¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 There has been a long history of linking mainstream or popular culture with the feminine for the purpose of denigrating both (Huyseen, 1986). Casual video games lend themselves well to mainstream or popular audiences because of their pick-up-and-play nature and easy-to-learn controls. In fact, some developers even prefer the name mainstream or mass market games to casual games, although they fail to see the way those terms are equally devalued by certain sub-cultures, including core gaming culture (Juul, p. 214). Once linked with popular culture, casual games become discursive representations of passive consumption and femininity for hardcore gamers and as a result are treated by many in the gaming community as either threatening because they supposedly herald the end of hardcore games or irrelevant because they do not count as legitimate game experiences. The cultural opposite of casual games, hardcore games, are thus pared with masculinity and celebrated as the authentic and superior game design and experience.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In this article I analyze the spectrum of gendered discourses surrounding so-called casual video games between 2007 and 2011 across popular culture, the video game industry, and in core gaming culture. Through an analysis of interviews, advertisements, articles, and features in mainstream and trade publications, I argue that journalists, developers, producers, marketers, and game designers have contributed to the cultural feminization of casual video games resulting in the recreation of a traditional cultural hierarchy in the medium of video games. Troublingly, this broader cultural feminization supports the discursive sentiments of core gamers found on the Internet’s leading video game blogs, sentiments that continually delegitimize and marginalize the feminized genre of casual games. Together, sectors of commercial culture and core gaming culture work to position casual games as first feminine and then, tacitly if not vocally, as inferior and lacking when compared to masculinized hardcore video games. As a culture established upon a vulnerable masculinity with anxieties of infantilization and illegitimacy, hardcore gaming culture perceives these feminized, casual games as a threat.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The video game industry treats the term “casual” as a beneficial target consumer, a potential profit, but this enthusiasm is tempered by the subtle devaluation and more blatant feminization of this same market. The gaming industry helped coin the terms “hardcore” and “casual” in the first place and has used them historically for marketing and product differentiation purposes. For industry professionals, the term casual has come to be associated with non-gamers, none more so than the proverbial mother-figure or Mom. In addition, the term casual is understood by some industry folk to be defined by a lack of hardcore characteristics rather than the presence of any casual characteristics, much as the feminine is often defined by the absence or lack of masculine qualities.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 It is difficult to determine if the gaming industry was the first to connect mothers, non-gamers, and females to casual games, but it is evident that the discourse continues to reflect this connection. For instance, at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Steve Meretzky from the casual game company Bluegill stated that one way to define casual games is by describing them as games for casual gamers. This definition seems obvious when isolated, but when combined with articulations of the audience for these casual games, casual games become games targeted toward a feminized audience. This association began to emerge when Meretzky mentioned that casual games are games for people who would not define themselves as gamers, as he here was constructing a binary between the casual player and the gamer who would describe him or herself that way (GDC, 2007). Casual game designer Dave Walls (GDC) expresses the sentiments of many people when he suggests, “You know it when you see it.” For many developers, there is something about a casual game that announces itself as such to an audience.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This casual gamer “who would not describe herself as a gamer” almost always eventually gets articulated as the mother-figure or Mom in industry discourse. The game we know as casual when we see it is a game that has been created for Mom. The imaginary woman represented by the moniker Mom might best be understood as white, middle-class, and over 30 years of age; one 2006 survey indicates 71 percent of the casual gaming audience is female and most of these players are over the age of 35 (Dobson, 2006). Another survey that was a collaboration between Juul (2010) and Gamezebo indicates that as many as 93 percent of casual gamers might be female (p. 154). Walls (GDC) summarizes how the industry views casual games when he articulates, “If my mom can play it, it’s a casual game.” In fact, Popcap’s Jason Kapalka gives the games he produces “the mom test,” meaning that if a mother can understand and take pleasure in the game, then he is producing a game that will sell to the casual market (Sheffield, 2009). Hence, such sentiments discursively link the proverbial mother with the casual video game.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Another more recent example of video game marketing positioning mothers within the casual paradigm occurs in Electronic Art’s early 2011 media campaign for the game Dead Space 2. Encapsulated in the slogan, “Your Mom Hates This,” the campaign incorporates various commercials featuring the horrified look upon the faces of “mothers” as they view the game on a monitor. Here the marketers for Dead Space 2 want to situate the game firmly in the hardcore category. They accomplish this by highlighting just how far from the tastes of Mom the game strays. While casual games are not mentioned in this campaign, the cultural link between mothers and casual games is utilized to position Dead Space 2 as distinctly hardcore, masculine, and edgy. Equating female players, articulated as Mom, with casual games not only feminizes the category but also connects it to middle-class luxuries of disposable income and devoted leisure time.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Along with the link to mothers, the industry often speaks of casual games as those games which lack the qualities of core gaming titles. Rebel Monkey’s Nick Fortugno (GDC, 2007) suggests casual game players are not familiar with gaming culture and gaming history; these players do not have those “desire structures.” The desire structures Fortugno refers to are those that play off conventional gaming expectations, such as fighting, shooting, or anticipations of difficulty and complex level design. Here casual players are defined by their lack of cultural gaming knowledge and literacy, their lack of desire for violence and sexuality in video games. These descriptions imply that gaming culture and hardcore game design share similar values and expectations, but that casual game design and casual game players necessarily exist outside of this culture. If hardcore games are defined by their adherence to these cultural expectations, such sentiments suggest casual games are defined by the absence of the traditions, tropes, and gameplay of hardcore titles. This assumes that just as a casual gamer lacks the cultural knowledge a core gamer possesses, a casual game lacks the aesthetics, content, and interactions a core game allows. In other words, the casual space is defined by a lack of hardcore gaming qualities. The repeated association of casual gaming and “lack” echoes the state of the feminine as defined by Lacan, a cultural feminine that lacks the ultimate, phallic expression of masculine power. Owing to this lack, feminized casual games are positioned as inferior to hardcore games, existing in their shadow. They are seen as deficient.