow and green, looks like a midget giraffe∗. ∗∗Oh, O’P’s a midget, I get it now.”∗∗. ∗Numb Pokemon∗. ∗Doesn’t notice being hit∗. ∗∗Oh, OP is a little person that gets hit by tiny giraffes at the zoo where he works at∗∗. ∗Enjoy work today OP∗ (CGAMES002) I zoomed in, and it was the same guy both times. He died instantly upon spawn by the same grenade … lol (madd_get) You guys do realise that we don’t do that on a daily basis? We are normal healthy people with work and sport activities. It was a fun thing on rainy weekend day. (Freshmatics)



#4 #5

(2016 was the year of the US presidential election campaign) as natural spokesman for the sorts of aggrieved white heterosexual males (Nagle 2017) who allegedly continue to ‘police the borders’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: 92) of gaming. Both this and the fourth most downvoted comment represent explicit attempts by users to demonstrate their mastery of gameplay and, again, these allegedly typical (Massanari 2015; Salter 2017) geek masculine assertions of social/cultural capital were clearly met with rejection here. In a dynamic that essentially speaks for itself, the third most downvoted comment sees a user critiquing the original poster (OP) by way of marginalising references to ‘little people’. An opaquer, and ideologically more mixed, picture emerges from the top five most upvoted comments in the MG dataset. The first, third and fifth are unified by their highly specific references various aspects of gaming culture, and their lack of either negative or positive gendered content—in other words, gender here is incidental. The second and fourth



Table 3.3  Top five most upvoted comments in the MG dataset MF top five upvoted

Comment text


I nominate this for being the nicest post of 2016. ∗Hands /u/ or3g0nduck2 pre war money∗. Take it and go! Edit: Thank you to the mysterious vault dweller who acquired 37 gold bricks from the Sierra Madre vault and shared 1 brick with me. Cheers! Edit 2: It appears the OP deleted his account after being exposed as a liar. Edit 3: [This pretty much sum up this entire thread.] ( (VauIt-Tec) Memories struck her almost as hard as her husband. Edit: Remember, I only made the joke. It is you guys who upvoted it, so whos the real villain? Also, thanks for the gold! First time gilding and its a double! (Niicks) [From user /u/Big-Bad-Woulfe on Robin Williams playing Warhammer 40 k] \n\n” Was at a GW in San Francisco, had brought in some Grey Knights to paint and wasn’t really planning on playing …2 That’s not his mom, that’s the mom of the kid he just 360 no scope’d (ThisLookInfectedToYa) Or they could sell the campaign only game for 60$ and add multiplayer as a DLC for another 60$! Edit: my most upvoted comment is about scummy business practices in the videogames industry. Tbh I’m faring better than those guys whose most upvoted comment is about dicks n stuff. (With_Hands_And_Paper)



#4 #5

most upvoted, on the other hand, convey sentiments that fall squarely into the category of exclusionary/marginalising geek masculine rhetoric. The fourth was in response to a post titled, ‘This mom supports her son’s gaming’, which featured an image of a small boy competing at a gaming competition and who is only able to reach the computer screen by standing on his mother’s knees as she sits dutifully cross-legged on the floor. The comment ‘That’s not his mom, that’s the mom of the kid he just 360 no scope’d’ was an attempt to sexualise the image by implying that the positioning of the mother’s face in relation to the boy’s pelvis actually suggested that the woman was the boy’s sexual prize—‘360 no scope’d’ being a reference to a difficult gameplay manoeuvre in various first-person shooter games. The second most upvoted comment makes joking reference to domestic abuse in response to a series of subtitled images from the video game, Grand Theft Auto V, in which the main character and his inebriated wife bicker within their suburban home. In the user’s ­subsequent edit, in which they thank everyone for the high number of upvotes, the



Table 3.4  Top five most downvoted comments in the FG dataset FG top five downvoted

Comment text


Video games ruined my life. All I cared about as a kid and teenager was getting home and getting lost in them. This in turn made me very antisocial and socially awkward. I wish my parents had told me no and kicked my ass and told me to go out and hang out with friends. Maybe I wouldn’t be so alone now, I most definitely would not have been in the situation of never having a girlfriend. Some girls liked me but I just cared about video games too much. (Scuttlebug_Jamboree) Is Lana? Edit: Stop downvoting me morans, if Lana turns around shes is still Lana you dumbfucks Edit2: FFS is Lana a Noctowl, Hoothoot, or Rowlet? NO. Because they aren’t in this gen. I bet you loosers haven’t even played this game. Edit3: I downvoted every comment on this thread as revenge. I told you you’ll regret downvoting me but you didn’t listen. Edit4: spelling Edit5: Wow, didn’t know this subreddit has such a hardon for Lana. Guess you nerds love jumping to the defence of women even if they’re manga characters. Thank god I didn’t post about Misty, i would be at −1000 by now. You white knights are horrible. (OPINION_IS_UNPOPULAR) I hate stereotyping but I have a feeling this is from a she (fundayz) I used to call my dick the ocarena of time so when my girl would suck id say “this is music to my ears” Edit: Twas a joke. No need to get butthurt … (TheBigBangTheoryIsOk) i like that you know it was a he playing but added the he/she to make everyone think you’re pc. (fall0ut)


#3 #4


Table 3.5  Top five most upvoted comments in the FG dataset FG top five upvoted

Comment text


You’re going to meet a really nice girl in 3 months. Stay as friends. (Billy_Chapas) Memories struck her almost as hard as her husband. \n\nEdit: Remember, I only made the joke. It is you guys who upvoted it, so whos the real villain? Also, thanks for the gold! First time gilding and its a double! (Niicks) [From user /u/Big-Bad-Woulfe on Robin Williams playing Warhammer 40 k]\n\n”Was at a GW in San Francisco, had brought in some Grey Knights to paint and wasn’t really planning on playing …3 “Thats’s right ladies and gentlemen … we’re looking for the perfect candidate for a threesome!” (Son_Of_Gotham) Dude your girlfriend’s married (tomorrowland)



#4 #5



ironic ‘I only made the joke. It is you guys who upvoted it’ essentially functions as a celebration of the shared transgression of all concerned, one that is echoed in the two tentative replies, ‘Holy hell man’ and then ‘Yep, that’s where he went’. Echoing patterns in the MG dataset, only more acutely, the top five most downvoted comments in the FG dataset convey even greater collective disapproval towards orthodox geek masculinity. While its highly unpopular status among gamers might have had at least something to do with its opening statement that ‘video games ruined my life’, the most downvoted comment expresses a broader sense of aggrievement in line with the ‘socially awkward … victimised “outsider” posture’ (Salter 2017: 250) that is argued in the literature (e.g. Massanari 2015) to be a badge of honour in gaming culture. The second most downvoted comment, an ever-escalating rant across five edits, was in response to the relevant user being sanctioned by others for their use of pornographic language in a previous comment. Clearly, their riposte here was met with even greater disapproval, leading to the user’s final edit in which they accuse others of being ‘white knights’: a pejorative used by alt-right and other anti-feminist voices online to describe males who express progressive/feminist views. The fourth most downvoted comment is a straightforward instance of pornographic and marginalising language; again, collectively sanctioned and then edited by the user in an effort to distance themselves from the comment. The third and fifth most downvoted comments represent more tacit marginalisations of femininity. The former—‘I have a feeling this is from a she’—was in response to an image of a gaming console sitting alongside an incompatible game cartridge, the suggestion being that the two items were a well-meaning gift from someone lacking in cultural knowledge. The latter’s ‘i like that you know it was a he … but added the he/she to make everyone think you’re pc’ was simply one user disparaging another for their careful use of gender pronouns. This downvoted comment is also telling in that its reference to ‘everyone’ suggests ‘pc’ (or progressive) stances are valorised, rather than marginalised, in this space. Much like the MG dataset, the top five most upvoted comments suggest a more mixed picture and, as noted, the jokey reference to domestic abuse features as the second most upvoted comment in both datasets. Interestingly, the MG and FG datasets also share the third most upvoted comment, a highly subculture-specific discussion of Robin Williams [an avid gamer] and the tabletop wargame, Warhammer 40 K, to which gender is incidental. The top comment sees one user consoling another in



despair over an unrequited heterosexual attraction. Importantly, the final word of advice to ‘stay as friends’ essentially seeks to dissuade any hetero-­ masculine victimhood posturing. The fifth most upvoted comment— ‘Dude your girlfriend’s married’—was in response to a post featuring a user’s ‘girlfriend’ embracing a gaming-related gift, with the comment wryly noting that the woman in question was wearing a ring on the third finger of her left hand. Based on subsequent commentary, this contribution appears to have been appreciated for its geek-typical suggestion that OP was disingenuously claiming success in heterosexual relations by falsely identifying the woman as his partner. This is similar to the fourth most upvoted comment in the MG dataset, fourth-placed here—‘Thats’s [sic] right ladies and gentlemen … we’re looking for the perfect candidate for a threesome!’—which represents another attempt at pornographic comedy, albeit of a ‘softer’ variety. The broader disjuncture between downvoting and upvoting patterns across the MG and FG datasets is, in and of itself, worth noting. Indeed, when engaged in negative appraisals of commentary, at least according to these four sets of top five result, the community is decidedly more unified, and sociopositive, than when it engages in positive appraisals, wherein what is valorised becomes more ideologically diffuse. In other words, the r/gaming community appears across these datasets to sing in unison when sanctioning users who cross certain orthodox masculinist lines, and then become dissonant in expressing a more varied set of criteria in how they endorse commentary within these lines. As discussed in the introduction, we analysed the emotional valence of user comments using the VADER (Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner) sentiment analysis tool. Each comment is given a compound sentiment score ranging from −1 (very negative) to 1 (very positive). Overall, we find that sentiment tends once more to be polarised: MG comments universally received more negative sentiment (score of −1 to 0) compared to FG comments, and they also tended to receive less positive sentiment (score of 0 to 1) compared to the FG cohort. The histogram in Fig. 3.4 divides scores into intervals, showing how many comments from each dataset (MG versus FG) fall into each category. On the negative area of Fig. 3.4 (middle to left hand side), we see that MG comments were almost always receiving more negative sentiment across the range of negative scores. On the positive area (middle to right hand side), there was generally the opposite trend, and particularly at the extremes (score greater than 0.8): FG comments received more positive



Sentiment scores by masculine VS feminine gendered comments Masculine Feminine








−1.0 −0.9 −0.8 −0.7 −0.6 −0.5 −0.4 −0.3 −0.2 −0.1 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0

Sentiment score

Fig. 3.4  Sentiment score counts for MG versus FG comments

sentiment compared to MG comments. In short: gendered comments appeared to polarise the /r/gaming community in terms of emotional valence or sentiment. Comments that mentioned males were almost universally more negative, and comments that mentioned females were consistently more positive, particularly at the extreme end.

Topic Model Analysis of ‘Masculine Gendered’ /r/ Gaming Comments In this section, we report on the results of a latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) topic model fitted to the MG comments dataset, herein referred to as the MG topic model. We discovered a range of topics related to characters and stories in games, social aspects of gaming and nostalgia, gameplay and game mechanics, and gaming economies and participatory cultures. The aim here was to use the topics generated by the model to frame and organise this large-scale and relatively heterogeneous collection of MG comments (i.e. user comments about gaming that have a masculine ­gendered reference). In this way, the topics provide a description of the underlying themes that drive the discourse, and we use this model, and its feminine gendered counterpart, as the foundation for the more in-depth qualitative examination of the data in the next chapters.



Table 3.6  Topic labels for the MG dataset of /r/gaming comments #1 Gaming stories from childhood/childhood gaming nostalgia #2 Construction and representation of male characters in games #3 Critical discussion of Bethesda games (esp. Fallout 4 and Skyrim) #4 Storytelling in games #5 Gaming-related banter 1 #6 Different consoles/ platforms/VR #7 Fantasy/Sci-Fi cultures

#8 PC gaming #9 Identity politics and games #10 Film and games

#11 Gaming-related banter 2

#21 Race and ethnicity in games/Overwatch characters

#12 Game mechanics/ design features

#22 Multiplayer/controllers and peripheral input devices

#13 Metal Gear Solid franchise

#23 Zelda franchise

#14 Evaluating boys/men and male game characters #15 Space games

#24 References to the past/ past anecdotes #25 Game combat mechanics/weapons and defense #26 Gunplay/shooting mechanics #27 Streaming/videos

#16 Game economies/costs #17 Mario Brothers franchise/playing Nintendo consoles when younger and with friends #18 Strange male faces and bodies in game designs #19 Dark Souls’ bosses #20 Discussion of the OP (original poster) or other commenters in threads

#28 Killing characters/ character fates and death #29 Fan art/user content #30 Interacting with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and the game world/ killing NPCs

Table 3.6 provides a list of the 30 topics generated by the MG topic model, as well as the label that has been assigned to each topic. Generally, the topics were fairly distinct, with each topic capturing a different theme or discourse related to gaming. However, several topics appeared to be composed of multiple related themes, which are termed in the literature as ‘fused topics’ (Chuang et al. 2013). For example, Topic #21 was a fused topic revolving around race and ethnicity in games, as well as characters from the game Overwatch.4 This makes sense as it captures the way in which the markedly culturally diverse cast of heroes from Overwatch intermeshes with discourse around race and ethnicity more broadly. In this way, the MG topic model reveals the landscape of topics and how they relate to each other, and in some instances the complex thematic variation contained within topics themselves.



