contemporary gamer persona

Not all personas belong to individuals, places, objects or organisations. Some personas are performed by a range of texts, images, and otherwise unconnected instances that are more than tropes and stereotypes. 

In this video, I’m going to introduce you to Tomkinson and Elliott’s account of the gamer persona, specifically as it is imagined and enacted by [G Fuel].

[Tomkinson, Sian and Elliott, Jordana 2020 Hype Source: G Fuel’s Contemporary Gamer Persona and its Navigation of Prestige and Diversity, Persona Studies. Vol, 6. No 2., ]

G Fuel is an energy drink manufactured in various formats and advertised by a range of social media influencers and entertainers typically associated with ‘gaming’.

Tomkinson and Elliot argue that the result is more than just marketing and branding, but a persona that has actively reimagined the gamer as an ‘athletic activity’ requiring mental and physical energy, connected to others in an exciting and glamorous lifestyle. 

They argue that: [“The contemporary gamer persona signals that there has been a shift in the popular discourses surrounding the ‘gamer’ identity in specific gaming micro-publics.” (p. 22)].

In this context, [Gamma Labs], has been able to form partnerships with micro-celebrities to appeal to a large global audience, negotiating between a commitment to diversity and controversial influencer figures.

It’s important to note that this ‘contemporary gamer persona’ identified by Tomkinson and Elliot is a very successful marketing and PR operation that exists in a post [‘Gamergate’] media landscape.

I’m going to add some resources on Gamergate to the learning platform for your reading, and I want to point to it as another kind of gamer persona but I don’t want to go into detail in this video:

Braithwaite, Andrea 2016. ‘It’s About Ethics in Games Journalism?’. Gamergaters and Geek Masculinity. Social Media + Society. October-December 1-10. 

Massanari, Adrienne 2017. #Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society. Vol 19. No. 3 pp 329 – 346.

[G Fuel is a multimodal and transmedia brand.]

The product itself comes in different packaged forms  – [a powder, a liquid and a candied ‘energy crystal]’ and these feature strongly in the mediatisation of the gamer persona and the trademarked slogan [“The Official Energy Drink of Esports.”]

Esports is a massive social media entertainment industry that prior to the global pandemic had a very popular physical presence but has maintained its interest online via sites like Twitch TV. 


Tomkinson and Elliot argue that the contemporary gamer persona is a collective performance of G Fuel and its more than sixty partnerships with influencers, gamers and athletes.

G Fuel is not limited to Epsort and is also associated with a number of contentious ‘gamer’ micro-celebrities.

Tomkinson and Elliot point out the controversial nature of the game persona is more than #gamergate but a long history in which the label of ‘gamer’ is associated with an affluent cultural identity and capacity for social capital and leisure time. They argue that historically the gamer persona has been largely represented by the media as being aggressive, young, heterosexual, white and male – despite more than a decade of research that points to the average gamer as being middle-aged women of diverse backgrounds. As the authors note:

“Indeed, in the US, UK, and Australia, women comprise around half of all players, and the average age of gamers is increasing (ESA 2020; Brand et al. 2020; Borowiecki & Bakhshi 2017).” P23.

The authors argue that G Fuel’s persona construction is mediatised by both its corporate [web presence] and its network of prestigious and diverse sponsored influencers. 

They provide a detailed textual analysis of the G Fuel website and the ways that Gamma Labs uses discourses of [health and athleticism] to frame their product in opposition to other energy drink brands. 

Using the representation of esports as a professional lifestyle the site lists “UFC fighters, eSports athletes, bodybuilders, skateboarders, YouTube stars, fitness models, and even NFL players” as key consumers.

Gamma Labs then builds on the representational strategies of the website by making alliances with social media entertainers and influencers to present themselves publicly as part of an elite collective of G Fuel partners – as part of the Team Gamma.

These micro-celebrities operate across Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and many other social media platforms. 

Tomkinson and Elliot highlight G Fuels relationship with the esports organisation [FaZe Clan] – a team of professional gamers, with its own persona, brand and merchandising which they argue maintains: “… elements of the classic gamer in the sense that those who are male and highly dedicated to the hobby more easily gain legitimacy compared to women and minorities, as well as those who have a more relaxed attitude to gaming, play less often, or play so-called “casual” games.” (p.27)

Prestige is an important part of the FaZe clan contribution to the G Fuel contemporary gamer persona enabling a connection to a brand that is based on the representation of the individual as  “competitive, high-performing, dedicated, and stylish gamers that distance themselves from geekery”.

Tomkinson and Elliot’s analysis takes a close look at the value and reputation of the [YouTuber Keemstar] (Daniel Keem) who is known for being inflammatory and aggressive confrontational content on his channel DramaAlert. 

