Games, Gender and Society

DMS 448 / 548 : Fall 2013 : M / W : 11:00 -12:50 CFA 232
Instructor: Josephine Anstey :  jranstey at buffalo: Office Hrs: TBA
TA: Sean Feiner :  seanfein at buffalo :  Office Hrs: W 1 – 2pm


This advanced seminar is an investigation of digital and analog games, play, and gaming culture through the emergent field of Game Studies and media theory/history. The class will focus this investigation through issues of gender representation, gender performance, and gendered (play) spaces.  In addition, we will consider cultures of gender within gamer-culture, the games’ industry and popular culture at-large. Throughout the course we shall foreground gender as a frame for games analysis and research, and as a trope within game scholarship. Initial texts in media theory will lay out a foundation and discursive vocabulary and method for which game scholarship and gender studies scholarship on games may be productively interrogated. Particular games will be played as a group in relation to scholarly articles. Through collective and individual play, game analysis, and textual analysis students will develop a research project that culminates their work in the course. In using selected texts from the field of games/gender scholarship, we will seek to explore the following questions/topics:

  • What is the role of gender in gaming?
  • How are certain games (genres, series, titles) gendered?
  • What is at stake in gendered play? How do we characterize play as gendered? Is there non-gendered play?
  • What is the role of gendered systems in the production of    games in the industry? How are genders represented in the labor force of the game production (as designers, developers, programmers, business, sales, etc.)?
  • What are ways to incorporate a study of gender in games scholarship and vice-versa?
  • How do we analyze representations of masculinity in popular games? What is the relationship of this (hyper)masculinized culture/landscape and the violence of popular video games?
  • Re: contemporary gaming masculinity… What do we make of notions of anti-sociality and gaming? Gaming addiction? HXC play styles and genres?
  • What is the effect of stereotypical and transgressive gender representation? In which games do we see these phenomena, and how do we analyze these aspects?
  • What do we make of the the notion of the playing “gamer”    as male subject? What are challenges to this?What is the relationship between ideology / ideological formations and gaming/games?



This course provides both students who are familiar with media theory, cultural studies, and game studies and introductory students a chance to participate in a discourse surrounding digital/analog gaming and gender. Students will gain historical, conceptual, theoretical and technical knowledge of games and the way they are critically analyzed and considered as an academic object of study. This will allow us to consider the way “gender” may play out in the content, form, context, and forces of production of a game-text. Rigorous academic writing, critical thinking, and scholarly discussion will be conducted with a focus on interdisciplinary methodologies. The overall goal is for students of all academic backgrounds to gain a comfort and vocabulary for discussing cultural and historical issues and a method for critically engaging media and scholarly texts.  


Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of the course student will be able to…


1. Critically engage with scholarship relating to the history, theory, and analysis of games, game culture, gender, sexuality. Student will be able to critique and analyze texts in their written work and during discussion. Class Discussions, Class Readings, Response Paper, Reading Presentations, Research Project, Individual and group gameplay
2. Compose original arguments using relevant games and scholarship. Discussion, Response Paper, Research Project
3. Experience and deploy multiple methodologies for play-research and game studies research (participant/immersive, play, observation of play, interview, etc.). Class Discussions, Individual and Group Gameplay.
4. Formulate individual ideas surrounding contemporary society             regarding issues of gender, gaming, games culture, sexism, consumer culture, network culture, femininity/masculinity, gendered globalism. Reading presentations, Class Discussions, Response Paper, Research Project
5. Recommend, summarize and evaluate a contemporary work relating to games, gender, and contemporary global society/culture through directed class presentations/leadership. Research Presentation, Final Project



Games: Students are responsible to acquire and play through the following games:
Braid, Number None, INC / HotHead Games, Designer Jonathan Blow, 2008-2010 Available through Xbox Live Arcade, Steam for Window Users, and iTunes store for Mac users
The Path, Tale of Tales, 2009 Available as download for Mac and PC users

Readings: All readings will be available online as PDFs through the UB Learns / Blackboard Course Page, unless otherwise noted.



