Identity and Community in Queer Online Gaming Spaces

CONAWAY QGCon 2015 headshotSPEAKER: Evan Conaway

As membership continues to grow in an increasing number of virtual worlds, new forms of online social interaction are transforming complex and emergent notions of identity and community. Ethnographic fieldwork in virtual gaming spaces has revealed many important insights about socialites in the contemporary context, including insights about digital embodiment and how coordinated collaborative activities shape and are shaped by the social lives of players. Research on the queer experience in MMORPGs has begun to reveal the impacts that virtual worlds may have on such players and game spaces. Indeed, several studies have suggested that queer virtual gaming communities have important implications as virtual “safe spaces” to ameliorate loneliness and depression associated with being “in the closet” and “coming out” and as sites of social activism. For my dissertation research in Anthropology at University of California, Irvine, I am interested in using ethnographic methods to study the complexities of identity and community formation and affirmation among members of a particular community of primarily queer-identified players that comprises and unifies multiple guilds across six different MMORPGs. To gain a holistic understanding of this diverse community that engages in a multiplicity of online games and forms of social interaction, and to account for the possible affordances and limitations of the technological differences between the games, I am focusing my fieldwork on two of these game worlds, World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2. This presentation seeks to communicate a breadth of initial findings, touching on everyday player interactions weekly guild-sponsored group events, and the in-game summer Pride events.

Evan Conaway is an East Coast transplant currently geeking out in southern California.
Armed with BAs in Anthropology and Spanish from University of Georgia he has moved on to his next epic quest: achieving PhD status in sociocultural anthropology at UC Irvine. He is developing a virtual ethnographic project that addresses the ways in which queer online gaming spaces shape and are shaped by gender and sexuality identity exploration and queer forms of play. Within anthropology, Evan situates himself in the realms of game studies, queer studies, linguistics, and visual media. He is also interested in communities and ideologies that form around geek fandom, conventions, and cosplay. In his down time, he indulges in Brandon Sanderson novels, role-playing video games, Magic the Gathering, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. You can reach him on Twitter (@ephaen), in Guild Wars 2 (Ephaen.3685), or by email (