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Despite the construction of the feminized casual gamer as deficient when compared to the proper, core gamer, the game industry still understands this new, feminized audience as a valuable market, at least in terms of profit. To the industry, the rise in popularity of casual games, and the cultural feminization of these games, means a wider consuming audience and higher profit. According to Popcap’s Dave Rohrl, casual games earned nearly half a billion dollars in 2007, and that is excluding mobile earnings, a market space which has greatly increased in recent years thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and tablet devices (Mobile Game Market, 2010). Yet this enthusiasm for profit does not keep the gaming industry from positioning casual games as inferior to hardcore games in multiple, albeit often inadvertent ways.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Part of the feminization of casual video game systems, specifically the Nintendo Wii and DS, involves the video game console design and the gendered dimensions of hardware aesthetics. Bernadette Flynn (2003) outlines the migration of video games from the video arcade to the home living room in her article, “Geography of the Digital Hearth,” but recognizes that at the time there was “little attempt by video console manufacturers and distributors to present the video-game console as a domesticated object” (p. 557). This remains somewhat true for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 consoles, although recently they have both released motion control peripherals for their systems after the success of Nintendo’s Wii. Regardless, Nintendo has aggressively pursued the domestic sphere and the non-traditional game players that inhabit that sphere for years now. Moreover, Flynn proposes that “the design of the console has changed from a toy, to an entertainment unit, to a futuristic appliance” (p. 564). Again, while Microsoft and Sony’s current consoles still fit with this assessment, the Nintendo Wii has reintroduced the console-as-toy concept, but rather than positioning it as just a masculinized toy, Nintendo has successfully created a (feminized) family toy, harkening back to early home console system marketing of the Atari 2600 (Atari Commercial, 2006).
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 can be seen as living room dynamos designed for masculine pleasure. Both systems started out life as large, noisy, power-sucking, multimedia behemoths. The first iteration of the PlayStation 3 came in chrome silver and slick black, featured a futuristic design, and weighed around 11 pounds. The first Xbox 360s weighed in at around eight pounds with an installed hard drive and initially came in white with a chrome disc drive. The weights, technological power, and chrome finish suggested luxury automobiles or Harley Davidson motorcycles, traditionally masculine products of pleasure. Just as Flynn observed of the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox, these new, updated systems appeared to be “futuristic appliances,” designed to appeal to a masculine audience that appreciates size, presence, technological prowess, and power. This reflects the findings of Ellen van Oost (2005) when examining the differences between electric shavers marketed to men and women. She contends that male electric shavers evolved to highlight their own technology through the use of metallic surfaces and electronic displays, similar to the PS3 and 360 consoles. Oost argues “that the bond between men and technological competence has been inscribed firmly in the design of consumer appliances” (p. 207). This is the same in the case of the “futuristic appliances” that Sony and Microsoft’s consoles resemble.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The masculine emphasis on technology and power in the design of these consoles may prevent them from blending in with the traditional feminized domestic space of the living room. As of 2010 the PlayStation 3 has seen several different SKUs released, including a 2009 slimmed down version that greatly reduced the size and removed the gloss and chrome but kept the console’s slightly unorthodox outward curves and thin front end ledge. The 360 also saw many SKUs released since its launch in 2005, including the “Elite” black-colored model, and as of June 2010 saw its own slimmed down version of the console release. Throughout the life cycles of both high definition consoles, “elite” or high-end bundles were continually offered to players who wanted the most “immersive” experience. The use of the term “elite” in these packages also helped to differentiate the true gamer from the less dedicated or casual gamer. Although Microsoft and Sony continue to court the core gamer, the shift from these large, bulky consoles to the newer, smaller ones reflects not only what many would suggest to be a result of advances in technology but also, more importantly, the shift in both Sony and Microsoft’s business strategies toward the casual audience Nintendo has been courting since the release of the Nintendo Wii and DS systems. Like the Wii, these redesigns try harder to blend into the living room space more effectively than their previous incarnations. With more efficient processors, better coolant systems, and smaller cases, these new models can be tucked away within entertainment centers, becoming almost invisible to the casual observer. The previous, larger models required more room to “breathe” for cooling purposes so they would not overheat and malfunction.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 In contrast to the original PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 models, the Wii is a mouse of a console. Weighing in at a little less than four pounds, the Wii is a small white rectangle, about the size of three DVD cases stacked. In her examination of female electric shavers, Oost finds that “[m]asking the technology was a systematic element of the gender script of the Ladyshave” electric shaver (p. 206). Covering up the technology involved feminized the electric shaver. Similarly, as a simple white rectangle, the Wii understates the technology behind it. The console can exist in the feminized space of the family room without clashing with the dÃ©cor. The emphasis for the Wii isn’t on the technological look, but in the gestural controls of the console. With its minimalist design, similar to the aesthetics that have brought Apple such mainstream success, Nintendo’s Wii escaped the masculine constraints of Sony and Microsoft’s platforms. Instead, the Wii opened itself up to a cultural re-gendering that has de-masculinzed the technology behind it.