Fig. 3.5  Intertopic distance map (IDM) of the 30 MG topics via multidimensional scaling on two principal components

Examining the relationships between the above topics in more detail, Fig. 3.5 shows the intertopic distance map (IDM) of the 30 topics projected onto a two-dimensional space. As discussed in Chap. 2, the ­intertopic distance map (IDM) visualises how ‘close’ each topic is to other topics in terms of shared terms (or more specifically the probabilities of terms across topics). Notably, the size of the circles shows the proportion of words in the dataset that belong to that topic, so larger circles indicate a topic that has a larger number of words related to it. For example, Topic 9 (‘Identity politics and games’) is a fairly broad topic and accounts for



Fig. 3.6  Intertopic distance map (IDM) of the 30 FG topics via multidimensional scaling on two principal components

5.9% of words, whereas a relatively specific topic such as Topic 3 (‘Critical discussion of Bethesda games’) only has 1.8% of words. Determining clusters of similar or related topics from the IDM is not straightforward.5 Although several computational and/or mathematical approaches exist for deriving clusters from principal components and other low-dimensionality vector spaces (Everitt et  al. 2010), in this paper we adopted a heuristic and qualitative approach by manually coding the topic positions along the positive and negative axes of the principal components in the two-dimensional space (i.e. the four quadrants on the map in Fig. 3.6, denoted by the principal component axis labels PC1 and PC2).



Table 3.7  Themes derived from the MG topic positions on the intertopic distance map Theme


Position on IDM


Characters, stories, worlds


Social and interactive aspects of gaming/ nostalgia and personal anecdotes Gameplay and mechanics Gaming economies and participatory cultures

Negative on PC1; left-hand side Positive on PC1; right-hand side Positive on PC2; top side Negative on PC2; bottom side

3 4

Theme 1: Characters, stories, worlds (PC1-LHS) Topics that are aligned within this theme are: #9—Identity politics and games #2—Construction and representation of male characters in games #4—Storytelling in games #15—Space games Theme 2: Social and interactive aspects of gaming/nostalgia and personal anecdotes (PC1-RHS) Topics that align with this theme are: #17—Mario Brothers franchise/playing Nintendo consoles when younger and with friends #22—Multiplayer/controllers and peripheral input devices #5—Gaming-related banter 1 #24—References to the past/past anecdotes Theme 3: Gameplay and mechanics (PC2-Top) Topics that align with this theme are: #25—Game combat mechanics/weapons and defence #26—Gunplay/shooting mechanics #19—Boss fights #12—Game mechanics/design features Theme 4: Gaming economies and participatory cultures (PC2-Bottom) Topics that align with this theme are: #6—Different consoles/platforms/VR #8—PC gaming #16—Game economies/costs #27—Streaming/videos

We found that the negative and positive sides of each principal component (PC1 and PC2) could be labelled into four themes (presented in Table 3.7). Of course, these four themes are not mutually exclusive, as some topics will be correlated along multiple axes. For example, Topic 1 (‘Gaming stories from childhood/childhood gaming nostalgia’) is positioned towards the bottom-right-hand side (positively on PC1 and negatively on PC2), reflecting the social, interactive and nostalgic aspects of gaming (Theme 2 in Table 3.7) as well as relationship to gaming economies and participatory culture (Theme 4  in Table  3.7) that contextualise and enmesh with the social side of gaming. At the same time, and as we show



below, each theme has a fairly distinctive logic that helps us to make sense of the data and reason about it theoretically (in the next chapter).

Topic Model Analysis of ‘Feminine Gendered’ /r/ Gaming Comments Following on the topic analysis of the MG dataset, in this section we report on the results of an LDA topic model fitted to the FG comments dataset. We found a broad range of topics related to gaming and also gender relations more broadly, with particularly strong themes around sexualisation, and the position of women in games and in the community. This shift in focus from the MG dataset’s more straightforward gaming-related topics/themes—with the notable exceptions of ‘Topic 9—Identity politics and games’ and ‘Topic 21—Race and ethnicity in games/Overwatch characters’—to the FG dataset’s broader, and more overtly gendered terrain echoes a key distinction between what we uncover in Chaps. 4 and 5’s more in-depth analysis of the sample comments for each model. As will be shown across these two chapters, when commentary is feminine gendered rather than masculine gendered, r/gaming alters markedly from presenting as a relatively temperate discursive site focused principally on gaming, towards one of increased tensions and contestation. Table 3.8 provides a list of the 30 topics generated by the model, along with the label that we ascribed to each topic. A broad range of topics and themes emerged from the data. Similar to the MG topic model, the topics generated by the FG topic model were fairly distinct, whereby each topic related to a particular theme or issue relating to gaming. A number of topics exhibited ‘fused topics’ (Chuang et al. 2013). For example, Topic #12 was a fused topic revolving around both female ‘streamers’ and game interviewers, as well as Pokemon Go,6 possibly because of the overlap between a broader (female) audience who were interested and active in Pokemon Go subculture. Examining these FG topic relationships in more detail, Fig. 3.6 shows the IDM of the 30 topics projected onto a two-dimensional space. As discussed previously, this map visualises how ‘close’ each topic is to other topics in terms of shared terms and term probabilities by topics. Notably, the size of the circles shows the proportion of words in the dataset that belong to that topic, so larger circles indicate a topic that has a larger number of words related to it. For example, Topic 9 (‘Debate around sexism,



Table 3.8  Topic labels for the FG dataset of /r/gaming comments #1 Women using game accessories and devices #2 Female characters in games

#11 Gaming lifestyles and women’s roles/relations #12 Women ‘streamers’ and gaming interviewers/ Pokemon Go

#3 Gamers’ relationships to women/reactions to female gamers and cosplayers #4 Game plots involving female characters/actions and abilities of female characters #5 Copypastas/reactions of approval

#13 Posting for karma/ posting pictures that include women

#21 Overwatch cosplay/ Overwatch female heroes #22 Representation of women in games/plot and game mechanics involving women #23 Art, sexuality and visual bodily representations of women in gaming

#14 Combat mechanics and abilities of female game characters

#24 Heterosexual attitudes towards female fashion/ cosplay

#15 High school aged girls/ attitudes towards younger women #6 Women and the gaming #16 Gaming purchases and market/consumption of gifts for (or by) women/ games gaming consumerism and transactions involving women #7 Social roles of women #17 Sexualisation of Tracer in gaming culture and (Overwatch character)/ within games sexualisation of female characters generally #8 Breast size of female #18 Iconic character characters/attraction to relationships involving female characters’ bodies women/saving/rescuing and killing female characters #9 Debate around sexism, #19 Debate/discussion about feminism and gaming Samus’ attractiveness and body armour (Metroid character) #10 Sexualisation of #20 Humorous/entertaining women in games/ posts involving or about heterosexual discourse women

#25 Parenting/family relationships and gaming #26 Women’s gaming preferences/habits and skills

#27 Game narratives and plots focussed on female characters/female characterisation in games #28 The Walking Dead game franchise/engaging women with games #29 Representation of women in games/female gamers #30 Nostalgia and memories of gaming with close female friends/partners and family members

feminism and gaming’) accounts for 8.2% of words, whereas Topic 5 (‘Copypastas7/reactions of approval’) only has 1.9% of words. Broadly speaking, this shows that Topic 9 occupies more of the discussion compared to Topic 5.



Table 3.9  Themes derived from the FG topic positions on the intertopic distance map Theme


Position on IDM


Portrayal of women in games and social roles of women in gaming culture Gamers’ relationships to and interactions with women Prominent/iconic women in games and gaming culture [fictional and real women] Sexualisation of women in games and gaming culture

Negative on PC1; left-hand side

2 3 4

Positive on PC1; right-hand side Positive on PC2; top side Negative on PC2; bottom side

Theme 1: Portrayal and social roles of women in games and gaming culture (PC1-LHS) Topics that are closely related within this theme are: #7 Social roles of women in gaming culture and within games #9 Debate around sexism, feminism and gaming #22 Representation of women in games/plot and game mechanics involving women #26 Women’s gaming preferences/habits and skills #27 Game narratives and plots focussed on female characters/female characterisation in games Theme 2: Gamers’ relationships to and interactions with women (PC1-RHS) Topics that align with this theme are: #1 Women using game accessories and devices #4 Game plots involving female characters/actions and abilities of female characters #16 Gaming purchases and gifts for (or by) women/gaming consumerism and transactions involving women #28 Walking Dead game series/engaging women with games Theme 3: Prominent/iconic women in games and gaming culture [fictional and real women] (PC2-Top) Topics that align with this theme are: #11 Gaming lifestyles and women’s roles/relations #14 Combat mechanics and abilities of female game characters #18 Iconic character relationships involving women/saving/rescuing and killing female characters #30 Nostalgia and memories of gaming with close female friends/partners and family members Theme 4: Sexualisation of women in games and gaming culture (PC2-Bottom) Topics that align with this theme are: #8 Breast size of female characters/attraction to female characters’ bodies #10 Sexualisation of women in games/heterosexual discourse #19 Debate/discussion about Samus’ attractiveness and body armour (Metroid character) #23 Art, sexuality and visual bodily representations of women in gaming

In keeping with the approach used in the previous section, to map out clusters of similar or related topics, we adopted a heuristic and qualitative approach by manually coding the topic positions along the positive and negative axes of the principal components of the IDM (Fig.  3.6). We mapped the negative and positive sides of each principal component (PC1 and PC2) into four themes (see Table  3.9). These four themes are not



mutually exclusive, as some topics will be correlated along multiple axes. For example, Topic 15 (‘High school aged girls/attitudes towards younger women’) is positioned towards the bottom-right-hand side (positively on PC1 and negatively on PC2), reflecting both how gamers relate to and interact with high schools aged girls (Theme 2) but also discussion around sexualising high school aged women and depictions of ‘school girls’ in certain gaming subcultures and game genres. At the same time, we identify topics that clearly belong to, or characterise, each theme, which we present below.

Notes 1. Figures 3.2 and 3.3 are based on representative random samples to account for differences in sample size for MG and FG datasets, in order to make them comparable. 2. Text was very long in the original comment, so it has been truncated for space. The comment was a story about Robin Williams (and his daughter Zelda) sitting down to play Warhammer 40k with a gamer at a convention in San Francisco. 3. This comment also appears in the top five upvoted for the MG dataset. It contains both feminine and masculine gendered terms. As previously discussed, the text of this comment has been truncated for space. 4. Overwatch is a popular multiplayer ‘first person shooter’ published by Blizzard Entertainment. It features a colourful cast of anime-inspired characters from which players can choose their respective avatars. 5. This is particularly true with discourses such as those found in /r/gaming in which language is often fluid, infused with irony/sarcasm and replete with meme-referencing and subculturally specific terminology. 6. Pokemon Go is a popular ‘augmented reality’ mobile game published by Niantic in which, via GPS technology, players locate, capture and train fantastical digital creatures attached to locations in the real-world environment. 7. ‘Copypasta’ is internet culture terminology for large blocks of text that are copy-pasted among many users.

References Butler, J. (2006). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge. Chuang, J., Gupta, S., Manning, C.D. and Heer, J. (2013). Topic Model Diagnostics: Assessing Domain Relevance Via Topical Alignment. 30th International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML 2013), 2, 1649–1657.



Everitt, B.S., Landau, S., Leese, M. and Stahl, D. (2010). Cluster Analysis. Chichester: Wiley. Kendall, L. (2012). “White and Nerdy”: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype. The Journal of Popular Culture, 44(3), 505–524. Kilgo, D.K., Ng, Y.M.M., Riedl, M. J., and Lacasa-Mas, I. (2018). Reddit’s Veil of Anonymity: Predictors of Engagement and Participation in Media Environments with Hostile Reputations. Social Media + Society, 4(4), 2056305118810216. Nagle, A. (2017). Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the Alt-Right and Trump. Winchester, UK: Zero Books. Massanari, A. (2015). Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit. New York: Peter Lang. Massanari, A. (2016). Contested Play: The Culture and Politics of Reddit bots. In R.W.  Gehl and M.  Bakardjieva (Eds.) Socialbots and Their Friends: Digital Media and the Automation of Sociality. New York: Routledge (pp. 110–127). Massanari, A. (2017). # Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures. New Media & Society, 19(3), 329–346. MBMMaverick. (2017). Seriously? I Paid 80$ to Have Vader Locked? https:// m98/?st=JH2MUORV&sh=5997c5a5. Accessed 19 June 2018. Panek, E., Hollenbach, C., Yang, J. and Rhodes, T. (2018). The Effects of Group Size and Time on the Formation of Online Communities: Evidence From Reddit. Social Media + Society, 4(4). Rafail, P. and Freitas, I. (2019). Grievance Articulation and Community Reactions in the Men’s Rights Movement Online. Social Media+ Society, 5(2). Salter, A. and Blodgett, B. (2017). Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media: Sexism, Trolling, and Identity Policing. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. Salter, M. (2017). From Geek Masculinity to Gamergate: The Technological Rationality of Online Abuse. Crime, Media, Culture, 14(2), 247–264. Shaw, A. (2013). On Not Becoming Gamers: Moving Beyond the Constructed Audience. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 2.


