American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Dictating the Terms: GamerGate, Democracy, and (In)Equality on Reddit

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Landry-Meyer (Other)


In late 2014 the mainstream press reported about a far-right movement that sought to discredit feminist, anti-racist, and trans-inclusive interventions in the video games industry, its products, and its consumer culture. Called GamerGate by its devotees, the movement began when American game designer Zoe Quinn weathered public harassment after her ex-boyfriend published a five-part essay falsely alleging she had sex with a game journalist to collect a positive review for her game Depression Quest. GamerGate activists launched a smear campaign against Quinn but attempted to absolve themselves of harassment by rebranding the movement as a game consumer revolt against unethical journalists and leftist academics. Almost five years later, GamerGate continues to grow in membership on its official subreddit, /r/KotakuInAction, which is a self-governed community hosted on the popular discussion forum-based social media platform Reddit. Shortly after /r/KotakuInAction materialized, a conscientious objector created the pro-feminist /r/GamerGhazi to resist GamerGate. Despite Reddit’s massive user base, its 1.2 million subreddits, and its ubiquity in American culture, it remains an underexplored space in the academic literature. Academics have neither adequately addressed Reddit’s role in promoting far-right communities like /r/KotakuInAction, nor the efficacy of using Reddit as a space for staging feminist resistance to such communities. Drawing from feminist epistemology, intersectionality, and masculinity studies, this dissertation investigates /r/KotakuInAction and /r/GamerGhazi’s use of the Reddit interface—most particularly its upvoting and downvoting mechanic—to shape debates around feminism and critical race issues in American culture. The research is based on data collected over the course of six months from discussion threads on each subreddit, subreddit wiki documents, and the video game Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Using a mixed methods approach defined by textual analysis of site commentary and wiki documents, visual analysis of each subreddit’s aesthetic and a video game text, and an analysis of Reddit’s user interface and algorithm, this dissertation addresses the political tensions and contradictions within and between /r/KotakuInAction and /r/GamerGhazi. This project concludes that Reddit’s design and algorithm make it unlikely for intersectional feminist communities to thrive on the platform.