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Similarly, the Nintendo DS features an equally feminized design. Although the first iteration of the DS released in 2004 was much bulkier and came in somber grey color, with the release of the DS Lite in 2006 Nintendo redesigned the handheld system to reflect their new business focus on non-gamers. The new DS was a smaller clamshell design, initially available in glossy white. Like the Wii, this system mimicked Apple’s successful, clean, almost antiseptic aesthetic. Also like the Wii, the new DS appealed to a culturally feminine design sensibility. The DS Lite was small, featured touch-screen controls that were as inviting as the gestural controls of the Wii, and offered the choice of a soft color palette. Especially with the introduction of the pink DS Lite, the color masked the technology of the system and instead allowed it to pass as just another fashion accessory, one that might possibly fit with a cell phone outfitted with an equally feminized protective case. In conjunction with the marketing and press coverage devoted to these consoles, the design of the Wii and DS has also contributed to their discursive feminizing.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 However, this seemingly fixed, feminized position for the Nintendo DS is misleading. One reason Nintendo did so well at E3 2010 in the eyes of the gaming press was the unveiling of the newest DS model, the Nintendo 3DS (USA Newsweek, 2010). Not only does the handheld display games in 3D, it does so without the use of special glasses and an expensive, specifically designed television. With this product, Nintendo places an emphasis once again on cutting edge technology, something the company has shied away from since their Gamecube home console. Nonetheless, it is unclear if the newest version of the successful DS product line means a shift in the gendering of the technology. If nothing else, the 3DS complicates the gendered negotiation over Nintendo’s technology all the more. This reminds us that technologies are sites of negotiation over gender; their gender-coding is never fixed but always fluctuating based on discursive practices. In Nintendo’s case, the purposeful design of their console and handheld reflect a desire to appeal to a non-masculine audience. This is foremost a desire for profit, not a desire to delegitimize their product; however, the resulting gender coding can and does get taken up in ways that result in delegitimation. Nonetheless, Nintendo’s gendering differs from the gendering of casual games that occurs in core gaming culture, a gendering meant to devalue and disparage.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 As two of the most popular examples of the casual games movement, the marketing of Nintendo’s Wii and DS has been instrumental in the gendering of casual gaming. The gendering of Nintendo’s consoles, and the casual play associated with them, begins even in the color associated with their business strategy. After the 2004 launch of the DS, the 2006 re-launch of the DS Lite, and leading up to the launch of the Wii, Nintendo began to describe its business strategy as a Blue Ocean approach, an approach that relies on creating a new audience rather than fighting for an existing one and allowing your consumer-base to stagnate. Here already we have the dichotomy between the masculinized “fighting” and the feminized “creating” associated with the two business approaches. Speaking of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, Nintendo’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Reggie Fils-Aime claimed that the book “cites successful companies who’ve looked beyond the bloody, red waters of ruthless competition. Companies who pushed the accepted definition of their markets and found so-called blue oceans, where they were able to expand business while their competition remained behind” (Casamassina, 2005). He then went on to describe the DS and Revolution (the code name for what would become the Wii) as adopting this approach, as seeking out new audiences, including women both young and old.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The Blue Ocean metaphor participates in the gendering of casual games in a way that becomes clear when it is contrasted with the Red Ocean approach. In a Palermo Business Review article, Patricio O’Gorman (2008) suggests, “The video game industry has been locked into what can best be described as a Red Ocean, where the focus is on beating the competition, winning market share, capturing consumers and outselling the competition” (p. 97). The verbs O’Gorman uses in relation to the Red Ocean business model – beating, winning, capturing, outselling – are aggressive, competitive ones married to traditional masculinity, as well as to free market capitalism and gaming culture itself. Whether hunting for profit or “pwning” players online, the capitalist and the gamer share similar aspirations. Even though Nintendo has replaced the “bloody” Red Ocean approach with a more “serene” Blue Ocean tactic, the company is not anti-capitalist. Nintendo is still competitive in its search for new markets; however, the company chooses to characterize its approach as peaceful and calm, juxtaposing its efforts with the aggressive, violent, and “doomed” approaches of Sony and Microsoft.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 When contrasted with the Red Ocean business approach, Nintendo can be seen as embracing a cultural feminization, a softening, of their game platforms. Whereas the Red Ocean strategy of Sony and Microsoft is one characterized by fierce competition, struggle, the allusion to bloodied waters, and the intense loyalties and caprices of core gamers, the Blue Ocean strategy of Nintendo is tranquil, untainted, and characterized by an audience interested in cooperation, friendly family fun, and non-violent types of gameplay. However problematically, these qualities have been historically feminized in our culture and contribute to the feminization of the Wii.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 This feminization can be seen in the way these experiences were sold to consumers as well as in the company’s market discourse. Indeed, looking at the advertising surrounding these game systems is important to understanding the ways gender is constructed through them and how Nintendo welcomes a feminization of their technologies as a way to enhance the bottom line. Shira Chess (2010) argues that Wii and DS magazine ads targeted toward women essentialize feminine play and restrict this play to productivity. Chess suggests that advertisements for the Wii system and the games Brain Age, Wii Fit, and EA Sports Active are “targeting a feminine readership, and suggesting a proper time and place for video game play” (p. 10). In other words, Chess argues that Wii ads targeting women construct and limit feminine play as another form of productivity and self-improvement, either through sharpening an aging brain or tightening a sagging body. While it is troubling that these ads construct productivity as a requirement of feminine play and also reproduce damaging feminine beauty standards, I offer Chess’s work primarily as evidence that Nintendo has actively sought out feminine players with the Wii and DS and aided in discursively feminizing their products in the process. Moreover, other ads Chess does not consider for the Wii and DS strengthen the link between these systems and a female, or at least feminized, player.