Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Cultural Studies, PhD
School of Arts and Humanities
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
© 2023 Adrienne Domasin
Video game players, Black female, Cultural studies, Identity politics, Autoethnographic study
This research project concerns the types of meaning making that video game players and audiences can derive as active participants in the realm of digital media culture. This dissertation argues that embodied play as viewers and audiences has the potential to relieve the alienation caused by capitalism and its desire to strip individuals of their humanity through reification. This study contributes to academic studies of fandom by prioritizing my dissertation as an unapologetic expression of my fandom and the source of knowledge production that drives my research through a critical autoethnographic lens. As an acafan, I analyze my ludic experiences through personal narrative, participant observation, and crafting epiphanies that document my experiences as a prosumer of video games and television series and a curator of media artifacts. I use critical themes such as identity formation, consumer resistance, and participatory culture to interpret my experiences as an acafan. This autoethnographic study utilizes the concept of flow to extrapolate the enhanced meanings derived from rituals of performative fandom. Among the performances discussed in this dissertation are prosumption, collecting, fannish tattooing, spectatorship, and play. I started this project as a Black female video game player new to the types of violence embedded in third person perspective survival horror games. I asked what it meant that I was required to play as an avatar that did not represent my cultural background or gender. During the course of this project, I conduct research on my case studies The Last of Us (2013) video game and The Last of Us (2023) series using textual analysis, narrative inquiry, and adaptation studies. I experienced the flow of mastering the game through play and interacted with gamers in communities of play. This experience made me realize that my initial research concerns were focused on an academic lens, but as an avid media consumer, I also connected deeply with the gaming experience. My study/play borrows from Arthur Bochner’s concept of “two selves” in that the space that I occupy during the various forms of play that I embody facilitates a negotiation of game culture through two lenses: academic and fandom. Media scholars and cultural theorists are all well aware of the ideological underpinnings that inform all media produced in the U.S. My identity as a Black woman is not a mandate to conduct research that critiques the dominant ideology and anyone with that perspective is speaking from the positionality of academic White privilege where they can write and research about racial Others without being questioned about their loyalty to the White race. I use critical theory as a framework to dismantle the racial trauma produced by experiences with academic projects that employ the regressive dogmatism of identity politics. I use a critical-ideological paradigm that encourages transformation and emancipation from oppression to disrupt and challenge the status quo and power structure. After consigning the restraints of identity politics to the margins, I use grounded theory to document my participation in communities of play, individual gameplay, and curation of collectibles. I also document the process of getting a tattoo related to my case studies. I share how my fandom experiences pushed me into adopting a new identity that reconciled my identity as a video game player and as a student of cultural studies. The concepts that led to the transformation of my identity during the course of this project illustrates that identity is comprised of numerous facets related to individual pleasures, experiences, and values that cannot be summed up solely by cultural background. These concepts include:
▪ Play: Embodied play affords us distance from the constraints of everyday life. Through play we can understand culture and our place in the world in a humanistic sense. We can define the rules or change the rules according to our needs and construct our own meanings. ▪ Flow: The flow state can be described as a sense of exhilaration and enjoyment when participating in an activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s eight components of flow can be applied to video games and passive media such as television series. They include A challenging activity that requires skills; the merging of action and awareness, clear goals and feedback; concentration on the task at hand; the paradox of control, the loss of self-consciousness; and the transformation of time.
▪ Incorporation: The environment of the virtual storyworld is a space that the player is able to navigate and interact with. As a result, the virtual becomes incorporated into the player’s mind.
▪ “Two selves”: A life of theory can make individuals feel disconnected and cut off from their experiential selves. This objective theoretical world can be difficult to inhabit and feel comfortable in. Identifying and embracing one’s identities can alleviate the discomfort of objectifying the experiences of daily life. ▪ Performativity of Fandom: Traditional performances are actions and enactments as are fandom practices such as cosplay, fannish tattooing, fannish curation, collecting, writing fannish opinion editorials, and may include academic forms of writing about media objects such as journal articles, dissertations, or manuscripts.
▪ Romantic Anti-capitalism: Drawing from Georg Lukács’ concept of “romantic anti-capitalism,” as defined in his book “Theory of the Novel” (1915), and Ernst Bloch’s “Spirit of Utopia” (1918), this term encompasses my enjoyment of narratives and media portraying post-apocalyptic post-capitalist worlds that I envision as communal utopias.
In this autoethnographic study, I demonstrate how the aforementioned concepts play a role in shaping a fluid identity, influenced by my social position in terms of economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital. This study traces my movement from calling out a lack of representation in the media from the margins of society to the empowerment afforded by consumer resistance to and engagement with the culture industries. This dissertation contends that a prosumer, valued for their ability to both consume and produce, can assert control and wield power over the dominant influence of White, patriarchal capitalism on representation and identity without asking permission to participate in the culture industries.
Domasin, Adrienne. (2023). Playing with Power: An Autoethnographic Study of "The Last of Us" as a Black Gamer. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 713. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/713.
Available for download on Wednesday, December 17, 2025