Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Marcella Szablewicz. Marcy received an MA in East Asian Studies from Duke University and a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric, under the advisement of Drs. June Deery and Tamar Gordon, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Communication and Media. She is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in MIT’s department of Comparative Media Studies. You can find more of her work online at www.feiyaowan.com.
1) Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics. Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.
“From Addicts to Athletes” departs from a simple premise: Recent statistics have shown that over three hundred million Chinese play Internet games. But while many young people argue that games provide free space in which to achieve necessary release from the pressures of society, the government and media often depict games as a kind of “opium for the spirit” that adversely affects Chinese youth.
Motivated to understand the logic behind these drastically different perspectives, in my research I trace the shifting discourses and practices of digital gaming in urban China, paying particular attention to the various ways that digital games are socially shaped —both how young Chinese describe and remember the importance of games in their social lives and how gaming is portrayed in government and media discourse. Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I explore the mechanisms by which different games come to be constructed as either “healthy” or “unhealthy” and the corresponding processes by which the gamers who play them are portrayed as either “addicts” or “athletes.” Despite belonging to the realm of so-called “free” time, I show that digital games and those who play them do not go unencumbered by political realities. To the contrary, I contend that such constructions are rooted in larger cultural debates about patriotism and productivity, class and the crafting of the “ideal citizen.”
This notion of the ideal citizen is set against the backdrop of the precarious economic futures faced by youth in contemporary urban China.