Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Making Sense of Gender from Digital Game Play in Three-Year-Old Children's Everyday Lives: An Ethnographic Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Making Sense of Gender from Digital Game Play in Three-Year-Old Children's Everyday Lives: An Ethnographic Case Study

Article excerpt


This article is a part of my dissertation that focuses on six three-year-old children playing digital games on a daily basis and their families. In this paper, I explore how very young children perform and talk about game characters in their everyday lives and how it is related to their gender identities. In this study, I consider young children's digital game play as a hybrid and complex site of interaction between children, popular culture, and their local experiences with their families. I combine ethnographic methods (spending time with the families, being a participant observer, and informal interviewing) and critical analysis with Bakhtinian perspectives to construct analyses that have the potential to contribute to the understanding of young children and how they make sense of their identities as a boy or a girl through their game play.

There have been many studies addressing gender differences in children's game selection, use, and play performance (Cooper 2006; Dill and Thill 2007; Goldstein 1994, Kafai 1998; Lucas and Sherry 2004; Walkerdine 2006). In the early years of video game studies, most studies tended to focus on the differences between boys and girls in access to technology; the issue of the digital divide between boys and girls has often been mentioned in digital game studies (Cooper 2006; Provenzo 1991). Similarly, the maledominated digital game market and underrepresented female game characters in most popular video games have often been discussed in these studies (Jansz and Martis 2007). The grounded assumption in these studies is that females are deficient at using technology and considered to be lacking interest in digital game play in comparison to their male peers.

However, the emerging pink markets in digital industries disprove these traditional views on girls' game play and question the simple comparison between boys and girls in terms of technology use (Kafai 1998; Cassell and Jenkins 1998). 'Girls are not uninterested in video games or interactive technology; they are simply interested in other features.' (Kafai 1998: 110) Walkerdine (2006) also states that girls are also active game players who take pleasure from winning and mastering game skills in order to achieve their goal, just as boys do, but they do not give up on displaying their femininity while they play games, thus forming the basis for defining fundamental differences between boys and girls in their game play.

Current game studies have shown more of a focus on digital game media effects on young children's gender socialization. A great deal of research has viewed digital game media as a site for reproducing stereotyped gender roles in children (Dill et al. 2005; Leonard 2003; Williams et al. 2009). For example, by using content analysis of video game characters Williams et al. (2009) argue that the appearance of game characters might affect game players' perceptions of gender, race, and age. Also, Leonard (2003: 1) sees digital games as 'sophisticated vehicles inhabiting and disseminating racial, gender, or national meanings.' Dill and Thill (2007) point to the important role of video games as agents of socialization by analyzing game characters in video game magazines and advertisements. Overall, these views tend to explain the potential harm of digital games on young children by analyzing game media content, not by examining what happens while young children are playing (Walkerdine 2006). This results in describing young children as passive victims of digital media.

According to Buckingham (2007), with new digital technology and interactive media, young children are no longer passive audiences; they are able to make and remake their own media by using digital contents. Tobin and Henward (2011: 2) argue:

'a growing area of media research is on how young people not only consume commercially produced media, but also creatively use the content and genres of mass media texts to re-mix and in other ways produce their own media products'. …

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