How Not to Be Reviewer #2

For those of you unfamiliar with the academic meme, Reviewer #2 is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the peer review system. No, wait, all that is wrong with the peer in peer review.

The memes in this post are used without proper citation as I couldn’t reliably find a creator. Bad me. If these are yours and you’d like proper credit, let me know.

At the time of writing, the Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped Facebook page has nearly 7,000 members which goes to show reviewer 2’s assholery is recognised by at least 7,000 people. Given the relatively niche nature of academic publishing, 7k is a lot. Now, to be clear, the reviewer 2 I refer to is not the same as Tenure She Wrote’s reviewer #2. As Tenure She Wrote writes (heh, Wrote writes looks odd):

Now that I have graduate students of my own, I’ve been thinking about how to train them to be reviewers, without creating either mice* or attack dogs**. If Reviewer #1 is that ineffectual, unconfident reviewer, and Reviewer #3 is too angry and aggressive, I’d like to be just right***: Reviewer #2.


For Tenure She Wrote, Reviewer #2 is the happy medium between the too hot and the too cold porridge bowls of academia. Reviewer 2 seeks to be helpful, firm, and not aggressive. As she goes on, Tenure says that we don’t actually train graduate students, postgrads, or early careers on how to review, so can we really be surprised that so many bad reviewers exist? Tenure has a great point, one which I will come back to later, but for now, let us focus on Reviewer 2.

Who is Reviewer #2? Literally, Reviewer 2 is the anonymised moniker given to the second peer to review a research paper. In common parlance, Reviewer 2 can be summarised as possessing the following qualities:

  • Grumpy
  • Aggressive
  • Vague
  • Unhelpful
  • Overbearingly committed to a pet discipline
  • Overly focused on a particular methodology
  • Inflexible
  • Unwilling to give the benefit of the doubt
  • Unwilling to view the authors of a submitted paper as peers.

If you need examples, go on over to Shit My Reviewers Say. Just a quick scroll through is enough to make non-academics shake their heads in sympathy.


So, to get back to Tenure She Wrote’s point that reviewers are not taught how to be reviewers, and most publishers include only the vaguest suggestions on how to review a work, I’m going to use the rest of this post to share my advice on how to be a good peer, and a good reviewer.

Step 1: Make sure you are the right person for the article.

Most reviews I have been asked to do, I have been asked. I have yet to be forced to review an article. Guilt tripped, maybe, but not forced. If I don’t feel confident in my knowledge of a particular methodology, or that I don’t have expertise with a particular field of literature, I’ll politely decline to review.


Now obviously you don’t have to be an expert in every aspect of a paper in order to review it, but you should have some knowledge of its themes and methods. If you have never used the method but studied it at a Masters level, you’re probably competent enough to review the article. Likewise, if you remember reading a few of the authors in the bibliography, you can probably appropriately assess how the article fits in with the current body of literature and whether or not it has contributed anything original to the field. Obviously this is a rough guide and you need to be your own judge of your abilities.

Step 2: Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to review.

Since, as we established above, you probably aren’t being forced to review a paper, don’t say yes to every paper that comes your way. Likewise, don’t say yes if you know you’re going to be snowed under with marking, or if you have study boards, or if you’re examining a PhD, or if you have a grant bid due in, or if you are doing any number of tasks academics do during the year which cause us to be immensely grumpy… If you are stressed and pressured, that will absolutely come through in your review and what’s worse, it will effect the quality of the review.

Reviewing the work of your peers should be pleasurable. Don’t laugh. I am serious. It should be a chance to see what others in your field are doing, a chance to read cutting edge research, and a chance to share your expertise (what good is knowledge if you don’t use it?) When I review, I do it in stages. In the first phase, I read through the paper and take small notes on the side. I do this in the bath, in a park, or at a restaurant with a glass of something. It is a nice, peaceful excuse to enjoy some time alone and remember why I became an academic. The second round of review, I re-read my comments and formulate them into what I think will be most useful for the author(s). The third phase, I type up my responses and include links where applicable. It is time consuming, but not as bad as you think.


Step 3: Review as you would want to be reviewed.

I approach papers as I would approach marking an external PhD. I, largely speaking, give the authors the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t cite author X? Well, maybe they aren’t aware or maybe they didn’t feel X fit in with what they are trying to achieve. Rather than write something along the lines of, “The authors clearly aren’t aware of the existing work of X and are thus re-inventing the wheel” I write, “Citing X in paragraph 2, page 4 would probably support this aspect of your argument” or “I’d like to see engagement with theorist X”.


