Caitlin Dungan

Caitlin Dungan

Caitlin Dungan

Assistant Professor

Writing and Rhetoric: Digital rhetoric, empathy and video games, intersections of queer theory and video games, performativity and embodiment in gaming, the queer history of horror

Current Research

Intersections of gender/queer theory, feminist rhetorics, empathy and video games. By analyzing the linguistic features and performative nature of narrative/character-based gaming, can we learn more about using video games as a tool for increased social empathy?

Selected Publications

Dissertation - “There’s no Way She’s Straight”: Towards a Heuristic of Positive Queer Representation in Gaming

While the current trend in queer gaming studies is shifting away from queer content towards an idea of how gaming itself is queer, operationalizing the term “queer” to suggest “outside of default expectations or parameters,” there is still a great deal to be learned from exploring the canonically queer content that already exists in video games. Operating under the assumption that there is a positive correlation between representation in media for marginalized identities and the social normalizing and tolerance of those identities, the primary research questions are: What aspects of performative queer coding may help queer players to positively identify with a character? Are these aspects conscious on the part of game programmers, or does this connection have more to do with queer literacies of subtext in media? And finally, if we can identify what queer players found positive in a character, can we use that information to purposefully replicate it in future games without being reductive?

The game Mass Effect was chosen as a case study due to its enduring popularity among queer gamers. Transcriptions from both the cisgender/heterosexual romance path as well as the queer romance path were gathered and analyzed using several coding lenses from Rhetorical Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis. Results of these analyses indicate that the potential reason queer gamers felt well represented was due to a relative equality of content and agency for the player character between the two paths, as well as an adherence to performative cues that have been cited as indicators of queer identity. Findings from this study show that it is possible to showcase queerness in characters regardless of sexuality, which has positive implications for the inclusion of overlooked queer identities in gaming, including asexual or nonbinary.


Courses Taught

ENGH 388

ENGH 302

ENGH 101

ENGH 201


George Mason University, PhD; Writing and Rhetoric - 2023

George Mason University, MA; Teaching of Writing and Literature - 2014

Christopher Newport University, BA; Writing - 2010 

Recent Presentations

Dissertation Defense, 2023: "There's No Way She's Straight:" Towards a Heuristic of Positive Queer Representation in Gaming 

MAGfest, 2017 - LGBT+ Gaming: Where we are, where we can go, and how to get there 

PAX East, 2018 - Equality Done Better: Using Data for an Inclusive Future