Masculine Discourses in r/gaming

Abstract  What follows in this chapter is a qualitative analysis of masculine gendered commentary on r/gaming. The chapter is organised into two substantive sections in which we discuss the two overarching categories that emerged during the coding process. This is then followed by a broader summary and some tentative concluding thoughts. Power dynamics emerge as a central part of masculine gendered discourse on r/gaming, but they offer only one part of a broader story in which softer, more egalitarian tendencies are also apparent. Keywords  Masculinity • Homosocial • Hegemonic masculinity • Inclusive masculinity In the previous chapter, we presented a computational survey of the ‘masculine gendered’ (MG) and ‘feminine gendered’ (FG) datasets, including voting and emotional valence analyses, and topic modelling. The MG and FG topic models provide the foundation for the present and subsequent chapters, respectively, in which we shift into a more conventional qualitative mode and examine the gendered attitudes and social dynamics that operate within this territory. The core aim in both chapters is to glean a sense of the overarching tenor(s) of gendered commentary across each set of sample comments. Having established r/gaming as a predominately male and culturally masculinised space, we felt it best to begin with an © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




examination of masculine gendered commentary, before moving on to the potentially more contentious feminine gendered commentary. Given the former dataset’s circumscription of comments featuring basic masculine nouns and pronouns, the overarching question here is as follows: in an online space much assumed to be explicitly governed by ‘geek masculinity’, how do users speak to each other when the commentary is masculine gendered? Clearly, masculinity represents the ‘default avatar’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: 75) in both gaming culture and on r/gaming. However, as discussed in Chap. 2, there is much evidence to suggest that what we mean by masculinity is in flux at the broader social level, and the extent to which this might (or might not) reflect in r/gaming is what is at stake here. More specifically, what follows in this chapter is a qualitative analysis of the 450 sample comments that formed the basis of the MG topic model. The chapter is organised into two substantive sections in which we discuss the two overarching categories that emerged during the coding process. This is then followed by a broader summary and some tentative concluding thoughts. The two categories we explore, ‘hierarchical’ and ‘horizontal’, relate to the work of Hammarén and Johansson (2014: 1), briefly discussed in Chap. 2, and their useful differentiation between forms of (homo)sociality: Hierarchical homosociality is similar to and has been previously described as a means of strengthening power and of creating close bonds between men and between women to maintain and defend hegemony. Horizontal homosociality, however, is used to point toward more inclusive relations between, for example, men that are based on emotional closeness, intimacy, and a nonprofitable form of friendship.

The gaming community is, of course, far more closely associated with hierarchical (homo)sociality, and generally characterised by scholars in similarly hegemonic masculine terms of dominance and subordination, competition and policing. In this chapter, these power dynamics do emerge as a central part of masculine gendered discourse on r/gaming, but they offer only one part of a broader story in which softer, more egalitarian tendencies are also apparent. Indeed, when commentary is masculinity gendered rather than feminine gendered—the latter being the focus of Chap. 5—r/gaming presents as a markedly temperate, civil discursive space.



‘I’m Very Glad You Enjoyed This Game but I Actually Hate It’ Approximately 40%, or 180/450, of the MG sample comments fell into what we describe as the ‘hierarchical’ category.1 This describes forms of discourse grounded in a dynamic that reinforces hegemonic power structures and establishes the rules by which actors can work within them. The hierarchical framework from Hammarén and Johansson chimes well with Connell’s writing on hegemonic masculinity, and also Massanari’s work on geek masculinity as a site-specific expression of hegemonic masculinity. With respect to gaming communities, according to Massanari (2015) and others (e.g. Salter and Blodgett 2017; M. Salter 2017), what we refer to as hierarchical forms of commentary orbit around the demonstration of technical expertise and pop-cultural knowledge in ways that are implicitly tied to broader social inequalities (particularly gendered ones). Such demonstrations were widespread in our dataset and predominate this category. Notably, there was a significantly higher number of relatively lengthy comments in this category than in the ‘horizontal’ category, with users often providing significant detail and breadth of scope in asserting their grasp of a given topic. To give an example of one of the more protracted comments relating specifically to pop-cultural (in this case gaming cultural) knowledge—and it was by no means the lengthiest—the following comment from user, ScotsGrey15, finds them expressing their esteem for game developer, Obsidian Entertainment: This is why we love Obsidian Entertainment, who took over after the successful Fallout 3 and produced the excellent Fallout: New Vegas. They improved the series (or at least held it at equal footing). This scenario also demands respect for studios like Treyarch who started out as the B-team (Call of Duty 3, neat!) before stepping up their game for the surprising World at War (Call of Duty 5 for anyone counting) which was in effect the perfection of an obsolete genre, and proof that they understood the technical challenge of making a AAA game, even if they could and did fall back on existing design. They eventually made the Black Ops series, and while I’m not a COD guy it’s impossible to deny that they were setting the bar for a while.

This discussion of gaming culture, with reference to multiple development studios, along with aspects of game design and cultural history,



would make little sense to the uninitiated. Indeed, while not an overt assertion of power, it might also be intimidating to any number of more casual gamers. Certain dimensions are important in making sense of how the comment operates to establish the user’s position vis-à-vis the culture and community. First, the principal topic is Obsidian Entertainment but the discussion soon pivots to an entirely different studio which, in turn, enables the user to then demonstrate their sophisticated grasp of industry history and game design. The labyrinthine nature of this, and other similar comments, is essentially the point: it marks the user out as possessing an eclectic and free-flowing grasp of the culture. The knowledge of history is especially important, which of course, is true of all subcultural hierarchies. However, as a historically male-dominated subculture, knowledge of gaming history is ‘implicitly coded as male’ and, as a mark of status, naturally contributes to the ‘patterns of exclusion’ (Salter and Blodgett 2012: 402) that inhibit many female gamers from being viewed as equals in the community. A common tactic deployed by users here is to subtly establish their credentials through a preference for older games in a given franchise which, again, speaks to the value of being a ‘time-served’ member of the community. For example, lamenting a perceived decline in quality of the Metal Gear Solid series, user, LoraRolla, remarked, ‘MGS previously had complex multi layered plot. TPP has basically no plot.’ Another user, Ghancc, expressed a similar sentiment about first person shooter franchise, Halo: ‘I hope it was a single developer that only chose to copy some of Halo: Reach’s aesthetics because he liked the game and not because he though [sic] Reach was better than Halo 3.’ To give another example, this one disparaging of another user’s game preferences, Fishingfor offered their thoughts on longstanding sci-fi franchise, Fallout: I loved the previous Fallout games from the isometric style of 1 to New Vegas. Exploration was amazing fighting was fun dialogue was awesome. Then Fallout 4 was realeased [sic], at absolute best a mediocre FPS and a completely and utterly shitty RPG. Im very glad you enjoyed this game but I actually hate iy [sic] because of where they went with the franchise.

As suggested, this third comment is particularly worth noting. In their critique of Fallout 4, released in 2015, the user draws on their experiences with every preceding game in the franchise, stretching back to 1997’s original Fallout. Importantly, the comment ends with the subtly dismissive



appraisal of another user’s enjoyment of the newest game, one that is firmly grounded in an implied ‘hardcore’ superiority. In highlighting the tacit gendered workings of these sorts of rhetorical putdowns, M. Salter’s (2017: 256) nuanced input is helpful: ‘It is not that geek masculinity is inherently abusive but rather that it draws together specific configurations of masculine identification and technological [and gamer cultural] practice that reproduce themselves through exclusionary and sexist tendencies.’ As stated, comments demonstrating technical expertise—specifically in relation to either gameplay mastery or (to a lesser extent) knowledge of computer hardware/software—clearly emerged as the other important arena in which users established their gamer bona fides. The following three comments from ‘Topic 25—Game combat mechanics/weapons and defence’ provide good examples of this hierarchical dynamic: How about balancing shotguns by making them somewhat realistic? Games seem to think shotguns penetrate armor and can hit 7 guys all standing in a line, which is the exact opposite of what they do. Shotguns are great against unarmored targets at short-medium range, but they don’t penetrate at all, they aren’t supposed to. (Stir_Fry_Guy) Pharrah’s rocket launcher makes pretty short work of a set up Bastion. Just pre aim him from round a corner and keep popping out and firing, 2 or 3 direvt [sic] hits will kill him, if he’s firing at you, yeah, you’re going to die, but so is he. (Dr_Lurk_MD) Han’s Shoulder Charge does damage/kills if you charge into someone. It’s both an offensive and defensive move. Also, one of Emperor Palpatine’s moves is to summon a health pickup or general pick up for teammates (depending on game mode), just like Leia. (heymeowmeow)

As the above examples suggest, comments centring on gameplay mastery were rarely self-celebratory—at least not overtly. Rather, they tended to serve an ostensibly didactic function, with users explaining to others the complexities and nuances of mastering a given game. The paucity of self-­ celebratory comments in our dataset suggests that, while assertions of gameplay skill represent an important form of social/cultural capital while also, to quote Kendall (2012), serving to ‘maintain [geek] normative boundaries of power’, they are most appropriately conveyed in ostensibly benign/social terms in which the user’s higher status is implied via the education of less practised players. This compliments one of the key find-



ings in the previous chapter’s analysis of voting trends, wherein a number of the most downvoted comments across the full MG dataset represented overt attempts by users to assert their gameplay superiority. Commentary of this nature, in which the ‘shared identity of gamers is defined in the publicly mediated intersection of social networks’, also offers a site-specific illustration of Connell and Messerschmidt’s (2005: 846) assertion in their reformulation of hegemonic masculinity that the underlying pattern of gendered power relations is very often consensus-based, and ‘not a pattern of simple domination’. Beyond confirming previous scholarship that places technical expertise and pop-cultural knowledge at the centre of geek masculine hierarchies, the ‘hierarchical’ category contained one more theme of interest. ‘Topic—9 Identity politics and games’, was in large part comprised of debates over gender politics in games and in the community.2 In this topic, an ideological power struggle plays out, centring on the sexualisation of female game characters, and the treatment of girls and women in the community. This subset was striking to us for three reasons. First, and as outlined, the topic model was generated from an r/gaming dataset reduced to comments featuring masculine nouns and pronouns. That these contestations would emerge as noticeably as they do in a masculine gendered dataset suggests that they were at the forefront of the community’s collective consciousness during 2016–2017—no doubt at least in part due to #GamerGate. Second, in generating a given topic, the MG model drew in comments from over 100,000 posts across the period. In this case, the resulting sample presented as a remarkably coherent overarching dialogue that one would be forgiven for mistaking as having come from a single subreddit post. Finally, what is also striking is the absence of charged reactionary sentiments, and the prominence of inclusive/progressive ones. Much like the commentary around technical expertise and pop-cultural knowledge, the inclusive comments were often forcefully didactic, as well as lengthy, with users positioning themselves as socially progressive thought leaders in the community’s battleground of ideas. One example of a user calling for more inclusive representation of female game characters, in response to other users’ more dismissive outlook, was from user, Richa652: You have a misconception, one that a lot of people in your position as well as OP have. Just because the majority of men don’t care that male characters are portrayed a certain way doesn’t mean that women or sympathetic men can’t be



offended by how women are portrayed. Different things bother different people. The fact is, women have in the past always been portrayed poorly in all sorts of media. The whole damsel in distress trope is front lined in the very first main stream video game.

The following even lengthier comment from jalkazar was in response to another user questioning the validity of the female objectification issue, and claiming censorious motivations on the part of ‘feminists’: Okay, that’s a whole lot to answer. First of all I don’t think you need all the answers to begin a discussion and having to answer what a perfect ratio would be is just trying to take away from the actual discussion. Is the ratio perfect now? If you’re answer is that it didn’t matter than [sic] would it matter if there were absolutely zero female characters ever? Then it probably does matter. Ratio is a meaningless discussion since it says nothing about theme, portrayal, context or target group. The same goes for objectification. There is going to be objectification to an extent, and that should be discussed in its own right of course, but if the vast majority is objectification there’s an issue. What is objectification? That’s subjective much like all text analysis is but I’m sure we can find some common ground on what parameters would constitute objectification. I have yet to this day seen anyone suggest creating a governing body or any type of non-governmental organization to oversee this issue and I identify as a feminist and I follow feminism. I’m sure you can find someone that believes these things should exist but we shouldn’t discuss it as if it’s a mainstream feminist idea. I don’t think art should be censored in that manner. Instead I believe that critical discussion and perspectives is what is going to move the industry forward.

