Consuming authentic leisure in the virtual world of gaming: young gamers’ experience of imaginary play in second modernity
Introduction Year: 2004. Game: World of Warcraft. Played roughly 40+ hours straight (it got blurry towards the end). Forgot to eat, called in to work during that time, and fell over when I finally got up to hit the toilet. Not my finest moment. (Male, actual age unknown, online thread www.gamesradar.com/problems-
being-obsessed-games/ (accessed 21 November 2014))
The commercialised imaginary worlds of online and console gaming are interlinked by the broader trajectories of Western society and cosmopolitan civil societies. These trajectories constitute new relations and transformations in youth (12-25 years) leisure cultures in late modernity (Giddens, 1990; Rojek, 1993). Since the 1970s the escalation of these new forms of socially governed leisure have broadly coincided with the neoliberal or capitalistic market imperatives of the age, including economic globalisation, market competitiveness and market-oriented governmental reforms that have been largely (de)regulated and enabled by the late modern state. I am particularly concerned with youths’ quest for authentic leisure through the means of video gaming. Is it possible to find authenticity, and secure and stable identities in such imaginary play? In cultural terms the impact of virtual gaming raises new risks and creates ontological uncertainty for young people (Beck, 1992; Hutchins, 2008). These risks are designed and distributed through multinational corporations’ dominance and governance of this online space as the consumer marketplace for games. Conventional parental and governmental wisdom, tainted by the knowledge of more violent games, is that role-play and multiple video gaming itself creates social and personal risks as well as significant financial outlays for young people in this global digital leisure activity Nonetheless, the macro and global systems in which people are embedded in late modernity also promote resistance and activism. More recently, this has been characterised as a second modernity where reflexively knowing our past mistakes and the harm done creates a redemptive consciousness and a contrition ethic within capitalism itself (Beck and Grande, 2010). More than a quarter of a century ago, Giddens (1990: 149) emphasised the key feature of late modernity
as social reflexivity, or the ‘folding back’ of social knowledge onto governments, communities and broader civil society, and equally important is Beck’s revision to this understanding as ‘reflexive modernisation’ that includes unintended/ unaware consequences of second modernity (Beck, 1992). Under these new poly archic systems many Western societies have entered second modernity and are experiencing the cosmopolitanism of social life defined by Beck as reflexive learning within the multiple maternities of second modernity (Beck, 2000). These multi-maternities in second modernity mean that different senses of time, space, leisure and so on may be experienced within and across social groups and social classes internal to a nation state as well as across national boundaries. The use of the internet and video gaming has moved beyond first modernity’s leisure privations such as book reading or painting into something more like both the knowledge-based and unintended/unaware consequences created in the social reflexivity of a second modernity (Beck, 1999; Hutchins, 2008). In this second modernity there is a new consciousness and awareness of play as affecting sociality and possible activism among gamers – perhaps what Beck’s analysis would call ‘a sub-politics of gaming’. Other authors have demonstrated that much of global gaming technology and marketing reinforces oppressive hegemonic representations of gender and race (Dunlop, 2007). Binary categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ based around race and gender are pre-set within the dominant markets of gaming and these representations need to be challenged by gamers and designers themselves (Harrell, 2010). This theorising of a ‘sub-politics’ can open up possibilities of communities of resistance and self-representation against such categorisations of sexist and racist norms. Gamers cannot only work individually but also collectively against the digital and in-game ‘normalising’ and stigmatising representations. While this may seem somewhat utopian, several authors have pointed to such resistance around challenging racist and sexist conversations, gamer aggression and ‘chatter’ in their studies (Dunlop, 2007; Gray, 2014).