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Doing/Undoing Gender with the Girl Gamer in High-Performance Play

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Feminism in Play

Part of the book series: Palgrave Games in Context ((PAGCON))


This chapter explores the actions and experiences of women who participate in esports and high-performance cultures of play. Across networked game scenes, women are regularly framed as “girl gamers.” A stigmatising term placed on the women who play games as a high-performance practice. Through qualitative research, players and esports content producers account for how the girl gamer is lived and produced, reflecting on what the term means for their everyday participation. Inter-related pressure nodes include the ongoing negotiation of gendered embodiment in networked cultures, traditional marketing economies, and the institutional power of a male-dominated field. How the girl gamer identity is positioned and engaged with across high-performance game scenes highlights how gender modulates activity, experience, and practice across careers of networked play.

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  1. 1.

    Connell refers to emphasised femininity a form of “women’s compliance” in their subordination to men, by way of “accommodating the interests and desires of men” (1987, 183).

  2. 2.

    High performance players are those participating at an elite level of computer game play and are involved in expert communities of practice.

  3. 3.

    Maxim is an international men’s magazine whose front page customarily displays scantily clad images of prominent women.

  4. 4.

    Media sports refer to a slice of a high performance sports cultures which are maintained by the interrelationship between mainstream media, advertising/sponsors, and professional sporting institutions.

  5. 5.

    Stebbins’ concept of serious leisure, while sitting within positive taxonomy of leisure, usefully highlights the pleasure of a dedicated and systematically pursued activity “… that people find so substantial, interesting and fulfilling that … they launch themselves on a (leisure) career centred on acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge and experience” (2007, 6). While such conditions are dimensions of an esports career, so too are what Rojek describes as “the real conditions of human striving” (2010, p. 116), which includes less celebratory aspects of a serious leisure lifestyle tied to for-profit corporations.

  6. 6.

    The interviewees taking part in this research are all fluent English speakers (first or second language), located in North American or Northern Europe, and identify as cisgender, White or Asian American.

  7. 7.

    During 2010–2015, there were few women of colour represented on esports scenes in visible roles.

  8. 8.

    Such as traditional media sports masculinity upheld at esports events and the employment of booth babes.

  9. 9.

    Ddosing is a Distributed Denial-of-Service attack. An attack disrupts a personal computer/user by flooding it with multiple requests, leaving the machine unavailable for networked use.

  10. 10.

    Gray’s ethnographic work in Xbox Live, which requires voice communication, reveals how voice impacts on racial and gender equality within play, “… this mere technological advance [voice communication over traditional chat function] creates the most havoc in their virtual lives—racial and gendered inequality based of how they sound” (2013, para. 6).

  11. 11.

    See for example the diversity in esports advocacy organisation “AnyKey.”

  12. 12.

    Smart cast is a keyboard shortcut that casts an ability on the nearest enemy target, instead of mouse targeting.

  13. 13.

    World-first raiding involves select teams of 10–25 players attempting to be the first in the world to defeat newly released game content.

  14. 14.

    This is certainly not to say that gender is disregarded completely, either positively or negatively. As Quirico notes, not “doing gender” while playing at all-female tournaments doesn’t omit sharing gendered experiences with those who struggle with the same issues, and as such make playing “feel normal” (ESL 2015).

  15. 15.

    Which include gender policing (as seen at the Garena eSports tournament, Philippines); limited fields/events of participation for women (such as the IeSF HearthStone tournament held at The Assembly, Finland); and narrow diversity within governing institutions.


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Witkowski, E. (2018). Doing/Undoing Gender with the Girl Gamer in High-Performance Play. In: Gray, K., Voorhees, G., Vossen, E. (eds) Feminism in Play. Palgrave Games in Context. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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