Reconstruction 6.1 (Winter 2006)
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Geeks at Play: Doing Masculinity in an Online Gaming Site /
Natasha Chen Christensen
Abstract: This paper uses data taken from chat logs within a first person shooter game, Quake Online, in order to explore the performance of gender online. Previous research has shown how physicality is given a position of importance in institutions where masculinity is developed and reproduced such as sports and war; cyberspace offers the opportunity of divorcing the performance of masculinity from the body. Researchers of gender in cyberspace are divided into two perspectives about the effect of the absence of a physical body on the performance of gender: One camp believes that without the constraints of the body, gender in cyberspace becomes fluid (evidenced in the work of Sherry Turkle, Sandy Stone and Cleo Odzer) while the other believes that gender is reproduced mimetically in cyberspace. This chapter examines the chatting in an online gaming site and provides evidence that the performance of masculinity in a bodiless realm reproduces gender roles rather than transcending them. In fact, the reproduction of masculinity online as aggressive, violent, misogynist and homophobic may be more stereotypical and rigid than in "real life." Discourse in the chat logs of an online interactive gaming site demonstrates an overt show of masculinity through language. The chat function of the game is utilized in order to both dramatize superiority as well as manage defeat. Exaggerating wins and justifying losses most frequently take the forms of using sexuality as a threat both by homophobic and homoerotic references and using excessive violence. As such, this paper furthers the discussion of gender online, raising important questions about the limitations of our imaginations.
He was the very personification of a 'geek', a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace -- somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager's room in his parents' house
Julie Smith, New Orleans Beat
In Quake, nobody can hear you cry like a little girl
<1> Social science research has long acknowledged that gender is a socially constructed phenomenon. However, even given that conceptions of gender vary culturally, historically, and situationally, gender is still an embodied construct in that gender and gendered actions are interpreted through the body. Candace West and Don Zimmerman's (1987) classic piece, "Doing Gender," asserts that rather than being a static category, gender is an ongoing process which consists of a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities done by men and women. They argue that gender, rather than being a set of traits or characteristics, is an activity that is embedded in everyday interaction. The truth is, however, that much of everyday interaction occurs within the boundaries of the body, either face to face or by voice. Therefore, it is difficult to analyze the activities that comprise doing gender without interpreting them within the context of physical traits and characteristics. In looking at doing masculinity, some of the widely recognized realms where masculinity is developed and reproduced are the institutions of sports and war. Both of these institutions place an emphasis on the physical in that sports and war, as training grounds for masculinity, require a level of physicality that includes strength, stamina, coordination, and speed. Thus, it is hard to divorce the activities that develop masculinity from the physical qualities that are necessary to achieve success in the arenas of sports and war.
<2> Most Westerners interpret the dichotomous male/female model of gender as a natural categorization. Moreover, historical and cultural forces have shaped the way these categories are perceived. Gender is constructed so that male is dominant over female, a dominance that translates to social, economic, educational, and political inequality between the two genders. The lens of biological essentialism proposes to make sexual inequality, both social and economic, a consequence of biological differences rather than of historical manipulation (Bem, 1994). Bem further argues that combined with the lenses of androcentrism and gender polarization, the lens of biological essentialism has transformed differences between men and women into an inequality that is rooted in the body. For example, women are considered inferior to men due to their monthly cycles, ability to get pregnant, and smaller average size than the average male. As a result of these three lenses, women learn to define themselves by male standards. In essence, the body implies a male body, and the female body becomes, by default, deviant. "The lenses of androcentrism and gender polarization are always inextricably linked together, which is why males in American society are predisposed to value and affirm the body, whereas females are predisposed to feel ambivalent about—and hence to deny—the body" (Bem, 160).
<3> In "real life interactions" gender is not only socially constructed in terms of how the body is perceived, but gender is also socially constructed in terms of how the observed chooses to portray him/herself. Goffman (1959), in "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life," proposes the idea that interaction is a performance constructed to provide others with impressions that are in line with what the actor wishes to portray. Garfinkel's (1967) account of Agnes in "Studies in Ethnomethodology" presents the idea that gender is likewise a performance rather than a static category. Agnes was a patient at UCLA who was seeking remedy for an apparent endocrine abnormality. She presented herself as a genetic female who, although possessing the physical feminine traits of breasts, a small waist, rounded hips and smooth skin, also had a fully developed penis and scrotum. Agnes was examined by a team of psychologists and sociologists to document the effects that this physical abnormality had on her gender identification. It was not until later that the team discovered that Agnes had lied and was in fact, genetically a male who had been raised as a boy until age 17, when he began taking female hormones and began living as a female. Through this "real life" account, Garfinkel was able to establish that gender is something that can be accomplished through performance rather than through physical cues.
<4> Cyberspace provides a new medium in which gender can be studied. It is an ideal environment for examining the doing of gender because interaction in cyberspace occurs without the common visual cues that are used for detecting gender. Because gender cannot be interpreted through physical traits and mannerisms, denizens of cyberspace must rely on discourse in order to detect gender. In this way, gender can be isolated as an activity independent of the physical traits and characteristics that are intertwined in real life everyday interaction.