I can’t think of a single example when taking a heavy handed, aggressive, or admonishing tone would be appropriate in a peer-review. It makes authors feel bad and it makes you look like an asshole. No one wins because, like lobsters in a bucket, tearing someone down doesn’t put your career any higher.

Don’t get me wrong. We have all had a frustratingly bad paper which suffered so many problems its impossible to start listing them. Now having said that, if you feel genuinely frustrated by how bad a paper is, take your officemates out for coffee and have a rant. Don’t put your malice in the review because best case scenario the authors will feel frustratingly misunderstood and offended, worst case scenario, they will feel horribly depressed, rejected, and might even give up. Either way, it really won’t be a constructive outcome.

Step 4: Be specific, be helpful.

A recent conversation with a colleague called to my attention the difference between high and low comments. High comments focus on things like theme, appropriate use of literature, methodological goodness-of-fit. Low comments concern things like grammar, spelling, maybe even structure. Most reviewer comments should focus on high comments with the understanding formatting and spelling will likely be handled by a copy editor.

Even still, high comments should be specific. If you take issue with the analysis, don’t write “analysis problematic”. Say why, say what it is missing, suggest alternatives. Likewise, don’t say “doesn’t engage with body of literature”, say which it doesn’t engage with.

If you suggest authors include a piece of work, make the effort to include a full citation. For example, if you were going to recommend they include my new book, Brown 2015 wouldn’t be specific enough to be useful. Even if the authors managed to work out you were suggesting my work, I have 4 publications in 2015. Which did you mean? When possible, give a link.

So in conclusion, be sure you are the right person to do the review, that you are in the right frame of mind, and approach the review with the goal of being helpful. If we all did this, the peer review process sure would be a lot nicer. To paraphrase a quote from the great Bob Ross, “I’d like to wish you happy peer-reviewing, and God bless my friend.”

Until next time, review in peace,


Halloween is a Sexy Holiday

All I really want to say in this post is in the title, but I suppose that is too short and I suppose most of you will have clicked on this link as you settle into your desk with a steaming [witches’] brew by your side, so the least I can do is give you a little more to read during this spooooky Halloween week, eh? Also, given my previous two posts about the (un)erotic nature of vampires and the very erotic nature of werewolves, I feel a weird compulsion to round out the month. So… just humour me.

Candy-beggers can be truly terrifying. Photo sourced by evilbloggerlady and posted on BuzzFeed, where there is a whole list of terrifying old costumes.

I don’t think saying Halloween is a sexy holiday is necessarily a difficult argument to make because, unless you are pagan or participate in the Christian appropriation of pagan holidays, it is pretty obviously about dressing up and hooking up. Well, if you are a grown up, that is. I suppose if you have children and live in a country which participates in Trick-or-Treating, you’re probably somewhat forced into a rather unsexy ritual of candy-begging which has its own type of associated fun.

“In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Mean Girls, 2004

For those of us childless-adults, the holiday, whether we like it or not, becomes much more of a fertility ritual. Depending on social group or outing or gender, spooky costumes can be rare, replaced by much more revealing fare. In fact, the amount of skin on display prompted American journalist Dan Savage to compare Halloween to a straight pride festival.

Savage’s article (linked above) is convincing and well worth the read, but not immune from critique. The crux of his argument relies on our acceptance of the fact there should be a straight pride-  a very contentious idea indeed. However, I tip my hat to Savage in that he doesn’t attempt some well-intentioned-but-offensive, apologist, ‘we will only truly be equal when…’ statement, but rather appeals to the reader’s sense of pure hedonism. He writes:

You move through life thinking about sex, constantly but keenly aware that social convention requires you to act as if sex were the last thing on your mind. Exhausting, isn’t it? It makes you long for moments when you can let it all hang out, when you can violate the social taboos you honor most of the rest of time, when you can be the piece of meat you are and treat other people like the pieces of meat they are.

Whilst I won’t go as far as to start calling the 31st of October Heteroween, nor will I ever argue for a straight pride in any context because I believe straight people have many opportunities in daily life to seek out and express affection, I do think there is a nugget to be gleaned from Savage’s argument. Halloween functions like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Fasching, and any number of other holidays wherein people are encouraged to act mischievous, overindulge in food and drink, and flaunt their ‘pieces of meat’. It is an opportunity for socially-sanctioned dark play and it can feel as liberating as dancing half naked on a float at Pride… That is, if you find dancing half naked on a float at Pride to be liberating. 😉

Four contestants in the Halloween Slick Chick beauty contest in Anaheim, California, 1947. Halloween has been sexy (for women) for quite a while.

