Competitive Gaming and Masculinity

Most of us are now aware, especially after the media coverage of Blizzard's Starcraft II announcement in Korea at their Worldwide Invitational event, that competitive gaming is a big deal in other parts of the world. Watching footage from this event and other similar events definitely proves that competitive gaming could potentially takes its place in the world as a very popular and bankable industry, with its own stars, endorsements, fanbase, and culture.

Of course, efforts have been underway for quite some time to get the U.S. more interested in competitive gaming. There are a variety of leagues, a star (Fatal1ty), and even some sporadic television coverage on cable.

Last weekend marked a pretty significant milestone, however, as the World Series of Video Games was alotted a half-hour time slot on CBS.

What interests me is why exactly it has been such a struggle to get the American audience interested in competitive gaming. I know that Korea has far better broadband penetration than the U.S. and naturally this has been successful in spreading game culture. I think one also has to consider cultural and social reasons for resistance to gaming, however.

I am thinking particularly about the American view of competition and dominant forms of masculinity which govern it.

Perhaps what keeps the U.S. from embracing gaming as a competitive pursuit worth following or venerating is that it does not fit into traditional conceptualizations of masculine sporting activity. I have been desperately seeking some studies on Asian, specifically Korean, masculinity to confirm these differences.

I have also been problematizing my own perspective given the immense popularity of poker as a form of competitive gaming. Why is poker, a similarly mental non-athletic activity, accepted as a suitably masculine pursuit and not gaming? I would assert that poker player, as opposed to the stereotypical introverted nerd gamer, is culturally associated with men's men like cowboys and gangsters.

So will things change? Can gaming overcome its geeky roots in the American imaginary?


Interesting way to frame the question, Tanner. I've wondered the same thing about Poker and how it (and other card games) get plenty of coverage and seem to be cooler among a more general set of Americans than video games.

On the one hand, maybe it's a chicken and egg question having to do with how the coverage itself is received? On the one hand, you have to have an audience who is familiar enough with the competition to understand the significance of various moves and plays, but on the other hand, there has to be a spectacle to it that makes it TV-worthy. Personally, I don't "get" a lot of the drama that some people apparently see in televised poker, so I think it's safe to say that at least part of the problem with televised videogaming is finding a way to put it on TV that succeeds in conveying the drama and intensity of playing it. Ruffin made some interesting comments about this problem at Curmudgeon Gamer.

What I'm getting at is that maybe part of the success of StarCraft on TV depends on the games format. That is, the third-person omniscient view point takes in a lot of the action at once, and much of the action is pretty easy to see without having to follow the player's decisions and movements precisely. You may not see the plan until it comes together (for example, you might not know what kind of building is being constructed), but the combat action itself is pretty clear. Throw in some commentary to explain the roles the various units are playing, and you've got some good TV. Good TV in itself probably wouldn't be enough to start a whole Starcraft craze, but it wouldn't hurt.

I didn't catch the CBS coverage, but it strikes me that Guitar Hero would be similarly easy to televise. Any kind of game relying on a first-person view would be pretty tricky, though. I've wondered whether in, say, Counter-Strike, if it would be possible to follow the game from a neutral, floating point of view that hovered slightly above the players. That might work, but you might miss a lot of the quick reflex action that skilled players are renowned for. A tagalong view (where you spectate through the "eyes" of a player) can be really disorienting or even induce motion-sickness, so I doubt that would work.

Anyway, it's indeed an interesting question, and approaching it through portrayals of masculinity sounds like an interesting and valuable discussion. I look forward to hearing what you find out.

Brilliantly framed

Brilliantly framed questions, Tanner; what you've opened up is the othering discourse (never thought I'd use that phrase) between types of player, which is sorely misunderstood I think. I know it can be unpopular these days but I'm a big fan of what Jenkins and Cassel tried to do with the articulation of gender problems back in 1993, namely that making gender playable. So its great to look at forms of masculinity as being in forms of flux... where are my dandy games? Where?

I was browsing Cerise

I was browsing Cerise magazine and noticed that this post had been mentioned in one of their articles on gaming and masculinity.

Since I saw that article as a bit of a misinterpretation, probably due to my own brevity, I responded in their forums.


"Perhaps what keeps the U.S.

"Perhaps what keeps the U.S. from embracing gaming as a competitive pursuit worth following or venerating is that it does not fit into traditional conceptualizations of masculine sporting activity."

PLaying anything at a competitive level doesn't make you a bigger man. It just make you a dick.

time and money

Great questions! I think the difference between poker and gaming is "money making" perception. General public accepts poker as a possible (risky, sinful, but legitimate) source of income for the players, as an occupation. While gaming is considered to be "time waster", "brain washer" and "destruction from work and study".

This view will change when money earned in the games will get real enough for a new profession to appear.

I agree Vaskor. Masculinity

I agree Vaskor. Masculinity (and gender as a whole) is inextricably tied to the mode of production in which it is constructed. Thus, poker can be seen as a properly masculine pursuit (and thus sporting) because it creates value while gaming is considered wasteful.

I think what complicates this, however, is the fact that a lot of labor in virtual worlds do create things of value, but given the end user license agreements that disavow ownership of the products and the nature of the labor, it is a rather alienated form of work.


Another Angle?

I would view gaming as being in competition with television. It's difficult to concentrate on both at the same time, if the game is particularly intense. The broadcasting companies are, therefore, in danger of losing viewers, if they were to show gaming in such a way as to entice people away to play them. It would make good business sense for them to not advertize such things then.

Most sports are not in the same category, as games, such as football, only last 90 minutes. The rest of the day can be spent in front of the television.

I know that in our family, five people will be sitting passively watching the television, while three of us will be spending our evenings actively engrossed in Runescape instead. The general view is that we're the ones who will end up ruining our brains. The trouble is that television is one of the major leaders in forming public opinion about things, so if there aren't programmes supporting gaming, then much of society isn't going to support it either.

Vicious circle ensues back to my first point.

Interesting question and great thread pooling thoughts about this.

I think it's just a matter of

I think it's just a matter of time. South Korea has the fasted broadband and highest Internet uses rates in the world (interestingly it also has the highest rates of internet and gaming addiction). Even so I think competitive gaming will spread, I mean the StarCraft board game is doing pretty well, and the video game is wayy more popular still.