<5> Since the body online is constructed without the visual presence of a corporal entity, there is the opportunity to explore whether gender becomes more fluid and multiple in cyberspace. Researchers of gender in cyberspace are divided into two competing perspectives about the effect of the absence of a physical body on the doing of gender. One camp believes that without the constraints of the body, gender in cyberspace becomes fluid and elastic, allowing for the ability to transcend the mainstream dichotomous view of gender (Haraway, 1994; Reid, 1994; Turkle, 1997). Rather than viewing gender as strictly male or female, there is the possibility of multiple genders that are more blurred than the traditional categories. The other camp asserts that because the citizens of cyberspace are actually citizens of real life, they are unable to escape the limits of their understanding of gender and race, and thus use text to recreate the same meanings in cyberspace (Kendall, 1996; O'Brien, 1998; Burkhalter, 1998). In fact, this group of researchers argues that gender and race in cyberspace becomes more rigid than in real life as members of cyberspace rely on stereotypical images to create order in a realm of disorder.
<6> In this paper, I discuss how masculinity is developed, and reproduced, in the realm of cyberspace. Although interactions in cyberspace occur without the boundaries of the body that are usually used in developing masculinity, masculine identities are developed in cyberspace nonetheless. The possibility for transcending traditional definitions of manhood is available in the context of cyberspace interaction, however, through the use of cyberbodies, young men reproduce many of the same rites of masculinity that occur in sports and the military. Here I analyze an online interactive gaming site, called Jeff's Quake Server, as an institution where men develop masculine identities using many of the same mechanisms that are used in sports and the military. Among these mechanisms are dramatizing superiority, managing defeat, and using gender and sexuality in order to achieve the two previous goals. In addition, I demonstrate how these concepts of masculinity are indeed programmed into the game.
What is masculinity?
<7> The study of masculinity has been a recent phenomenon, arising in response to feminist research. The genre began out of a need to look at the lives and experiences of men as men rather than maintaining that the lives of men were actually representative of the lives of generic human beings (Brod and Kaufman, 1994). In this review of literature, I will briefly discuss how masculinity is conceptualized and theorized. Then I will review how sports and war are used to help construct masculinities, and how cyberspace is relevant to the study of masculinity.
<8> Masculinity is a concept that is historically and culturally situated. Using West and Zimmerman's "doing gender" framework, masculinity can be seen as a performance rather than a category. In modern Western interpretations of masculinity, the emphasis is placed on domination and power. Conway-Long (1994) maintains that masculinity is a performance of dominance in everyday life where every action is geared towards maintaining control. In addition, Kaufman (1994) asserts that masculinity is the suppression of emotions, needs, and possibilities like nurturing, empathy, and compassion. In the same vein, masculinity has many times been explained as a dialectical rejection of femininity and homosexuality. The definitions of manhood are set in opposition to a whole set of "others," which include racial minorities, sexual minorities, and women (Kimmel, 1996; Weeks, 1994). All of these enactments of masculinity usually take place in a homosocial context in that these performances are performed for other men. According to Kimmel, men look to other men for validation of their manhood. This homosocial enactment is a dangerous one in that it involves great competition and the risk of failure. That manhood is demonstrated for other men's approval is both a result of sexism and one of its main components. Because women are valued less in today's society, men find it necessary to measure themselves through the eyes of other men.
<9> Due to the interactions among race, class, and ethnicity, white masculinity is set apart as the "normative constellation of attitudes, traits and behaviors against which all other masculinities are measured, and against which individual men measure the success of their gender accomplishments" (Kimmel, 1996 -- we'll most likely need page numbers for all citations, so you should provide during revision). In hegemonic white masculinity, the enactments of masculinity as mentioned above are joined by an emphasis on power, success, and wealth. Even though white men hold power in today's society, they are constantly working to defend their positions of dominance. There is a constant fear that they will be "outed" as inadequately male (Kimmel, 1996).
<10> Sports first began to rise in popularity as a reaction to men's fear of feminization (Messner, 1992). Messner (1992) demonstrates that the rise in sport in the United States occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century at a time when urbanization, modernization, and women's activism brought about a crisis in masculine identity. Urbanization and modernization brought about changes that caused men's labor to be increasingly shifted from hard physical labor to more sedentary forms of labor. In addition, as women became increasingly responsible for the education and socialization of boys, men began to fear that the new generation of men would be feminized. The decreased emphasis on physical labor combined with a push for women's rights to create a situation where men were unsure of their masculinity (Rotundo, 1983).
<11> Organized sports were used in this time of crisis in order to reaffirm male superiority and male sexuality. Sports allowed men to demonstrate their physical prowess, and it was through this demonstration that sports became a way to establish male bodies as superior (Messner, 1992). Through athletics, aggression and domination became to be equated with physical strength, which in turn naturalized the association with maleness and power. "One of the most salient features in the rise of organized sport was the elevation of the male body, and of male sexuality, as superior to female sexuality" (Messner, 1992, 16). Within homosocial male groups such as athletes and fraternities (Martin and Hummer, 1992), the use of women as sexual conquests becomes a mechanism for gaining status. Commodification of women and discussing these sexual conquests become ways to solidify male relationships without the threat of homosexuality. In contemporary sport, the primary experience of most sports activities is not through participation as an athlete, but rather as a spectator (Sabo and Curry, 1992). The popularity of sports observation has been attributed to patriotism, militarism, violence and meritocracy, with gender as an organizing theme (Messner, 1992). However, Margaret Morse (1983) argues that the significance of sports as a media spectacle is the narcissistic identification that the male sports viewer can have with the ideal athletic body. The violence and commodification of women rampant throughout sport spectatorship can then be seen as a way of mitigating the homoerotic implications of worshipping the ideal male body.
