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Gaming at the edge : sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture
Shaw A., Univ Of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2014. 304 pp. Type: Book (978-0-816693-16-0)
Date Reviewed: Apr 10 2015

In the interest of truth in reviewing, here is my disclaimer: I am not a gamer. My only attempts at playing video games were in the form of Duck Hunt, Pac-Man, and Super Mario Bros. when my kids were growing up with Nintendo. Then there were more recent attempts at Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution. Sitting down in front of the TV or computer for hours on end is not my idea of relaxation.

But when the opportunity to review this book came up, I was interested in doing so because of my women and politics background. I was hoping to be enlightened for teaching and academic purposes. And learn from the assignment I did!

The first aspect I learned was that there is a whole field of digital game studies that exists separately from computer science and information systems, and more so from gender and sexuality studies, which need to be brought together in order to broaden the horizons of all those fields. It is the perfect way to view the intersections of gender with race, sexuality, class, and other cross-cutting identities such as religion, nationality, ability, age, and so on. It is a field that engenders the existence of such areas as game design, game research, game production, and game management.

This book tries to go beyond the traditional way of tackling gender issues by delving beyond identity politics and social categorization that we are used to and more toward social contextualization, realizing that we are more than the product of some identities we possess. Thus, it avoids referring to the cliches about women that one usually thinks of when women are portrayed as sidekicks, damsels in distress, and rewards of the game. Instead, the gist of the study was to try and find out whether there is some truth to the following: 1) that people like to see characters like themselves in the games they play; 2) that it is important to see people like themselves to get a broader view of the world; and 3) that the gaming world provides evidence of what can be possible.

The study was qualitative in nature with the use of two interviews, one specifically focused on gaming. The setting was informal, especially for the second interview when the author observed the subjects under conditions of gaming. In fact, at times the author would not only observe but play the game with the subjects. This raises the issue of objectivity since the perspective could be made difficult by a participant observer who plays the game with the subjects.

It was interesting to learn about the history behind games such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, and Super Mario, and the differences that ensue due to the state of technology from the time they are developed to the time they are repackaged for the next generation. However, there were times when I wasn’t sure if the author was analyzing media in general or games specifically because of the references to movies, television shows, and books aside from games.

Because it is not my field, I found the use of a whole new set of words to be rather bewildering, and there were times I was not sure if they were real words or ones made up by the author. So I looked them up and my eyes were opened to a whole new world of words through Wiktionary. Words such as ergodic, ludological, precarity, and performativity can be found on the Internet, but “clarificationism” is not.

One of the other difficulties in reading the book has to do with the screen shots, most of which are dark and sometimes not clear in black and white or shades of grey. It would have been better if they were in color, but this is understandable given the printing costs that such might incur.

The basic conclusion of the study is that people who play games (or watch movies and TV, read books, use media) do not really pay attention to identity, identification, and representation, especially of marginalized groups. People tend to watch shows and play games even if they do not identify with the characters. Identities only matter if one makes very clear distinctions between reality and escapism when playing a game. It is usually hoped that the mere presence of diverse characters can result in diversity and that the creation of marginalized groups can bring about connections to different types of people. This is where the political and educational importance of such a study comes in. As a result, one may not view video games in the same way again, and one may not play the game the same way again once such aspects of gaming are pointed out.

Reviewer:  Cecilia G. Manrique Review #: CR143331 (1507-0580)
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