Men of the Stage

Over the last couple of weeks especially, it seems as though the question of how gender and sexuality affect the world of videogaming has been one of the central themes of both our readings as well as our class discussions. The fact that videogame content is created by, for, and used by a predominantly male, heterosexual audience should no longer surprise any of us. Professor Taylor shared with us her views on how masculinity, both of the traditional hegemonic and alternative ‘geek’ variety, plays out in the online and competitive gaming worlds, creating an atmosphere that is frequently very hostile to anyone who comes across as not belonging to one of these virile brands. While she did an excellent job of bringing attention to this phenomenon occurring in videogaming, the answer to why it doesn’t cease to exist in a time when more and more women and people of all sexualities are logging in and playing remained elusive to me. I don’t think it was until reading the chapter “Masculinity, Structure, and Play in Videogames” from Derek Burrill’s book Die Tryin’ that I was provided with a satisfactory explanation for the continuance of aggressive male play in the online gaming sphere. 

Before going on, I think it is important to note that on the whole I found Burrill’s points to be rather poor and insubstantial, relying almost purely upon his own diagnosis of the three games he studied, and in which he forces them into stereotypical molds provided entirely by earlier models of psychoanalysis. However, ignoring his psychoanalytic game reviews, he brings up one idea early on in his chapter that I find to be highly insightful, as well as very applicable to what we have been discussing. His theory that “masculinity operates under two discourses: structural and dramaturgical” (74), works very well in explaining why aggressive male behavior continues to thrive in videogaming. In Burrill’s studies, he focused exclusively on one-player games, where the dramatic aspect of his dichotomous model of masculinity is expressed only through the player performing the role of the hypermasculine avatar in a world also designed to encourage violent male action. However, I believe that this adoption of the violent male persona could carry beyond the mere game play, and affect the way a player would treat and address others in an online or multiplayer setting as well. As we have discussed in class, fear of change is a powerful motivator for the players of videogames, a traditionally male group, to be a little nasty to outsiders coming into their domain, but coupling that with the machismo that is adopted when playing violent games, that could be the reason for the aggressive, sexist, and loud nature of some online gamers. 

Such aggression and hate speech that is often seen online and at competitions would be almost unimaginable in ordinary human to human interactions, suggesting there is some additional motivator at work egging players on. Could it be that the very structure of the games themselves are that selfsame motivation?

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3 Responses to Men of the Stage

  1. anelso11 says:

    Response blog post #1

    To some degree, I agree with your belief that the prevalent violent male embodiment often seen in single-player games may carry over into player interactions in massively multiplayer online games. Games, such as what Burrill has described, merely reinforce the concept of violence and heterosexuality as masculine features in the mind of the player.

    With respect to your question, I believe the structure and environment of games do serve as motivators for continued aggression to some degree. In numerous video games, the virtual environment is often very hostile and the avatar is equipped to navigate such a climate, usually through violence. Add in other players who serve as either allies or enemies, as in online multiplayer games, and this aggression can escalate. With online players acting as enemies in an online virtual world, it’s pretty obvious why aggression can lead to violent interactions between players, especially if one loses or dies to them in game. This is often further enticed by strong feelings of competition or, in the case of the traditional heterosexual male group, the desire to retain one’s “masculine” nature. As for online players that serve as allies rather than enemies, those who do not display the same level of skill and the same competitive nature of the individual may be targeted for aggression or frustration. After all, the virtual environment and the mechanics of these sorts of games tend to rely on certain levels of violence for game progression or goal completion. Immersing one’s self in an inherently hostile virtual environment through an avatar equipped for violence is bound to carry over to aggression with other players when personal accomplishment is denied.

    However, the structure and mechanics of video games can only explain so much with respect to player-to-player interactions. I believe part of this issue stems from the anonymous nature of players in online multiplayer games, where an individual can display their aggressive or hedonistic side for the purpose of self-pleasure. This side of individuals would otherwise be hidden in ordinary human-to-human interactions in reality. At least in these sorts of games, the player does not truly fear public judgment and are thus more liberal with their emotions or feelings online. Of course, not all players are waiting to rage on other players. Actually, most aren’t even remotely close to that. It’s usually a select few.

    Despite trying to answer your question for an additional motivator, I feel as if something is still missing. Perhaps a completely overlooked or understated factor that may explain such online aggression and hate speech in virtual worlds.

    Another question arises from this issue that remains to be answered: how is the aggression and hate speech accounted for with respect to female players that participate in it?

  2. mmartini2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #2

    Interesting ideas; however, I would argue that the aggression and hate speech seen online is not only imaginable, but actually a reality of real-life human interaction. Pascoe’s field study is a good example of this as masculinity tournaments via the “fag discourse” are played daily by young men. The difference is the level of acceptability these bad behaviors receive. In the real world one often has to pay much higher and more tangible consequences for acting out the same behaviors depicted in videogames, but this does not mean that these behaviors are never seen in public.

    For example, a gay man was beaten outside a Long Beach, California bar by four marines in September this past year (, and just last month in Michigan another gay man was beaten because of his sexual orientation (

    These aggressive discriminatory behaviors are real, but I believe you are right in suggesting that videogames have additional factors contributing to toxic gamer culture, including violent male personas and adopted machismo. Stereotypes and other schemas help people interpret the world and inform us on how we should behave in a given setting. If the expectation of a game is to be a macho man, then most likely players will use that expectation to inform their behavior and consequently act like a “macho man.” If to them being macho means being anti-gay, anti-feminine, etc. then the probability that the player will engage in aggressive and hateful acts will increase.

    Additionally, if the players around oneself are acting aggressively then, as in the “fag discourse,” one may cave into social pressure and save face by returning the insults or passing them onto another player. This in turn goes back to the idea of pluralistic ignorance, where one privately rejects acting in such a manner, but believes the behavior is an agreed upon group norm and should be followed for social cohesion.

    Lastly, in online discrimination’s favor is anonymity. People can act more horribly online to their fellow players because it is easier to break rules when one hides behind a mask, or in this case a username and an avatar. Masks allow us to disconnect from ourselves, and this degree of freedom lets us act like an “other” – take Halloween costumes for example, where an usually well-behaved child can dress up and act like a little devil.

    This is all to say that the structure of videogames could very well be contributing to their own toxic culture, but the negative behaviors being expressed are rooted in social expectations and influences that come from real life examples.

  3. I’d like to have heard more in the original post about the structural and the dramaturgical. But you do observe of violent video games at one point that these are “designed to encourage violent male action.” I think that’s very important to keep in mind — while we do know that all-male groups and organizations can encourage violent behavior among their members, they mostly live in worlds not TOTALLY designed to encourage violent male action.

    I’m also reminded that we should probably make a distinction between aggressive behavior and violent behavior, but perhaps more on that in tomorrow’s class.

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