Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gender once again

It goes in waves. Every six months or so the topic of men and women in WoW pops up in one blog, gets a ton of comments and inspires more bloggers to make follow-up posts. Is there any difference between female and male players? And are they treated the same way in the game or do female players still, after all those years, have to fight prejudices and stereotypes.

I hesitate every time the subject is brought up. Should I write a post or shouldn’t I?

Reinforcing sterotypes
The thing is that I really care a lot about fairness, in real life as well as ingame. This doesn’t mean that I’m a socialist (on the contrary). I don’t think it’s possible to arrange perfect justice, because life isn’t fair and we all have our mountains to climb, some with greater difficulty than others. That’s how things are. But at the same time I think that we as far as possible should give everyone we meet a fair chance, to try to rid ourselves from the stereotypes and prejudices that are so easy to embrace.

I care about the gender issues because I hate to be judged and too quickly dismissed, no matter if it’s for my gender, my age, my looks or my social position in society based on what job I have. And I don’t want other people to be judged either.


Here comes the “but”.

Is it really still necessary to fight prejudices and stereotypes about women in WoW? Aren’t we like five years beyond that stage? I wrote about this topic almost a year ago, so I won’t be long here, just repeating myself, but to put it shortly: I’ve never ever felt that I’ve been treated differently or looked down upon in the game because I’m a women.

Actually the only place I ever see the stereotypes is when they are listed in this kind of posts, which are meant to proof them wrong. There's nothing bad about this actual post, it's brilliant and I agree with most there is in it, but it makes me wonder: is this really the best way to fight them? I actually think we can make prejudices come alive and increase their importance by constantly talking about them.

Think about it. If you meet a person and the first thing he says is: “I’m not a drinker”, wouldn’t you think that he probably has a drinking problem?

Science Fiction movement
I remember when I joined the community of Science Fiction fanzines editors 24 years ago. There you could talk about getting attention and special treatment if you were a young lady! At the conventions in Sweden, the ratio was about 1 girl on every 50 guys, and hardly anyone of those boys had ever dated a girl. They were the geekiest of the geeky, highly intelligent, pale skinned and if not shy, at least not social in the normal sense. If a girl landed in their universe it was almost like a visit from Mars. You definitely felt appreciated joining those circles. But I also must add: respected. I think the only difference there was in the treatment of the female Science Fiction fans was that it was easier for us to find contributors to our fanzines (the equivalence to guest writers of the blogs of today). I never felt like I was anything else but “one of the guys”. You were never judged for anything but how you performed – as a writer, panel member or general contributor to the community.

Not so odd
The WoW community isn’t exactly the same as the SF community, but there are similarities. However, after all those years things have changed. The geeky subcultures aren’t as odd anymore and there is no “men only” sign posted outside them. Even though online gaming isn’t completely socially accepted yet, there are at least many more people doing it, some openly, some in secret. And with volume comes diversity. The gamers come in all shapes – young and old, female and male. Seriously, being a real life woman in Azeroth isn’t that special anymore. There simply are too many of us. Gone are the days where you could feel special – being an adored princess or a misunderstood and despised martyr, fighting to get respected.

We’re all players and we’re all human. Some of us are kind hearted carebears. Some of us are jerks who don’t give a shit about other people. This isn’t determined by our gender, our skin colour, our nationality or if we prefer cats to dogs. We’ve all got a free will.

The less we speak about the prejudices that may have been in the past, the quicker they’ll disappear.


Anonymous said...

My perspective is based only on my in-game experiences. I am a guy and my main is a female NE druid. I have a high level alt that's a male mage. I chose to play a female for no other reason than I wanted to play a NE druid and I thought the female was the least ugliest of the two (I still hate those ears, though).

Is there discrimination? Oh hell yeah. The odd thing is that most of the discrimination is from other females. What I mean is that guys will flirt and make passes. But they have never gone beyond that when I say "no". And guys are much more likely to compliment me on playing well when I play my main them when I play my male mage. (Of course, this may be because I usually play healer and as we know good healers are always welcome.)