<12> War has been a constant throughout history; however, in post-Vietnam America, war reached a new height of prominence as entertainment. Gibson (1994), in his book Warrior Dreams, documents how war as entertainment has helped to solidify masculine ideals in a time where the rise of feminism, the decline of the economy, and the lack of faith in the U.S. government caused a crisis in masculine identity. In the same way that sports served to combat fears of feminization in the industrial age, the rise of war as a focus in entertainment served to reinforce concepts of masculinity beginning in 1980s America.
<13> Gibson (1994) argues that American men, who faced uncertainty from their jobs, their government, and their families at the time, turned to fantasies of a type of man who could take control of his life and gain power of the world. This new hero was the paramilitary warrior. Protagonists such as Rambo, Mack Bolan, and Mad Max all single-handedly battle the forces of evil by demonstrating immense physical strength. Whereas war movies of the past emphasized group efforts and a virtuous defense of the U.S. government against an enemy power, but de-emphasized the gore and blood of war, these new war movies are all about the individual efforts of the lone protagonists and depict his killings in almost pornographic detail. Physical violence becomes glorified in these accounts as the protagonists use their physical prowess, their knowledge of weaponry, and sheer cunning to overpower their enemies.
<14> With the advance of technology, war as entertainment reached a new medium in the 1990s. Due to the development of personal computer hardware, computer based wargames are able to depict violent struggles in graphic detail. Although in the 1980's, television console and personal computer games were available to play war games, the low resolution of the graphics made the visuals of these games seem sanitized. Shooting the enemy in these low-resolution games resulted in a mild explosion of little blocks. Now, with the high resolution graphics available in today's computers, shooting an enemy soldier in a computer war game results in a gory mess of blood, flesh, and bone. Also, older versions of computer and TV console games limited the players to playing against the machine or against another player who had to be in the room. With the widespread use of the Internet, today's players can play against players connected to the same server from anywhere in the world.
<15> Cyberspace provides a unique opportunity for sociological research because people's ability to act anonymously, separately from the physical body, and disinhibited, allows for social experimentation as well as explorations of self and identity (Smith, 1998). Because online interactions are communicated through text, without the presence of physical cues or body language, successful online communities are likely to use a great deal of communication through members, which then forms a basis for intimacy and familiarity (Reid, 1994). This sense of intimacy and familiarity then leads to an environment where the community member is disinhibited and may interact with greater ease than in real life interaction. Online community members are more likely to divulge intimate information and opinions to strangers online than they would in real life (Reid, 1994).
<16> Questions of race and gender, indeed any social constructs that are rooted in the body, are transformed by the nature of cyberspace. Interaction in cyberspace has been described as a mind-to-mind experience (Wellman and Gulia, 1998); studies of this interaction reveal important truths about how we construct social realities. In fact, the knowledge accumulated by social experimenting in cyberspace may carry over to inform our day-to-day practices in real life.
<17> My concern here is how masculinity is done within a specific role-playing community -- a Quake server. Just as sports and war promote heterosexual male superiority, online gaming sites also socialize males to a male dominant society. In a medium where the possibilities for experimenting with new types of gender or even genderless interaction are available, computer geeks might take the opportunity to divorce themselves from the oppressive mainstream definition of masculinity that is perpetuated through sports and war. However, the same qualities of masculinity are being reproduced in the realm of cyberspace.
Settings and Methods
<18> "Jeff's Quake Server" hosts an interactive Quake game on weeknights from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. PST and all weekend long. Players who have the Quake CD-ROM are able to log onto the site in order to play against, and with, other Quake players. Versions of Quake are consistently rated within the top 5 games listed on Gamespy, which keeps track of how many players are logged onto gaming servers at all times. The game has been highly rated by all of the PC gaming magazines such as PC Gamer (with a 90% classic rating) and Computer Gaming World (9.3 out of a possible 10.0). Versions of Quake also are consistently listed within the top 20 list of downloads at www.gamespot.com. The goal of the game is to navigate an intricate maze and to kill other players while avoiding being killed. Also while navigating the maze, players can acquire objects that will enhance their ability to survive. Obtaining an "eye" means that players will have the ability to be invisible, obtaining a "pent" makes the player invincible, and obtaining a "Q" will amplify their physical power.
<19> Because Quake is a first person game, the player rarely sees the "body" (avatar) which they control on screen. Instead, what is displayed is the perspective that the player would have if actually running around in real life. What the other players see of the form occupied by the player is an extremely muscular male clad in fatigues who begins the game holding a shotgun. As the player proceeds through the game, the players are able to trade in the shotgun for more complicated forms of weapons such as pineapple grenades, nailguns, and missile launchers. All avatars begin with the same skill level. It is only through demonstrating skill that players are able to advance. In this case, the power of the virtual body is limited by the programming of the software. Under normal circumstances, players cannot transcend the limitations placed on them through the structure of the game.