Class/Daily Assignments

For each class session students will be responsible for preparing and completing readings for discussion.
In order to receive credit for participation student must bring the texts as well as contribute to class discussion, group play, and play analysis.

Response Paper

In the first section of the course students will work on a short response paper (3-4 pages) addressing the media texts and games we address. Using these texts students will compose an academic paper exploring an original thesis statement.

A presentation on paper writing will be given prior to the assignment. A workshop will be held to help draft student’s papers in class on September 25th.

A draft will be due at this workshop, after the workshop and with instructor feedback students will finalize a second draft due at the end of September (DUE DATE TBD).

Reading Presentation

During the second section of the course students will choose a day in which they are responsible for a given reading. It will be the students job to lead discussion and prepare a summary or reading guide document for the text. In addition, students will develop a group of discussion questions for this text. This will be modeled during the first section of the course.

Students will indicate their top preferences by emailing Sean Feiner ASAP

Precis / Abstract Paper (2-4 pages)

In preparation for the final students will prepare a shortened version of their research paper to be turned in Friday October 25th. This document will provide an idea of the given research area and early direction of the research project. This paper may take a detailed outline or planning document form.

Project Presentation

During the last section of the course students will provide a brief (maximum of 20 min) presentation of their final research project. Students will select and distribute to the class with a key text that addresses their research. Students will be evaluated on clarity,

Final Examination/Paper

Students research projects will culminate in a final academic research paper of 10-12 pages.  Individual topics will be approved through Abstract/Precis and guided through group presentations. NOTE: An academic paper includes citations and a bibliography.



Class attendance is mandatory. You are allowed a total of three unexcused absences. Absences are determined both on your physical presence in the room and your mental and emotional presence as a member of the class. Being absent from more than the allowed absences (3), will result in final grade deduction, up to and including failure of the course, at the instructor’s discretion.

  • Being late by 15 minutes or more constitutes an unexcused absence.
  • Sleeping, doing work for other classes, or causing disruptions may also result in an unexcused absence for the day.

Please contact me in advance if you are missing a class for an excused absence. All excused absences must be documented in writing and received preferably before the start of class. All absent students (excused and unexcused), are expected to make up any work or assignments for the given day missed.



Grading will be broken down accordingly:


  • 15% Attendance and Participation
  • 20% Response Paper
  • 10% Reading Presentation
  • 15% Precis/Abstract Paper
  • 20% Project Presentation
  • 20% Final Paper


Grading Scale:

94 – 100  A                              80 – 82  B-                              69 – 65  D

90 – 93    A-                            77 – 79  C+                             64 – 0    F

87 – 89   B+                            73 – 76  C

83 – 86   B                              70 – 72  C-



Any Student with a diagnosed disability (physical, learning, or psychosocial) that will make it difficult for him or her to carry out the course work as outlined, or requires accommodations such as recruiting note takers, readers, or extended time on exams and/or assignments, should contact Accessibility Resources, 25 Capen Hall, 716-645-2608. Accessibility Resources will provide students with information and review appropriate arrangements for reasonable accommodations. Qualified students should contact the course coordinator as early as possible within the course.



NOTE: If you begin to experience extreme difficulties with the course or having any issues or problems regarding the class please see the instructor immediately. If notifying the instructor does not seem appropriate, seek assistance from the Academic Advisor for the Department of Media Study. The longer you wait to get help (the instructor, the writing center, academic tutoring etc.) the less likely these methods will be successful. Everyone should be able to master the principles and materials of this course if they are open and communicate.


