Fake the Dawn: Digital Game Mechanics and the Construction of Gender in Fictional Worlds

This thesis considers the ways in which digital game mechanics (interactive inputs) contribute to games’ worldbuilding. In particular, this work is concerned with the replication and reinforcement of problematic gender roles through game mechanics that express positive (“warm”) interactions between characters, namely healing, protection, and building relationships. The method used has been adapted from structural analysis via literary theory, as informed by game studies, media studies methodologies, and feminist epistemologies. Game mechanics are analyzed both across and within primary texts (consisting of Japanese-developed games from the action and role-playing genres) in relation to characters’ representation. Through this analysis, I found that characters who are women and girls are often associated with physical weakness, nature-based magic, and nurturing (or absent) personalities, whereas characters who are men and boys often protect women through physical combat, heal through medical means, and keep an emotional distance from others. Relationships built through game mechanics rely on one-sided agency and potential that renders lovers and friends as characters who exist to support the player character in achieving the primary goals of the game. Through these findings, I conclude that even warm interactions in games carry negative, even potentially violent and oppressive, representations and that there is thusly a need for design interventions on the mechanical level to mitigate violence in game worlds and the reinforcement of negative real world stereotypes.

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Kyrie Eleison Caldwell

About Kyrie Eleison Caldwell

Kyrie E. H. Caldwell earned her B.A. in Art History and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a return to her Midwestern hometown after a good while spent in Conyers, Georgia. During that while, Kyrie played many video games, steeping herself especially in the rich worlds and stories of the Final Fantasy series. Since then, she thought about those video games through various humanist lenses, from literature to folklore to Japanese studies to her undergraduate majors, until she realized that she could cut to the chase and directly study video games through those various humanist lenses. Thus she found the wonderful people of UW-Madison's Games + Learning + Society group and now finds herself in CMS at MIT, working at the MIT Game Lab and The Education Arcade. Kyrie's academic interests lie in many directions and disciplines, but for the time being she has settled on the ways in which game design reflects, comments upon, simulates, and seeks to challenge or affirm broader cultural ideas and systems. She believes that both playfulness and emotionality have a distinct and rigorous place in scholarship and life in general, and in the spirit of that, she has published work on the parallels between mystical religious practices and video game play, love as a game mechanic (forthcoming), and a reflexive exploration of how one’s play history shapes one’s life (forthcoming). Personally, Kyrie has been known to fence sabre and chase down frisbees, listen to much much music and wear fancy dresses, and (unsurprisingly) play all sorts of games. She has no doubt that she is where she is in large part because of her brilliant, driven, and supportive family and friends. Thesis: Fake the Dawn: Digital Game Mechanics and the Construction of Gender in Fictional Worlds