<20> Players can communicate with each other by a chat log, or window which displays "live" written conversation, which appears at the top of the screen. Only a few words are displayed for about 5 seconds at a time. The addition of chat makes success in the game even more difficult. Diverting attention from the game in order to pay attention to the chat log means that a player is more vulnerable to being killed, or in the language of Quake, to being "fragged." Therefore, typing or reading becomes treacherous activity within Quake. The brevity of the chat messages helps to foster a war-like ambience where little time or effort can be wasted on talking. Players who need to send more extensive communication than allowed via chat tend to trade email addresses or instant messaging ID numbers. In the realm of cyberspace, where the crux to real time communication is speed, abbreviations are used in order to expedite typing. Rather than wasting time typing out whole words or using proper capitalization and punctuation, cyberspace denizens often resort to the use of one letter abbreviations as well as all lower case letters and no punctuation. This results in crude appearance of text in chat logs. On the other hand, because style is limited in a text-only situation, the use of random capitalization and punctuation is often a distinguishing mark. For example, a player may use the name mARuadeR rather than the standard Marauder in order to distinguish himself.
<21> Players on Jeff's Quake Server mostly identify as being white males. The age range of the players is vast, with players identifying as being anywhere from age 9 to age 60. However, it seems that the majority of the players are white males age 16-35. There are few female presenting characters in the Quake Server. Players who are "female presenting" generally do so through their user names, choosing names that are traditionally thought of as female, such as "Cindysex," or by choosing names that include the word girl in them. Log on time varies greatly with the maximum hours logged on per week being 20 hours and the minimum being 1 hour. Most of the regulars on the Quake server log on each week for about 10 hours total.
<22> I was able to access the data from Jeff's Quake Server through Jeff, the server administrator. I obtained master chat logs from him because as the server administrator, he has the ability to download all the chat that occurs on the server. Also, Jeff supplied access to email and ICQ instant messages that pertained to the server. This data was accumulated over a period of 8 months. Although it was not possible to ask permission to interview all of the players who have played in Jeff's Quake Server in these 8 months, I was able to get permission from the core group of players. I attempted to participate in the game; however, my skill levels were so low that I was immediately fragged each time I logged on.
Structure as Masculine Socialization
<23> The actions of the players of Quake are limited to the way the game is programmed. Players are constrained by the software specifications. In the game, the players are always represented by a muscular "ideal male" character whose goal is violence and aggression. While other games have the choice of a female character (e.g. Unreal), Quake is programmed so that all players must always inhabit a male form. And, mimicking the post-Vietnam fantasy as described by Gibson (1994), the character must navigate a maze while conquering threats from other players and from the terrain. The violence in Quake is portrayed in pornographic detail with enemy players exploding into chunks of flesh and bone when shot.
<24> Rather than transcending the body-bound image of modern Western masculinity, Quake online reproduces the value placed upon the muscular male physique. The characters represent the players behind the computer with only color and name to distinguish the identical perfect bodies. However, the dexterity, strength, grace, and speed that are required for sports and war become an issue of eye-hand coordination and technical power. Aside from their skills in playing, Quake players are limited by the hardware that they possess. The more expensive the hardware, the more power they have, thus resulting in faster reaction time or low "ping." Although it is not unusual for computer aficionados to compete by comparing power and speed of hardware, in the realm of Quake, this power and speed translates directly into the movements and actions of a representation of the body.
<25> Aside from skill and ping, players use the chat function in order to enhance their game. Talk is used in order to dramatize superiority when the player is winning as well as to account for defeat. This talk occurs on a continuum in Jeff's Quake Server. On a basic level, bragging is a general phenomenon that transpires without regard to gender. In this context, exaggerating wins and justifying losses most frequently take the form of discussions about ping or connection speed; about other activities that are happening during the game such as eating, drinking, and typing; and about age or experience in playing Quake. It is interesting to note that in this gender-free context, there is much more accounting going on than bragging. Most of the talk takes the form of justifying poor performance. On another level, the discourse in the chat logs is an overt show of masculinity. Winning and losing take on gendered overtones in order to dramatize superiority and manage defeat. In this next level, exaggerating wins and justifying losses most frequently take the forms of using sexuality as a threat both by homophobic references and homoerotic references and by using excessive violence to threaten others. Complementary to the gender-free context, most of the talk in the gendered context takes the form of exaggerating wins. There is less excuse-making and more threats.
Bragging and Accounting
<26> In Jeff's Quake Server, the definition of success is aggression in that killing others is the way to win. As fast reaction time is needed in order to succeed, players must always be alert and have their fingers ready to navigate their characters through difficult situations. However, players utilize the chat log even though typing poses a threat to their score. When players are winning, they use strategies that make use of the chat log in order to further promote their status.
<27> All players in Jeff's Quake Server acknowledge the importance of good connection speed (low ping) and a fast modem. However, ping and modems are most often mentioned when a player is not doing very well. In this excerpt, Rick justifies his bad performance with a list of technical must-haves in Quake
1) Rick: ping is always key here
2) Rick: and data rate, and video frame
3) Rick: rate and processor speed
4) Rick: and voodoo graphics
Aside from connection speed, Rick mentions the different hardware components that he believes are necessary for playing well in Quake. Even though blaming technology may seem like sour grapes, ping is acknowledged by most as being crucial to the game.