  • Students are expected to exhibit the highest form of respect for the instructor, their class peers, individual experiences, the readings, the films, and the class discussion. Rude or obnoxious behavior will not be tolerated and may result in expulsion from class and subsequent loss of credit for that day. Further disciplinary action at the discretion of the instructor.
  • Student athletes must provide an official letter with the dates of their meets and travel days during the first two weeks of classes. Make up assignments and exams that fall during those days will be rescheduled and must be done so with the permission of the instructor. In general we will try to arrange for you to make up material prior to leaving.
  • Students are expected to turn off and put away cell phones, pagers, iPods and MP3 players, e-readers, iPads and other tablets, laptop computers and other small electronic devices. Failure to follow this policy may result in loss of credit for the class day.
  • The class room in which our lessons, screenings and discussions take place has a strict no food, and no drink policy. Please eat before or after class.
  • Students are expected to follow the guidelines for appropriate behavior outlined in the University catalog.
  • If you need to depart early do so quietly after having cleared it with your instructor at the beginning of the class session.
  • Grades of incomplete will be given on a extremely rare basis. All other measures will be taken to avoid an incomplete. Those students seeking an incomplete must have some serious, well-documented medical condition or in cases of family tragedy who have satisfied the attendance policy and are missing one major assignment. No incomplete will be given as substitute for a poor or failing grade or any other reasons. A written agreement must be drafted and signed by the instructor and the student. The Instructor reserves the right to request completion of the incomplete prior to 12 month maximum set by the University.
  • Final grades are final. These grades will not be changed. You should refrain from bothering instructor about final grades as this goes against University policy.



Students who are suspected of academic dishonesty will be dealt with severely in according to the Department of Media Studies and University Policies. This may include a grade of 0 for an assignment and/or failure in a course. Plagiarism and cheating come in many forms. When you have doubts please contact the instructor for any help regarding ethics of course work and/or how to cite or use material.

Some examples of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Submission – the use of material previously submitted in whole or in substantial part in another course, to satisfy academic requirements, without prior and expressed consent of the instructor.
  • Plagiarism – copying material from a source or sources and submitting this material as one’s own without acknowledging the particular debts to the source (quotations, paraphrases, basic idea), or otherwise representing the work of another as one’s own.
  • Cheating – receiving information from another student or unauthorized source or giving information to another student with intention to deceive while competing an examination or individual assignment.
  • Falsification of academic materials – fabricating materials, notes, and all forms of data and reports; forging an instructor’s name or initials, or submitting a report, paper, or any other material prepared by any person other than the student responsible for the the assignment.






Sexual Harassment of employees and students, as defined at , is contrary to universe policy and is a violation of federal and state laws and regulations.


Please Note: This syllabus is a living document and is subject to change at the the discretion of the instructor and pace of the class. Students will be notified when significant changes are made.


Week 1: Introduction and Foundations


Monday August 26th

-Review of Syllabus

-Review of experiences in gaming/Games culture

-Look at Althusser Together

Wednesday August 28th

-Complete Althusser Reading


Week 2: Foundations in Feminism

Monday September 2nd – NO CLASS LABOR DAY

-Read for Wednesday:

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “The Five Sexes: While Male and Female Aren’t Enough”

Freud “Female Sexuality”

Halberstam “Gaga Gender” from Gaga Feminism


Wednesday September 4th

l  Discussion of Feminism/Gender Texts

l  Have students bring in gendered examples of play/games



Week 3: Game Studies and Play


  • Selections from Games of Empire
  • Jenkins and Cassell. “Chess for Girls? Feminism and Computer Games” From  Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT Press, 1998.               
  • Castell and Bryson. “Retooling Play: Dystopia, Dysphoria, and Difference.” From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT Press, 1998.


Monday September 9th

l  Due: Read and Analyze Selections from Games of Empire

l  Review of Foundations and GoE

Wednesday September 11th

l  Due: Read and Analyze Intro Texts from Barbie

l  Game Day #1

Braid and Mario

                                    Continue Playing Braid throughout semester!


Week 4: Masculinity/ Male Gamer


  • Schut, Kevin. “Desktop Conquistadors: Negotiating American Manhood in the Digital Fantasy Role-Playing Game.” from Gaming As Culture          (ed. J. Patrick Williams, Sean Q. Hendricks…)
  • Walkerdine, Valerie. “Video Games and Childhood Masculinity.” from Children,          Gender, Video Games: Towards a Relational Approach to Multimedia. Palgrave, 2007.        
  • Walkerdine, Valerie. “Regulating Game Play: ‘Clingy, Sooky Mummy’s Boys’ and          other Personas” from Children, Gender, Video Games: Towards a Relational Approach to Multimedia. Palgrave, 2007.    

