Per this 2015 CBS news clip, more women are participating in online NFL fantasy leagues, and I happen to be one of them. I’ve played in in-person fantasy leagues, where we met together around a table to do our “draft,” and most recently, in completely anonymous online leagues. In the first case, I was the only woman participating, and I was surprised by the edge my presence introduced into the room of guys I knew socially. When I play anonymously, even if I use my real, gender-ambiguous first name, we are all more focused on the competition and points, and that in turn creates a more satisfying community experience for me.
Even though I play online, a significant part of my fantasy participation occurs in a public space (I must go to a local pub that has an NFL Ticket subscription, so I can watch all the games at once.) In that space, I am also surrounded by other fans who are simultaneously participating in their own fantasy leagues, and we often discuss how our teams are performing. There are layers and layers of communities being created in these spaces, and I think seriously about how participation in fantasy leagues is a form of community identification. In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson writes about how nations are formed using abstract borderlines; that is, how nations are “thought” into being. We choose to play in a league, we choose our fantasy team name, we choose our players: all of this defines our identity as a league (community) member. We establish point values for plays, and this “magic circle” (to borrow Johan Huizinga’s term as it’s been appropriated by game theorists) reinforces community identity. I become a more “real” football fan because I spend my discretionary time playing a game about a game.
In creating and defining the communities we consider our own, we define and describe ourselves – and yet, these communities still exclude participants. I must have time, access to the internet, and, in many cases, an invitation to join a fantasy league. For example, I notice that the CBS report does not feature a diverse portrait of female players: is that the fault of the reporter or a flaw in the game system?
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2006.