Blog Post

Feminist Game Studies - Defining the field

An alien spaceship of Feminist Game Studies scholars has landed - who are they and where do they come from? I really like the definition Fiona Barnett posted: " Feminist game studies examines how gender -- and its intersections with race, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, nation and other axes of power -- is produced, represented, consumed and practiced in and through digital games" (original post). 

I am in the final stages of writing my PhD (Media Studies) entitled "Gender identities at play: children's digital gaming in two settings in Cape Town". I combine Childhood Studies, Cultural Studies and Game Studies and draw on domestication and gender theory. My main gurus are William Corsaro, Barrie Thorne, Judith Butler and Roger Caillois. In a nutshell, I see gaming as a form of borderwork where children perform gender identities in relation to peers and through interpretating gender in games. One of my main findings is that cross-sex play happened with less strongly gendered games (I theorise how gender operates in games in some detail) in both sites and I found interesting kinds of play with gender around these games. I also look at how examples of children's gameplay leads us to question definitions of play and games that have become hegemonic in Game Studies (ie. competitive, achieving a high score). I also acknowledge the unequal power relationship between children and adults and how children's play can be transgressive when their play mimics adult behaviours and interests.

In my conclusion I want to  say that my study contributes to the emerging field of Feminist Game Studies, but I am stuck on the following and this is where I would highly appreciate your help:

* Who first used this term and does he/she self-identify with it?

* Can you suggest scholars working in this field who have academic papers I can cite? What kind of research did they do and what makes her (or him) a 'Feminist Game Studies scholar'?



Hi Nicola, 

Could this resource be helpful at all?


Lori Beth 


Thanks Lori Beth:) This is a nice broad bibliography on gender and technology, I will definitely hang on to it. I'm trying to figure out who 'coined' the idea of feminist game studies and scholars who claim to be doing work in this field. I see Nakamura et al. (2005) say:

"One of the main sources for earlier feminist game studies has been Cassell’s and Jenkins’s From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (1999), which gathers varied researches of girls’ playing habits. Another important publication is Gender Inclusive Game Design by Graner Ray, which provides practical means to design gender inclusive games."

More recently there's Westecott:

"What is perhaps also hidden in many discussions of gender and games is an activist agenda. The
identification of an activity as feminist – and not all work on gender and games identifies this way – explicitly expresses an interest in challenging and affecting the status quo."

Wirman writes about the practice of skinning and she argues:

"Feminist game studies has tended to concentrate on the issue of women’s participation in the design teams producing digital games, but there are also other possibilities."

What I've been wondering about is whether my own research contributes to this field. When I started I had never heard of the term 'feminist game studies' and did not have the kind of activist agenda Westecott refers to. 

If one is broadening the field of Game Studies where scholarship is quite masculine, with definitions of play and games that suit dominant technicities (ie. male players), is this a feature of feminist game studies?



Did you see the big forum last year, called "Press Start to Continue: Towards a New Video Game Studies"? There are some great conversations happening there. I'll comment over there to notify the participants to come comment over here.

Amanda Phillips is the guru on all things feminist and queer in video games so I'll ask her to drop in here too. 


Oh - and I didn't write that! It was text from the CFP from Fembot and their journal, Ada.


Thanks Fiona:) Did Fembot get the definition from somewhere or is it their own? Could I cite Fembot or Ada? Would love to use it in my thesis:)


The Fembot journal is edited by Nina Huntemann, who I would put at the top of the list of feminist game scholars. Carol Stabile, Mia Consalvo, Mary Flangan, Evan Lauteria, Ed Chang... my stuff isn't published yet but I do blog about it a lot. Then there are scholar/producers like Auntie Pixelante and Sandy Stone, who engage feminist, queer, and trans issues in their works and production.

As far as texts, I second the Cassel and Jenkins recommendation. I've also been thinking about Astrid Deuber-Mankowski's _Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine_. Pretty sure there is a section in there about gender identity and play. The preponderance of Lara Croft scholarship out there is a bit frustrating, but she's important and complex etc etc so you have to talk about her when talking about feminist game studies.

As far as your specific research, I would look to Nick Yee's surveys of MMORPG players that deals a bit with cross-gender play. I also have a conference paper (developing into part of a diss chapter) I can talk to you about that thinks about cross-gender identification in Bayonetta in terms of representation and controller function. Another thing that might help is an article I ran into while researching another diss chapter, which is about the FaceGen avatar facial customization suite and its relationship to gender, race, and power: Karyl Ketchum, "FaceGen and the Technovisual Politics of Embodied Surfaces"

There is more - so much more! But perhaps this will be a good start?



Off the top of my head:

For an anthroplogical approach, there is Bonnie Nardi's My Life as a Night Elf Priest:

There are always interesting things via:

Constance Steinkeuhler's essay "Why Game (Culture) Studies Now?":

Lisa Nakamura's work on race and gender.  Her newest stuff seems most relevant, which alas is not yet published.  But Cybertypes and Digitizing Race may be helpful.




If you haven't seen Nina Huntemann's blog on this, it's here:


But Celia Pearce! Tracy Fullerton! Helen Kennedy! Maybe we should compile a bibliography.


Thank you so much Ed and Amanda - great 'food for thought'. I think a bibliography is a great idea:) I think Pearce slipped my mind because I associate her with the narratologist camp, analysing representations of gender in games rather than researching how people interpret and play with gender in games. I think we'd need to have categories in the bibliography according to people's backgrounds - cybertext/literature people, game designers, gender studies/sociology, anthropologists, etc although I realise many scholars embarking on this topic are actually working between a variety of fields (which I totally identify with).

I'm still wondering about the activist thing... whether FGS scholars always need to argue towards a particular activist agenda. In my case, all I would be able to say is that I think less strongly gendered games allow children more freedom to perform and play with gender identities, rather than reinforcing hegemonic masculinity (such as in war games & others - Call of Duty, God of War, etc). What cuts the mustard? 


We do have a wiki function here...could be useful as a way to develop this kind of bibliography! Let me know if you want help setting it up.


I suggest looking at Samantha Blackmon's work in feminist game studies - she and her students are frequently posting and updating their work here:



I'd put myself on this list. Not everything I publish is on gender, but almost everything is informed by feminist concerns. My major project right now is about ideals of masculinity articulated around early arcade gaming.

Jennifer deWinter (of WPI) and I are currently co-authoring a series of columns for Flow on sexism in gaming, and I've previously published on gendered game advertising, also for Flow.



I agree with Amanda, there is a lot around and much more incubating now.

From Canada (with an event coming up end of May 2013)

Specifically feminist is the work of Jen Jenson and Suzanne de Castell across the board, see specifically and

From UK

Including associated special issue at:

From US

And as mentioned, with a special issue on Feminist Game Studies coming in May.


Older but:

  • Flanagan's early work and PhD thesis.
  • Ludica's published work.

And so on

Also worth checking out forthcoming DIGRA 2013 event.

Wiki sounds good, although I don't have time to help setup until my teaching year is over.