Monday September 16th


Wednesday September 18th –

l  Game Day #2

l  TBD: Possibilities include Halo? Doom? GTA?

l  Paper Writing presentation


Week 5: Femininity/Female Gamer

  • Taylor, T. L. Chapter Four: “Where the Women Are” from Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. MIT Press 2006.
  • Walkerdine, Valerie. “’Remembering Not to Die’: Girls Playing Video Games”    from Children, Gender, Video Games: Towards a Relational Approach to Multimedia.      Palgrave, 2007.        
  • Subrahmanyam and Greenfield. “Computer Games for Girls: What Makes Them Play?” From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT            Press, 1998.   

Monday September 23rd

Wednesday September 25th

l  Response Paper Workshop


First Response Paper Draft Due at workshop. Final Due Date TBD



(Here students will be responsible for a given text. They will provide summary/reading guide documents and prepare discussion questions, see assignments above)


Week 6: The Casual and the Hardcore


l  Selections from Soderman, Interpreting Video Games through the Lens of Modernity

l  From “For Time Flows On: Innovation and Opposition in Video Games”

l  From “Flo and Diner Dash: Killing Time, Gender and the Woman Who Waits”


Diner Dash


Monday September 30th

  • Discussion of Soderman

Wednesday October 2nd

l  Game Day (Diner Dash /  Braid)

Begin Playing the Path


Week 7: Gendering Space(s)


Jenkins. “’Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces” From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT Press, 1998.      

Lin, Holin. “Body, Space, and Gendered Gaming Experiences: A Cultural Geography of Homes, Cybercafés, and Dormitories.” Beyond  Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.    

Monday October 7th

  • Discussion of Readings

Wednesday October 9th

l  Discuss Research Project -> Abstract/Presentation/Final

l  Games Day (Games TBD, likely MMORPGs, RTS)


Week 8: Art and Resistive Practice


Art Games / Resistive design

  • Flanagan and Nissenbaum. “Design Heuristics for Activist Games.” Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.
  • Samyn, Michael. “The Contradiction of Linearity,” Gamasutra. October 7, 2010
  • Harvey and Samyn, “The Path Postmortem.” Tale of Tales, March 2010.


The Path

Monday October 14th

  • Discussion of Readings

Wednesday October 16th

  • Game Day (The Path)

l      Group play and analysis


Week 9: Player Identity/Subjectivity/Desire


  • Nephew, Michelle. “Playing with Identity: Unconscious Desire and Role-Playing Games.” from Gaming As Culture (ed. J. Patrick Williams, Sean Q. Hendricks…)
  • Yee,    Nick. “Maps of Digital Desires: Exploring the Topography of Gender          and Play in Online Games.” Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.      
  • Consalvo, Mia. “Hot Dates and Fairy Tale Romances”


The Sims

Final Fantasy IX, X

Monday October 21st

  • Discussion of Readings

Wednesday October 23rd

l  Game Day: Final Fantasy / The Sims



Long Abstract/Precis Paper in prep for Presentation/Final due Oct. 25th!


Week 10: Industry/Labor/Gendered Production


  • Denner and Campe. “What Games Made By Girls Can Tell Us.” Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.
  • Consalvo, Mia. “Crunched by Passion: Women Game Developers and Workplace Challenges.” Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.             
  • Hayes, Elisabeth. “Girls, Gaming and Trajectories of IT Expertise.”            Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. MIT Press, 2008.

Monday October 28th

  • Discussion of Readings

Wednesday October 30th

  • Review of Presentations/Projects



(Project Presentations Week 11-15)

Week 11:

Monday November 4th

Wednesday November 6th


Week 12:

Monday November 11th

Wednesday November 13th


Week 13:

Monday November 18th

Wednesday November 20th


Week 14:

Monday November 25th

Wednesday November 27th – NO CLASS FALL RECESS


Week 15: TBD / Games Wrap-up

Monday December 2nd

Wednesday December 4th

Final Research Paper Due December 13th