Abstract and Thesis:
Current research suggests a clear academic interest in the relationship between women and casual gaming, including their relationship with developmental, in-game, fanbased, or social labor.  There is a distinct gendering of specific roles within different aspects of the video game community.  Anable’s Casual Games, Time Management, and the Work Affect[1] notes a distinction between the labor in the lightweight multiplatform game ‘Diner Dash’ (2004) and the labor of the middle aged woman office worker.  She summarily equates that these games exist in a space between emotional labor and affective labor, pointing to a more complex relationship between representation, labor, identity, and play, and the cybernetic space of games within which these relationships and attributes coalesce.
Much the gender discussion surrounding video games points to an implicit (and often framed as insidious) attempt to maintain the toxic masculine game culture that has been prevalent within the community for so long.  Many scholars on game culture and women within game culture note a strong connection between the othering and demeaning of women and casual games.  These connections are reinforced and reaffirmed by other members of the community, pointing to a clear gendering of cultural norms within video game culture.    
I intend to explore the more complex relationships that exist between notions of representation and labor within games, at what point these representations and labored become gendered or are removed from gender, the connection that gender has with perceptions of ‘hardcore’ as opposed to ‘casual.’  ​​​​​​​
Literary Review:
Recent studies on video game demographics indicate that a high percentage of casual game players are middle aged women.  The definition of casual games that will be used for the purpose of this analysis is from Anable’s Casual Games, Time Management, and Work Affect; “casual games are intrinsically about organization, rhythm, habits, and management of time devoted to labor,” with the further addition that the skill barriers to entry are incredibly low, hence the denotation of ‘casual,’ players can enter and exit the space with fairly little resistance or fallout.  Vanderhoef’s Casual Threats: the Feminization of Casual video games, echoes this sentiment, noting that the saturation of casual games into popular culture lends itself to feminization, and denigration by the video game community by extension.  Arguably, this problem has evolved from casual and denigrating representation of women in games and the gaming community; to tokenization of women and non-binary gamers and game developers.[1] 
Witkowski’s essay on eventful masculinities in e-sports events also makes a comment about how women physically occupy a competitive video game space – as accessories to their male counterparts.  Witkowski notes that the ‘esports girlfriend’ functions as an advertising billboard for her competing boyfriend; she wears his merchandise and branding, silently (and often tiredly) supports him from the sidelines.[2]  Her labor is not associated with the game itself, but with the (male) person playing it.  This narrative echoes similar sentiments about ‘titty streamers,’ who some vocal viewers claim attract undue attention by using their bodies (specifically visibility of their breasts) as opposed to actively engaging with video game content.[3]  This category of ‘variety’ streamer may also reinforce industry and cultural stereotypes regarding women as primarily casual game consumers.  Pairing this with the statistical information that the majority of casual gamers are women, and the majority of variety streamers are women, demographic representation alone seems to point towards a preference by women for casual games.
The recent decade has also seen an increase in ‘otome’ [literally ‘maiden’] games, which are a subcategory of Japanese dating simulators directed specifically towards women.  Otome games are categorized as narrative text driven games which focus on interacting with and romancing one or multiple straight heterosexual men NPCs.  The overarching mechanic in these games is to make in-game choices that ultimately lead to romancing your preferred character.  These choices often involve engaging in emotional labor for this imagined partner.  Coincidentally, these games are exceptionally popular among Japanese women, and the market for them is growing within North America among young women and non-binary gamers.[4]  Otome games draw on the longstanding connection between the feminism and immaterial labor, particularly emotional labor, and market it as content directed towards women.  These games find success in ways not dissimilar to that of teen romance novels, which of course lends to the logical conclusion that these games are expressly ‘girl’ games.    
All of the literature in question points to an othering of women as passive consumers as well as passive laborers of video games, as well as a tendency towards immaterial and emotional labor as well as multitasking and micromanaging.  This builds a very striking case towards casting casual games in a ‘feminine’ light and hardcore games in a ‘masculine’ light.’  However, within the past decade, narratives surrounding games have diversified our understanding of hardcore as opposed to casual gaming, as well as removed the notion of gender from specific types of labor, which becomes associated with tasks and narratives within the game itself.  
