Skins for Sale: Linking Player Identity, Representation, and Purchasing Practices

Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 11420)


Although understudied, microtransactions are becoming widespread in games, especially for the purchase of aesthetic variation in-game. In this paper, we review literature around representation in games and purchasing practices tied to player racial identity to provide insight on how in-game racial representational options and microtransactions may impact purchasing practices of players of diverse racial backgrounds. We selected articles which articulate racial identity, representation in games, and purchasing practices in ways that could be applied to the in-game purchases of non-white character representation in the form of “skins.” The diversity of both players and game characters is steadily increasing in the US. Several of the sources we review here examine this theme and how it is felt by players of color. In this review we thread together research that has focused on the state and effect of representation in games, with research considering the role of racial identity in consumer practice to better examine how players of color feel about purchasing self-representation in games.


Microtransactions Representation in games Diversity in gaming 



Kayla Booth, Mike Depew, iSchool Inclusion Institute, and more!


  1. 1.
    Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., Hamari, J., Kinnunen, J.: Free-to-play games: professionals’ perspectives. In: Proceedings of Nordic DiGRA (2014)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Busby, M.: “Easy Trap to Fall Into”: why video game loot boxes need regulation. The Guardian, May 2018Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Chess, S., Evans, N.J., Baines, J.J.: What does a gamer look like? Video games, advertising, and diversity. Telev. New Media 18(1), 37–57 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Duggan, M.: Gaming and Gamers. PEW Internet Research, December 2015Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Electronic Software Association (ESA). US Video Game Industry Revenue Reaches $36 Billion in 2017. In Press Releases, ESA (2018)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gandy, O.H.: Racial identity, media use, and the social construction of risk among African Americans. J. Black Stud. 31(5), 600–618 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gardner, D.L., Tanenbaum, J.: Dynamic demographics: lessons from a large-scale census of performative possibilities in games. In: Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, New York, NY, USA, pp. 93:1–93:12 (2018)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Glaubke, C.R., Miller, P., Parker, M.A., Espejo, E.: Fair play? Violence, gender and race in video games. Child. Now 143, 38 (2001)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hart, C.: Getting into the game: an examination of player personality projection in videogame avatars. Game Stud. 17, 2 (2017)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Higgin, T.: Blackless fantasy the disappearance of race in massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Games Cult. 4(1), 3–26 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Jacobs, H.: Gamers are Spending Thousands of Dollars a Year on This “Free” Video Game. Business Insider, March 2015Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Jeroen, J., Martis, R.G.: The representation of gender and ethnicity in digital interactive games. In: Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up (2003)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lamont, M., Molnár, V.: How blacks use consumption to shape their collective identity: evidence from marketing specialists. J. Consum. Cult. 1(1), 31–45 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Leonard, D.: High tech blackface: race, sports, video games and becoming the other. Intell. Agent 4(4.2), 1 (2004)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Molloy, M., Dias, D., Lyons, I.: Meet the gamers willing to spend hundreds of thousands living their video game fantasy. Telegraph, July 2018Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Nakamura, L.: Race in/for cyberspace: identity tourism and racial passing on the internet. Works and Days 13(1–2), 181–193 (1995)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Passmore, C.J., et al.: Racial diversity in indie games: patterns, challenges, and opportunities. In: Extended Abstracts Publication of the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play, New York, NY, USA, pp. 137–151 (2017)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Passmore, C.J., et al.: The privilege of immersion: racial and ethnic experiences, perceptions, and beliefs in digital gaming. In: Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, New York, NY, USA, pp. 383:1–383:19 (2018)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Rideout, V., Roberts, D., Foehr, U.: Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8–18 Year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington, D.C. (2005)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Shankar, A., et al.: Identity, consumption and narratives of socialization, identity, consumption and narratives of socialization. Mark. Theory 9(1), 75–94 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Shaw, A.: Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis (2014)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Shaw, A., Friesem, E.: Where is the queerness in games?: Types of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer content in digital games. Int. J. Commun. 10, 13 (2016)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Sheehan, M., Wallace, W., Knackstedt, L.: JP Morgan Chase Bank. System and method for processing microtransactions. U.S. Patent 8,065,228 (2011)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Shokrizade, R.: The Language of Monetization Design. Gamasutra (2013)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Tassi, P.: It Costs over $450 to Buy Every ‘Fortnite: Season 5’ Skin. Forbes, September 2018Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Tassi, P.: The Cost of a Complete ‘Overwatch’ Item Collection is between $1,000 and $3,000. Forbes, April 2017Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Williams, D., Martins, N., Consalvo, M., Ivory, J.D.: The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games. New Media Soc. 11(5), 815–834 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  2. 2.Penn State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  3. 3.College of WestchesterWhite PlainsUSA
  4. 4.University of California IrvineIrvineUSA
  5. 5.DenverUSA
  6. 6.San GabrielUSA

Personalised recommendations