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Sex and gender in World of Warcraft: Identities, love, and power

This thesis examines how gamers construct sex and gender in the online game World of Warcraft (WoW), with a particular focus on connections between intimate relationships and gendered power relations. Every year more people choose to play online games but despite this ‘gaming culture’ continues to be dominated by masculinist discourse that works to marginalise those who do not conform to patriarchal and heteronormative ways of being. This in turn impacts upon the ways in which gamers ‘perform’ or ‘do’ their identities including interacting and communicating with others. This research utilises feminist poststructuralist theories to examine: how gamers construct and perform their sexed and gendered identities in WoW; the intimate and loving relationships gamers establish and maintain in WoW and beyond; and, the ways in which gendered power relations are constructed in WoW’s online gaming culture and how this affects gamers relationships both online and offline. Butler’s theory regarding performativity is also utilised to aid in the analysis of gendered and sexual identities within WoW. The theoretical lens informs the choice of methods. Interviews, online questionnaires, follow-up email questionnaires, discussions within online game forum websites, and autoethnography were used to examine 57 participants’ (35 men and 22 women) experiences of WoW’s ‘gaming culture’ and their relationships with other players. The findings are organised across three substantive chapters. The first focuses on the body and how gender and sexuality are represented via avatars in WoW. It also highlights how people who do not conform to heteronormative ideals and values are marginalised. The second substantive chapter discusses participants’ experiences of intimate and loving relationships in WoW, including how obstacles such as geographical distance are negotiated in relationships between gamers. In addition, I highlight how gaming can be understood as a sensory experience, where emotion and affect are important elements in contemporary game design, and how these elements are evident in WoW and the relationships that evolve within that space. The third and final substantive chapter examines the culture of online games, including the ways in which sexism and misogyny are evident within WoW and the wider gaming community. In particular, I look at how women are positioned in games, as players, game designers, and game critics. Considering the growing practice of gaming as an ‘everyday’ social activity – as well as the depth and intensity of friendships and intimate relationships between gamers – encourages a more critical understanding of the normative and powerful ways in which bodies and online spaces are mutually constituted. WoW as a digital world has distinctive spatial aspects. This study adopts a feminist geographical approach in order to contribute to critical discussions on the relationship between gender and sexual subjectivities, intimate relationships in WoW, and the culture of gaming.
Type of thesis
Todd, C. J. (2015). Sex and gender in World of Warcraft: Identities, love, and power (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9444
University of Waikato
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