Actually, I take issue with the term ‘liberating’. Liberating implies some kind of long term, freeing effect which I don’t necessarily think can be gained from booty-shakin’ on top of papier mâché. Doesn’t mean it isn’t fun or pleasurable though. But aside from pointing out the hedonistic aspects of the holiday, the Dan Savage article also does a good job of pointing out its historical significance for the LGBT community. He writes:

Back in the bad old days—pre-Stonewall, pre-pride-parades, pre-presidential-gay-history- month-proclamations—Halloween was the gay holiday. It was the one night of the year when you could leave the house in leather or feathers without attracting the attentions of the police.

Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

To this argument I want to add that Halloween is also the goth holiday. It is often called ‘goth Christmas’ because it is the one day a year where those who prefer black, leather, corsets, make up, and other chosen trappings of the subculture can also leave the house without attracting unwanted attention. So the idea that Halloween is both the gay holiday and the goth holiday makes sense. Both are subcultures which wear their sexuality on their sleeve- or rather incorporate sexual symbols into their dress for special occasions. Particularly for goths, the leather, zips, chains, and corsets evocative of bondage and fetish gear evoke both the sexy and spooky. And both are threatening to how sexuality should be expressed in daily life- which is usually not at all.

Hope you all have a wonderfully sexy Halloween. Until next time,


The Erotic Nature of Werewolves (and Also Witches)

As a companion piece to my last post about the unerotic nature of vampires, and because I’ll take any excuse to write about spooky things in October, I decided to write about werewolves… but then I got distracted and wrote about witches also. Deal with it. On the topic of werewolves, however, I have to say that once again I think the World of Darkness got it right. Of all the creepy-crawlies and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, werewolves should be the most sexually active and perhaps by extension the sexiest.

Vendel era bronze plate found on Öland, Sweden. Public domain.

Although the mythos surrounding werewolves tends to vary by region, most European accounts centre on man-turned-beast narratives. The Norse Úlfhéðnar, pictured left, is (from my feeble understanding) a variation on the berserker. The central idea being that a warrior wears the pelt of an animal, in this case a wolf, and then channels that animal’s spirit into their body during the heat of battle. The ferocity of the wolf’s teeth and claws was meant to come out through the berserker’s shield and axe and they were meant to feel no pain until battle had ended. If the purpose of the pelt was to turn warrior into beast on the battlefield, who’s to say it wouldn’t turn them into animals in other, more domestic locations?


Speaking of domestic locations, I recently learned of a more recent werewolf legend in Dogtown, Massachusetts. Now, when I say ‘learned’, what I actually mean is ‘saw-on-a-dodgy-Animal-Planet-reality-show’. The show features interviews with pet owners who think their house is haunted and that their pets can see the spirits doing the haunting. It is called The Haunted and no, I am not kidding.

My poor taste in television aside, this town has reportedly had werewolves lurking in its moors since the mid 1800s. After the War of 1812, the widows of soldiers and sailors who never returned bought dogs for protection and company. Due to a series of unfortunate events, farmers and assorted businesses moved away from the area. When the widows eventually died, the dogs were left to roam feral, giving way to sightings of werewolves in the nearby forests and assorted superstition.

Dogs… Soldiers… Dog Soldiers!

This information, admittedly coming from a 30 second clip on a show about pets who see dead people, didn’t seem to make sense to me. If dogs go feral, which seems plausible, why would they be mistaken for werewolves and not just wolves? Somewhere deep in my brain I remembered reading something about the Malleus Maleficarum. Weren’t the women accused of witchcraft in the 16-17th centuries usually accused of sleeping with beasts? And weren’t most of the women accused of witchcraft also widows? As it turns out, I remembered correct. In the article ‘Women and Witches: Patterns of Analysis‘ Clarke Garrett details how the paradoxical role of women as the least valued and most important member of a household gave way to witch trials.

“J. Sprenger and H. Institutoris, Malleus maleficarum. Wellcome L0000980” by

In the article, Garrett notes how the role of women has traditionally been ‘grubby’. Our domestic domain has traditionally dealt with birth (and all the weird fluids that come out of the process), death, illness and feces. In addition to the whole pregnancy thing, as primary caregivers, women have typically had the dirtiest jobs to do. And yet we are meant to be the (morally) cleanest. The reputation of a family, at least traditionally, rests on the behaviour of the women in the house. This tandems with the traditional economic dependence of women on men to leave widows, like those in historic Dogtown and Salem during the Witch Trials, in a precarious position. Widows, at least in the pre-modern United States, were required  to rely on the charity of outsiders. Before pensions, if the primary bread-winner died, there wasn’t a whole lot of choice. You begged or you starved.

