Gender and Systems of Warm Interaction in Digital Games

2014-2016: Kyrie Caldwell (S.M., Comparative Media Studies, 2016)


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.


Caldwell, Kyrie. “Fake the dawn: digital game mechanics and the construction of gender in fictional worlds”


How Not to Wipe; or, How MMORPGs Work to Disassociate Gender and Caretaking