Keemstar’s own persona is highly controversial but arguably as successful as FaZe clan but it is a persona that seems to thrive on transgression and controversy to maximise his influence. 

Despite damage to his reputation with ongoing incidents and transgressions, G Fuel did not officially terminate their association with Keemstar but they did remove his products and merchandise from their store. 

FaZe, PewDiePie and Keemstar have all had controversies that seem to contribute to the rebellious and contentious characteristics that now express values associated with the contemporary gamer persona – however as [Tomkinson and Elliot] note: 

“Gamma Labs presents itself as being aware of women’s underrepresentation and poor treatment in multiplayer spaces, esports, game development and publishing, journalism, and content creation.

 G Fuel’s website contains a blog section that regularly publishes a “Women of G Fuel” series, consisting of interviews with female content creators. 

These interviews offer insightful details into the history and lives of women streamers, specifically how and when they started gaming, and what obstacles linked to their gender they have faced in their journey.

The Twitch streamer [NoisyButters] – Hannah Bryan – joined the G Fuel collective in 2020 with an official flavour ‘Star Fruit’ which is an interesting way to see the relationship between brand, product and persona. 

NoisyButter’s persona is associated with positivity and happiness, rather than the edgy humour of PewDiePie, the contentious drama of KeemStar and the esports higher competitiveness of FaZe clan:

[“By avoiding stigma and controversy, NoisyButters creates value for her persona through playing mainstream titles such as Call of Duty with great attention to game mechanics, and establishing a strong reputation through her consistent affirmance of personal values such as “positivity” and “happiness”.” ]

So to conclude, I recommend taking a look at the article and some of the other papers cited in it, to see the way the contemporary gamer persona has been largely legitimized by public male figures. And the way that it has become clear that the gamer persona is in a continuous flux because it is contributed to by a collective, which means a greater opportunity for further diversity and a range of representations that are starting to afford women and minorities better degrees of attention and respect. 

Thanks for playing.

games and agency

Agency and Games (Lecture Notes)

The basic definition of agency is: acting with the intention of a particular result. 

It is a remarkably simple and important idea, especially when we are dealing with any kind of communication and any type of media. It is important because it recognises the active role of the audience and their ability to make choices.

Platforms like [Netflix] are popular because they increase choice, but like social media, they can also influence choice. [Facebook] is particularly good at using the data from previous choices to influence future ones. But that does not detract from the reality that users still have a choice.

Games, whether it is the latest [mobile app], a pen-and-paper role player game, an indie game or the latest FPS – all provide the player with the opportunity to express different degrees of agency. 

A game provides the player with opportunities to act. However, how much and what kinds of acts they enable cover an incredible range and so there are many accounts in the literature of game studies as to what constitutes agency in video games and what that agency means. 

In this video, I’m going to draw on Stephanie Jennings’ meta-analysis of the ways Agency has been accounted for in Game Studies to give you a brief overview of the way agencies operate in digital games. I’m only going to very briefly summarise key points from this excellent resource and certainly not going to do the paper or the field of games studies justice in this brief account – but there are a few key points I want to focus on.

[Jennings Stephanie 2019 ‘A Meta-Synthesis of Agency in Game Studies. Trends, Troubles, Trajectories’, GAME, issue 08,]

The classic starting point for agency in games is [Janet Marrays’ (1997)]description of agency as an aesthetic experience:

She defines agency as: “… the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices” ( Murray 1997 p.126).]

Murray, Janey 1997 Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace. New York: The Free Press. 

This seems like common sense but it’s often overlooked – particularly because games are enmeshed in woolly thinking about media effects – the idea that violent movies or games will make people more violent.

[Agency implies power and manipulation] but the ability to exert that power, or to seek to influence, lies with the player and it is a measure of good game design, that a game drives the player to explore, it supports and augments the desire to engage with the system of gameplay and to assist the player in becoming [“…active participants in the creation of their experience through interaction with code during gameplay…” ](Calleja 2011 p. 55).

But this opens up questions about agency that Jennings (2009, p.89) frames as the distinction between experience and vs action or the capacity to act:

“Is the “satisfying power” of agency an experience?”


“Is agency a capacity to create actual, concrete, observable changes, based on specific actions and choices?” 

This is an important distinction to make when talking about agency – is agency in the capacity to give players meaningful choices, or is it the experience that players embody when playing?

This distinction also applies to all types of media: think about [advertising and influencer social marketing]. When someone you follow on Instagram advertises a product you can get a satisfying power from liking the image or even purchasing that product. 

But what about the opposite – think about the experience of satisfying power in writing a negative comment, the choice not to like, not to purchase and to express yourself. 

Compare that to the [design of the platform] that expresses users agency even in limited ways – remember it is the system that allows you to follow/unfollow, to like or ignore. These are the affordances of the platform. So think about how that satisfying power of agency might be diminished if that comment is moderated later or not allowed to be made at all.”