“Witches going to their Sabbath (1878), by Luis Ricardo Falero” by Luis Ricardo Falero – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

How do you refuse a poor widow charity if you are living in Puritan New England? Why, you call them a witch… or you accuse them of keeping werewolf ‘companions’ *wink wink, nudge nudge*. The Malleus Maleficarum, which you can easily find for free-or-almost-free download (but be aware of differences in translation), is full of references to women’s wicked and lustful nature. Women deny God and the Holy texts because we are, at the very core of our beings, lustful and doubtful. This leads us to consort with the devil, follow the Dark Lord’s teachings, tempt innocent men to lay with us, etc, etc. In the Witch Hammer’s light, the curious case of Dogtown seems a lot clearer, no?

Oh, and before I change topic, according to the Maleficarum’s Wiki page, men could also be witches, but it was rare. The most common form of male witch was a sorcerer-archer, which sounds more like a shitty D&D multi-class than something to burn someone at the stake over.


Okay, back to my original point. If we were to have a hierarchy of the sexiest supernatural creatures, werewolves would be at the top of the list. Logically speaking, of course. Why would we need such a list? FOR SCIENCE! Clearly! Ahem, but logically speaking, the animalistic nature of werewolves would probably make them the most prone to outbursts of lust. Unless, of course, you buy into the argument presented by the Malleus Maleficarum and want to argue that women are by their nature prone to lust and devil worship. Even if we skirt around the ol’ witch hammer, folkloric representations of witches tend to focus on hermit-chic rather than the sexy side of forest-dwelling.

Stay tuned for my final Halloween post in a couple weeks’ time in which I’ll talk about why Halloween, in its modern form, is a sexy holiday.

Until next time,


The (Un)Erotic Nature of Vampires

It is about that time of year again. The air is crisp, the leaves are falling, and I have an insatiable urge to listen to ‘Fall Children’ off AFI’s All Hallows EP. I also have an urge to begin my annual re-play of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. It is tradition. And, given the law of the internet, because I mentioned it you probably want to go re-play it too. It’s okay. Go play. I’ll still be here when you forget you haven’t installed any of the fan-created patches and run into one of the game’s many glitches.

The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, we’re here to talk about how gross vampires are. I mean, take the banner image above. The silhouette of the titular character from F. W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu (1922) looks like Mr. Burns having a quiet evening at home. So how do we go from that image to the one on the left? How do we go from gross monstrosity to erotic companion? Well, this post wasn’t meant to be about how I apply my makeup in the morning, but hey oooo! Okay, I’ll stop with the jokes. This is a blog post. This is serious! (It really isn’t).

There is a temptation here to blame contemporary portrayals of vampires in the media. As tempting as it is to climb aboard the “I hate Twilight” bandwagon, there’s little merit in doing so. Vampires have been sexy for quite some time, but it is usually a dangerous or forbidden type of sexy. I think the main reason people take issue with the sexiness of Twilight, aside from the creepy-stalker love story, is the lack of danger. Edward Cullen is to vampires as Judd Nelson circa The Breakfast Club is to the bad boy archetype. It just doesn’t strike the same erotic chords as the truly forbidden.

I suppose we could add a third forbidden sexuality: zoophilia?

Vampires touch on two forbidden types of sexuality- and by forbidden I mean they have made guest appearances in the DSM from time-to-time. Let’s start with the obvious: necrophilia. Because their biological functions have ceased, any sexual interaction with a vampire is by default an act of necrophilia- right? Maybe you could argue that because they can consent, it doesn’t count… but, whatever. They lack a pulse. Which, coincidentally raises other questions about how sex with a vampire might function. How does their blood pump to the areas it needs to facilitate intercourse? And surely all their orifices are like dried shoe leather? In World of Darkness games they can spend blood points, which makes sense, but in other mythos…

“Carmilla” by D. H. Friston, 1872, from The Dark Blue has some Sapphic connotations.

Okay, I won’t pursue that line of logic any further. Instead, let’s move onto the big one: homosexuality. Harry Benshoff (2004) notes how in cinema the homoeroticism of interviewed vampires Lestat and Louis are no accident, nor is the strained relationship between the Frog Brother’s macho heterosexuality and the queer-punk aesthetic of the titular Lost Boys. In both instances, the queerness of the on-screen vampires is seen as intrinsic to their nature. They are thirsty and, as contemporary slang use of the term helpfully points out, only blood (or any other bodily fluid) will satisfy them. The behaviour of vampires… prowling the night for victims, exchanging fluids, leaving some with an incurable and fatal disease… sounds like an all-too-familiar rhetoric from the Christian right which warns of the dangers of predatory homosexuals, no?

