Playing in Drag: A Study on Gender In Virtual and Non-Virtual Gaming


  • Jaigris Hodson Royal Roads University
  • Pamela Livingstone Ryerson University


This project explores hybrid avatar identities and gender through an analysis of how players navigate gender in games that are popularly considered to be “for girls only” or “for men only”. It also considers the choice of avatar gender that players make in game, and their reasons for making that choice. Finally, it looks at the reported experiences of playing characters of both genders in both online visually rich immersive game environments, as well as leaner table-top RPG play. Using Butler’s gender trouble, we analyze how gender in game play can be both like and unlike drag performance. We also use the frame of gender trouble to consider the question of whether players who openly play games contrary to social expectations, or play an avatar of a different gender, are engaging in a transgressive act. Data was collected through a discourse analysis of online forums, participant observation, and autoethnographic reflection.We find that when the act of play itself is transgressive, there are opportunities to reach a community with a message that challenges dominant ideas of gender. However, the reasons why people choose to play a specific game or avatar within that game are very complex, and the content of the game, along with the reasons people choose a gendered avatar, or how they relate to the avatar both support and subvert dominant gender norms.