As discussed in Chap. 2, it is often impossible to be certain of a user’s gender when analysing this type of social media data and our focus is on r/gaming as a (geek) masculinised space in which the rules of discourse are shaped for all users. However, it is important to note jalkazar’s self-­ identification as a feminist, and the user’s withholding of gender identity. Together, the two rhetorical moves contextualise feminism as an ideological framework open and applicable to males and females alike. As an ­example of the broader discursive pattern—one perhaps best summarised by another briefer comment, ‘The way men are portrayed may be an issue too and if it is, say something about it. But you don’t have to nullify women’s complaints in the process’ (mynameiswrong)—it is difficult to



argue that what we are seeing here is a vulnerable ‘fringe’ in the community. Indeed, putting to one side the question of prevalence/representativeness, comments like these generally convey a sort of conciliatory confidence that suggests the users in question see themselves as being safely positioned on a moral high ground. This prominent thread of commentary, and the self-­assurance with which it is generally conveyed, evidences a genuine transformation of geek cultural norms, wherein progressive/inclusive voices can be seen to ‘co-create a culture’ with expanding discursive space to ‘contest the privileging of orthodox masculinity’ (Anderson 2008: 111). Very few comments in the ‘Topic—9 Identity politics and games’ could be argued to represent the other side of this gender politics debate. Furthermore, while the related comments betrayed sexist tendencies and/ or an aversion to progressive stances, they also lacked in the sort of unapologetically sexist/misogynistic intensity that previous research has emphasised (e.g. Shaw 2013; Massanari 2015, 2017; Salter and Blodgett 2017). Also, while these comments were all aimed at undermining progressive discourses, they were more varied in their ideological positioning and focus than the uniformly progressive commentary outlined above. To give one example of implicitly reactionary pushback, the following tentative comment from warsie was in response to a user who had mentioned reading a study of gendered harassment in gaming, and how it might be linked to the insecurities of the male gamer harassers: ‘There were problems with that study; I know tealdeer [an anti-feminist male YouTuber] did a deconstruction on that study.’ Similarly low-key was the following ironic comment from SufferingLeafsFan in which they lampooned game studio, Hangar 13’s, disclaimer regarding the offensively racist content it had chosen to include in their video game recreation of the post-war American South: ‘Too bad, I’m already offended Hangar 13. As a straight, white, Christian male, I’m fairly offended.’ While relatively mild, such sentiments—a terse and implicit ‘resistance to feminist gains and norms’ (Nicholas and Agius 2018: 2); and a framing of white hetero-male gamers as ‘persecuted victims’ (Mortensen 2018: 797)—function as subtle discursive reinforcements of the orthodox geek masculine hierarchy. However, it is important to once more emphasise both the significantly lower ­prevalence, and less forthright nature, of these comments in comparison to the unabashedly progressive comments pushing for a culture in which ‘the narrow set of [attitudes,] behaviours and activities that are valued by men expand’ (Anderson and McCormack 2018: 2).



One relatively more overt example of the orthodox/reactionary commentary was sourced by the topic model from a post featuring a fuller-­ figured woman cosplaying a female combatant from the Street Fighter game franchise. Elsewhere, the post had elicited a wide-ranging, and ideologically diverse, discussion of ‘fat shaming’ and other gendered double standards—along with the much documented ‘male gaze’ (Massanari 2015) appraisals of the cosplayer’s attractiveness. For the following user, lakeseaside, however, the broader issue seemed to be whether women are biologically capable of being good fighters: Women develop less muscle than men. But you want to convince me that b/c they develop fat more easily, it somehow contradicts my point that she as strong as a soccer girl? ‘No this argument is not about whether she can beat you or not. It is about her looking too weak to be a fighter.

Here, lakeseaside conveys a run-of-the-mill biological determinist view essentially aimed at subordinating femininity. While rendered conspicuous by its relative absence in the MG sample comments, it is a sentiment that finds much greater prevalence in the subsequent chapter and its focus on feminine gendered commentary.

‘I’m So Confused Why I’m Failing. I WAS Following the Damn Train’ Representing a clear majority of the MG sample comments, 270/450 (approximately 60%) fell into the ‘horizontal’ category. As outlined, this category includes any affective and, importantly, ‘nonprofitable’ comments in which users principally appeared to be ‘striving for group cohesion … rather than interpersonal competition and the creation of male hierarchies’ (Hammarén and Johansson 2014: 3). It should be noted here that, while affective forms of sociality can be seen to run naturally counter to orthodox/hegemonic masculinity, the horizontal dynamic as it operates here is not in all instances necessarily a sociopositive one. Indeed, in some instances on r/gaming, the more affective dynamic can be seen to disrupt hierarchical structures, while in others it acts as natural ­reinforcement. A prime example of the latter, and one of the dominant themes in the category, was nostalgic recollections of gaming as means of strengthening ties between users. This is essentially the horizontal mirror image of the theme discussed in the previous section in which users drew



on their ‘retro’ gaming experiences to assert social/cultural capital. Here, however, the commentary is clearly sentimental and nonprofitable. In ‘Topic 1—Gaming stories from childhood/childhood gaming nostalgia’, the model generated a discrete nostalgia-based topic, but the theme also ran globally across the data. The following examples are taken both from the above topic, and from elsewhere: I played when I was that age too! Now I play with my 6 year old son with linked pc’s and its like his favorite game ever now! Make a Dad proud! (Cjafasttype) This is something I seriously miss from Middle school and early high school. Halo 2 LAN parties were the absolute best. PC LAN parties are pretty dam fun now but they can never live up to the amount of enjoyment that came from a 10+ man Halo 2 LAN party:/ (XJollyRogerX) They were a lot better when the games first came out. I played uncharted back in 2009 and was blown away but showed it to a friend last year and he didn’t really get it. (Alecrizzle)

While the three users here were drawing on their gaming experiences in a way that naturally positioned them as long-term participants of the hobby, the comments themselves were clearly aimed at creating a sense of nostalgia-based kinship between users. Again, however, for any number of newer gamers—a category with an implicitly gendered dimension—the prevalence across the dataset of these nostalgic recollections inevitably functions on r/gaming in much the same exclusionary fashion as its hierarchical counterpart in which historical knowledge presents as a more overt form of social/cultural capital. Unsurprisingly, another dominant theme related to users sharing with each other gameplay tips and strategies, and general gameplay experiences. Again, this theme echoes the hierarchical expressions of gameplay expertise discussed in the first section. Here, however, the comments conveyed none of the subtle power plays that define the other cohort. Indeed, this subset of comments were often manifestly supportive, as well as self-­ deprecating, with users recounting their struggles and failures in meeting certain gameplay challenges. The following examples are taken from ‘Topic 12—Game mechanics/design features’ and, in both indicative comments, the underlying sentiment represents a reversal of the status-­ building efforts identified in the previous section:



I know this is multiplayer but I died like 50 times trying to pass the Blimp mission in the story. Hard difficulty. I got so salty man. Was completely tilted. (dlesinski) Had tons of fun for weeks just in sandbox play. Worked on missions here and there. Decide to focus more on the story missions. Going well until some dude needs me to drive next to a train while he shoots vatos. Tried a dozen times. I’m so confused why I’m failing. I WAS following the damn train. I was. (YOUNGaz)

This quasi-‘support group’ strain of discourse on r/gaming is decidedly egalitarian and implicitly inclusive. While it should come as no surprise that an online forum related to video games would elicit these sorts of nonadversarial discourses, it is a side of the gaming community that has not been adequately represented in scholarship in which the focus is all but exclusively on inequalities and power dynamics. Furthermore, the prominence of this discursive thread clearly evidences Hammarén and Johansson’s (2014: 6) more generalised depiction of an empathetic ‘shoulder-to-­shoulder’ pattern of homosociality that is ‘barely discussed by academic scholars’. Finally, a significant number of comments in this category were not easily definable, at least in terms of our focus on gender dynamics. To be specific, many of what we refer to as ‘horizontal’ comments were essentially light conversation and banter, ephemeral commentary on video- and image-based posts, and the sharing of gaming-related weblinks between users. However, this lack of ideological or evaluative substance does not render these forms of commentary residual; rather, it serves as confirmation that r/gaming is often simply (and openly) what its moderators purport it to be: ‘a subreddit for (almost) anything related to games’. Indeed, these light ‘interaction rituals’, to borrow Goffman’s (2005) phrase, are essentially meaningful in their meaninglessness, representing social scripts that work to produce a kind of apolitical sense of belonging and, like gaming itself, also an escapist one. ‘Topic 30—Interacting with NPCs and the game world/killing NPCs’, in which users responded to various posts featuring (mostly) gaming videos, provides a particularly good set of examples. The two featured below saw users, MythrilMonkey and Xavia11, respectively, essentially laughing along with others over posted imagery of in-game mishaps: Damn this happened to me when I was playing roadhog, but when I saw he stopped short of the cliff, I landed my hook and got him killed too



I’ve seen this gif so many times and it still amazes me how he manages to kill himself with that nade [grenade]

Commentary here was clearly a means by which users could simply offer affirmation to each other of their shared belonging; and, again, while such discursive patterns may be banal they nonetheless remain important to highlight as an under-acknowledged characteristic of the subculture as it operates in r/gaming.

Competition and Cohesion When we first engaged in the process of coding the MG sample comments set, we decided to begin by looking for any aggressively negative rhetoric that would provide clear evidence of r/gaming as an unwelcoming space, with the intention to then set this against any effusively positive commentary we might also find. Dealing first with these sentimental poles of discourse, we felt, might act as a helpful frame for making sense of the variety of other attitudes and sentiments playing out within. Interestingly, however, this approach proved somewhat of a dead end as there was simply not enough of either form of discourse to justify it as our analytical entry point. Indeed, as mentioned in this chapter’s introductory passages, when focused on only masculine gendered commentary, r/gaming in 2016– 2017 presents as a decidedly temperate social space—even when users were entering into debates over the sorts of gender politics issues that have been widely noted as flash points in this community. Nonetheless, we still tracked the number of these ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ comments, and the nature of each subset is worth briefly discussing. In total, 29/450 comments could be defined as ‘negative’ in that they represented forceful takedowns of various individuals: from fellow gamers seen to be acting above their station—‘this dude dunno what he’s talking about’—to others accused of poor in-game sportsmanship—‘you really have fun spawn killing [waiting for a defeated player to reappear in order to immediately kill them again at their starting position]? I hate playing people like you.’ As forms of discourse centring on the policing of transgression, this minority of comments found its way into the ‘hierarchical’ category; however, it was a subset ultimately rendered conspicuous by its relative absence. Representing a mere 20/450, ‘positive’ comments in which users effusively praised a given individual (or individuals) were rarer



still, and mostly conveyed ‘horizontal’ sentiments aimed at maintaining social cohesion. To give one illustrative example, the following comment was in response to a user posting an image of his brother’s video-game inspired wedding invite: ‘That’s pretty fucking rad man! Your bro sounds like a chill dude.’ The point of outlining these clear-cut minorities of discourse in the MG sample comments is to once more emphasise the marked restraint which defined the majority. Indeed, whether the commentary was ‘hierarchical’—with users jostling for position and challenging one another along ideological lines—or ‘horizontal’—with users offering support to their fellow gamers and lamenting their own gameplay failures—an overarching sense of conciliation and social cohesion seemed to govern discourse here. With respect to the ‘hierarchical’ category, the most illustrative example of this overarching benignity was in users’ assertions of their gameplay mastery: as discussed, they were almost always framed in explicitly didactic terms, as contributions to the knowledge-base of the group. At 60% of overall discourse, the dominance of the ‘horizontal’ category essentially settled any debate as to the tenor of r/gaming discourse when it is masculine gendered. As noted, however, it is important not to conflate the affective, nonprofitable forms of discourse found here with socially inclusive ones: the nostalgic recollections of gaming experiences, for example, serve essentially the same exclusionary ‘insider’ function as the more hierarchical ‘I prefer the old games’-type commentary. As a whole, the MG sample comments suggest a picture of the r/gaming community in which maintaining a warm ‘shoulder to shoulder’ cohesion between the predominately male userbase is paramount, over and above social policing or any individual ‘will to power’ expressions. Whether a similarly benign sociality emerges when the focus turns to feminine gendered commentary is what we explore in the next chapter.

Notes 1. In this chapter and the subsequent, and as mentioned in the previous chapter, in instances in which the meaning of a given comment was unclear, we would return to the original post and surrounding comments for context. 2. While it is beyond the scope of our study, the diversity of views on gender we discuss here was reflected in similar commentary on race and video games in ‘Topic 21—Race and ethnicity in games’.