Lilith (1892), by John Collier. The mother of vampires also provides a near-perfect image of the fear of women’s unbridled sexuality.

The allegory of vampirism and homosexuality is taken to an almost literal level by Charlaine Harris in her Sookie Stackhouse novels (which were the inspiration for the HBO programme True Blood). As Lisa A King (2012) writes, the symbolism of vampires and other supernaturals announcing their true natures and then being shunned, attacked, even murdered is unfortunately not a terribly different narrative from many LGBTQ coming out stories. Hell, its not a terribly different narrative from many women I know who dare to have sex for purposes other than reproduction. Women’s sexuality is something which should be regulated and controlled by doctors, priests, husbands, fathers, and even brothers or all hell will break loose, right? I mean, surely this is why access to birth control is still a struggle in the USA, right? Ahem, *gets off soapbox and stores it away for winter*.

The beauty of death as told by nature.

So far I have prattled on mostly about how vampires are erotic, which isn’t actually what I had set out to do. In fact, it is the opposite, but seemingly in the process of trying to work out my argument I might’ve convinced myself. Vampires can be erotic, but only if we are willing to accept that death is beautiful.

Vampyren, “The Vampire”, by Edvard Munch

I think, and I think goth culture can attest to this, that some people find something about death to be romantic. Or perhaps it is that we want to find something beautiful in death to lessen the pain of loss. In fact, one of my favourite film quotes of all time comes from a vampire and makes this point beautifully. In the 1994 film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Brad Pitt’s character Louis de Pointe du Lac opens the film with a narrative about his loss of wife and child. In a cold, reflective and monotone voice he recounts his coping strategies of over indulgence and intoxication before coming to the conclusion that, “Most of all, I longed for death. I know that now. I invited it. A release from the pain of living.”

In the vampire mythos, the loss of life brings with it a loss of life’s inhibitions. This combines with eternal youth and an eternal hunger which makes for a potent and alluring cocktail for some of us who can see the beauty in loss. Even if it might actually be necrophilia.

Until next time,


How to make enemies (and narratives) in Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I hate one of my Animal Crossing: New Leaf villagers. His name is Rodney and he is awful.

What did this little blue hamster do to inspire my wrath? Well, I’ll show you. For starters, he makes poor choices and then doesn’t accept responsibility for them.


Then he complains about my humble, sleepy little hamlet but never plants or waters flowers or contributes money to public works projects.


He is justifiably insecure, but places the burden of raising his self-worth on those around him.


I’ve had enough and my villagers have had enough. Eventually, they started to see through his gormless smile and are recognizing him for the snarky, selfish, lazy furball he is. Robin has been particularly vocal on the matter.

HNI_0039 HNI_0040

Okay, so Robin can be a bit crass and judgey. That’s probably not the best way to go about helping someone overcome their problems, but instead of coming to Isabelle or me about Robin’s town-crying, how does Rodney respond?


By convincing the other villagers that they are the problem!

The final straw was on my birthday. A loyal, respectable villager rushed up to greet me as I left my house, asking me to follow her.

HNI_0056 HNI_0057

As it turns out, Sally, friend to all Chanate, had planned a surprise party for me. Villagers attended, ate cake, danced and gave me presents.


But who wasn’t in the room? Rodney. Where was he? He was in town, probably boozin’ it up with ol’ Digby.

HNI_0005 HNI_0006

Well, after that there was only one thing left to do. One way to end Rodney’s anti-social behaviour once and for all.HNI_0099

So if you ever find yourself wondering what it is I do on evenings I’m not working, now you know. I’m spending months carefully weaving a narrative through my villager’s catchphrases and greetings in AC:NL to show the darker side of small-town living. Because its perverse… and funny. Mostly funny.

Until next time,


Module Guide for Socio-Cultural Contexts

Following last week’s post of my Introduction to Game Studies module, I’m posting the module guide for my third year class. It is probably worth mentioning that this is an award winning module. Students voted it exceptionally well designed, so I suppose that counts for something.

It is also probably worth mentioning that Tanya Kryzwinska orginally designed and ran the module. I feel satisfied that I have sufficiently made it my own enough to not infringe on her intellectual copyright, but if she feels otherwise, let me know and I’ll take it down. 🙂

And just to quickly reiterate- I am posting this publicly to share what I have done, widen participation in higher education, and (of course) strengthen my own teaching. If you have constructive feedback, please let me know.

Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts

Introduction, aims, background

  • To place games within a larger socio-cultural context through reading multi-/inter-disciplinary research.
  • To evaluate the relationships and contexts within which games are made and consumed.
  • To examine demographics of those who play games as well as representation of gender, sexuality, race, age and ability in games.
  • To think about what socio-cultural topics mean within a larger, developer context.