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 In 2008 Nintendo launched the celebrity-fueled campaign “I Play for Me,” a campaign that featured popular female stars America Ferrera, Carrie Underwood, and Liv Tyler playing Nintendo products. Importantly, this campaign complicates Chess’s assumptions about the essentializing of feminine play in a few ways. Rather than focusing on self-help or fitness in the form of Brain Age and Wii Fit, these ads highlight the independence of play the DS offers female players. The ads do not necessarily suggest women play to maintain a youthful brain or culturally ideal body shape (although the use of successful, beautiful celebrities does not dispel these notions) but rather these ads suggest that women can play for themselves, for fun, as a way to further define their unique identity and create a personalized space. The Carrie Underwood online ad shows her smiling while holding a white DS Lite, the ad copy reading, “I play for me.” The viewer is also prompted to click on the online ad to see which game Underwood plays in her free time. The linked video is a documentarian style commercial where Underwood plays her (now pink) DS as her tour bus barrels down an American interstate. With its focus on Underwood’s amused expressions, her relaxed posture on her tour bus couch and her tactile interaction with the game Nintendogs, this ad is emblematic of the whole campaign. The ads attempt to normalize the celebrities and thus emphasize “normal” women having fun and kicking back with video game software, something almost unheard of in the popular imagination prior to the rise of the “casual” genre. In slight contrast, however, the America Ferrera series oddly includes the qualifier “Sometimes I play for me,” perhaps alluding to Ferrera’s job as an actress or player of roles, including Ugly Betty at the time. Taken more critically, however, the ad may suggest that feminine play often revolves around the needs of others, and that occasionally, sometimes, feminine play can be individually focused, such as when playing the Nintendo DS alone. Although Ferrera’s ads are the only ones that include the qualifier “sometimes,” they nonetheless reveal that these ads, just as much as those Chess analyzes, still characterize feminine play in a limiting way, contextually if not purposefully.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Through industry discussions, hardware aesthetics, and marketing the genre of casual games has been culturally feminized. At the same time, hardcore video game culture has also actively engaged in this feminization. Whereas the industry subtly devalues casual game players for their preferences and casual games for their lack of hardcore qualities, hardcore gaming culture makes no effort to hide its gendered disdain for casual games and casual game players. In fact, the marketing, industry, and mainstream discourses may enable the more overtly sexist treatment of casual games by the hardcore community. As can be seen in the conversations happening on the most popular Internet video game blogs – Kotaku, Joystiq, and Destructoid – hardcore video game culture privileges a specific type of hegemonic masculinity, one that adheres to and interpellates a heterosexual, male identity. As a result, these core gamers utilize hegemonic conceptions of gender to degrade casual video games, use post-feminist sarcasm within the discourse of casual games to help veil their misogyny, and evoke a protest rhetoric of victimization by positioning the casual games movement as a dominating, oppressive force bent on destroying and replacing traditional, masculine games. It is through this disdainful and sexist treatment of the casual genre that core gamers constitute an anti-fandom of casual games, a group Gray (2005) discusses as forming around a mutual hatred for a specific cultural text.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Part of the gendered distain for casual games in core gaming culture has a direct connection to the industry and commercial logics of always connecting the wife or mother-figure to the casual category. This basic antagonistic binary between masculine and feminine and hardcore and casual can be seen when casual games are discussed on popular gaming blogs. Whether users proudly proclaim, “My Wife loves “˜em” (Strider_mt2k, 2007), whether they negatively chirp, “i dont like my mom playing tetris all day on my game boy” (Rojo, 2007), or whether they blatantly state, “Girls can have their types of games and guys can have their own” (Joeshie, 2008), the marrying of females and femininity with the casual game space continually reproduces and cements itself as common sense. Casual games are understood by the hardcore gaming culture as games wives love, as games the proverbial Mom plays, and as games specifically for girls or women. As a result, this discourse promotes notions of difference and distinction that ultimately recreate gender and power hierarchies in games culture and beyond.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 In addition to marrying the feminine with the casual space, part of this positioning of the other happens through the labeling of casual games as other in sexual orientation. To these core gamers, hardcore games not only represent the masculine, they represent the heteronormative ideal. A discourse exists in this community that links casual games with homosexuality. This is exemplified in comments such as “Casual games? GAAAAAAAY!” (samfish, 2007) and “Casual Games are for gay people or men that are very very very in touch with their feminine side; so in touch it’s scary” (Cyro, 2007). Both comments explicitly conflate casual games with homosexuality and femininity. However, the second goes farther by evoking a masculine heteronormative anxiety at the thought of a male in touch with his emotions. Indeed, if this discourse links casual games with emotions, it would make sense that “men don’t talk about casual games because they aren’t worth talking about. Playing, perhaps, talking no” (Batzarro, 2007). In this way, like emotions or homosexuality, “real men” are not supposed to discuss casual games, even if they do secretly play them. This reflects the expectations of hegemonic masculinity that limit men from discussing their feelings. Additionally, this comment echoes historical regulations in America’s armed forces that were founded on the credo, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy that supports the invisibility and indeed the annihilation of queer lifestyles. In this logic, playing casual games, like homosexuality, is something to be ashamed of and kept secret. In core gaming communities, even if males play casual games behind closed doors ““ and according to this reasoning they should only be played behind closed doors ““ the discourse suggests that male players are culturally encouraged not to bring it up.