The identity of the ‘gamer’ has in recent years been challenged through the circulating discourse of various publics, but this has happened most notably and intensely within the ‘Gamergate’ controversy. Within Gamergate, the ‘death of the gamer’ media event took place – an event in which antagonistic and networked publics contested the identity of the ‘gamer’ and critiqued ‘gamer’ culture. These events were the result of a series of claims and counterclaims made by key stakeholders in video game culture, online feminist culture and masculine popular culture.
This thesis has investigated how Gamergate’s discourses constructed ‘truth’ of the ‘gamer’ identity during the ‘death of the gamer’ media event, and how Gamergate’s participatory publics circulated and challenged this ‘truth’ through the contestation of certain ‘self-evidences’ that constitute it. These contestations developed through the circulation of discourse within Gamergate’s antagonistic, networked publics.
By analysing the 18 opinion pieces that were published during the first week of the ‘death of the gamer’, this thesis recorded the assertions made by the media event’s key commentators. Here, claims that ‘gamers are dead’ were influenced by the relatively recent series of negative news events about ‘gamers’ – specifically a subsection of the ‘gamer’ community that can be associated with online ‘trolls’. More significantly however, declarations that ‘gamers are dead’ centred on the assertion that video game audiences have expanded beyond the niche, young, male, ‘geek’ stereotype, which remains the dominant articulation of the ‘gamer’ in discourse. The key point here was that commentators were calling to video game developers to cater to demographics beyond the ‘hardcore gamer’ stereotype, so as to encourage a move towards a reformed video game industry and culture that recognise a holistic demographic of players. It is argued that such an idealistic reconstruction of ‘gamer’ culture would also result in the disintegration of this culture’s ingrained discriminatory practices, such as gatekeeping. Furthermore, this ideal can only be achieved by normalising video games into ‘everyday’, contemporary media culture – a challenge that would involve catering to every consumer demographic. In this sense, the ‘death of the gamer’ was not only a contestation of the ‘gamer’ identity, but also a criticism of ‘gamer’ culture in general.
This thesis also asserted that – as an acute event – the characterisation of the ‘death of the gamer’ had been shaped by the participatory publics that inhabit Gamergate’s discourses – i.e. the ‘hardcore gamer’ public, and the feminist or ‘social justice warrior’ counterpublic. This characterisation of the media event was mobilised through gamers’ self-commentaries about their own identities, which took place in comment threads under the 18 ‘death of the gamer’ opinion pieces.
By analysing how commenters articulated their identities into discourse during the ‘death of the gamer’ debate, this thesis uncovered a relationship between ‘gamer’ culture and broader ‘geek’ culture. This indicated that the ‘gamer’ identity is a derivative of the ‘geek’ identity. Primarily, this relationship is characterised by an appreciation of cultural authenticity, which is used in ‘geek’ and ‘gamer’ cultures to assess participants on the legitimacy of their interests. Cultural authenticity represents a social spectrum in ‘gamer’ culture, in which participants are gauged as being either ‘hardcore’ or ‘casual’. Alongside the assertion that ‘gamers are dead’, these category distinctions manifested as fears that the ‘hardcore gamer’ would be superseded by a ‘casual’ consumer identity. Moreover, this research ascertained that – during the ‘death of the gamer’ – the ‘gamer’ identity was at a point of diverging away from the ‘hardcore gamer’ and towards a reformed characterisation that includes video game players with various skill levels, varying levels of interest in video games, and from a wider range of identity categories.
Finally, this research analysed Gamergate’s antagonistic publics as sites of identity contestation, by studying the gender-based conflicts that occurred throughout the ‘death of the gamer’ media event. This research was interested in determining how Gamergate’s disparate cultural formations interacted through discursive politics. This meant mapping Gamergate’s ‘gamer’ discourse through its exchanges with Gamergate’s feminist discourse, which revealed that the conflicts that constitute Gamergate are focused through the hegemonic masculinity that is systemically ingrained in ‘gamer’ culture. These hegemonic, masculine social formations embody an anti-feminist discourse, and they have a tendency to assume the role of the victim when characterisations of the ‘gamer’ identity are challenged by counterpublics.
The conflicts and contestations located within the circulating discourse of the ‘death of the gamer’ media event – itself within the Gamergate media event – represent not just contestations of the ‘gamer’ identity, but also a broader critique of ‘gamer’ culture itself. By understanding the ‘gamer’ identity and culture as being derivative of ‘geek’ culture, where cultural authenticity is highly valued, tensions become articulated between certain antagonistic publics – namely those of ‘hardcore gamers’ and feminists. These tensions are the result of ‘hardcore gamers’ gatekeeping and striving to preserve the form of ‘gamer’ identity that they perceive as being most authentic, and feminists and commentators struggling to renegotiate this identity with respect to the increasingly broad and diverse audience of individuals who play games. Whether these tensions persist or subside in similar media events in the future remains to be seen.