Videogames and gameplay have traditionally been seen as a boys’ domain, a situation that is slowly changing as videogames have become a mainstream medium with a large and diverse player base. At the same time, game culture remains a contested space in which gender is taking a central role.
Previous research has been able to have provided valuable insight into problematic gendered practices in game culture, such as misogyny and gendered harassment. However, this research has focused on the experiences of women and there is very little research that has investigated male experiences of game culture as a contested, gendered space. While some researchers have explained the gendered contestation of game culture in light of a masculinity in crisis associated with the challenges to forge new and more flexible masculinities in the rise of a feminist consciousness, what lacks from these discussions is an awareness of how the negotiation of masculinity is connected to social processes of inclusion and exclusion.
In light of this gap in research, the objective of Understanding Male Gamers is to investigate male gamer experiences of game culture as a contested space, focusing on their subjective, lived experiences. We will study what games and play mean for establishing a masculine identity, including how men experience gender norms in game culture and to what degree they find that the demographic changes in game culture are challenging this.
Understanding Male Gamers is the first comprehensive research project that investigates the current schism in videogame culture from the perspective of male gamers, and it is also the first project to explicitly bring together game studies with masculinity studies. This does not mean that male gamers have been absent from research so far; on the contrary, they tend to be pervasive in most player research that does not purposefully investigate other demographics (see for example Carter & Allison 2019; Yee 2006). Although there are certain studies that question the idea of hegemonic masculinity in videogame culture by looking at alternative gamer masculinities (Braithwaite 2006; DiSalvo 2016; Salter 2017; Krampe 2018; Ruberg & Shaw 2017), it is surprising that a sub-culture that has been so strongly associated with cis-gendered heterosexual males has not explored the experiences of this demographic. By applying the lens of masculinity studies, we will offer a holistic perspective on male gamer identity and experience that goes beyond the often reductionist notions of toxic masculinity and hegemonic masculinity. Through a phenomenological perspective that includes the lived experiences of male gamers, we offer unique empirical research that will provide insight into how male gamers negotiate their identities as gamers and as men. The ambition is to bring together game studies with masculinity studies, thus offering a new angle from which we can understand the gendered aspects of game culture that will enable game studies to cope with the core problems created by the politicization of the medium. Further, there is virtually no research that explores how the gamer identity intersects with an identity of masculinity and what role this hybrid identity has in the current schism in game culture, or that investigates male experiences of the current situation in which games are moving from a niche subculture to a mainstream medium.