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Not all comments are so easily read, however. Angela McRobbie (2007) argues that contemporary culture produces a post-feminist mindset that announces the victory of feminism while marginalizing its current efforts and surreptitiously undoing all the advances it helped achieve regarding gender and sexual equality. In a post-feminist culture, sexism and misogyny appear not as proof that feminism failed but as proof that it succeeded. That is, because women supposedly no longer suffer inequalities in society, sexist jokes are taken to be self-aware and ironic; any overt devaluation of women or the feminine is meant to be seen as sarcasm. As enlightened cultural and consuming beings, we are meant to be in on the joke. These types of post-feminist comments appear on Kotaku, Joystiq, and Destructoid, and serve to poke fun at the assumed connection between femininity and casual games and the antiquated concept of ideal gender roles. However, while most are meant as tongue-in-cheek remarks, this kind of language still reproduces and reinforces the marrying of casual games and gamers with the feminine and duplicates traditional gender and power hierarchies.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 These post-feminist comments appear on popular gaming blogs when male-coded gamers link females with casual games in degrading and pre-feminist ways. In one post on Kotaku titled, “Who Knew: Men Like Casual Games, Too,” a commenter named Onizuka-GTO (2007) writes, “female presence = casual. It’s a fact. Honest. :P.” This comment is reinforced by two others. A user named THE-HATER (2007) comments, “All you guys who bought Puzzle Quest are proof of the horror of casual games. Casual games are evil, they are the worst thing ever. They keep women at the computer instead of in the kitchen.” Additionally, ParadoxControl (2007) quips, “listen, I don’t play games unless they come with a full rack of ribs, a 2lb sirloin, Mashed Potatoes, Budweiser, a shotgun, camo pants, and a stack of playboys, because I’m a real man!” The first of these comments explicitly joins casual games with the female, stating it as a fact beyond reproach and effectively gendering those types of game experiences. At the same time, Onizuka-GTO uses an emoticon that resembles a face sticking its tongue out, a sign that he is aware of his own absurdity and is joking around. On the other hand, THE-HATER’s words are less playful, conflating the already established feminine space of casual games with evilness and then finishing his comment by evoking pre-feminist gender roles, metaphorically plucking the woman from the office computer and plopping her back in front of the stove. However, his sarcasm is revealed by the comment’s exaggerated nature, just like ParadoxControl’s tirade about what makes a man, and more importantly here, what makes a manly game. ParadoxControl and THE-HATER play with gender stereotypes to reveal the performative nature of masculinity and femininity and to reveal the artifice of gendering casual games as feminine; although their intentions might be to deconstruct these notions, they ultimately reinforce, reproduce, and strengthen the ideologies that link masculinity to “serious” games and femininity to casual games in the first place.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 In her ethnography of male gamers in Northern Ireland and southern England, Helen Thornham (2008) suggests games “are claimed by adult [male] gamers as serious, rational and logical pastimes” (p. 142). Part of taking games seriously and rationally for the users on Kotaku, Joystiq, and Destructoid is staying informed and making smart purchasing decisions, traits typically assigned to masculine consuming habits. In contrast, these commenters position casual gamers as “simple people”¦[and] you can sell them stupid games” (TrenchyC, 2007). Moreover, what “worries [them] most about casual gamers is that they’ll stupidly throw so much money at tech that they know nothing about, and have not researched at all” (human-cannonball, 2006). Here, hardcore gamers position casual gamers as passive, naÃ¯ve, and mindless consumers of popular culture. To the hardcore discourse community, casual gamers become feminized shoppers lacking agency and intelligence. Rather than doing proper (masculine) research such as reading games news, reviews, and previews, “Casual gamers DON’T care about reviews” (Jeff, 2007), don’t seem to understand “that generally [a] video game movie=suckage” (SoCoolCurt, 2007), and “have the attention span of a three month old dog mixed with a squirrel” (mix, 2008). Here, feminized casual gamers are depicted as less intelligent, less informed, and less important than their masculine hardcore counterparts. Most strikingly and troubling of all, they are positioned as sub-human and animal in their worth and intellect.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 In contrast to the so-called ignorant purchases of the casual masses, the hardcore gaming discourse seems to suggest that even if hardcore gamers do play casual games, they are smart enough not to spend money on them. Indeed, hardcore gamers “won’t actually buy “˜casual’ games, since most are shameless clones of earlier casual games” (ShaggE, 2007). As one user commented, “I download all my casual gaming for free. Who’s crazy enough to pay for it…oh yeah, wii users. All their games are casual” (nxp3, 2008). These comments suggest that hardcore gamers do not spend money on casual games because they are not serious and real games. They lack the blockbuster budgets, visual fidelity, and narratives associated with traditionally masculine game titles. Here too the Wii is evoked as one of the worst offenders in the casual game space, a system that has opened up gaming to girls, women, and the elderly, if not millions of non-gaming men. This is reinforced when the gamer badasscat (2007) argues that casual games are “not some sort of stepping stone to “˜real’ gaming.” [B]adasscat suggests that casual games are not real games. They lack the qualities of masculine games and are thus denied the right to call themselves video games at all. As feminized entertainment, casual games are annihilated from the landscape of serious games and serious games culture, quite like the feminine in general.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 This annihilation can be seen as part of a greater taste struggle by hardcore gamers against casual games and the femininity attached to them. In this struggle, hardcore gamers position themselves as the victims and position the growing number of casual players and games as an invading, threatening force. Ann Johnson (2007) has analyzed a similar phenomenon in her article, “The Subtleties of Blatant Sexism.” She argues that The Man Show, a masculine comedy program that gains laughs through largely sexist humor, utilizes protest rhetoric and “depicts women as the dominant group in society and addresses viewers as potential agitators in a struggle against women’s dominance” (p. 167). Johnson contends that even while patriarchy continues to operate relatively unopposed, The Man Show creates a reality where men are relegated to subordinate positions in both the public and private spheres, always at the mercy of dominant women in their lives. This same logic is used in the hardcore gaming community when discussing casual games. To core gamers, casual games represent a very real threat that is gradually blighting their cherished pastime with products that do not resemble the games they are used to.