Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joanne Belknap

Second Advisor

Jane Menken

Third Advisor

Heather Albanesi


This dissertation is a qualitative study that examines how game worlds and positive game experiences are neither equally accessible nor equally enjoyable to many who wish to participate in them. Newer research on games argues that those who master them are fulfilled socially, are highly productive, are motivated, and are invigorated by participation in grand narratives. Using a mixed methods approach, I drew on seventy in-depth interviews with gamers coupled with observational data from my membership role in several virtual worlds. Through these data I examined the social barriers deployed to fracture game world communities and arguably disperse the positive benefits of play. Specifically, my participants and my observational data indicate that rigid social categories of gender, sexuality, and race, as well as the assumptions bound to their maintenance and reinforcement, disrupted the possibility for a more inclusive collective identity. I use an interactionist theoretical framework to understand how the rigidity of social categories and identity politics are recreated and enforced through virtual conversation and relationships. This dissertation explains how the labeling and exclusion of various "others" in game worlds, including women, gender-bending men, non-hardcore geeks, fluid sexuality players, and cyberworkers, entrenches the stereotypes of who gamers are and who they can be. The consequences of these practices erode the possibilities for how the solid world and reality itself might benefit from becoming similar to a game.