References Anderson, E. (2008). “Being Masculine is Not About Who You Sleep with...:” Heterosexual Athletes Contesting Masculinity and the One-Time Rule of Homosexuality. Sex Roles, 58, 104–115. Anderson, E. and McCormack, M. (2018). Inclusive Masculinity Theory: Overview, Reflection and Refinement. Journal of Gender Studies. https:// Accessed 3 March 2019. Connell, R. and Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity, Rethinking the Concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859. Goffman, E. (2005). Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behaviour. London: Aldine Transaction. Hammarén, N. and Johansson, T. (2014). Homosociality: In Between Power and Intimacy. Sage Open. Accessed 3 March 2019. Kendall, L. (2012). “White and Nerdy”: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype. The Journal of Popular Culture, 44(3), 505–524. Nicholas, L. and Agius, C. (2018). The Persistence of Global Masculinism: Discourse, Gender, and Neo-Colonial Re-Articulations of Violence. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. Massanari, A. (2015). Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit. New York: Peter Lang. Massanari, A. (2017). #Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures. New Media & Society, 19(3), 329–346. Mortensen, T.E. (2018). Anger, Fear, and Games: The Long Event of #GamerGate. Games and Culture, 13(8), 787–806. Salter, A. and Blodgett, B. (2012). Hypermasculinity & Dickwolves: The Contentious Role of Women in the New Gaming Public. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 401–416. Salter, A. and Blodgett, B. (2017). Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media: Sexism, Trolling, and Identity Policing. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. Salter, M. (2017). From Geek Masculinity to Gamergate: The Technological Rationality of Online Abuse. Crime, Media, Culture, 14(2), 247–264. Shaw, A. (2013). On Not Becoming Gamers: Moving Beyond the Constructed Audience. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 2.


Feminine Discourses in r/gaming

Abstract  In this chapter, we turn to a qualitative examination of feminine gendered commentary on r/gaming. We begin by outlining the two overarching categories that emerged from the feminine gendered sample comments set, along with the numbers/percentages of comments included in each. In the four sections that follow, we outline and dig deeper into our four key discursive subcategories: ‘marginalising’, ‘inclusive’, ‘reactionary’ and ‘open’. We then conclude the chapter with a broad summary of our findings and, as we move towards the book’s conclusion, some preliminary discussion of their theoretical implications. Keywords  Femininity • Masculinity • Marginalisation • Inclusive • Gender inequality In this chapter, we turn to an examination of the ‘feminine gendered’ (FG) topic model sample comments. We begin by outlining the two overarching categories that emerged from the sample comments set, along with the numbers/percentages of comments included in each. In the four sections that follow, we outline and then dig deeper into our four key subcategories: ‘marginalising’, ‘inclusive’, ‘reactionary’ and ‘open’. The ordering of the first three of these sections reflects the cultural dynamics explored in the introduction, with the inclusive voices responding to the marginalising commentary, and then a reactionary contingent in turn © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




responding to the former. In the fourth section, we critically examine a large grouping of ostensibly benign comments that, while seemingly outside the above contestation, are no less important to understanding the broader cultural dynamic. We then conclude the chapter with a broad summary of our findings and, as we move towards the book’s conclusion, some preliminary discussion of their theoretical implications. As an examination of feminine gendered commentary on r/gaming in 2016–2017, what follows is in many ways the crux of our broader inquiry into gender relations in this large gaming community. How should this presumed domain of geek masculinity be defined in terms of its relation to girls and women? Is it, as Massanari (2017) and others (e.g. Kendall 2012; Shaw 2013; Salter and Blodgett 2017) have suggested, a space in which diverse and socially progressive voices are ‘relegated to the fringes’, and often ‘silenced’ outright? Is the oppositional counter movement discussed in our introduction, and typified in figures like Sarkeesian, significantly represented here, if at all? Is something else, entirely different at play? These three questions represent the core avenues of inquiry in our analyses of the FG sample comments and, throughout the process, we remained open, not just to the possibility of confirming for all three questions, but also to the possibility that r/gaming would prove as ‘toxic’ as established thinking suggests. As we uncover across this chapter, the former, rather than the latter, very much proved to be the case. In codifying the 1500 FG sample comments at the global level, we identified two overarching categories—‘feminine gendered neutral’ and ‘feminine gendered attitudinal’—and then four subcategories residing within the latter—‘inclusive’, ‘open’, ‘reactionary’ and ‘marginalising’. Of the 1500 comments, 749 (or approximately 50%) were categorised as ‘neutral’ in that gender was incidental. As a subset of the data with no evaluative gendered dimensions, we will briefly outline the nature of these comments and why they were dismissed. Many of the comments in this ‘neutral’ category related to the gameplay mechanics associated with a given female game character, and how to master these mechanics. This typical example from Prango12 sees the user discussing strategies for playing Pokemon video games: ‘Another alternative is if you have a wii and pokemon diamond, pearl or platinum by transferring 1000 Pokemon to Haley in My Pokemon Ranch she will give you a Mew last time I checked.’ The ‘neutral’ category also included comments centring on the narrative dimensions of a given video game. Here, female characters were discussed but their gender was, again, more or less incidental to the discussion, such



as in Toroic’s discussion of CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher franchise: ‘Yennifer is deeply embedded in the history between her and Geralt, and for much of the game they’re sorting through mess that left.’ Elsewhere, there were occasional references to the cute antics of female pet cats and dogs, passing references to incidentally female acquaintances, and other similarly ephemeral comments with ‘her’, ‘she’ and so forth, that betrayed no sense of gendered values or attitudes. Notably, there was also some discussion of the 2016 American Presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump across the sample comments, and some of these were deemed neutral while others were filtered into the attitudinal subcategories discussed below. It should be noted that there remains in the ‘neutral’ category a statistically insignificant number of comments that we could not confidently place into any meaningful category due to a lack of rhetorical clarity. As stated, the remaining 751 comments (again, approximately 50%) were categorised as ‘feminine gendered attitudinal’, and they represent a range of attitudes and sentiments directly relevant to our study. The four subcategories residing within this broader category form a sort of ideological continuum, with ‘inclusive’ and ‘marginalising’ sitting at each end, and ‘open’ and ‘reactionary’ containing sets of middle-ground comments with attenuated, conditional and/or implicit forms of either inclusive or marginalising discourse. To establish a clear ideological frame, we first sought to determine the number of comments that could be deemed either ‘marginalising’ or ‘inclusive’. The proportions of each were surprising to us, given the widespread impression of gaming culture: the number of marginalising comments was only slightly higher (209/751 or approximately 28%) than the number of inclusive comments (200/751 or approximately 27%). Within the abovementioned middle-ground, 121 (approximately 16%) were categorised as ‘reactionary’ and 221 (approximately 29%) comments were categorised as ‘open’.

‘Half Naked Women Make Literally Every Single Thing Better’ Comprising approximately 28% of the dataset, the ‘marginalising’ subcategory included any comments that were objectifying/sexualising, demeaning and/or dismissive of girls and women—that is, comments that were characterised by the gendered subordination that is integral hegemonic



masculinity. In simplest terms, then, ‘marginalising’ for us refers to any comment that might make a female Reddit user feel uncomfortable, offended and/or of lesser status, and contribute to a sense of r/gaming as ‘unpleasant or openly hostile’ (Ratan et al. 2015: 440) to girls and women. In this sense, potential effect, rather than intent (or even context), was paramount in our decisions regarding whether to place a given comment into this subcategory. While this subcategory also represents a continuum of sorts, in terms of respective comments’ potential to offend and/or marginalise, they largely followed two overriding themes: ones that sexualised/objectified, often focusing on cosplay, and those with more generally sexist and essentialising underpinnings. Clearly, 28% of the overall FG sample comments is a sizeable proportion, and confirmation that these sorts of problematic discourses continued to trouble r/gaming in 2016–2017. Of the two main themes, sexualising commentary was the more prominent by a significant margin, and the comments themselves often possessed a sort of ‘locker room talk’ character and suggested either that the relevant users saw this space as one for ingroup hetero-masculine interests, or simply did not care how others might respond. While this did include a number of relatively tame instances of sexual innuendo—such as, ‘Apparently she was pretty or had some pretty large physical features’—the majority of these comments were overtly pornographic and often focused on specific female body parts. This component of the data speaks vividly to research that has revealed the centrality of men’s broader discursive positioning of ‘woman’ to demonstrate and attain masculine status and reproduce a hierarchical gender order (e.g. Flood 2008; Francis and Skelton 2001; Connell 2005), often even feeling ‘compelled’ to consolidate heterosexual masculinity (Kehily 2001; Richardson 2010). Recent research suggests such behaviour and commentary can never be written off as proverbial ‘locker room talk’, as exposure to such material diminishes pro-social bystander interventions into instance of overt misogyny (Leone and Parrott 2019). Key examples of this commentary—which, again, operated along a spectrum of intensity—were: Poweronreddit’s lascivious endorsement of earlier Tomb Raider games, ‘Original Lara was so much better—look how perky her tits are’; ImACondom’s claim that ‘attractive half naked women make literally every single thing better’; and, then, at the more overtly pornographic end of the spectrum, A_Rebbit_User’s wish, regarding images of a female cosplayer, to ‘see her without all the nerd shit …. her pussy:)’.



Comments of a more generally sexist nature were focused both on gaming culture itself and on broader stereotypes relating to the role of women in society. With respect to gaming culture, the relevant comments often conveyed a frustrated refusal to accept girls and women as real gamers. This is a well-documented phenomenon: a form of gendered policing that allows ‘primarily male gamers to mark certain titles and game players as unwelcome in the “true gamer” clubhouse’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: 90) and perpetuate the feeling that the gaming domain is a ‘boys club’ (see also Cote 2017; Todd 2015; Salter and Blodgett 2012). A notable and, again, documented, tactic deployed here was the suggestion that females in the community are merely attention-seekers who capitalise on the lascivious nature of their male counterparts: The cliché, “look at me, I’m a gamer” girl. I’ll pass. (whatpezsays) If you’re specifying you’re a “female gamer” chances are you either aren’t or want something from people lmao. (Logaline) no girls player [sic] video games online, everyone is a man and/or pretending to be a girl for items. (ben1481)

Alongside these overt efforts to exclude women and maintain a ‘male-­ dominated gaming social public’ (Salter and Blodgett 2012: 401), other comments focused more broadly on gender and society. These conveyed a range of familiarly essentialising themes that relegated women to subservient social positions, and rejected their capacity to contribute to social spheres traditionally dominated by men. VladimirBlack’s dismissal of women’s capacity to contribute to areas of science, maths and technology is a typical example: ‘didn’t know women had anything to do with science so it confused me.’ Captkirk88’s response to a user expressing their wish to see their partner join them in gaming is similarly representative: ‘Find a woman who stays in the kitchen that way you can play all the fucking games you want. #lyfehacks.’ In their focus beyond gaming culture, comments of this nature squarely position r/gaming as a ‘microsystem’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: 90) in which a broader sexism/misogyny finds reflection. Overall, then, the ‘marginalising’ commentary outlined here clearly confirms the persistence in 2016–2017 of discourses that function to reinforce gaming culture as a space off limits to girls and women.



‘Spare Me the Bullshit …’ The above prevalence of marginalising discourses in this space is somewhat unsurprising, reflecting the large body of work that has highlighted this aspect of the culture (e.g. Shaw 2013; Salter and Blodgett 2012, 2017; Massanari 2015, 2017). There was also, though, a more unexpected set of findings. Representing 27% of the overall FG sample comments, we identified an ‘inclusive’ thread of opposing discourse that is of comparable prominence and theoretically important. Specifically, our ‘inclusive’ subcategory included any comments that explicitly celebrated the place of women in the gaming community and in games, along with comments that conveyed broader endorsements of gender equality in relation to both gaming and society at large. In this sense, what we were looking for were forms of discourse that might correspond with other recent empirical studies (e.g. Anderson 2008; Blanchard et  al. 2017; Anderson and McCormack 2018) highlighting ‘a significant sociopositive attitudinal shift regarding women’ in communities and spaces dominated by boys/ men (Anderson 2008: 273). One of the specific topics that elicited the highest number of inclusive comments was ‘Topic 17—Sexualisation of Tracer (Overwatch character)’ in which users debated game studio Blizzard’s decision to revise their promotional depiction of female character, Tracer, after receiving complaints that her sexually suggestive pose did not suit her more playfully androgynous personality. Specifically, the original promotional materials saw Tracer standing backward, with her head turned seductively towards the viewer and her buttocks cartoonishly overemphasised in the foreground of the image. Commonly referred to as the ‘buts of Overwatch’ controversy, discussion of the issue on r/gaming elicited both expressions of support for Blizzard’s decision to revise the character’s portrayal, and broader concerns over the sexualised depiction of women in games. In many cases, and as demonstrated below, the relevant users saw themselves as playing a role in educating others in their community, in much the same fashion as the progressive commentary found in the MG (masculine gendered) sample comments: Spare me the bullshit. There’s a big difference between facing the camera and not facing the camera. If the pose was exactly the same, but adjusted to point towards the camera, that’d be fine. But it isn’t, because it’s not “just standing”, she’s showing off her ass. (Topyka2)



I came here to say this. There is nothing wrong with being sexy, just make female characters more than sexy. (kiwicupcake)

As the second sample comment demonstrates, inclusive attitudes tended to orbit around what we define in Chap. 3 as ‘Theme 4: Sexualisation of women in games and gaming culture’ in which the more specific Tracer-­ related topic resides. Again, the relevant comments were often didactic in nature, with users seeking to educate other users on the representation of women in video games, and in media more broadly. The comment below from lifeonthegrid represents a typical example of both the sentiment itself and, again, the didactic way it was often expressed: Because men are rarely sexualized. Lots of people don’t understand the difference between characters being attractive and characters being sexualized. There are plenty of male characters that are attractive, but they are rarely designed with the intention of appealing to female/gay sexuality. People finding these characters sexy is different from them being designed with sex appeal in mind.

