Both Ien Ang in Gender and/in Media consumption and Helen Thornham in It’s a Boy Thing, explore the gendering of certain genres, Ang with soap operas and Thornham with video games. Both authors assert that gender-based narratives are highly situational and that gendered subjectivity is a constant renegotiation, which is to say that as individual experiences evolve, so will the perspectives and interpretations of media interactions.
Ang explains how differing gender definitions are the result of discourse, using the example of Catholic discourse in which ‘woman’ is defined as either a whore, a virgin, or a mother; in contrast to radical feminist discourse that establish women as victims and oppressed humans. Two completely different definitions for the same group. Discourse, according to Ang, also produces gender positioning by assigning different, “roles, opportunities, ideals, duties and vulnerabilities to ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are classified as normal and are very difficult to break out of” (120).
After making this distinction between gender positioning and gender definition, Ang then goes on to ask the important question: if gender identification is not a mechanical or passive process, why do men and women seem to continue to identify with gender-based positions?
Ang goes on to answer his own question with the Henriques explanation of ‘investment’ – that persons choose to assume their gender-differentiated positioning to ultimately received a reward from their emotional commitment. This was illustrated in Thornam’s article by two of her interviewees, Sara and Rach.
Sara said she gamed as a way of bonding, which is a gender neutral ideology and an emotional commitment (investment) however she did not attempt to better her skills because she felt that it was her role, or position, to be inferior at gaming. When she relocated from the co-ed house, to the all-female house, Sara was compelled to get better – or was at least no longer stifled in her pursuit of improvement, with the absence of the unspoken obligation to stay in her place – what Ang referred to as ‘social subordination’.
I wouldn’t take it very seriously. I’d clown about and mess about and pretend I couldn’t work out what to do. And I didn’t bother to try to improve as a gamer because that was my role. Whereas now I’m gaming and I’m looking at the map to try and see where the symbol is and where I’m going. There, they would just be amused that I was so rubbish. They’d always be telling me what to do. But that’s boys isn’t it? (…) Gaming is just another way to play out roles. It doesn’t give you a space where you can do what you want or be who you want. It’s how I chose to bond with people in Brighton, but it didn’t change how I interacted with them. I was still “the Girl” and didn’t know what I was doing. Here, though I don’t have to do that any more. – Thornham 133, 141
Rach also ‘played her role’ while gaming, to stimulate interaction with her boyfriend, Rob, by downplaying her above average ability to play the game. By constantly asking questions about how to work the buttons and other gaming related questions, Rach kept Rob present and engaged, while reinforcing his sense of authority in the subject.
A similar obligation to role responsibility was displayed in the video we viewed in class – the wife/mother felt a certain inadequacy due to not having time to play the game enough to advance her character, and essentially play her role, that she paid money to have her character ‘power-leveled’ so she could feel that she was contributing to her team at a level equal to her male counterparts, including her husband.
It is likely that most women having similar responsibilities as a wife and mother, would simply play the game less and not give it a second thought, dismissing it like many other luxuries they’ve had to relinquish to their familial duties. However, this woman (I do not remember her name) expanded the dynamic of their household to include the game, thus evoking a similar sense of obligation to the game as to her other responsibilities.
Side note: I did not know that the first game to make a conscious effort to attract both male and female players was Pac-Man. According to the young woman in the video below, Pac-Man’s creator realized that women talk about food a lot (ahem – he was listening to women at a café, hmmmm) so that’s why he incorporated the food-like elements such a pizza, fruit and ice cream. There was an immediate increase in female players, which provided valuable insight as to the limited marketing of video games.
She gives further commentary about gaming from a female perspective here