The Emotional Labor of Social Interactions in Digital Play: Negotiating Play Performances

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Seminar 34 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Talmadge WRIGHT, Loyola University Chicago, USA
This work examines the emotional labor employed by participants who engage in on-line gaming and the impact of such labor on their social relationships both within and outside the game. Given that on-line gaming, social media and the Internet in general are such a large part of global leisure, knowing how emotional labor is produced and how it impacts both participants and non-participants, is important when we make assertions of alienation from or engagement in the politics of everyday life. I argue that engaging in on-line public performances where failure and success are never assured brings into play a set of complex social negotiations, both between players as well as players and non-players. Interpreting a stranger’s motivations for acting, negotiating with one’s family and peers, responding to changing software configurations produced by gaming companies and grappling with language and cultural differences on a global basis, define just one set of issues which have to be negotiated for successful play, i.e. fun, to be had by all.

Given the anonymous nature of much of digital game playing, additional negotiations have to be performed often involving the supposed race, age, gender and sexuality of participants. Failed performances as well as successful ones can be the grounds from which intense discussions and heavily laden emotions are produced.  This paper, drawing upon interview data and participant observations collected in the early 2000’s on the players of the first person shooter game Counter-Strike and later in 2008-2011 with players of an MMORPG, World of Warcraft, looks at these negotiations and asks how they have changed over time. The paper concludes by raising questions of how our theories of alienation may miss these struggles of participants and non-participants alike and how we may recast such theories giving more active agency to fans and on-lookers alike.