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Part of this protest rhetoric in the hardcore community is fueled by fears that casual games will gradually take away limited retail space and developer resources from “real” games, eventually replacing them altogether. In this logic, traditional, narrative-driven games will eventually die out as casual games flood the market. No longer will there be Halo, Grand Theft Auto, or Call of Duty; instead, there will just be clones of Peggle, Wii Sports, and Solitaire. Indeed, this fear persists even though core games are still cash cows for the industry. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, arguably a traditionally masculine video game, earned an estimated $550 million in its first five days on sale (McElroy, 2009). Just the same, Destructoid user Necrozen (2009) positions core gamers as a dying breed when he writes, “We are a minority now. We = Less Money than Them. So you know that it’s a losing battle.” Furthermore, as an imagined minority, core gamers believe their interests are no longer being taken into account by game developers and publishers. More than anything, they “hate the fact that more immersive games are gonna disappear because everyone is into the casual games now of days [sic]” (Ambitious009, 2007). Ultimately, their protest can be summed up in the words, “It’s the attack of the killer casuals, and we need to make sure we’re not lost in the noise” (Ketsuban, 2007). Although casual gamers do not make much noise in gaming culture because they exist outside of it, the attention the mainstream press pays to them and the interest developers have taken in them are seen as signs of a very significant threat by core gamers. In the hardcore gaming discourse surrounding casual games, core gamers on Kotaku, Joystiq, and Destructoid utilize hegemonic conceptions of gender to denigrate casual video games, exploit post-feminist sarcasm within the discourse of casual games, and evoke a protest rhetoric of victimization by positioning the casual games movement as a dominating, oppressive force bent on usurping traditional, masculine games.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 I do not mean to imply here that all hardcore gamers share these discursive sentiments and actively support the kind of gendered hierarchy I propose exists in this culture. Some core gamers are not anti-fans of casual games, even if they are complicit in the gendering of those games. Some core gamers fall closer to the developers discussed earlier; though they accept, even love, casual games, they still perpetuate their feminization. For example, Kotaku user indiemike freely admits to playing casual games but also connects these games to the preferences of his girlfriend and her female friends: “I find that my girlfriend, and all of her friends that I’ve played games with prefer the casual games I have on hand, and don’t want to get wrapped up in a story within the game” (indiemike, 2007). In fact, many commenters on the blogs I analyzed openly support casual games and admit to playing and enjoying them, but just as many also reproduce the feminine gendering of the category. Even when core gamers make an effort to embrace casual games, as Kotaku writer Luke Plunkett (2010) did in the article, “Instead of Laughing at “˜Casual’ Gamers, Try Helping Them,” they still inadvertently reproduce the effect of otherness by maintaining the stereotypes and assumptions of the casual audience and the casual game experience as feminized.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Why does this core gamer feel so threatened by this new genre of casual gaming, even if it has been culturally feminized? Other media, such as literature and film, allow for a duel existence of masculinized and femininized genres without one or the other being accused of spelling the downfall of the medium. Granted, there still exist cultural perceptions that treat masculine summer blockbuster films with more legitimacy than the “chick-flick” romantic comedy genre, for instance, but film enthusiasts do not see romantic comedies as a sign of the end of films as they know them. This intense reaction to casual video games and casual game players by the core gaming community suggests a vulnerability in the specific masculinity of core gaming culture.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 This vulnerability may stem from the low cultural position of the video game medium. Like the medium of the graphic novel or comic book, video games historically have been infantilized and seen as immature. Also, since video games stem from early computer culture, which even today often gets conflated with geek culture, video games share that culture’s emasculated stereotypes. Regardless of the fact that a whole generation of men and women have grown into adulthood while still playing video games, video games continue to be understood culturally as a childish distraction, at best, or a complete waste of time, at worst. Michael Kimmel (2008) suggests in his book Guyland that many men in their 20s and early 30s use video games as a form of escapism to put off growing up and taking on the responsibilities of male adulthood, including starting a family. A myriad of online opinion pieces focus on whether games will ever grow up as a medium (Alexander, 2009). Additionally, in an examination of gamer identity, Shaw (2011) reveals that one of the main reasons players are reluctant to identify as “gamers” is not so much the association with hegemonic masculinity but instead the continued stigmatization of the medium in popular culture. Most notable within this larger discussion is the ongoing argument, fueled by the comments of famous film critic Roger Ebert (2010), of whether video games can ever be art. Though this demeaning cultural position may be changing with the acceptance of casual games into the family entertainment sphere, this popular acceptance has only further irritated the masculine anxieties of core gamers.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Gamers have traditionally been characterized by a marginalized masculinity, one that mimics but does not match real-world soldiers and athletes. Being good at video games does not grant the same social and cultural benefits as being good at a sport or a traditionally masculine trade. The masculinity associated with gaming is a fragile, defensive one that has relied repeatedly in its short history on extreme violence, the sexualization of women, and strong, male homosocial bonds for its sense of power and personal legitimacy. The introduction of a feminized, popular category of video game to gaming culture might be seen as undermining the fragile masculinity that has had to continuously defend its cultural position for several decades.