<28> Here, Life-evil and Kazoo have an exchange also related to connection rate.
1) Life-evil: lol...need a little aiming...
2) Life-evil: practice there, bud!!
3) Kazoo: not badfor 28.8 though
4) Life-evil: true
Life-evil begins by lol (laughing out loud), and telling Kazoo that he needs to improve his aiming through practice. Kazoo responds with the justification that his playing isn't bad for having such a slow modem (28.8k). In this case, Kazoo uses his low-tech hardware as an excuse for what appears to be bad aim and inexperience. However, Life-evil accepts this explanation by agreeing with Kazoo that his playing isn't too bad for having such a slow modem.
<29> That high ping is accepted as a legitimate excuse for poor performance is best illustrated in this interaction among three Quake players -- strider, BigTarget, and Napalm Death.
1) strider: hey
2) BigTarget: why is strider just standing
3) BigTarget: there?
4) Napalm Death: his ping's over 1000
5) BigTarget: ah
6) BigTarget: sorry for the ax then :-/
In the competitive world of Quake, apologies and interventions are rare since the theme of the game is "every man for himself." However, when strider is faced with an extremely high ping, his opponent BigTarget is concerned enough to question strider's lack of response. And because Napalm Death realized that strider is unable to answer due to lag, he intervenes by explaining about strider's high ping. At this point, BigTarget apologizes for killing strider as an acknowledgement that ping is outside the control of the player. In line 6, he includes an emoticon :-/ in order to display his remorse.
<30> Beyond technological excuses, real life activities are also used as an excuse for poor skill. Among these activities are eating and drinking, typing, and other interruptions. After being fragged due to these activities, players may use chat in order to protest. In most cases, opponents are reasonably open to accepting these excuses as legitimate.
<31> Here, Candle and Napalm Death are playing against each other when Napalm Death frags Candle.
1) Candle: hey
2) Candle: im eating
3) Napalm Death: couldn't help it
4) Napalm Death: too tempting
5) Candle: J
6) Candle: ok im done eating
Candle finds it necessary to explain being fragged by protesting that he was busy eating and therefore couldn't use his hands to properly react to Napalm Death. When Napalm Death explains that Candle was too tempting a target, Candle responds with an emoticon for a happy face, indicating that he forgives Napalm Death. After a period of time, Candle announces that he is free to play again because he has finished eating.
<32> Same as eating, drinking is also seen as a real life activity that exempts the player from poor performance. In each of these activities, the hands are otherwise occupied and therefore cannot be used to respond to aggression from opponents. Here, GQQdspirit is playing TY.
1) GQQdspirit: hi ty
2) GQQdspirit: good to see you
3) GQQdspirit dead that is...hehe
4) TY: hey Gqqdspirit
5) TY: i was getting a drink you fool
In line 3, it seems that GQQdspirit frags TY and comments on this with "good to see you dead." TY protests this defeat by claiming that he was getting a drink. Because getting a drink is considered a legitimate excuse for nonreaction, TY adds the epithet of fool for good measure.
<33> Claims about eating and drinking can also be used as a way to exaggerate wins as seen in the next excerpt. Demonstrating superiority may not always involve insults or direct aggression towards other players. Players may verbally "beat their own chests" in order to highlight their own skills. In the following excerpt, T-bone is playing with about 6 other experienced players.
1)T-bone: I am beating you guys while
2)T-bone: eating an apple
Because any time taken away from actively playing results in reduced ability, eating while playing requires considerable skill. T-bone demonstrates superiority not only by taking the time to type, but declaring in the chat that he is also taking time to eat an apple.
<34> In this next excerpt, I demonstrate how typing is used to justify poor performance. There is an irony about using chat to defend loss in that the typing is both being used as an excuse through talk and through activity. Here, two Quake regulars, Napalm Death and GQQdspirit are playing against each other.
1)GQQdspirit: Thanks fQr the cQQl pack
2)Napalm Death I was typing
3)GQQdspirit ok you get one free shot
4)GQQdspirit shoot me
In line 1, GQQdspirit indicates that he is able to gain Napalm Death's pack. In Quake, whenever a character is fragged, his pack containing all of his weapons and resources is left behind as a resource for the player who fragged him. Napalm responds to being fragged by claiming he was typing at the time. This is a good enough defense for GQQdsprit to offer Napalm Death a free shot where GQQdspirit will refrain from defending himself against being fragged.
<35> In the previous excerpts, discourse is used as a general way to justify losses and exaggerate wins with the bulk of the talk being used to excuse poor playing. Talk is used even though diverting attention from the game in order to type is a precarious activity because it is important for losers in this arena to save face. Gender is not used explicitly in this level of discourse.
Violence and Sex
<36> The masculine domain of Jeff's Quake Server defines success as aggression and domination. The goal of the game is to collect as many frags (kills) as possible and with this goal is the implicit idea that the most aggressive killer is the victor. Within this context, players use not only their skill in playing, but they also use talk in order to emphasize their own skill and strength. Strategies used in demonstrating superiority are insulting other players by using violence and self-promotion. Using a sports analogy, scoring or killing is not enough in this environment, the players still need to perform a "victory dance" in order to underline their dominance. I view violence as gendered talk due to the emphasis that is placed on power and control through violence in establishing masculinity.