One way to think about agency is the way a game balances the [ludic] (rules, algorithms, mechanics) of play with its [narrative] (character, story, setting). 

Murray uses the idea of ‘dramatic agency’ to describe the way games can offer the players  options to connect with characters, stories, locations and narratives through its design

Dramatic agency or narrative agency is part of what Jennings calls the representational power of performing as a character within the game as part of its procedures and environments. 

Although this is debated in game scholarship because of ideological resistance to what is described as hegemonic discourse, as Jennings reports:

“Mainstream game design overwhelmingly affirms agency as the exclusive purview of masculinity, whiteness, heterosexuality, and able-bodiedness.” 

Do indie games then represent greater agency for game designers’ own agency as a site available to challenge these historical norms by enabling players to embody alternative characters, settings and experiences?

Brendan Keogh’s work (2018) has explored the cybernetic relationship between a player’s bodily affect and game design as the player becomes entangled between the world of the video game and the world of corporeal existence. 

Keogh, B. (2018). A play of bodies: How we perceive video games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The concept of cybernetics, and the machine-human network of actants, complicates the idea of agency as the player’s freedom, control and autonomy because it reveals that players are not free. 

Even when they have choices, the players own mind and the hardware and software limitations of machines and humans including the players own mind put necessary limitations on the experience of choice. Does that mean, however, that the player’s choices are simply well-designed illusions?

Agency is often used synonymously as freedom, choice, control, autonomy and action and one of the most famous game designs which sought to reveal the illusion of player agency is the design of the game Bioshock.

No spoilers if you haven’t played BioShock and you have access to it on console or PC, I highly recommend it and there is a great quote in the Jenning’s analysis from Parker 2015.

[Bioshock is “… designed from the ground up to invite sustained reflection, debate and criticism, as evidenced by the countless forum discussions, blog posts, essays, articles, chapters, theses, and even academic monographs it has produced. This is not just a game with something to say but a game worth saying something about — a game that justifies the whole enterprise of game criticism and scholarship. (Parker 2015 p. 14).]

BioShock is designed to make you question the relationship between the experience of power and the necessary limitations on the ability to enact power in a given system. 

It helps us ask if agency is actually possible, or is the very function of all media to manipulate, constrain and delineate choice in order to convey meaningful experiences. Is the act of experiencing satisfying power a result of systems that are designed to provide that affective sensations while in reality limiting our choices and our freedoms. 

This is perhaps most elegantly summarised in the classic 1980s movie war games, in which an artificial intelligence comes to the realisation that sometimes the only agency actually afforded by any situation which limits choices in order to facilitate an experience is not to play at all. 

I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thinking about agency and so I recommend digging into Jenning’s analysis and engaging in the further reading on agency that I will add to the resources on the learning site. 

Thanks for playing.

Last modified: Friday, 1 October 2021, 7:04 PM

Persona and Games

Although significantly delayed by the pandemic, I’m am very pleased to finally launch the special themed issue of the Persona Studies journal on Persona and Games.

This issue is one of the largest in the journal’s history, with seven articles that map a series of important intersections between games and persona across game play and development. The issue also includes new ways to consider the contribution of games and gamers to emerging televisual entertainment media via streaming content production.

The journal is entirely open access and we have an updated interface for the journal which refreshes the look while maintain its accessibility, however the new system does not support animated gifs, so I am including my animated cover here.

Image credits (images used under creative commence license) 

Brian Brodeur –

42Jules –

Brick 101 –

Camknows –

Sjim-indy – 

Yoppy –

Darren & Brad –

BCM215 Game Media (Industries) Week One

Week one of a new subject in the Digital and Social Media major in the Bachelor of Communication and Media at the University of Wollongong.


This subject investigates the emergence of digital game cultures as a key element of the global creative economy. We analyse games from the perspectives of both players and industries, situating them within a continuum of human play activities and examining the trajectory of the commercial games industry from early forms of console gaming to contemporary forms, such as apps, eSports, board games and live streaming. In addition to covering topical issues such as violence in video games and game censorship, students will acquire practical skills in game media production by collaborating on a digital artefact specific to the game industries.

Playing Lotus (2016)

This post is the first autoethnographic account in a research project for a future article to be titled ‘Cardboard Asia’.

The lotus flower is a common element in Asian themed games where it is used to denote orientalism and mysticism. The flower, while often used to represent Chinese themes, also has a long history as the ‘sacred lotus’ in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The lotus is, therefore, a polyvalent symbol and generic orientalist signifier. The lotus is featured in the German Der weiße Lotus (2000) that depicted territorial control in the middle ages and Flower of the Lotus (1996), which was republished under the title China Moon (1998). The German-only language version of Lotus (1998) is an award winning piece-stacking racing game with some strategical elements, which featured a red snake-like dragon on a grid layout that somewhat resembled a flowering lotus plant, a very stereotypical representation of Chineseness.