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Here I have argued that casual video games, epitomized by Nintendo’s Wii and DS consoles in the late 2000s and strengthened today by the proliferation of mobile devices, have been discursively feminized in popular culture. From the marketing to the press coverage to the design of the consoles themselves, the Wii and DS have come to represent a feminized form of the medium. By discussing casual games in terms of a feminine audience, popular and industry discourses have also contributed to this gendering. Although the reaction to this feminization may be approval for its profit-generating impact, it remains nonetheless troubling, especially given that this cultural labeling enables the core gamer to engage in sexist and misogynistic attacks on casual games and game players. The core gaming community, invested as it is in hegemonic masculinity, rejects popular culture and its ties to femininity and therefore rejects casual games as a potential infection, rather than an extension, of the medium. The gendering of casual games in these discourses not only continues the troubling and limited understanding of what it is to be feminine but it limits the cultural understanding of casual games to a single gendered standpoint. Moreover, there is a contradictory positioning of casual games by hardcore gaming culture as either inconsequential and worthless or domineering and threatening.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 In the first case, when core gaming culture marginalizes and delegitimizes casual games it does so by adopting the dominant gender hierarchy that always privileges the masculine and devalues the feminine. Feminized casual games become insignificant, frivolous, and a waste of time and money as opposed to masculinized hardcore games, which are viewed as important, serious, and worthy of investment. When casual games are denigrated as feminine, and therefore “trivial,” and traditional video games are celebrated for their seriousness and authenticity, both of which are qualities nested in masculinity, a power hierarchy is created that places the masculine in the superior position and the feminine in the inferior position, the result of which is the reproduction and perpetuation of gender inequalities. Hardcore games become the dominant masculine while casual games become the subordinate feminine. This reveals the way hegemonic masculinity goes beyond the mapping and categorizing of the human body in damaging and consequential ways and maps onto every other aspect of our lives, including technology. When this happens that technology is employed in the maintenance of patriarchal, masculine power in society and culture, even when that technology is meant for entertainment, like video games. The consequences of this are far reaching and can be seen to perpetuate the dearth of females in science and technology sectors, among other social inequalities.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 In the second case, rather than espousing the insignificance of casual games, core gaming culture views casual games as a Trojan horse for femininity to creep in and fundamentally alter the gendered game experiences that culture values. Here we see the power of the dominant gender position to incorporate and adopt defense techniques from those in the subordinate position. Even while hegemonic masculinity continues to dominate in culture, it is positioned as subjugated and oppressed after the successes of second wave feminism. This occurs throughout popular culture, as Ann Johnson argues in the case of The Man Show, but until recently has not been seen in video game culture. The adopting of this dominated, protest rhetoric by masculinized hardcore gamers reveals the vulnerability of that gender position in the realm of gaming and points to the equal vulnerability of the hegemonic masculinity it seeks to emulate.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Future studies should continue to explore gender in video games, but as a compliment to the work here, discourses of race and sexuality in video games should also continue to be scrutinized. Rather than only looking at representations of gender, race, sexuality, and class in games, scholars should study the ways these identity categories are discursively mapped onto game technologies, experiences, and players. Furthermore, while the category of casual games was prominent during the period of my study, the terms mobile or social are now more widely associated with the casual game type; likewise, smartphones and tablets are the current popular devices to play these games on. Finally, as Shaw suggests, while continuing to explore marginalized communities within gaming culture, we ought not to forget the marginalized position of video games themselves within larger culture and the ways that marginalization influences those prejudices and identity politics ever shifting within gaming culture.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Alexander, L. (2009, March 19). Growing up Games: When Will Mature, Mature? Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/5175046/growing-up-games-when-will-mature-mature.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Ambitious009. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Batzarro. (2007, Oct. 30). Message posted to the story Men More Likely to Steal, Lie About Casual Games. Kotaku. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/10/30/men-more-likely-to-steal-lie-about-casual-games/.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Casamassina, M. (2005, Nov. 10). Reggie Talks DS and Revolution: Says the Big N is going to change the videogame industry with innovative systems and software. IGN. Retrieved from http://wii.ign.com/articles/670/670503p1.html.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Chess, Shira. (2010). A 36-24-36 Cerebrum: Gendering Video Game Play through Advertising. Submitted to Critical Studies in Media Communication. Minor revisions by request. Retrieved on 4/9/09 from http://www.shiraland.com/Work/advertising_sample.pdf.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 samfish (MSDF- Nurse Outfit!). (2007, Oct. 30). Message posted to the story Men More Likely to Steal, Lie About Casual Games. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/10/30/men-more-likely-to-steal-lie-about-casual-games/.