<37> Even though players are able to glance at the displayed score in order to reference who is winning in the game, the chat log is frequently used in order to verbally hone in the point that one player is excelling over the others. In the following excerpt, AOKTE uses insults in order to demonstrate his superiority over another player.
1)AOKTE: u suck 2 much 4 me
2)Bfly: I win bitch
3)AOKTE: u suck
5)AOKTE: stay so I can kick your ass
6)AOKTE u don't know how to play quake...
7)AOKTE: b cause u camp no skills
<38> In this case, AOKTE demonstrates his superiority over Bfly by insulting his skills. He begins by announcing that Bfly's skills are no match for his own. Bfly responds with his own insult, pointing out that he was able to frag AOKTE, and adds a female epithet in order to underscore the insult. AOKTE repeats his initial claim, and then goes on to tell Bfly to continue playing so that he can "kick [his] ass." This implies that the only reason why AOKTE would deign to play an inferior is simply for the pleasure of beating him. AOKTE concludes by insulting Bfly further by demeaning his skill and then asserting Bfly was able to frag AOKTE through the use of camping, a technique where players hide from other players, only attacking when other players come near the hiding place. Camping is considered a cowardly tactic of players with lower skills. In effect, AOKTE is saying that Bfly's win was no win at all.
<39> Another strategy for demonstrating superiority when a player is winning comes through self-aggrandizing and violence. Oftentimes, players use threats towards other players that emphasize their skills in playing. In the following excerpt, lee and Bob Scratchit are the only players on the server at the time. Presumably, at this time, Bob is the player who is winning.
1)Bob Scratchit: im gonna hit u so hard yur
2)Bob Scrachit: (kids) will vbe born bruzed
3)lee: tell me were u find a gun
4)Bob Scratchit: im gonna blow your hed off so
5)Bob Scratchit: far
7)Bob Scratchit: itll reach my house
In this exchange, Bob Scratchit demonstrates his superiority over lee, who appears to be a newbie since he needs help in finding weapons. Bob makes a show of power in the initial exchange through talk about how powerful he is. In an even more overt show of power, when lee asks Bob for some help, Bob responds with another declaration of aggression and violence. Even though lee is meek in his second request for help, Bob chooses to respond with aggression rather than aid. Bob also makes patriarchal claims in the assumption that lee will be fathering children. Bob's threat of hitting lee so hard that lee's children will be "bruzed" is based on the assumption of lee's heterosexuality and ability to produce offspring. Ironically, Bob's threat to lee's masculinity is at the same time an acknowledgement of lee's masculinity.
<40> Insults, threats, and arrogance are three strategies that players use to demonstrate superiority. Generally, these verbal techniques are accompanied by corresponding high frag rates for it does no good to declare your superiority when you are losing. However, players with low frags also engage in verbal techniques that help them to validate their masculinity and success even while losing. In this way, real life ideas about masculinity are reproduced in cyberspace. Losers in the game may try to defend their masculinity by making claims about their real life aggression and success. In this next excerpt, Mr. Kotter responds to being fragged by Mr. Murdock in this manner:
1)Mr. Kotter: fuck!!!!!
2)Mr. Murdock: never mess with a pro
3)Mr. Kotter: oh no
4)Mr. Murdock: youll catch up...
5)Mr. Murdock: hehehe
6)Mr. Kotter: i just punched the computer
7)Mr. Kotter: screen as hard as i could and
8)Mr. Murdock: this is the best i ever done
9)Mr. Kotter: just about broke my hand
In the initial exchange, it is evident that Mr. Kotter has been fragged by Mr. Murdock repeatedly. After Mr. Kotter's second exclamation of dismay, Mr. Murdock encourages him by telling him that he will be able to "catch up." Although Mr. Murdock may have been trying to be generous with Mr. Kotter, his message may also be interpreted as avuncular or patronizing due to the evil cackle (hehehe). Mr. Kotter then compensates for his loss of masculinity in losing by making a verbal reference to his real life physicality. By revealing that he punched his computer screen as hard as possible, he is able to make a show of aggression even though he is being beaten up badly in cyberspace. This show of aggression is further supplemented by his later claim that also serves as an excuse for inferior playing.
1)Mr. Murdock: are u OK
2)Mr. Kotter: no, not really, lol
3)Mr. Murdock: keep playing
4)Mr. Kotter: my knuckles are fucked
After Mr. Murdock asks about his condition, Mr. Kotter states that he is not okay, but tempers this by adding lol (laugh out loud) to the statement. When Mr. Murdock encourages Mr. Kotter to continue playing, Mr. Kotter makes the excuse that his show of real life aggression has caused an injury, implying that his playing will be impaired.
Homoeroticism and Masculinity<41> Homophobia was obvious in many interactions throughout the server logs. However, the number of references using homoeroticism as threats was unexpected. Within the Quake server, homophobia was only an insult inasmuch as it was a reference towards being a recipient of male sexuality. In essence, being insulted for being homosexual was a parallel to being compared to a female. Males as aggressors were viewed as masculine whether the sexual aggression was directed towards women or men. Being superior was directly translated into penile penetration.