Who Really Plays Games?
While scholarship does indicate a clear existence of hegemonic masculinities in video game communities, many online forums indicate a rather nonchalant and inclusive attitude towards women and expressive gender in video games.  While there is currently criticism of the use of gender identity discussion and representation in video games as exotic and artistic, one cannot deny that video game consumers have been largely accepting of the content.  In-fact, many forums voice confusion and distain for the apparent outrage by a loud few.  The subreddit r/Gamingcirclejerk is entirely dedicated to satiring these individuals, similarly to how r/IncelTears satires the radical and dissonant opinions of the self-described incel demographic. 
This shift in social narrative can also be connected to the shift in representation and the expansion of target audience within the AAA gaming industry.  Within the past five years, games have seen trends including broader representation of parents (acknowledging the aging population of gamers) as well as women and non-binary individuals (in acknowledgement of the growing gender diverse population of gamers).  While many games receive criticism over digital forums over pandering to the ‘SJWs,’ sales and reviews for the games are otherwise unaffected by this discourse, meaning that it has been insignificant to a game’s overall success. 
Horizon Zero Dawn, a 2017 action adventure PS4 exclusive, features a woman lead as she traverses a post-apocalyptic overgrown world.  Key activities in the game include hunting and destroying machines (combat), collecting materials and crafting items (resource management), and interacting with non-playable characters (social labor).  According to Anable’s definition of casual games, roughly two thirds of Horizon Zero Dawn’s in-game labor could be considered casual, which is further feminized by the use of a woman avatar.  However, there is little (if any) consideration of Horizon Zero Dawn as a ‘casual’ or ‘feminine’ games, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
This is because, despite the attempts by industry and disgruntled gamers to maintain hegemonic masculinities within the gaming community, players inherently understand that there is nothing inherently gendered about these activities.  The elements of the above game are found in games such as Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and the Batman: Arkham series, all of which are considered technically difficult, or ‘hardcore’ games.[1]  Video games take full advantage of their interactive medium, elements can be added in-game to create tension and release moments for players that, in accordance with the game’s choreography, create a sense of sympathy for the game’s content and narrative. 
Interactive Storytelling is accomplished through various means, though arguably some methods are more fruitful in accomplishing storytelling, while others are more effective in accomplishing entertaining interactivity.  Ultimately, it is through this labor that we, as players, interact with the game’s content, and through this labor that we understand the context of the game at an intrapersonal level.  It is not until games become disseminated into social cultures that labors become racialized or gendered.  Consider Nakamura’s 2009 paper on racialization of labor by Chinese players, racialization of players was not necessarily something that was inherent to the culture of World of Warcraft as a game platform, but became an expansion of the fan culture, and by extension became representative of the game’s population.[6]
Video games as a storytelling medium has become a fascinating point of contention among media and film scholars, as the nature of how one tells the story can be further extended into gameplay.  Immersion has always been a key selling point for video games – true interaction with the person or world that is being represented within that digital space.  These spaces exist as places for very specific interactions between the user and the game to occur, and these interactions ultimately create the player’s experience.  Incidentally, current research indicates that women make up for almost half of the self-identified gaming population, as well as half of video game sales worldwide.[7]  Most recent releases, as well as commentary from game companies on upcoming content and company policies, indicate an overall shift by the industry in acknowledging that the standard consumer of their product is not a young, heterosexual man.  Indeed, the gaming industry’s acknowledgement of its broadening fan base can be seen as video game content, characters, and accessibility continue to diversify.  As stated earlier, this can cause problems when it comes to the tokenization of LGBTQ+ labor and artistry by the industry and the fan culture, which I will explore in more detail later. 
