Maybe you remember when UWaterloo English PhD candidate Emma Vossen won the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) annual Storytellers competition. Perhaps you recall her cofounding of the GI Janes, a Games Institute group designed to raise the profile of women in gaming. Then there was that documentary CBC made about her research. Yesterday she successfully defended her dissertation, “On the Cultural Inaccessibility of Gaming: Invading, Creating, and Reclaiming the Cultural Clubhouse,” and is DOCTOR Emma Vossen. Dr. Neil Randall supervised Dr. Vossen’s dissertation; Drs. Aimée Morrison and Jennifer Whitson were committee members.
Dr. Vossen’s forthcoming publications include a co-edited book, Feminism in Play (Palgrave); as of September she will be a postdoctoral fellow at York University on the Refiguring Innovation in Games project. A brief description of her dissertation follows.
L-R: Drs Neil Randall, Aimée Morrison, Emma Vossen, and Jennifer Whitson
On the Cultural Inaccessibility of Gaming: Invading, Creating, and Reclaiming the Cultural Clubhouse
This dissertation uses intersectional feminist theory and Autoethnography to develop the concept of “cultural inaccessibility”. Cultural inaccessibility is a concept I’ve created to describe the ways that women are made to feel unwelcome in spaces of game play and games culture, both “in real life” and online. Although there are few formal barriers preventing women from purchasing games, playing games, or acquiring jobs in the games industry, this dissertation explores the formidable cultural barriers which define women as “space invaders” and outsiders in games culture. This dissertation illustrates the parallel development of games culture and women’s continued exclusion from it, from the exclusionary sexism of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing to the development of the “Gamer” as a fixed (and stereotypically cis-male) identity in the pages of video game magazines of the 1980s and ‘90s, to the online “Gamer activism” of today. At the same time, I also explore my own experiences as a female gamer and academic in the 2010s, using projects I have been a part of as a means of reflecting on developments in the broader culture. I first discuss a short machinima (a film made within a video game) that Elise Vist and I created within the 2007 Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Lord of the Rings Online entitled Lady Hobbits. I then discuss the gender and games advocacy group that I co-founded at the University of Waterloo, The Games Institute Janes (GI Janes), and the many gaming events that we ran, comparing the experience of our gender-integrated and women-only game nights. Lastly, I discuss my experiences as a staff member, and eventual first female editor-in-chief, of game studies publication First Person Scholar (FPS). The conclusion of this dissertation asks how women can study games culture and the politically-motivated violence with which it has recently been linked if doing so puts us at risk of becoming a target of harassment and abuse.