Methods of Teaching

  • Weekly assigned readings provide foundational knowledge to stimulate discussion and thought.
  • An interactive seminar of three hours which includes a blend of short lectures and student participation via activities.
  • Activities provide students with the opportunity to discuss in small groups ideas raised through reading, lectures and personal experience.
  • Seminars provide student with formative, individual feedback on their progress and work. Summative feedback is provided from two assessed essays- one on demographics and representation and one question response based on course themes.
Week 1 Introduction to module and topic

This introductory lecture will go over the course aims, goals, assessments and expectations. It is an important opportunity to discuss the aim and scope of the class and to situate it within larger contexts of not only the degree programme, but also games and society.

Essential Reading:

 Seminar Questions:

The seminar this week will be a chance for us to get to know each other better.

Week 2 Gender in Games

This week begins the core content of the class by looking at demographics, statistics, and issues of representation of gender in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Taylor, TL. (2006). Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 4.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Entertainment Software Association 2014. Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry: Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data. (particularly page 3 on gender) Accessed at:
  • Fine, G. A., 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. London: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2, particularly pages 62-71.
  • Corneliussen, H. 2008. ‘World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism’. In Corneliussen, H. and Walker Rettberg, J. (eds.) Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader. MIT Press: Massachusetts. pp.63-86.
  • Gareth R. Schott and Kirsty R. Horrell ’Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture’. Convergence. Vol 13 no.4 Winter. 2000.
  • Taylor, TL. 2012. Raising the Stakes: E-sports and the Professionalisation of Computer Gaming. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 3. (good commentary on masculinities)
  • Haraway, D. 1985, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge: New York.

Seminar Questions:

  1. In the introduction to the chapter, Taylor states that the stereotypical image of a gamer is a boy or man. Do you agree that this is a stereotype? Why or why not? Do you think the image of the gamer is changing?
  2. How does Taylor counter assertions that women play games primarily because of ‘wanting to talk’ or ‘identity exploration’ (p.95)? What did her participants report?
  3. What does Taylor mean by the term ‘bracket’ (p.110)?
  4. What are ‘pink games’? What’s wrong with them?
  5. How do advertisements of games make them seem exclusively for men?
Week 3 Sex in Games

Western cultures generally accept that sex is a part of life, and that sex can lead to powerful narratives in film and literature, but what about sex in games? This week we will look at the relationship between games, play, and sex and think critically about whether or not gaming is an ‘adult’ enough media to handle a topic as complex as sexuality.

Essential Reading:

  • Brown, Ashley ML. 2015. Sexuality in Role-Playing Games. Routledge: London, Chapter 2 + part of 3. Pages 11-38.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Mia Consalvo ‘Hot Dates and Fairy Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games’ in Wolf and Perron (eds.) (2003) The VideoGame Theory Reader. Routledge.
  • Gallagher, R. 2012. ‘No Sex Please, We are Finite State Machines: On the melancholy sexlessness of the video game’. Games and Culture, 7(6). pp.399-418.
  • Harviainen, J. T. 2012, ‘Sadomasochist Role-Playing as LiveAction Role-Playing: A trait descriptive analysis’. International Journal of Role-Playing. 1(2). pp.59-70.
  • Brown, A. 2012. ‘‘No One-Handed Typing’: An exploration of cheats and spoilsports in an erotic role play community in World of Warcraft’. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 4(3).
  • Sundén, J. 2012. ‘Desires at Play: On closeness and epistemological uncertainty’. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 7(2). pp.164-184. 

Seminar Questions:

  1. Why does the chapter begin by talking about Spin the Bottle?
  2. Which 3 rule types are listed? Why are they important?
  3. Why is the Hot Coffee mod interesting?
  4. What is the difference between Adults Only and Mature ESRB ratings? Why does the ESRB rating matter?
  5. (From the beginning of chapter 3) According to the text, what is the stereotype of an erotic role player? What is the actuality?
  6. What is the motivation to erotic role play?
Week 4 Race and Games

From real-life racial representations to who plays to fantastical depictions of elves and orcs, race is a key cultural and social artefact to be studied when researching games. This week looks not only at the racial composition of players, but also discusses the representation of race in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Monson, M. 2012. ‘Race-based Fantasy Realm: Essentialism in the World of Warcraft’. Games and Culture. 7(1), pp.48-71.

