My dissertation traced the shifting discourses and practices of Internet gaming in urban China, paying particular attention to the various ways that Internet gaming is imagined—both how young Chinese perceive the importance of games in their social lives and how gaming is portrayed in government and media discourse. I demonstrated that dominant discourse about Internet games is entangled in larger projects of Chinese modernity, national identity and soft power at the same time as it affects and is affected on the micro-level by the subjectivities of the urban Chinese youth for whom game play is an integral experience. Through extensive media analysis, participant observation, and ethnographic interviews conducted with a wide array of Internet gamers in Shanghai over the course of six years, I tracked contested and shifting categories of game play in order to uncover the politics inherent in their labeling.
Some of the questions asked by this work are as follows:
- What does it mean to be an “Internet gamer” in urban China?
- How are “healthy” games separated from “unhealthy” games?
- What does it mean to be a “professional” gamer and, by contrast, who is at risk of being an Internet “addict”?
In answering these questions, the dissertation explored the everyday practices of Internet gamers: how games are played, the contexts in which game play is situated, and the other social media, formations and events that support game play. Such an approach sought to show not only how discourse intersects with practice, but also how game practices offer insight into the unique experience of the “post-80s” and “post-90s” generations, whose own maturation occurred alongside that of the Internet, and for whom Internet gaming has become a central part of daily life.
View my presentation on “patriotic leisure” at the 10th annual China Internet Research Conference here.