<42> The most basic challenge to masculinity is being accused of being feminine. Because masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, being called a woman is an insult that is taken seriously by all men who are out to prove their male superiority. Once again, this echoes real life ideas of masculinity in that being feminine is an insult that requires harsh retaliation. In this next exchange, Wicqued and genenmanmaker are both responding to an episode where a player named abolisher girl enters the server, ignores greetings from both the men, and then promptly logs off the server:
4)genenmanmaker: like u
6)Wicqued: you call me a woman?
8)genenmanmaker: haha hehe
10)Wicqued: in your face
When Wicqued exasperatedly posts "women...", genenmanmaker responds by insulting Wicqued by posting "women like u." Wicqued then asks whether genenmanmaker is calling him a woman. Even though genenmanmaker posts that he is just kidding [j/k], it is apparent from the thread of the conversation that Wicqued retaliates by fragging genenmanmaker. When genenmanmaker expresses his dismay through the exclamation, "d'oh", Wicqued slams home the point by the use of the aggressive phrase "in your face."
<43> Likewise, the responses to accusations of homosexuality also call for a masculine defense. Here, Sheen is annoying other players by repeatedly posting the lyrics to a song from a Disney movie, The Lion King:
1)Sheen: Hakuna matada
2)Predator: u gay dude
3)Predator: shut up
4)Sheen: if I'm gay
6)Sheen: a fags whoopin you
Predator's insult that Sheen is gay probably stems from the fact that he is quoting lyrics from a Disney movie that is geared towards young children. It is not so much that Predator believes that Sheen is gay. Instead, he is directly challenging Sheen's masculinity. Sheen's response is to defend himself by pointing out that even if he is not masculine, he is still dominating over Predator. Implicit is the claim that Predator would then be inferior to someone who is not masculine.
<44> In the world of Quake online, masculine aggression is directly translated into sexual superiority. When trying to demonstrate superiority, then, many players resort to threats of sexual aggression. Domination is acquired through implying that others have no choice but to submit to sexual aggression. This idea of sexual aggression is not only apparent in the player's interactions, but it is also built into the structure of the game. Whenever a player is fragged, an obituary appears announcing the player's death. The sexual overtones of these obits are unmistakable. For example, when a player is killed by another player's nail gun, the obit that appears reads "Player1 was nailed by Player2." When a player is killed by another player's rocket launcher, the obit reads "Player1 rides Player2's rocket." Once again, the reference is to penile penetration. Another reference to being penetrated by a penis occurs when a player is killed by a lightning gun. In that occasion, the obit reads "Player1 accepts Player 2's shaft." In an explicit allusion to fellatio, when a player is shot by another player's shotgun, the obit reads "Player1 chews on Player2's boomstick." Indeed the very structure of Quake online allows for these uses of homoeroticism as aggressive threats. These uses of homoeroticism are also apparent in player's interactions.
<45> Players in Jeff's Quake Server utilize homoerotic threats in order to intimidate other players. At the same time homophobic sentiments are expressed, players use explicit threats of sexual domination. Here, iNSANity22 and Soundtracker exchange epithets during the course of their battle:
1)iNSANity22: die u whores
2)Soundtracker: u really suck
3)iNSANity2: blow me
5)Soundtracker: u suck big time
6)iNSANity2: i never played quake until like
8)iNSANity2: 2 suck my cock
In this passage, references to fellatio are plentiful. What is interesting is that the use of sexuality in the references implies that the performer of fellatio is submissive while the receiver of the act is dominant and, by implication, still heterosexual. In this case, Soundtracker accuses iNSANity2 of being less than masculine by asserting that he "really suck(s)." The response from iNSANity2 flips the sexual reference around by commanding that Soundtracker perform oral sex on him. When Soundtracker makes another slur on iNSANity2's sexuality, iNSANity2 defends himself by claiming that he is a newbie and also by telling Soundtracker to "suck my cock." Once again, penile penetration is set forth as dominance, thus reinforcing the concept of male sexuality as superior.
<46> Because male sexuality is set as superior, accusations of homosexuality must likewise be refuted. Therefore, claims of sexual dominance generally are met with explicit assertions of heterosexuality. The ambience of Jeff's Quake Server is one that requires compulsory heterosexuality.
1)sdog78: blow me
2)420 osprey: no
3)sdog78: kiss my ass
4)420 osprey: no
5)sdog78: where is da roket
6)420 osprey: i like checks not dicks
7)420 osprey: chicks not dicks
sdog78 begins the challenge is this excerpt by telling 420 osprey to perform oral sex on him. Once again, penile penetration is seen as a show of dominance. When 420 osprey replies in the negative, sdog78 further extends the challenge with another show of sexual domination. It is at this point where 420 osprey finds it necessary to make the declaration that he is heterosexual. He does this by both asserting that he prefers women (chicks) and also denying that he likes men, but specifically denying that he likes male sexual anatomy (dicks). This passage also demonstrates that comments dealing with homosexuality are not simply routine male talk. There is still the need to defend heterosexuality when faced with these insults.
<47> The use of heterosexuality as a tool for dominance prevails in this world, which is an irony since computer geeks are generally typified as unable to find female companionship (Kendall, 1998). Even with this stereotype, gamers are able to reinforce their masculinity by mentioning their real life (RL) experiences on the chat logs.
1)DAMNFOOL: where are you guys from.
2)DAMNFOOL: im in las vegas...
4)DAMNFOOL: love the chicken ranch...