Lotus (2016) by Jordan and Mandy Goddard (Renegade Game Studios)

Lotus (2016)
The most recent Lotus boardgame first signals its ‘asianness’ representationally with the box cover that depicts a digital watercolour painting of a woman in traditional straight collar purple cheongsam with coiled buttons and green and gold embroidery, who appears to be levitating a glowing lotus flower. On the cover, the title ‘Lotus’ has a calligraphy-styled font, and the game’s designers are simply listed as ‘Jordan & Mandy’, while the back of the box has images of the game’s components. The back of the box signals the game’s Chineseness with a single hànzì character appearing next to the component list, which Google translates suggests is ‘lotus’. The game is illustrated by Anita Osburn and Chris Ostrowski, and made in China, but Lotus is published by Renegade Games studies, which is listed as a Californian company, who also publish two other popular Asian themed games Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Honshu.

First encounter
As with most ‘boxed’ board games, the first game involves several commons experiences including the removal of shrink wrap, the ‘popping’ of cardboard tiles from the factory punched card stock and the learning of the rules. Our first game was a four player experience, with Harriet, my ten-year-old daughter, my partner Lucy, and our friend Jodie, who began reading the rule book while I search for a ‘how-to-play video on YouTube. The first game we played was an introduction to the game’s aesthetic experience that I described as ‘beautiful meanness’. Playing the game involves placing the individual flower cards on the table and completing the flower ‘sets’ of the flowers placed by others by adding the right number of cards/petals. Each of the flowers – Iris (3 petals), Primrose (4 petals), Cherry Blossom (5 petals), Lily (6 petals) and the Lotus (7 petals) – is a typical Chinese flower type. The font on the Guardian cards and points coins replicate the calligraphy style of the box cover, but the cards lack other overt symbols of ‘Chineseness’.

Each player gets two insect tokens – Yellow (Butterfly), Red (Ladybug), Blue (Dragonfly) and Green (Caterpillar), which evokes the connections to Japanese games media where bug collecting (Pokemon and Yokai Watch) is considered an honourable and worthwhile pursuit. In Lotus, the insects are ‘Guardians’, and when placed on the flower cards, they count as that player’s territory. To take a flower, the player must complete it, but to get the bonus points or special power tokens, the player with the most Guardians wins. This helped to offset the ‘meanness’ I felt in completing the flowers that other player’s put down. By building up the flowers, we emotionally invest in them, and it can feel mean when other players complete your carefully assembled Lilly or ambitiously planned Lotus. The beautiful meanness of the game became even more profound to me during our second game. In the first game, my strategy of completing flowers rather than investing Guardian tokens into them meant I won with a huge lead and prompted an immediate second game where I became the one to beat. Instead of focussing on taking the flowers in the second game I invested in achieving all the special powers, which gave me fewer points but it felt like I was experiencing more of the game than simply winning.

Final thoughts
Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

“…interaction design is the highest form of creative expression…”

Checkout this wonderful TED talk by Museum of Modern Art senior curator of architecture and design, Paola Antonelli.

Antonelli complicates the ‘video games are not art’ debate with a new collection of 14 video games at MoMA that celebrate ‘interaction design’ as the “highest form of creative expression”.

The appeal of the collection, according to Antonelli, is the distance and shock between art and design when on display in a gallery setting that enables visitors to appreciate the implications of video games and their contribution to the wider importance and meaning of design and celebrates these objects as having a crucial cultural value and roles within our everyday lives.

I’d love to play them all, at MoMA.

E-sports and gamer persona

At one point StarCraft 2 player ‘Idra’ held one of the most lucrative sponsorship contracts in E-sports and a notoriety for trash talking and disdain for other players. His dismissal from the competitive SC2 team ‘Evil Geniuses’ sends an important message to high profile players about attention to their public persona, acceptable competitive behaviour and the messages they communicate to fan communities.

Serres, time travel and the Gothic in science fiction

Three new postgraduate students to co-supervise this year. The first I’ve caught up with so far is a Creative Arts students writing a science fiction novel. The exegesis for the thesis will focus on the Gothic in science fiction and to kick the process off, we will be working on an analysis of the Gothic in the Mass Effect series. The aim is to prepare an article for a games studies or the science fiction studies journal, and to contribute to the formation of an emerging research group on technology and science fiction studies at Deakin. In doing some fresh research I came across a great article by Laura Salisbury on Michel Serres, time travel and gothic SF. It’s a cracking read and coincides with the material I’m working on using Serres concept of quasi-objects to analyse the use of screenshots in participatory gamer cultures (to adopt Joost Raessen’s term).