Game Archaeologies

“Engineering Exclusion: Examining Gender through Material Histories of Video Game Technology.” International Communication Association Conference, Paris, FR, 2022.

In revisions for publication.

Numerous video game studies have found that there are significant gender differences in video game preference and usage, which range from basic differences in play, where males are more likely to play video games, to specific gendered differences in interpersonal motivation for video game play. Some researchers propose “the emphasis on competition and violence deters girls from playing” while others have cited unequal access as the basis of gender difference in use (Lucas and Sherry 507). However, there has been a lack of attention given to the video game materials themselves and thus I turn to the media artifacts and consider how video game consoles and cartridges were designed, what assumptions and norms were encoded in the design and production processes and how gender inequalities are materialized through communicative practices of advertising and cultural practices of play. Specifically, I examine early video game technology such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Fairchild Channel F system and the Atari system.

To do so, I employ a media archaeology-informed methodology that interrogates the various materialities of these video game systems and I reveal the processes by which gender is encoded in the cartridge and console design. I also examine archival materials such as game system packaging and advertising campaigns as well as official game artwork to understand how gender is materialized through these various ephemera. Interrogating the encoding of gender in historical video game technologies offers insight into how bias emerges or rather is embedded within technological design processes. I situate the historical technologies within contemporary contexts to trace the longer sociocultural genealogies of gendered inequalities in video games which continue today. As such, this article is an exploration of materiality in game design through historical artifacts and exemplifies a complex process that occurs across communication technologies: that gender inequalities are encoded at all levels of technology and these encodings shape and affect not only how technology is accessed and used but how it is designed.