As stated, another prominent inclusive sentiment cutting across the themes and topics was that which highlighted and celebrated the role of girls and women in the gaming community. Indeed, this sentiment was elicited by a wide array of /r/gaming posts. For instance, there were many comments across the FG sample comments in which users positively emphasised the increasing number of girls and women who play video games, such as NanoGeek disputing another user’s claim to the contrary: ‘How many girls you know in total? How many of those you know well enough that you know they definitely don’t play?’ Other comments, such as this one from Relyks954, saw users highlighting female gamer’s capacity to be as knowledgeable and skilled as their male counterparts: ‘Hey, i know a lot of girls that can kill that course!’ Here, we can see explicit attempts by users to normalise girls and women in gaming and, importantly, also associate femininity with key aspects of geek social/cultural capital. The data here then offers some more nuance to the well-­ documented ways in which gaming culture offers a ‘hostile response to the expression of a female identity or femininity’ (Salter and Blodgett 2012: 401). This is not to say that it ameliorates the hostile discourses that women face, but such findings speak to the complexity of the space and its possibility for progressive social change. Indeed, the sterling efforts of



feminists who have brought great attention to the problems of such spaces should be lauded here: the change that has already occurred is likely bound up with previous research on these communities. This theme of progressive sentiment continued in the third and final prominent area in which inclusive attitudes asserted themselves in discussions of cosplay. As previously outlined, this was also a topic that elicited high numbers of marginalising and, specifically, sexualising/objectifying comments. With respect to the inclusive side, there were many instances in which users responded to photos of various female cosplayers’ work by highlighting the skill with which they had recreated a given game character, rather than the attractiveness or otherwise of the cosplayer in question: ‘Her Rapunzel cosplay is absurdly perfect. It’s kind of insane how perfect a lot of her cosplays are’ (Haynekhtnamet). Moreover, many of these comments represented an outright rebuke of the objectifying commentary: ‘Can you all stop focusing on her body. the cosplay is amazing[ly] well done’ (TehCo0n). As acknowledged, one can never be certain of users’ gender in online research. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that, in this predominately male and culturally masculinised space, the above pattern of commentary does not represent the views of some male r/gaming users. More importantly, what this, and other patterns in the ‘inclusive’ subcategory demonstrate is that there is significant space in in this gaming community for expressing positions squarely at odds with the sexist/ misogynistic commentary highlighted in the previous section. With respect to cosplay, this is a particularly welcome finding as the limited literature on this gaming-related subculture has generally emphasised either the expressive agency of female cosplayers themselves, or male’s sexualising responses to them (e.g. Hale 2014; Winge 2019).

‘If You Weren’t Female They’d Harass You for Something Else’ Comprising 16% of the data, ‘reactionary’ is the first of our two more complex middle-ground subcategories. This subcategory included comments that, while not strictly marginalising of girls/women, conveyed either discomfort towards, or a delegitimisation/rejection of, the progressive gendered concerns captured in the ‘inclusive’ subcategory. In much the same fashion as the ‘marginalising’ subcategory, ‘reactionary’ included comments that related specifically to gaming, and ones focused on gender politics more broadly. In simplest terms, then, it represents a pattern of



‘anti-social justice warrior’ voices engaged in pushback against socially progressive turns in their community. That this was by far the smallest of the four subcategories—indeed, commentary here was less prevalent than both overtly inclusive and overtly marginalising commentary—was surprising to us, given the attributed significance of these voices in scholarship (e.g. Salter 2017; Salter and Blodgett 2017). It should also be noted that this subcategory should not be seen as a ‘softer’ version of the ‘marginalising’ subcategory—indeed, it included some forms of discourse that, while not sexist/misogynistic per se, can nonetheless be seen as offensive for other reasons. Rather, commentary in this ‘reactionary’ subcategory is defined by a prevailing rejection of gender politics that naturally feeds into, but is qualitatively distinguishable from, the ‘marginalising’ gendered commentary. With respect to comments specifically focused on gaming, many in this subcategory saw users rejecting concerns over the sexualisation of female game characters, such as Tracer in Overwatch: ‘Don’t dignify their viewpoint by saying the pose was sexual. It wasn’t. It was an over the shoulder pose and nothing more’ (Dergono). Elsewhere, the related commentary was more generalised, such as this example from shelcod: ‘Oh no, men like seeing attractive women in sexual situations. Someone rally up some women and start shaming everyone here.’ The above comments, the second one in particular, provide good examples of how users seek to normalise sexualisation in a manner which, again, acts as natural support for the continuance of marginalising behaviours. Notably, a small number of these comments sought to frame concerns over fictional sexualisation as a distraction from ‘real-world’ gender inequalities, particularly those associated with Islamic culture. Indeed, one such user went so far as to suggest that sexualisation concerns in popular culture mirrored Islamic religious clothing requirements: … WHY THE FUCK ARE THE FEMINISTS CRYING ABOUT WOMEN’S BUTS IN VIDEOGAMES INSTEAD OF RALLYING AND DOING SOMETHING ABOUT 9YO GIRLS GETTING RAPED IN SAUDI ARABIA? Oh I know, because the majority of them aren’t doing it to actually help people, but to make themselves feel good, so they create imaginary problem they can complain about and feel good about it. (olican101) I know, right?! Better yet, she’s a bit too pretty in the face as well, better put a veil on that. (McMeaty)



The two above examples of this small but striking subset echo a recent shift towards alleged ‘classical liberal’ framings of conservative/reactionary positions (Robertson 2018)—in this case, concealing anti-feminist (and anti-Islamic) commentary behind an ostensible championing of Western women’s rights to sexual self-expression. Finally, the ‘reactionary’ subcategory included comments in which users sought to challenge or reject progressive concerns regarding the position of women in gaming. It should be noted that comments here often conveyed degrees of sympathy for girls and women experiencing online harassment in the community, but this was more or less negated by an unwillingness or inability to see the gendered underpinnings of such treatment. For example, in the below comment from Edward2290, the user essentially tries to offer reassurance while also seeking to eliminate gender from the issue at hand: Yeeeaah … that happens to everyone. Everyone tries to roast everyone in communities like CS:GO [popular shooter game], and they try to find ways to shit on you, and since you’re a female, which is a minority in the gaming community, they’ll use that a lot.

Again, these comments represent a core sentiment that, while not marginalising of girls and women per se, nonetheless functions to diminish concerns over marginalisation and, in doing so, provides natural cover for the persistence of such attitudes and behaviours.

‘… Not Even If You Were TheLastDudeguy on Earth’ Representing approximately 29% of the FG sample comments, the final subcategory, ‘open’, is by far largest of the four subcategories. This subcategory included comments that, while not strictly inclusive in the sense of expressing explicit support for gender equality, nonetheless conveyed either an openness towards girls and women in gaming or an implicit acceptance of concerns around gendered attitudes in this masculinised space. Further distinguishing this subcategory from its ‘inclusive’ counterpart, there were also rhetorical strains of what Glick and Fiske (2011) refer to as ‘benevolent sexism’ wherein the ostensibly positive nature of gendered discourse can often belie a deeper chauvinism. However, rather than serving to reinforce traditional/orthodox gender hierarchies, as per Glick and Fiske’s framework, relevant discourses in this space can be seen as



providing natural ideological support for the overtly progressive views found in the ‘inclusive’ subcategory. In this sense, many sentiments found here echoed Duncanson’s (2015) suggestion that genuine equality within hegemonic structures necessitates an initial phase of changed behaviour even if it does not at first entirely eliminate feminisation and/or other forms of subordination. This ‘open’ subcategory was arguably the most difficult to make sense of. Specifically, our concern was that it would present as a sort of residual subcategory into which we might have appeared to place any ‘neither here nor there’ comments. However, while the comments included in this subcategory are ostensibly more varied in theme, they all essentially share in an implicit, but also sometimes problematic, aim to either normalise girls and women in the community and/or undermine marginalising/reactionary discourses. The three key themes in this subcategory were: (1) comments in which users responded positively to photos of video game paraphernalia (homemade figurines, quilts etc.) crafted by female partners (‘significant others’ or ‘SOs’), friends and family members; (2) comments in which users shared strategies for engaging non-gaming female SOs in their pastime; and (3) comments that conveyed an acknowledgement of concerns over heterosexual male gamers’ gendered attitudes and behaviours. With respect to the first theme, we found numerous comments in which users responded with praise for the grasp of video game culture demonstrated in the featured creations of OP’s (original poster) female acquaintance. However, in a similar fashion to how girls and women have been traditionally viewed in sporting fandoms (e.g. Thorpe and Olive 2016), they were positioned here as liminal non-gaming figures, residing at the boundaries to ‘fulfil a peripheral … role within video game culture’ (Crawford 2012: 53). Nonetheless, comments of this nature were celebratory, and highlighted the subcultural capital (Thornton 1995) of the girls and women in question. The following comments from jbrown5217 and 2muchyarn, respectively, provide typical examples: ‘Does she sell prints? I have a friend that would absolutely love this’; and the latter’s even more effusive, ‘How long did it take her (hours)? This was an incredible challenge. Awesome work!’ Most prominent in the ‘open’ subcategory was the theme in which users shared ideas for how to engage female SOs in gaming. There was a case to be made for including some of these comments in the ‘inclusive’ category, given the fact that attempts by male gamers to include girls and



women in their hobby are, in the broadest sense of the term, inclusive. However, our stricter definition of the term required more explicit expressions of support for gender equality than was found in these comments. Furthermore, we cannot speak to the individual motivations of users wishing for their SOs to join them in their hobby. While it would be too cynical to suggest that the motivations were always self-serving, in the sense of users merely trying to remove social barriers to their own gaming time (though this might well have been the case in any number of instances), it would have equally been a stretch to suggest that inclusivity towards one’s own female SO represented broader support for girls and women in the gaming community. Most of these comments revolved around which games and game genres might be best suited to introducing uninitiated female SOs into the hobby. Importantly, the suggestions themselves were usually gendered in being widely seen as ‘casual’ games, a term that implicitly works to delegitimise games that tend to be popular with girls and women (Salter and Blodgett 2017): Without knowing more about her preferences, the LEGO games are always a great place to start. They’re colorful/fun, generally easy-to-play, and designed around local two-player co-op. Pick a franchise she likes that has a LEGO version (shouldn’t be that hard at this point) and start there. (Data_Error) If you’re patient and she likes puzzles, I would recommend portal 2 co-op. However, it might not be the best. Nintendo is always a good place to start. Do you have multiple consoles/systems you could use to play online? (BluePhoenix65)

Finally, there were the comments expressing a degree of concern over the problematic gender attitudes with which heterosexual male gamers are commonly associated. While an implicitly inclusive sentiment underpinned many of these comments, in that they sought to highlight sexist/misogynistic attitudes in the community, girls and women nonetheless tended to be viewed in ‘conquestial’ (McCormack and Anderson 2010) terms; that is, as prizes to be won from a maturation of attitudes and broadening of life experiences. For example, users seeking to champion the role of women in gaming sometimes indirectly expressed their views by questioning the sexual experience/adequacy of others posting marginalising comments. The following putdown from MurryEB is typical: ‘With that



attitude no woman would get with you, not even if you were TheLastDudeguy on Earth.’ As mentioned, some comments expressing this core sentiment were also self-deprecating, conveying a sense of ‘socially awkward’ (Salter 2017: 250) inadequacy similar in character to the most downvoted ‘video games ruined my life’ comment in the full FG dataset (discussed in Chap. 3). Here, however, the aim was clearly satirical rather than confessional, such as in this wry comment from immortalreploid: ‘Dude it’s okay, most of us don’t have girlfriends either.’ It is important to once more emphasise that, as with the other themes in the ‘open’ subcategory, these self-deprecating jabs at geek masculine identity cannot be fairly defined as inclusive of girls and women in gaming. However, much like the relationship between ‘marginalising’ and ‘reactionary’ forms, the core sentiment being expressed here provides a support structure for more overtly inclusive critiques of toxic attitudes and behaviours. Indeed, to quote Duncanson (2015: 243), even if one wishes to view the above comments as ‘soft’ expressions of orthodox or hegemonic masculinity, ‘hegemonic masculinities which have adopted “softer” traits in order to retain power will contain contradictions, [and] this creates opportunities for feminists to push at those contradictions, make them explicit’.