¶ 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Cyro (2007, Oct. 30). Message posted to the story Men More Likely to Steal, Lie About Casual Games. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/10/30/men-more-likely-to-steal-lie-about-casual-games/.
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Dobson, J. (2006, June 28). Study: “Casual” Players Exhibit Heavy Game Usage. Gamasutra. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=9893.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 human-cannonball. (2006, Nov. 26). Message posted to the story Casual Games are Serious Business. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2006/11/26/casual-games-are-serious-business/.
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Huyseen, A. (1986). Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other. In Tania Modleski (Ed.), Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture (pp. 188-196). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Indiemike. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Jeff. (2007, Dec. 6). Message posted to the story Casual Games Get Bad Reviews, No One Cares. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/12/06/casual-games-get-bad-reviews-no-one-cares/.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Joeshie (2008, March 9). Message posted to the story SXSW08: The Female Takedown of Casual Gaming. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2008/03/09/sxsw08-the-female-takedown-of-casual-gaming.
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 McElroy, Justin, (2009, Nov. 18). Activision: Modern Warfare 2 Earned $550 Million in First Five Days. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2009/11/18/activision-modern-warfare-2-earned-550-million-in-first-five-days/.
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 McRobbie, A. (2007). Post-Feminism and Popular Culture: Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime. In Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra (Eds.), Interrogating Post-Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture (pp. 27-39). London: Duke University Press.
¶ 69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 mix. (2008, Oct. 23). Message posted to the story Bleszinkski Wants Casual Gamers in GoW 2, Wii Disappearing Ray Yet to be Invented. Destructoid. Archived at http://www.destructoid.com/bleszinski-wants-casual-gamers-in-gow-2-wii-disappearing-ray-yet-to-be-invented-108895.phtml.
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Mobile Game Market. (2010, May 17). Mobile Game Market to Reach $11.4 Billion in 2014, Says Gartner. Wireless and Mobile News. Retrieved at http://www.wirelessandmobilenews.com/2010/05/mobile-game-market-to-reach-114-billion-in-2014-says-gartner.html.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 Necrozen. (2009, March 4). Message posted to the story Square Enix Chats Bollucks About “˜Casual’ Games. Destructoid. Archived at http://www.destructoid.com/square-enix-chats-bollocks-about-casual-games-123657.phtml.
¶ 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 Onizuka-GTO. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 Oost, Ellen van. (2005). Materialized Gender: How Shavers Configure the Users’ Femininity and Masculinity. In N. Oudshoorn & T. Pinch (Eds.), How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology (pp. 193-208). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
¶ 76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 ParadoxControl. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 Plunkett, Luke. (2010, May 20). Instead of Laughing at “˜Casual’ Gamers, Try Helping Them! Kotaku. Archived at http://www.kotaku.com.au/2010/05/instead-of-laughing-a-casual-gamers-try-helping-them/.
¶ 79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 samfish (MSDF- Nurse Outfit!). (2007, Oct. 30). Message posted to the story Men More Likely to Steal, Lie About Casual Games. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/10/30/men-more-likely-to-steal-lie-about-casual-games/.
¶ 81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 ShaggE got that Mango Sentinel. SCOOPS!. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 SoCoolCurt. (2007, Dec. 6). Message posted to the story Casual Games Get Bad Reviews, No One Cares. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/12/06/casual-games-get-bad-reviews-no-one-cares/.
¶ 87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 THE-HATER. (2007, Nov. 3). Message posted to the story Who Knew: Men like Casual Games, Too. Kotaku. Archived at http://kotaku.com/318580/who-knew-men-like-casual-games-too.
¶ 88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 Thornham, Helen. (2008). Claiming a Stake in the Videogame: What Grown-Ups Say to Rationalize and Normalize Gaming. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(2), 141-159.
¶ 89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 TrenchyC (2007, Dec. 6). Message posted to the story Casual Games Get Bad Reviews, No One Cares. Joystiq. Archived at http://www.joystiq.com/2007/12/06/casual-games-get-bad-reviews-no-one-cares/.
¶ 90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 USA Newsweek. (2010, June 16). E3 Roundup: Nintendo Announces 3DS, Sony Displays Playstation in 3D. USA Newsweek. Archived at http://www.usanewsweek.com/news/E3-Roundup–Nintendo-Announces-3DS–Sony-Displays-Playstation-in-3D-1276692977/.
¶ 94 Leave a comment on paragraph 94 0  A SKU or Stock-Keeping Unit is a way for businesses to identify individual products and services, and it is also used by the games industry to differentiate between different versions of the same product.
¶ 95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0  Brain Age is a game that features multiple puzzles and problems for the player to solve, including math and logic problems. Nintendo has emphasized the game’s ability to keep a brain sharp.
¶ 100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0  Ferrara Ad. (2008). Sometimes I Play for Me. [image] Retrieved on August 16, 2010 from http://cruxine.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/nintendo.jpg?w=293&h=236.
¶ 101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0  Puzzle Quest is a hybrid of the role playing game and puzzle genres. It features traditional puzzle-based gameplay while asking the player to level his or her character to gain more abilities and further the narrative.