Perron and Wolf note that interactive storytelling is accomplished through different means depending on how the game is designed to be played, meaning that the level of engagement with the story could be superficial (non-interative stories with a façade of interactivity) or integral to the player’s experience (branching story trees and world simulators).[8]  I argue that this is ultimately what informs player’s opinions about the labor in-game.  Branching story trees and world simulators indicate that a player’s actions and in-game decisions have an overall effect on the status of the world and the outcome of the game.  The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, is a prime example of a game where seemingly unrelated decisions can have an outcome on the overall story.  The PC version of the game allows players to import data from previous installments of the series, meaning that their decisions have impact across multiple installments. 
However, the Witcher series already has a longstanding narrative plot with three potential, though fixed, endings, which all have a different impact on the player character.  This is to say that the labor associated with the player character is informed by the context of the game, not necessarily the player’s gender.  Therefore, it is not at the point of consumption that labor becomes gendered, nor is it gendered prior to consumption.
Labor Attributions of Hegemonic Masculinities
As video game culture and industry diversifies, we see more abstract and socially informed content present in our game narratives and design.  While game journalism celebrates the growing diversity, the comments section of these articles is often flooded with comments dismissing complaints about player choice.  Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey came under fire when their DLC content negated a player’s preferred sexual orientation (which can be decided at the beginning of the game).  Ironically, must of the dissent regarding Ubisoft’s decision to remedy this design error was met with criticism by similar voices who lament the inclusion of less male-centric content in their games.[9] 
Many commentators note that the player’s ability to choose is inherently against the nature of the game,[10] pointing to a stagnation and steadfastness by a very vocal population of the gaming community to maintain the masculine status quo.  This is to say that the games themselves are not gendered, but rather gender is used to vilify games and gaming activities to maintain dominant hegemonic masculinity in video game culture.  This can and often does apply to the racialization of in-game and game culture labor.
Nakamura’s 2009 journal on the racialization of “Chinese gold farmers,” a derogatory term to refer to the practice of mining and selling resources that was often associated with East Asian World of Warcraft players, spoke to the practice of fan culture and how fan narratives can gain traction exclusive of the original intellectual property.  Fan engagement and the application of fan values onto the game narrative created a new narrative within which these new archetypes could thrive.  For a long time, it was considered rather amusing to the community to belittle the ‘Chinese gold farmer’ trope.  The nature of this othering and demeaning practice can also be seen in how ‘titty streamers’ are defined by critics.
This is not necessarily to say that all fan culture is negative, it often creates thriving external narratives exclusive of the original intellectual property.  Otome games are known for having thriving user generated content in the form of art, extended narrative, and character analysis.[11]  Ganzon notes that interest by otome fan communities often involves attempts to localize games, as well as elements that they would like to see in future otome games.  This volume of fan discussion surrounding games that are explicitly marketed towards women shows active interest by the community to create games that demand labor (both material and immaterial) based on narrative structure and resource management within these games.  Whilst games marketed towards women almost always contain these elements, we can also definitively say that they are exclusively gendered labors, due to their presence in ‘hardcore’ games.     
Lopez-Fernandez et al. summarily stated that so much of the information we have on video game addiction and game consumption demographic between the years of 2000 and 2018 comprise primarily of a male dataset and assume male subjects, despite the overwhelming population of women in game culture and development.[4]  Nakamura’s piece on the racialization of labor in World of Warcraft teaches us that the hegemonic masculinities once dominant within video game culture spoke these labor attributes into existence.  A significant part of the heteronormative gamer that serves as the archetype for most study is the other of others who are unlike, or lesser, to him.[12]  The problem with this archetype is now twofold: it does not represent the majority of the game consumer population by a significantly large margin anymore; this archetype is no longer considered preferable for most developers.  We are then left with a gaping hole in our research, as scholarship has focused on a demographic that has become drastically more desaturated in the last decade.    ​​​​​​​
Closing Thoughts
It is not that casual games are marketed towards women, and that hardcore games are marketed towards men, but a blank period of research into the drastically shifting demographic of gamers and the lack of an applicable proto-persona that allows discursive rhetoric regarding gender and investment into video games.  Vanderhoef says “there has been a long history of linking mainstream of popular culture with the feminine for the purpose of denigrating both.”[13]  The gendering of passive and immaterial labor by hegemonic masculinities within any culture is not remotely new. It becomes less common as discussions regarding the importance of identity and representation in popular and new media become more prevalent.  However, seeing as both the commercial and material labor associated with game culture and development have predominantly saturated with this ideology since game development inception, and the fairly new academic field of game studies, it is unsurprising that we do not have much scholarly literature to indicate otherwise.  Whether or not ‘hardcore’ games were masculine was not a question to be asked, as ‘hardcore’ games are central to the archetypal gaming experience, and therefore could not be anything but masculine.  The othering, simplification, and denigration of casual games points to an attempt to maintain this narrative. 