Battlegrounds and Contestations Our analysis of the FG sample comments suggests that, when femininity is discursively brought to the fore, r/gaming becomes a highly contested space. To summarise the chapter, in coding the 1500 sample comments, we identified two categories—‘feminine gendered neutral’ and ‘feminine gendered attitudinal’—with four subcategories residing within the second—‘marginalising’, ‘inclusive’, ‘reactionary’ and ‘open’. Taken as a whole, the four subcategories can be seen as representing a continuum of sorts, with ‘marginalising’ and ‘reactionary’ aligning to each other on the right, and ‘inclusive’ and ‘open’ aligning to each other on the left. Perhaps surprisingly, when viewed through the lens of these two broader ideological subsets, a higher proportion of comments across the sample—421/751 or 56% as opposed to 330/751 or approximately 49%—can be understood as forms of discourse that are broadly welcoming towards girls and women and/or critical of those who are not. It should be noted that this apparent contradiction in our findings of how the gaming community is widely characterised rests on the ‘reactionary’ subcategory—that much-­



discussed contingent of ‘besieged’ voices—being notably smaller than the others. That there were more overtly marginalising and inclusive forms of commentary in the sample than those expressing resistance to progressive views is not exactly cause for celebration, but it nonetheless disrupts the established picture. In making more in-depth theoretical sense of these findings, it is important to examine both the four subcategories as discretely meaningful and the interrelationships between. Drawing on the perspectives in Chap. 2, the ‘marginalising’ and ‘inclusive’ categories are both relatively easy to theorise. With respect to the former, comments here confirm both the subordination of women that underpins hegemonic masculinity, and the more site-specific dynamics that are argued to define geek masculinity. Indeed, the preponderance in this subcategory of often pornographically sexualising comments, and crudely essentialising sentiments more broadly, matches these analyses almost to the level of caricature. The comparably sized ‘inclusive’ subcategory stands in stark opposition, and to a degree that speaks to the most optimistic sociopositive possibilities that IMT (Inclusive Masculinity Theory) sees as part of the ‘expanded repertoires’ (Anderson and McCormack 2018: 244) of contemporary masculine behaviours. Given the gaming subculture’s widely accepted association with gendered marginalisation and harassment, the emergence here of such unequivocal pro-equality sentiments is an important finding that warrants further theorising and investigation. Examining the ‘reactionary’ and ‘open’ subcategories requires more nuance. While comments in the ‘reactionary’ subcategory shared in an abiding sense of support for the gendered status quo, they also betrayed precisely the besieged mentality that Salter and Blodgett (2017) and Mortensen (2018) highlight. In other words, comments in this subcategory were moving from a position of insecurity, rather than hegemony, with the focus being less on marginalising girls and women than on denying a place in the community for actors who might champion their rights. In seeking to delegitimise opposition to voices in the ‘marginalising’ subcategory, the ‘reactionary’ commentary thus performs a supportive function akin to the ‘complicit masculinity’ described by Connell (1995). However, in one key respect, the relationship here represents a reversal of Connell’s formulation: where complicit masculinity describes groups in a given community who benefit from the ‘patriarchal dividend’, while offering largely implicit support for hegemonic masculine structures; ‘reactionary’ comments in r/gaming serve as their endangered frontline defence.



In contrast, the unambiguously marginalising voices operating in r/gaming appeared to be either oblivious to or just wholly untroubled by how others might receive their demeaning contributions. There are echoes in this ‘reactionary’ subcategory of a sort of ‘protest masculinity’ which, for Broude (1990: 103), represents ‘an unconscious defensive manoeuvre on the part of males who are in conflict about or who are insecure about their identities as males’. Furthermore, the relationship between the ‘reactionary’ and ‘marginalising’ voices speaks to Hawley’s (2017: 4) more recent analysis of the ‘Alt-Right’ movement in which the more extreme neo-Nazi and neo-fascist elements find themselves in awkward alliance with, and naturally supported by, self-styled ‘“cultural libertarians”—whose main complaint … is the stifling degree of political correctness’. The ‘open’ subcategory is similarly complex. As discussed, certain patterns of discourse prohibited comments in this subcategory from being understood as unequivocally inclusive. There were no explicit pro-equality sentiments here and, while two of the subcategory’s main themes saw girls and women being discussed in positive and/or welcoming terms, they were nonetheless framed as liminal figures in the gaming community (e.g. praise for gaming-related craft made by female friends and partners, and strategies aimed at including female SOs in gaming). Also, the strains of ‘benevolent sexism’, whereby the positivity expressed towards girls and women implicitly reinforced their otherness, clearly warranted a discrete analysis of many comments included here. Similarly, the theme in which users expressed a satirical, and often self-deprecating, awareness of problematic gender attitudes amongst heterosexual male gamers inadvertently positioned women as trophies to be had by achieving of a more progressive outlook. Nonetheless, when examined as a whole, in terms of their core motivations and effect, comments in the ‘open’ subcategory could be seen to provide a natural or ‘implicit’—to play on Connell’s terminology—support base for the emergent pro-equality sentiments found in the ‘inclusive’ subcategory.

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Abstract  Having entered into the subreddit, r/gaming, from a number of different angles, a portrait emerges of a cultural space ultimately marked by contestation. Clearly, evidence for the continuance of marginalising discourses is unmistakable. However, we must also be careful not to ignore or understate the dynamic contestations that are occurring in this space— or, for that matter, the emerging prominence of overtly inclusive voices. This is not a set of counter hegemonic articulations ‘relegated to the fringes’ or residing ‘on the margins’. On the contrary, the inclusive pattern of discourse identified here represents an internal force for change comparable in power to the voices trying to maintain a clearly fracturing status quo. Keywords  Hegemonic masculinity • Inclusive masculinity • Reddit • E3 • Video gaming • Geek At the time of writing this conclusion, the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has just drawn to a close. Held annually at the Los Angeles Convention Center, E3 is arguably the most important event in the gaming calendar: a three-day industry exposition in which all the major (and more minor) studios, publishers and hardware manufacturers come together to present their latest products to both attendees and, via social media, gamers around the world. E3’s evolution as premiere international © The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




trade expo reflects the evolution of video games as a media form. It originated as a minor component of the broader Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and, as gaming matured into an increasingly established and profitable entertainment medium over the 1980s and early 1990s, the industry became increasingly frustrated by what it saw as its subordinate positioning among the various other computer-related industries. The first E3 was in 1995 and, by today’s standards, it was a relatively modest affair, with little of the choreographed polish and fanfare that observers have now come to expect (Pereira 2019). As it increased its profile across the 1990s and 2000s, and in turn became flashier and more public-relations-focused, E3 nonetheless remained an event that reflected the dominance in the culture and industry of white heterosexual men. To quote Webber (2016): Bright lights on a big stage, lengthy cinematic trailers for shooters starring gravelly-voiced stubble-faced white men, interspersed with awkward patter from white men in suits (or, depending on the publisher, suit jackets and T-shirts and trainers), cheered and whooped at by a largely white male audience.

As has been the case for some years now, 2019’s E3 did not fit the above description by any stretch and, as one of the community’s most significant annual get togethers, now serves to challenge ‘several assumptions and stereotypes of who gamers are’ (Crawford 2012: 47). Indeed, at press conferences held by all the various publishers and manufacturers across the three days, a far more diverse portrait of the culture and industry could be seen to emerge. Design studios went to great lengths to highlight their diverse teams, via footage of their male and female, and non-white, designers beavering away in open-plan offices on their next big products. Team members chosen by companies to give presentations were similarly diverse, with one of the event’s apparent highlights (see Nyan 2019) being the wonderfully geeky and self-effacing reveal of upcoming action-thriller, Ghostwire, by the game’s Japanese female creative director, Ikumi Nakamura. The eager audiences that ‘cheered and whooped’ were arguably even more diverse, and miles apart from the stereotypical demographic seen to be in attendance during the 1990s and 2000s. The games being promoted were widely varied in style and genre, and often featured main casts of male and female characters from a range of cultural (and, of course, interplanetary) backgrounds. Noteworthy here was Microsoft’s promotional spot for Gears of War 5, a historically prototypical ‘dudebro’



shooter game with male beefcake protagonist, replaced for this instalment with ‘cool’ (Vincent 2018) new female hero, Kait Diaz. And, yet, for all the diversity on display at E3 itself over the last few years, a survey of social media, and especially YouTube responses to the expo, tells a much more complex story about contemporary gaming culture. Certainly, there are the many male and female gamers who contribute to the proverbial ‘conversation’ with their excited reactions to some or other presentation—including praise for the increasing diversity being represented—along with those who express disappointment or anger over the expo’s offerings. Beyond this, however, there are also the many voices who decry the increasingly progressive tenor of E3, as outlined above. A typical example of this antagonistic stance can be found in the YouTube video, ‘Liberal Propaganda at E3 2018’, by The Amazing Lucas (2018), in which the male YouTuber laments: ‘[A] plague that has infected the gaming community, and that plague is known as progressive feminism.’ With over 40,000 views, the video’s comments section is comprised mostly (indeed entirely for the first 100 or so of the full 1232 comments) of unequivocal endorsements of this sentiment, with one user suggesting courage in the face of the culture’s progressive dogma: ‘Everything that comes out Lucas’ mouth is everything I’d love to say but don’t know how to.’ As a reflection of gender relations in contemporary gaming culture, the above impression of E3 is corroborated by the research undertaken here. Having entered into this space from a number of different and triangulating angles—masculine gendered and feminine gendered commentary; computational and qualitative methodologies—a portrait emerges of a cultural space ultimately marked by contestation. In this sense, all analytical roads in this book lead to the previous chapter and, through an in-­ depth focus on feminine gendered commentary, its prism-like refraction of the ideological divisions more subtly embedded in the preceding substantive chapters. While certain of our findings here chime well with elements of Connell’s (1995; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005) much-heralded framework of hegemonic masculinity, and others with Anderson’s (2009) newer theorising on inclusive masculinity, the survey as a whole challenges and moves beyond the logics offered by both theories. There is in our findings clear evidence of the kinds of supportive, prosocial, non-­dominant, ‘inclusive masculinity’ that Anderson suggests has proliferated in contemporary Western societies. Our data also echoes Anderson’s proposition that in contemporary societies we are likely to see a polarised model of



progressive-inclusive masculinity, on the one hand, and conservative-­ orthodox masculinity, on the other. However, this does not quite capture the dynamics observed in this prototypically masculinised online space. As discussed in the previous chapter, inclusive and orthodox (or marginalising) discursive forms represent acute end components of two broader sociopositive and orthodox continuums, respectively, in which more complex ‘open’ and ‘reactionary’ forms also reside. While there is a clear dividing line between these two ideological groups in line with Anderson’s inclusive-orthodox dichotomy, our survey highlights greater degrees of complexity and disunity within each group, and offers a more nuanced understanding of what separates them. Indeed, future work might, as an example, focus on further understanding the gendered anxieties of ‘reactionary’ voices as a phenomenon related to, but not of a piece with, the sexism and misogyny that clearly defines the ‘marginalising’ voices. Indeed, as discussed in the previous chapter, reactionary voices can sometimes express sympathy over the treatment of girls and women in their community while nonetheless struggling to accept gendered explanations for the phenomenon. All this also has implications for the theorising of hegemonic masculinity (and therefore also geek masculinity theorising), because the predominately male, and culturally masculinised, r/gaming community does not operate according to a model of hegemony. This might seem a bold claim given the widespread understanding that gaming communities are among the vanguards and exemplars of hegemonic masculinity. However, what becomes clear in our research is that the community is characterised by out and out contestation that manifests in a range of positions. In other words, as a space governed by a particular set of gendered norms and practices, we argue that r/gaming is best defined by a contested masculinity that is distinct from both Connell’s and Anderson’s theorising. Importantly this understanding is not derived from ignoring Connell’s insistence that ‘structured relations among masculinities exist in all local settings’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 847), but from paying even greater attention to the dynamics of such relations. While the toxic and marginalising discursive elements are given great attention in research (e.g. Shaw 2013; Massanari 2017; Salter and Blodgett 2017; Kendall 2012), and we should not understate the impact of instances of marginalisation on victims, the overt contestation here reveals a community in which marginalising girls and women is neither dominant (numerically) nor hegemonic (in the conventional sense). That is, power is at play and often serves to



l­egitimate gender inequality—a key aspect of the definition of hegemonic masculinity (Messerschmidt 2017)—but the marginalising and reactionary voices documented in our research do not align with the other defining tenet of hegemonic masculinity. It is in our estimation implausible to describe the marginalising elements as ‘culturally exalted above other expressions of masculinity’ (Connell 1995: 77), or ‘culturally ascendant [such that they] provide a rationale for social action through consent and compliance’ (Messerschmidt 2017: 74). This clashing diversity of voices does not align well with the principal characteristics of hegemony as established by Gramsci (see Howson 2006), such as: the winning and holding of power; the formation (and destruction) of social groups in that process; and the associated maintenance of domination. Furthermore, they do not, as Donaldson (1993: 644) requires of hegemony, have ‘the ability to impose a definition of the situation, to set the terms in which events are understood and issues discussed, to formulate ideals and define morality’ nor have they successfully persuaded ‘the greater part of the population’, on what constitutes ‘“natural,” “ordinary:” “normal”’. Indeed, the prevalence of contestation makes it untenable to conceptualise geek masculinity as hegemonic, as it (and/or the men espousing it) is not able to ‘stabilise a structure of dominance and oppression’ (Connell 1990: 83)—but this is not to deny that it actively tries to do so. That a version of hegemonic masculinity subscribing to all of these characteristics remains the dominant image in much gaming culture research and media depictions becomes untenable in light of our findings. While this negative characterisation of the community is understandable, given the pertinence of combating any instance of marginalisation online, it is also likely a consequence of researchers and commentators alike being drawn towards the ‘particularly nefarious’ (Moller 2007: 265). The bottom line here is that the data sits in tension with the idea that ‘the concept of hegemonic masculinity presumes the subordination of nonhegemonic masculinities’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 846). Clearly, evidence for the continuance of negative discursive strategies to legitimate women’s oppression is unmistakable and related critical examinations remain an important endeavour. However, we must also be careful not to ignore or understate the dynamic contestations that are occurring in spaces such as r/gaming—or, for that matter, the emerging prominence of overtly inclusive voices—and what that might mean. This is not a set of counter hegemonic articulations ‘relegated to the fringes’ (Massanari