Secondary Readings:

  • Packer, J. 2012. ‘What Makes an Orc? Racial cosmos and emergent narrative in World of Warcraft.’ Games and Culture, 9(2), pp.83-101.
  • Poor, N. 2012. ‘Digital Elves as a Racial Other in Video Games: Acknowledgement and avoidance’. Games and Culture, 7(5), pp. 375-396.
  • Shaw, A. 2012. ‘Do You Identify as a Gamer? Gender, race, sexuality and gamer identity’. New Media and Society, 14(1), pp.28-44.
  • Burgess, M., Dill, K., Stermer, S., Burgess, S., and Brown, B., 2011. ‘Playing with Prejudice: The prevalence and consequences of racial stereotypes in video games.’ Media Psychology, 14, pp.289-311.
  • Kafai, Y., Cook, M., Fields, D. 2010. ‘”Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!”: Design and discussion about diversity and race in a tween virtual world’, Games and Culture, 5(1), pp.43-63.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the article, is race (biologically) real?
  2. How do race-based societies cultivate and perpetuate racism? (Hint: p. 50)
  3. How is race used to demonstrate ‘authenticity’?
  4. How do fantasy and science fiction reinforce the ideology of race-based societies?
  5. How does World of Warcraft reinforce folk-biological views?
Week 5 Age and Games

This week will be spent talking about the age of players and the age of characters in videogames.

Essential Reading:

  • Pearce, C. 2008, ‘The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers: A study of over-forty computer game players’. Games and Culture, 3(2), pp. 142-174.

Secondary Readings:

  • ESA, 2013. ‘2013 Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data: Essential facts about the computer and video game industry’, accessed at:
  • De Schutter, B. 2011, ‘Never Too Old to Play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience’. Games and Culture, 6(2), pp. 155-170.
  • Williams, D., Yee, N., and Caplan, S. 2008, ‘Who Plays, How Much, and Why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(4), pp. 993-1018.
  • Ghuman, D. and Griffiths, M. 2012, ‘A Cross-Genre Study of Online Gaming: Player demographics, motivation for play, and social interactions among players’. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 2(1), pp.1-17.
  • Kasriel, D. 2009, ‘Eurogaming: Video gaming transcending traditional demographics in Europe’, Euromonitor International, accessed at:

 Seminar Questions:

  1. Which company took a radical departure from standard practice and made efforts to cater to aging populations? Where is this company based? What are their population statistics like?
  2. What do the statistics on page 144 seem to suggest about gamer demographics in 2005?
  3. What genre of game was the most popular amongst Pearce’s participants?
  4. Did any of this study’s findings surprise you? Did this change your perception of baby boomer gamers?
  5. This article is written from a US context. Do you think this has an effect on the outcomes of the research?
Week 6 Ability and Games

The final class on topics relating to demographics and representation, this week we will discuss the representation of the body and ability in games. We will also discuss the real-world abilities of players and the challenges to the body gaming presents.

Essential Reading:

 Secondary Readings:

  • Ledder, S. (in press 2015) “Evolve today!”: Human Enhancement Technologies in the BioShock universe. In L. Cuddy (ed.) BioShock and Philosophy, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gibbons, S. (2013) ‘Playing for Transcendence: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Disability’. In First Person Scholar, October 2013.
  • Allan, K. (2013.) Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction. In K. Allan (Ed.), Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (pp 1-18) New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Davis, L. J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso.
  • Thomson, R.G. (1997) Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Thomson, R.G (1996) Freakery; Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body New York: New York University Press.
  • Williams, L. (1999) ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’. In L Braudy and M. Cohen (Eds) Film Theory and Criticism (pp. 701-715). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the literature cited in the article, what are three film genres associated with the body? Why are these of low cultural status?
  2. What type of method does Carr employ in her study?
  3. In the analysis, what do Necromorphs represent? What does Isaac’s suit represent? The clinic?
  4. What concluding messages does Dead Space contain about the body and anxieties around the body?
Week 8 Gamers and Gaming Communities

This week will look at gamers and gaming communities from socio-cultural perspectives. Namely, we will consider whether or not gamers might be considered a sub-culture, fan community, or something else entirely.

Essential Reading:

  • Shaw, A. 2010. ‘What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies’. Games and Culture, 5(4), pp.403-424.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture.  New York University Press, Chapter 2.
  • Lamerichs, N. (2011). Stranger than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay. Transformative Work and Cultures, 7.
  • Burn, A. 2006. ‘Reworking the Text: Online Fandom’ in Carr, D.; Buckingham, D.; Burn, A.; Schott, G. (eds) Computer Games: Texts, Narrative, and Play. Polity Press.
  • Consalvo, M. 2012. ‘Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Games Studies Scholars’. A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Issue 1.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to Shaw, what is video game culture?
  2. What are cultural studies? (Hint: p.405)
  3. On page 406, how does Shaw describe the difference in how video game scholars and video game journalists write about game culture?
  4. According to Shaw, how has gamer identity been defined as male?
  5. According to the article, is video game culture truly distinct from popular/mass culture?
Week 9 Games Rating and Review Boards

This week will be spent looking at the regulation of games, both in terms of legislation and government action and in terms of consumer watchdog groups.