However, these findings indicate a growing need for new scholarship on the new diversity of video game players, as well as how companies are developing proto-personas for games.  It points to a significant gap in our ability to draw decisive conclusions based on solid evidence regarding video game community demographics, as well as make insights about the reception particular design or PR decisions will receive by fans.  Further research and study will also direct decisions by companies in regards to the treatment and reception of women consumers on their platforms, as many women still cite sexual harassment as a key reason why gaming communities are volatile environments.[14]

[1] Anable, A. (2013) Causal Games and the Work of Affect. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.2. doi:10.7264/N3ZW1HVD

[2] Ruberg, B. (2019). The Precarious Labor of Queer Indie Game-making: Who Benefits from Making Video Games “Better”? Television & New Media, 20(8), 778-788. doi:10.1177/1527476419851090
[3] Witkowski, E (2013). Eventful masculinities: negotiations of hegemonic sporting masculinities at LANs. Routledge (New York, US)
[4] Ruberg, B., Cullen, A. L. L., & Brewster, K. (2019). Nothing but a “titty streamer”: legitimacy, labor, and the debate over women’s breasts in video game live streaming. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 36(5), 466–481. doi: 10.1080/15295036.2019.1658886
[5] Ganzon, S. C. (2018). Investing Time for Your In-Game Boyfriends and BFFs: Time as Commodity and the Simulation of Emotional Labor inMystic Messenger. Games and Culture, 14(2), 139-153.

[6] Wilson, J. L. (2020, May 20). The Best PC Games for 2020. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.pcmag.com/news/the-best-pc-games
[7] Nakamura, L. (2009). Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2), 128-144. doi:10.1080/15295030902860252
[8] Bosman, S. (2019, May 19). Women Account for 46% of All Game Enthusiasts: Watching Game Video Content and Esports Has Changed How Women and Men Alike Engage with Games. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/women-account-for-46-of-all-game-enthusiasts-watching-game-video-content-and-esports-has-changed-how-women-and-men-alike-engage-with-games/
[9]Perron, B., & Wolf, M. J. (2009). Interactive Storytelling. In The video game theory reader (pp. 259-273). New York, NY: Routledge.
[10] Ramsey, R. (2019, January 15). Ubisoft Faces Fan Backlash as Assassin's Creed Odyssey DLC Totally Ignores Player Choice. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from http://www.pushsquare.com/news/2019/01/ubisoft_faces_fan_backlash_as_assassins_creed_odyssey_dlc_totally_ignores_player_choice
[11] Ramsey, R. (2019, January 15).
[12] Ganzon, S. C. (2019). Growing the Otome Game Market: Fan Labor and Otome Game Communities Online. Human Technology, 15(3), 347–366. doi: 10.17011/ht/urn.201911265024
[13] Lopez-Fernandez, O., Williams, A. J., Griffiths, M. D., & Kuss, D. J. (2019). Female Gaming, Gaming Addiction, and the Role of Women Within Gaming Culture: A Narrative Literature Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00454
[14] Witkowski, E (2013).

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