Playing with gender identities through games and literacy practices – Implications for language teaching

Submitted by: Vasiliki Adampa
Abstract: It is often claimed that digital gameplay contributes to literacy and language development (e.g. Gee, 2003) and that games can be used productively within the context of L1 and L2 teaching (e.g. Beavis et al., 2017). Some of the main assumptions underlying these arguments are that video games are appealing to children and that their use in teaching can bridge the school reality with children’s everyday interests. These assumptions are often based on the hypothesis that all children, independent of their gender, age, locality and sociocultural background, have the same or similar experiences with video games.

The main aim of the present paper is to check the validity of this hypothesis. We will use data from a large-scale research project (2011-2015). Data analysis (1185 questionnaires completed by children 11-15 years old, 33 children’s ethnographic case studies, and interviews with parents) indicates that there are commonalities but also differences. Indeed, it seems that a high percentage of children play video games many hours per day and this is irrespective of their family’s socioeconomic background, the type of school they attend, and their grades.

However, both qualitative and quantitative data indicate gender differences in video game play. Whereas girls prefer to play casual, simulation and educational games, boys choose to play sports, shooting and strategy games. Our data suggests that different game types are part of constructing specific gendered identities: on the one hand, girl gaming relates mostly to the sphere(s) of domestic space, celebrity culture and consumerism; on the other hand, boys construct mainly sports and competitive identities. The gendered dimension of game playing also has strong affinities with girls’ and boys’ engagement in other print and digital literacy practices outside school (e.g. magazines/newspapers, websites, TV programmes, social media etc.). Since the children’s initial familiarization with the digital media takes place through game playing, the role of digital games appears to be important in “the major adolescent project of identity” (Beavis 2005).

The presentation will conclude with the implications of these findings for the incorporation of digital games in educational settings, especially in L1 context.

Beavis, C. (2005). Pretty good for a girl: Gender, identity and computer games. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 International Conference: Changing Views – Worlds in Play.
Beavis, C., Dezuanni, M. and O’Mara, J. (2017). Serious Play. Literacy, Learning and Digital Games. London: Routledge.
Gee, J.P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

video games, gender identities, children’s literacy practices