Essential Reading:

  • Felini, D. 2015. ‘Beyond Today’s Video Game Rating Systems: A critical approach to PEGI and ESRB, and proposed improvements’, Games and Culture, 10(1), pp. 106-122.

Secondary Readings:

  • Tocci, J. 2008. ‘Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings: Content considerations for media regulations’, International Journal of Communication, 2, pp. 561-586.
  • Walsh, D. and Gentile, D. 2001. ‘A Validity Test of Movie, Television, and Video-Game Ratings’. Pediatrics, 107(6), pp.1302-1308.
  • Yousafzai, S., Hussain, Z. and Griffiths, M. 2014. ‘Social Responsibility in Online Videogaming: What should the videogame industry do?’. Addiction Research and Theory 22(3), pp. 181-5.
  • Burns, R. C. and Lau, T. Y. ‘Censorship, Government and the Computer Game Industry. In Zotto, C.D. 2005. Growth and Dynamics of Maturing New Media Companies. Jönköping International Business School.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the reading, what are the two most popular/used rating/classification boards for video games? How are they funded?
  2. How many classification categories does PEGI have? What about the ESRB?
  3. According to the article, who does PEGI/ESRB target?
  4. What is the promoted image of childhood? Is it accurate?
  5. Are the current classification systems successful in protecting children? What problems are there? How might we improve classification systems?
Week 10 Games and Economics

This week will consider the business of making games. We know that games are big business, but what about the economies of virtual worlds? The lecture and seminar this week looks at virtual and real economies and how they overlap. A discussion will centre on how virtual economies develop cultures of scarcity in and out of games.

Essential Reading:

  • Kerr, A. The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework/Gameplay. Sage: London, chapter 3.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Castronova, E. 2006, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: Chicago University Press, chapter 8.
  • Nakamura, L. 2009, ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The racialization of labour in World of Warcraft’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2), pp.128-144.
  • Heeks, R. 2009, ‘Understanding ‘Gold Farming’ and Real-Money Trading as the Intersection of Real and Virtual Economies’, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(4), accessed at:
  • Alvisi, A. 2006, ‘The Economics of Digital Games’ in Understanding Digital Games. London: Sage.
  • Kerr, A. 2006, ‘The business of making digital games’ in Understanding Digital Games London: Sage.
  • Debeauvais, T., Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N. 2011, ‘If You Build It They Might Stay: Retention mechanisms in World of Warcraft’, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, pp. 180-187. Accessed from:
  • Lehdonvirta, V. and Virtanen, P. 2012, ‘A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case studies in the regulation of virtual goods and artificial scarcity’, Policy and Internet, 2(3), pp. 7-29.

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is political economy? How does it differ from orthodox economic theory?
  2. Why are companies interested in reaching the widest possible audience?
  3. What is horizontal integration? What is vertical integration?
  4. Look at table 3.2 on page 56. Did anything about the software production process there surprise you?
  5. What are the three types of development companies?
  6. What is an ‘economy of scope’?
Week 11 Serious Games

The final content session will look at games which specifically invoke or engage with real-world social issues. As the key reading hints at, we will think particularly about how games might convey a particular type of rhetoric when it comes to serious issues.

Essential Reading:

  • Bogost, I. Persuasive Games. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1: Procedural Rhetoric.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Lavender, T. 2006. ‘Games Just Wanna Have Fun… Or Do They? Measuring the effectiveness of persuasive games’. Loading… 1(1). Accessed from:
  • Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, James Noble, Ronald Fischer, and Robert Biddle. 2007. Fine tuning the persuasion in persuasive games. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Persuasive technology (PERSUASIVE’07), Yvonne De Kort, Wijnand IJsselsteijn, Cees Midden, Berry Eggen, and B. J. Fogg (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 36-47.
  • Garite, M. ‘The Ideology of Interactivity (or, Video Games and the Taylorisation of Leisure’. DiGRA 2003 Proceedings. Accessed at:

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is procedurality according to Bogost?
  2. What is rhetoric?
  3. How might procedural rhetoric be used to develop games?
Week 12 Review

 All the material covered this term will be reviewed in our final week. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and clarify understandings before the essay is due.