5)deranged: u go there much
6)DAMNFOOL: been there
7)Biker Don: done that
9)DAMNFOOL: some...few nice bitches
This excerpt proceeds directly from a question about player's real life locations to a discussion about prostitutes. DAMNFOOL begins the discussion by asking where players live and responding to his own question. The next comment, however, comes from DAMNFOOL about loving the chicken ranch which is a legal bordello in Nevada. When deranged asks whether DAMNFOOL has gone to the chicken ranch, he not only gets an affirmative response but also chimes in that he has gone also. Biker Don throws in a declaration of participation also. DAMNFOOL concludes the exchange by rating the prostitutes at the chicken house. It is interesting to note that all three of the players online at the time of the interaction claim to have visited a bordello in Nevada. Even though there are no direct threats to heterosexual masculinity in this exchange, all of the men involved feel the need to affirm their status as heterosexual males. In addition, a type of bonding occurs as the three players comment on their sexual experiences.
<48> Within the Quake server, sexuality is used as a tool to maintain dominance. First, players react aggressively when their masculinity is challenged through accusations of being feminine or homosexual. Surprisingly, even though homophobic references are prevalent in the chat logs, at the same time, homoeroticism is used to help promote masculine domination. Masculinity is understood and constructed as being sexually dominant whether the receiver is a man or a woman. With these understandings of masculinity in the Quake server, it is apparent that the male dominant real life conception of gender is being reproduced in a rigid form online.
<49> Even though the world of cyberspace allows for the possibility that gender can be transformed, men in Jeff's Quake Server continue to relate to each other in ways which support male dominance and heterosexual male superiority. Men who play sports and war games are able to demonstrate male superiority and male sexual superiority through the use of physical strength. In the bodiless realm of cyberspace, it is fascinating to note that men who are able to create an alternate world where masculinity is defined differently do not take this opportunity. Instead, real life is mimicked not only by taking on the physical attributes of strength, but also by using ways of talk that emphasize aggression and sexual dominance.
<50> The data uncovered in my research supports the reproduction perspective of gender in cyberspace. There is evidence to support the argument that because the players of Quake are immersed in real life definitions and understandings of masculinity, they are unable to escape the limits of their understanding of gender and thus recreate the same meanings in cyberspace interaction. Rather than creating a world where gender is fluid and multiple, the gendered environment of Quake is even more stringent and rigid than in real life.
<51> It is interesting to note that what keeps the players so focused on the game is the extreme pleasure of playing. It is evident from the amount of time and energy devoted to the game that players enjoy the actual act of playing. Time was taken away from family, real life friends, sleeping and eating in order to play. As mentioned previously, players would schedule clan meetings online in other online space in order to strategize and discuss the game. When the Quake server was shut down, Jeff, the server administrator, was bombarded with angry emails from players. Players felt betrayed by the abrupt cancellation of their Quake domain and resorted to real life retaliation. Angry clan members filled out Jeff's name and home address, which had been given out in the exchange of hardware and software, on various magazine subscriptions and mail order forms. As a result of closing down the Quake server, Jeff's home was flooded for months with bills for unwanted magazine subscriptions and collectibles.
<52> Success in the Quake server is defined by aggression. Literally, the champion is the one who is able to kill all the other players. While skill is key in maintaining success within the server, talk in the form of chat is used to both emphasize skill when winning and maintain masculinity while losing. When players are winning, they use talk to insult and threaten other players. When players are losing, they use talk to demonstrate real life aggression or to justify low frags through connection speed.
<53> Because success is defined as aggression, sexuality is used in an aggressive manner to further the idea of aggression. In the masculine realm of Jeff's Quake server, being accused of being a woman or a homosexual results in dire effects. Players accused of being feminine or gay retaliate with violence in order to demonstrate their masculinity. In addition, sexual aggression is used to show dominance over others.
<54> Therefore, in the same way that sports and war help to perpetuate the concept of male dominance through physical strength, the Quake server also promotes the idea of success through aggression and violence. Even though computer "geeks" are not directly competing with the use of physical strength, their skill is demonstrated through the use of a cyberbody that is able to scale walls, hold his breath for long periods of time, and run tirelessly. More importantly, skill is demonstrated through the ability to kill all other characters. Thus, computer geeks are able to reaffirm their masculinity even outside the traditional masculine identity building institutions of sports and war.
<55> Sports and war games became a way for white middle class men to fight their fears of social feminization. At the turn of this century, online computer games are being used in the same manner. Computer geeks who are especially vulnerable to the accusations of being less than manly are able both through the actions and discourse on Quake to demonstrate the qualities required of hegemonic masculinity. Emphasis is placed on the strength of the masculine body while discourse sets the players apart from anything that is feminine.
<56> While in real life gender equality is a goal that is being given attention in both sports and in the military, it seems to me that the nature of this online gaming world limits the same type of reform. Although sports as they are promote physical superiority, there is nothing inherent about the playing of sports that causes gender inequality. On the contrary, as demonstrated by Jeff's Quake Server, masculinity as destructive, violent, and sexually aggressive is programmed into the very structure of Quake online. Rather than broadening the horizons and definitions of masculine success, this cyberspace enactment limits success to the kill -- an event which embodies the most primal definition of what it is to be a man.
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