News & Politics

Canadian Study Claims Video Gamers Perpetuate ‘Toxic’ ‘Neoliberal Masculinity’

[Getty Images] Back view of young gamer playing FPS video games at home

A new study published by University of Waterloo Assistant Professor Gerald Voorhees worries that men, especially men who play first-person shooter games, may be perpetuating “toxic” and “neoliberal masculinities.”

The study argues that eSports — otherwise known as competitive gaming — “inclucates a neoliberal masculinity that borrows facets of hegemonic, subordinate, and even counterhegemonic masculinity” among its players.

While eSports may seem like a fringe hobby, Voorhees told PJ Media that an increasing number of Canadian students play. The growth is no doubt due to a number of factors such as the rise of Twitch and increased Internet access in rural parts of Canada.

In fact, many students join something called the Collegiate Starleague, which has dozens of chapters across Canada including at Brock University (which has 13 active chapters) and the University of British Columbia (which has 32 active chapters).

And the payoff can be huge.

Since 2009, Collegiate Starleague players have won more than $400,000 in scholarships  for playing games such as Fortnite, Super Smash Bros and League of Legends. So, if a bunch of geeky college kids want to play video games, what’s the problem?

Well, capitalism. Or, “neoliberal masculinity,” according to Voorhees. If you haven’t been keeping track, neoliberalism is one of academia’s new buzzwords, typically employed to refer to people or businesses who appear left-wing but instead are evil capitalists.

“This form of masculinity, at first blush, appears to be progressive,” writes Voorhees.

“But, as GamerGate should remind us, [even men who don’t perpetuate hegemonic masculinity] are every bit as invested in accessing and wielding the privileges of the patriarchal order,” Voorhees wrote in his article on eSports players.

Though this new breed of masculinity is harmful, it isn’t all bad. Voorhees notes that certain subtypes of gamers — such as geeky or gay men — may benefit, since neoliberalism tends to be more inclusive of nontraditional identities.

But ultimately, Voorhees claims this type of masculinity — and thus the young men who play eSports — simply reinforces the subjugation of women.

“[S]eemingly progressive masculinities do not challenge the structure of gender relations but rather illustrate the resilience of patriarchy,” he laments.

Voorhees published his study in the new book Masculinities in Play (2018), which also features research on the popular games Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Dungeons and Dragons and how they impact the masculinity of their players.

In the book’s opening chapter, the authors invoke the 2016 U.S. election to explain why they were motivated to research masculinity among gamers.

“It is tempting to say games — and game studies — seem trivial in such a time of crisis and upheaval. But to do so would ignore the inextricable and numerous ways video games have historically served (and continue to serve) neocolonial… capitalist patriarchy.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.