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A cross-generational study of video gaming: players' cultural models, felt stigma, and subjective well-being




Smarr-Foster, Cheryl, author
Snodgrass, Jeffrey, advisor
Kent, Suzanne, committee member
Mao, KuoRay, committee member

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Video game players are oftentimes stigmatized as being lazy, unhealthy, immature, addicts, and other negative stereotypes. In this thesis, I question how conflicting cultural understandings might influence such stigmatization, thereby impacting the subjective well-being of video game players from different generational/age groups. I examine how cognitive anthropological theories and methods can inform sociological ideas about how stigma and labeling might emerge from generational differences in cultural norms and values. I investigate this idea using cognitive anthropological notions of shared and socially transmitted models of reality held in individual minds, i.e., cultural models (D'Andrade, 1995). I also looked at cultural consensus (Weller, 2007) to understand culturally accepted thoughts and behaviors, and cultural consonance (Dressler W, 2005) to explore how low cultural consensus might manifest through social stigmatization and impact video game players' sense of well-being. From this point of view, video game players, who don't behave per culturally consensual notions about what constitutes good and proper behavior by playing video games can be low in "cultural consonance" and stigmatized as deviant. I explain how cultural models around video gaming are influenced by popular media and misunderstandings about video game players in general. I provide examples to show how these misunderstandings might inform inappropriate medical diagnoses of so-called "addiction" (Kardefelt-Winther, 2017). Furthermore, I show how not being "consonant" with mainstream understandings or "models" of the good life might lead to what are interpreted as characteristic signs of addiction: e.g., withdrawal from family and friends (stigmatizing social-networks) and concealing the behavior (stigma management). This thesis is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is an introduction to video game play and offers my own perspective to elucidate my interest, expertise, and unintentional, yet probable, biases. Chapter one includes an overview of the problem, theory, and methods. Chapter two provides a brief history of video games in the USA, video game genres, video game stigma, demographics of video game players, and descriptions of interviewees. Chapter three is a discussion of the cognitive anthropological approach, and a briefing on how cultural models (D'Andrade, 1995), cultural consensus (Weller, 2007), and cultural consonance (Dressler, 2005) can impact subjective well-being (Diener, 1985). This chapter also includes a discussion on sociological theories of stigma, labeling, and moral panic (Cohen, 1972/1980), and stigma management (Herek, 1996). I also discuss generations and age groups, explaining my reason for grouping players into three age categories; Late Millennials (18-27), Early Millennials (28-37) GenX and Boomers (38 +), as well as the importance of including age variables in video game studies. Chapters four explains my three-phase iterative research methods of data collection and analysis (participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and field surveys). Chapter five includes results and discussion, and chapter six concludes and summarizes this study.


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