Date of Award

Fall 12-14-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ted Friedman

Second Advisor

Kathryn Fuller-Seeley

Third Advisor

Alisa Perren

Fourth Advisor

Greg Smith

Fifth Advisor

Emanuela Guano


This dissertation posits a new model for understanding media audiences, bringing the scholarship of game studies to the critical analysis of audience practices. The concept of play proves beneficial for understanding the complex processes of media audiences, as they are able to traverse dichotomous categories when engaging media content. The genre of professional wrestling proves a perfect case study for examining these playful audience practices, and this study is an ethnographic account of the practices of wrestling fans. Focusing on the behaviors of fans at live wrestling events, in online contexts, and in the subcultural setting of a card game entitled Champions of the Galaxy, this study demonstrates the necessity of the concept of play for understanding what media audiences do when they engage media content. These practices, however, are always negotiated by the hegemonic power of the rules that structure how audiences are encouraged to engage content, resulting in ideological constraints on the possibilities play offers.