Gender identities at play: children’s digital gaming in two settings in Cape Town

The thesis-monster is finally in:) Can’t share it yet, but thought I’d blog the final abstract and chapter titles. Looking for suitable journals to publish papers in – suggestions welcome!


Thesis title: Gender identities at play: children’s digital gaming in two settings in Cape Town

Date of submission: 2 April 2013


This thesis investigates children’s gaming relationships with peers in out-of-school settings, and explores their interpretation of digital games as gendered media texts. As an interdisciplinary study, it combines insights from Childhood Studies, Cultural Studies, Game Studies, domestication and performance theory. The concept ludic gendering is developed in order to explain how gender ‘works’ in games, as designed semiotic and ludic artefacts. Ludic gendering also helps to explain the appropriation of games through gameplay, and the interpretation of gendered rules and representations. The study expands on audience reception research to account for children’s ‘readings’ of digital games. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is used to study gaming relationships. Combining SNA with broadly ethnographic methods provided a systematic way of investigating children’s peer relationships and gendered play.  The study finds that children responded to ludic gendering, performed gender and other identities for peers, and navigated meanings of games in contextual ways.  Children preferred less-strongly-gendered games for cross-sex play in both fieldsites. They transgressed hegemonic styles of gaming associated with boys and girls during borderwork with peers, where they performed gender identities in response to the activation of gender differences during cross-sex play. Children’s gaming was also marked by their playground practices, suggesting that the domestication of games in after-school settings involves drawing on these practices while appropriating digital games for peer play. Familiar playground practices such as dramatic role-play, playground sexualities and heterosexual games were all salient in children’s gameplay. Children negotiated meanings of game rules to orchestrate their own social scripts in service of performing peer relationships and gender identities. They also learned to amuse their peers or to send up authority through ‘remix’ strategies. In some cases, children’s digital gameplay involved transgression and parody of adult discourses about childhood innocence, age and gender norms. The prevalence of meta-gaming illustrates how games were domesticated in ways unique to the fieldsites, where specific spatial arrangements, turn-taking and time constraints informed varieties of play. These kinds of ‘learning’ and domestication tactics form part of children’s peer pedagogy.


Chapter titles:

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Ludic gendering and gender tactics – how children perform gender identities through appropriating digital games

Chapter 3: Researching children’s digital gameplay

Chapter 4: Methodology

Chapter 5: ‘Clique’ to play – Ludic gendering and peer relationships in context

Chapter 6:  Gender games – Children’s gameplay as transgression, parody and liminal pleasure

Chapter 7: Meta-gaming – Game rules, peer relationships and identity

Chapter 8: Conclusion