2015: 129) or residing ‘on the margins’ (Salter and Blodgett 2017: 95); nor is it a pattern of discourse that one can easily envision being overwhelmed by, or sublimated into (Bridges and Pascoe 2014), a prevailing orthodoxy. On the contrary, the inclusive pattern of discourse identified here represents an internal force for change comparable in power to the voices trying to maintain a clearly fracturing status quo. We find that none of Connell’s concepts adequately capture this. The most inclusive wing of the spectrum is not a masculinity ‘complicit’ in the production of gender inequality. And, while Connell has noted that academics now ‘more clearly recognise the agency of subordinated and marginalised groups’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 847), our inclusive pattern of discourse can only, in Connell’s framework, be inaccurately characterised as a ‘marginalised’ or ‘subordinated’. Again, this is not to underplay the persistence of a toxic geek masculinity that aims to render gaming intolerable for many individual women (and even other men), but the idea that the inclusive voices identified in this study are somehow subordinate is difficult to uphold. Connell’s other, albeit much less used, concept/category of ‘protest masculinity’ also fails to fully capture the sociopositive patterns. It is tempting to think of these inclusive voices as representing a protest to the frontline troops of patriarchy found in geek masculinity but, again, it is conceptually shaky. Indeed, the most dominant use of protest masculinity aligns with how it is described by Connell and Messerschmidt (2005: 847–848): ‘[C]onstructed in  local working-class settings, sometimes among ethnically marginalised men, which embodies the claim to power typical of regional hegemonic masculinities in Western countries, but which lacks the economic resources and institutional authority that underpins the regional and global patterns.’ Other takes on protest masculinity, which move beyond understanding it as simply the need to ‘re-work male superiority in the absence of economic security’ (Roberts 2018: 52), offer perhaps a little more promise. Notably, Howson (2006: 65) positions protest masculinity as ‘being structurally complicit, [but still] challeng[ing] the defining hegemonic principles by expressing behaviours such … egalitarian attitudes towards the sexes’. Even here, though, it is not convincing to argue that the sociopositive commentary discussed in Chaps. 4 and 5, and echoed in the downvoting patterns highlighted in Chap. 3, is best defined as ‘structurally complicit’ of a marginalising subcultural status quo. Tentatively, we suggest that what we observe in r/gaming is evidence of growing tensions in, and a marked disruption of, the formulation of



masculinity discourses and associated practices. The key for us is that the emergence of more sociopositive forms of discourse, even in this definitively masculinised online space, speaks to a process of change. Connell has rejected that hegemonic masculinity’s ‘primary underpinning is the notion of a fixed male structure’ (Whitehead 2002: 94), describing how change is a central feature of hegemonic masculinity, with historical and spatial variations underpinning her argument (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 846). However, as Duncanson (2015: 240) has argued, in much research utilising the hegemonic masculinity framework, ‘[i]t is as if any shift in gender relations is inevitably hegemony at work; and there is little point in asking whether such shifts might be signs of progressive change’. Recognising the changes and the contestation we have unearthed here is theoretically important, as it enables us to move beyond caricatures of the gender order as ‘a system of domination that changes and somehow never changes’ (Whitehead 2002: 96). Indeed, it is our firm view that drawing attention to the contestation and, especially, the presence of emergent sociopositive influences in this space holds greater promise than denying change, or regarding it as superficial or deceptive. The ‘strategic unity’ between ‘the mass of men (and not insignificant number of women)’ (Howson 2006: 65) that has maintained the hegemonic gender order in gaming culture is being displaced. However, the sociopositive change occurring here is notably less uniform than Inclusive Masculinity Theory’s (IMT) account describes, and the continuums/gradations we highlight are offered as one next step in further understanding the shifting contemporary landscape of masculinity to which IMT has drawn crucial theoretical attention. As discussed, discursive elements within r/gaming’s broadly sociopositive camp still betray certain orthodox prejudices, such as the othering of femininity implicit in many of the well-meant comments in the previous chapter’s ‘open’ subcategory. However, even here, there are clearly attenuated masculine forms that coexist easily with, provide support for and are perhaps informed by the community’s more overtly pro-equality elements. While not uniformly pure in constituting a movement per se, the broadly aligned collection of sociopositive voices in this masculinised online space represents a necessary, ‘more achievable and therefore more likely first step’ (Duncanson 2015: 244) towards more inclusive online communities. In the book’s introduction, we felt it important to set our perspective squarely apart from the sentiment captured recently in #NotAllMen, the Twitter-led movement aimed at diminishing gendered forms of ­harassment



via a stock-standard ‘a few bad apples’ line of reasoning (Sharlet 2018). As sociologists chiefly interested in patterns of social behaviour, such explanations are almost always unsatisfactory, and we unreservedly distance ourselves from this gendered incarnation. Indeed, the work undertaken here confirms precisely the pattern of gendered inequality that previous scholarship has emphasised and, in doing so, naturally supports ongoing efforts to make gaming culture a more inclusive subcultural space. However, there are also significant counter patterns of discourse that need to be better acknowledged, otherwise we risk veering into similarly myopic and unproductive ‘a few good apples’ territory. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the more ostensibly banal, but no less prominent, patterns, such as those discussed in Chap. 4 in which users were often simply coming together to talk ‘shoulder to shoulder’ (Hammarén and Johansson 2014: 6) about their shared love of gaming. As problem solvers at heart, it is only natural for social researchers to focus on tensions, inequalities and injustices, but we also have a responsibility to capture in our analyses the variabilities, contradictions and less sensational aspects of even the most allegedly problematic communities we choose to research. What is at stake here is the accurate representation of a subculture, along with the millions of its members, many of whom are boys and men, who become associated with it. As discussed in Chap. 2, there are instances in the work of key figures such as Massanari (2015, 2017) and Salter and Blodgett (2017) in which the authors do acknowledge a gaming cultural dynamic beyond the allegedly ‘deeply embedded’ toxic masculine one, but these qualifications are rare and, importantly, framed as exceptions to the (geek masculine) rule. It should also be noted that Salter and Blodgett’s (2017: 201) overarching argument in Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media: Sexism, Trolling and Identity Policing is ultimately an optimistic one. However, theirs is a hopeful future in which the increasingly mainstream medium of video games eventually unshackles itself from a ‘culture of geekdom [that] presents a definition of masculinity’ that is inherently both toxic and hostile to change. Our multilayered analysis of r/gaming data from 2016–2017 tells a different story, one in which the sociopositive change we all wish to promote is, in fact, already internally in motion within the existing culture. Scholars who research disadvantaged and/or vulnerable communities have long cautioned against the ‘ivory tower’ tendency to essentialise one’s subjects, but the dangers of this tendency remain no less true with respect to all cultures and communities. To quote Gelman (2003: 296):



[E]ssentialism carries with it serious costs. Most troubling, it encourages and justifies stereotyping of social categories (including race, gender, and sexual orientation). It perpetuates the assumption that artificial distinctions (such as caste or class) are natural, inevitable, and fixed … it implies that each species is fixed and immutable, not allowing for the possibility of evolutionary change over time.

To be fair, our concern is perhaps as much, if not more, with how the work of the abovementioned authors has itself been essentialised, with their respective instances of nuance and qualification filtered out in others’ reviews (e.g. Airaksinen 2018), and applications (e.g. Marwick 2017). Again, the reason for this is clear and partially justified: a belief that too much complexity might muddy the waters in dealing with the pertinent issues of gendered harassment and unequal treatment online. While understandable, this all but exclusive focus on adverse patterns is, we argue, ultimately a counterproductive one. As the above quote from Gelman suggests, essentialising perspectives—even when articulated in the name of good causes—render things immutable and, in doing so, narrow our capacity to realise better futures. We do not underestimate the degree of change that is still required, or the level of entrenched misogyny that underpins female gamers’ experiences of marginalisation and harassment. Indeed, in our own account, we have not shied away from documenting the persistence of problematic attitudes and behaviours alongside sociopositive changes. Our point here is that a pattern of other, healthier and more equal voices is playing out across this culture, and these voices need to be fostered and promoted. We are not alone in stressing this type of point. Even Messerschmidt (2017: 75), among the staunchest of advocates for the concept of hegemonic masculinity, has detailed that ‘identifying gendered practices that do not legitimate patriarchal relations should be considered valuable, in the sense of recognising and pinpointing possible positive masculinities … that challenge gender hegemony and consequently have crucial implications for social policy’. The ‘fight’ for masculinity, both here and elsewhere, is a hotly contested terrain and, by exposing these kinds of contestations, we stand a better chance of convincing boys and men to reject the negative, harmful and damaging positions aptly conveyed in the notion of toxic geek masculinity. Wider changes in masculinities and protestations against hegemonic masculinity, when highlighted, offer the possibility of undermining the prescriptive and proscriptive capacities of hegemonic norms. This then



offers boys and men examples of better, more equal ways of ‘being a man’. We are not here implying that masculinity is the preserve of male bodies, or that femininity is off limits, but in the Western contemporary world, and especially the world of gaming, the question is ‘not whether to take up masculine discourses … but rather which masculine discourses to engage in’ (Whitehead 2002: 110). Choosing a non-dominant, sociopositive discourse seems potentially more likely if it is signalled (by academics and others) as an existing and legitimate possibility.

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A Anderson, Eric, 24, 31, 32, 66, 78, 84, 86, 93, 94 C Cohen, Stanley, 5 Connell, Raewyn, 8, 24–33, 61, 64, 76, 86, 87, 93–97 Cosplay, 76, 80 E Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), 91–93 F Femininity, 25–28, 30, 37, 46, 67, 79, 85, 97, 100

G Gamergate, 9 Gaming culture, 7, 28, 42, 43, 46, 60, 61, 75, 77, 79, 93, 95, 97, 98 H Harassment, 2–5, 11, 66, 82, 86, 97, 99 Homosocial, 10, 30, 32 M Marginalisation, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 17, 26, 46, 82, 86, 94, 95, 99 Masculinity contested, 9, 17, 94, 99 geek, 6, 7, 16, 18n2, 23–33, 46, 60, 61, 63, 74, 86, 94–96, 99

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2019 M. Maloney et al., Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming,




Masculinity (cont.) hegemonic, 8, 17, 23–33, 61, 64, 67, 76, 85, 86, 93–97, 99 inclusive, 23–33, 93, 96 Massanari, Adrienne, 5–10, 17, 24, 28, 39, 40, 42, 43, 46, 61, 66, 67, 74, 78, 94, 95, 98 R Reactionary views, 7, 8, 64, 66, 67, 73–75, 80–83, 85–87, 94, 95 Reddit, 4, 6–11, 13, 16, 18n4, 23, 27, 39, 40, 76

S Sentiment analysis, 12, 13, 38–48 Sexism, 5, 9, 10, 17, 53, 77, 94, 98 Sexualisation, 53, 64, 78, 79, 81 Social change, 3, 4, 8, 79 Social justice warrior, 2, 8 T Topic modelling, 11, 13, 15, 38, 59 U Upvoting/downvoting, 39, 47, 96