Thursday, October 18, 2007

"There Are No Girls on the Internet"

Obviously, as the female head of the annual conference for the Association of Internet Researchers, Mia Consalvo was being ironic in saying, "There are no girls on the Internet." Yet her talk "Who Owns This FAQ?" addressed questions of gender bias as well as commodity capital that come into play when large corporations attempt to capitalize on the user-generated content of Web 2.0. Mia began her talk by pointing to a new trend in advertising, epitomized by Nike and described in the recent New York Times article "The New Advertising Outlet: Your Life," that attempts to profit from fan culture and their participation in knowledge networks.

She earned her reputation in game studies as a close reader of gamer and fan discourse more generally, and in her new book on Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames she looks closely at web sites devoted to the topic of gaining advantage in videogames. In this talk she examined the genre of the FAQ, which is one that Julia Lupton and I have discussed as well. In particular, she looked at the site GameFAQs, an aggregator of user-generated content about cheats and game geography, that even has its own FAQs about their FAQs.

As she points out, these fan sites are often being bought by larger media companies or ludocapitalist franchises specializing in real money trades in game worlds. For her, this development is emblematic of the split between "participatory culture" and "Web 2.0," which is merely cast as a corporate opportunity by multinational corporations. In her thorough exploration of the FAQ genre, she also arrived at the FAQs aimed at potential investors in these fan knowledge sites, where these companies brag that their sites are "where the boys are" and where users are 92%, 94%, or 95% male, depending on the metric. Mia takes issue with these figures, since her own research indicates that women are often recognized as frequent and valuable contributors to fan sites. As she brought her talk to a close, she looked at possible theoretical interpretations of this emphasis on young, male, college educated consumers in this discourse and drew on feminist political economists to explicate the assumption of rationalism in these marketing statistics.

At a time when critiques of Web 2.0 can be overly simple minded, as the recent The Cult of the Amateur indicates, the way that Consalvo brings careful close reading and feminist theory to the debate merits attention. Stay tuned for Lisa Nakamura talking about race, labor, and Web 2.0 in her own big room talk.

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