Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Durham, Meenakshi Gigi

First Committee Member

Durham, Meenakshi

Second Committee Member

Berkowitz, Daniel A

Third Committee Member

Durham, Frank

Fourth Committee Member

Sosale, Sujatha

Fifth Committee Member

Andrejevic, Mark


This dissertation analyzes gender in the commercial production of digital games. The purpose is to develop a detailed understanding of gender as it plays out among individuals who develop creative content and in the ideological constitution of the workplace, and to examine the ways in which these individuals participate in and make sense of the production of digital cultural products. The broad line of questioning attempts to provide detail and depth to how gender is organized, symbolized, and identified during the production a commercial game.

The digital game industry and culture have constructed a strong fortress of androcentric ideas, practices, and experiences, and excluding women from digital media production by making entry into the social space unattractive preserves men's dominance of the field. To research the practices at play in the design of digital games, I conducted a case study using participant observation of the production of a digital game at a U.S. game development studio combined with primary document collection and in-depth interviews of workers who produce the game play, technical and artistic elements used in the creation of games in a team-based organization of labor.

My analysis of the game studio worksite and culture revealed entrenched rituals, practices, and discourses of masculinity that produce and are reproduced by digital game workers. The organization of work in terms of space, organizational function and teamwork form decentralized layers of a network that are tightly controlled by the commercial production cycle. Each layer creates boundaries of inclusion and exclusion along multiple lines, including gender. Additionally, I examined how family socialization, the sexual division of labor in computer work and education, and passion for games idealize masculinity in the habitus of game workers. The habitus also structures working practices that are infused with masculinity based on technical proficiency. These working practices reproduce the gender dynamic of the social and symbolic space of the field. The studio's culture also constitutes a masculine symbolic space through inter-related discourses of masculine aesthetics, hegemonic masculinity, and science and technology. Implications for making the field of digital games more diverse and open are discussed.


digital games, ethnography, gender, masculinity, media production, new media work


2, viii, 224 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 213-224).


Copyright 2010 Robin Scott Johnson