Proud Labor: the Visual, Material, and Social Branding of a Queer Gaming Community

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Formal group structures in online games, like guilds in World of Warcraft, often use particular tactics to sell an experience to potential group members. This branding of guild identity typically features listings of characteristics of gameplay, social expectations, and demographics, and the reach of these advertising efforts often extends to online forums and social media. One group that has guild communities in six online games advertises a queer experience. The work of creating and protecting the brand of this large, multi-platform group, which I call the Queer Gaming Community, or QGC, is a form of labor with visual, material, and social elements as a part of everyday life. Group leaders and members alike protect the group’s identity and title, and enforce policies and mantras. Branding of the QGC recently became controversial as Blizzard Entertainment banned one of their World of Warcraft guilds for violating censorship protocols with one of the QGC’s iconic titles. QGC leadership turned to material and social forms of protest to defend and reinforce their brand. In this presentation, I explore what it means to “brand” a gaming community as explicitly LGBTQ, as opposed to non-LGBTQ or “LGBTQ-friendly.” How does the QGC create and manage a brand identity that is internally coherent and externally communicable? How do players form material and semiotic bonds under the rubric of the QGC’s brand identity? How does the branding of the QGC complicate corporate-player relations? Drawing upon the QGC’s historical and ongoing practices and conflicts, this paper incorporates narratives from group leaders, player members, non-player members, and digital archives, ultimately asking: what labor goes into sustaining a sense of community and belonging in a large, multi-platform, identity-based gaming group?



Evan Conaway is PhD student in sociocultural Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. His dissertation project examines servers as places of culture and of queer livelihood. This ethnographic work examines how virtual world (or online game) servers, across time and space, come to be experienced and imagined not only as invisible digital infrastructure, but also as social places through engagements with memory and nostalgia, senses of ownership and belonging, and server materiality. In his down time, he indulges in Brandon Sanderson novels, role-playing video games, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.