Playing Computer Games in the Family Context

Jo Helle-Valle, Ardis Storm-Mathisen


This article deals with how gaming on PC is domesticated in families. Basic to the domestication research perspective is the idea that technologies must be ‘tamed’ in order to be accepted in a given setting. One setting for ICT use is the family – which is a particular and central context in Western sociality in that it is considered by most as existentially crucial and hence highly moral. This morality is formed by romantic ideology.

Gaming on PC is potentially problematic in that the platform is considered – much in opposition to the TV – to be individual, and when used for gaming its problematic status is enhanced because many parents consider such use to contradict core family values. However, the attitudes of actual families vary considerably.

In this article we suggest a way to understand and explain the width of adaptations that can be found. Moreover, we believe that the perspective we present reveals the complexity and subtlety of the dynamics and mechanisms that together constitute processes of domestication.

In short, our argument is the following: in families where parents do not take part in their children’s PC-based gaming practices there is little or no recognition of the social aspects of such gaming – and hence potentially positive contribution to familism is not acknowledged. On the other hand, in families where at least one parent takes part in the children’s gaming activities the idea of PC-based gaming as a potential threat to ‘good family life’ is not dominant. The main reason for this is that in such families the gaming not only constitutes a real socialising practice but is also acknowledged as such.

However, this acknowledgement often goes together with a strong feeling of ambivalence and also intra-familial conflicts. The reason for this is, first, that the domestic sphere is a feminine arena. As the parent taking part in the gaming activity most often is the father this means that such sociality not only often excludes the mother but it also challenges the hegemonic idea of the domestic as feminine, and hence also conventional power-relations within the home. Secondly, these hegemonic values and attitudes are not solely a concern for each family but are exposed and evaluated in interfamilial settings (neighbourhoods, extended families, networks of friends, etc.). Thus, to the extent that such practices are made subject to attention they represent forms of sanctions – they are evaluated against more or less unformulated ideas about normality.


action; computer games; domestication; families; gender issues; morality

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