OTOH, female players are far more open with their comments to another female toon than they ever will be to my male toon. It's like a gossipy woman bonding thing, that's the only way I can say it.

What is most interesting to me is that people know there are guys that play female toons out there, yet consciously or not people react to the toon and not the player. I have never been asked once if I was really a guy. Never. Either I play a female really well or rather horribly. Or people just react more to what they see than what they know (which is the conclusion I have come too).

So do I get treated differently (as a player) based on whether I play a male or female character?


Anonymous said...

I like that although I am female and all my toons (save one level 3 alt) are female... people assume I'm a guy until they've gotten to know me a bit.

I used to get a lot of free stuff when I first started playing... I think the presence of RL women (or at least the knowing of such) was less then.

Anonymous said...

First of all, without voice, most people assume that any given female character is being played by a male. It's just a matter of probability.

Second, I really think that prejudice gets a bad rap. Now I am not talking about hate or anything like that, but let's face it, the reality of life is that we are often forced to make quick decisions with limited data. Prejudices are very useful. If we know that most individuals with certain characteristics behave in a certain manner in certain situations, that is useful information upon which to base important decisions.

False stereotypes are a different matter - they cause harm. But accurate stereotype are helpful in life.

Klepsacovic said...

Stupid time: I assume people are the same sex as the character they play. Why stupid? Well, it's usually not true, and I play a female character, so I know from personal experience that it is not always true.

But so what? I'm not going to (intentionally) treat someone differently due to sex. I will use sex-neutral offensive words (which hopefully remain within the limits of the banhammer). I'm not going to ask if you're female or ask you to get on vent to find out. Honestly I do care a little bit, but does it matter?

Anonymous said...

Larisa, you rock.

I've also never really noticed any discrimination vs girls in WoW. But I wonder if it is partly because I am an engineer and very used to spending lots of time around guys. Also I am an old nethead who has been knocking around in MUDs and other online games for years.

My gut feeling is that it takes people awhile to adjust to net-communication. And this can mean people telling total strangers about their love lives, misreading how some types of comment will come across, etc. And some women will come across as overly cute/flirty/ needy just because they're still getting used to this style of communication -- hence some of the very different experiences.

Also there's this old meme of there not being any women in WoW/on the internet. It's absolutely no longer true, but a lot of people still buy it.

I'll tell you what though, any time I post about gender issues I get a big spike in hits. It's still a hot topic, for some odd reason.

Anonymous said...

btw, I'd love to hear more about the old SF fanzine scene, it sounds really interesting. Mind if I ask how you got into it, and what sort of thing you used to write about?

Anonymous said...

I've written about this a couple of times, and still have a few articles in my mind ready to write.

Do I get treated differently? Yes, all the time.
Not by everybody, but there are at least a couple of people (usually guys) in every group that I will have negative (or uncomfortable) experiences with.

There are people in my guild who will not listen to me, at all. I have tried being nice (then I get walked on), tried being a bit harsher (then I am treated like a bitch).

We recently had someone leave the guild altogether because he couldn't handle me asking him to do something during a raid. I wrote about it here, in my blog. (Otherwise I'm just going to rant about it here; better to let those who *WANT* to read it only have to put up with it :P).

Yeah, it's an issue. It's especially an issue when you have a female who just wants to play the damn game with her friends.

As for girls fighting girls, I have no issues at all with other girls in the game, provided they aren't attention seeking and so on. I have noticed, though - you either love or hate other girls in the game, there's very rarely an in between.

Gevlon said...

"The less we speak about the prejudices that may have been in the past, the quicker they’ll disappear."

Larísa, I've read zillions of articles in this topic and this line was the smartest of all. I will never ever write about it and I will never ever argue with either "traditionalist" (those who believe in male and female roles), nor feminists. I will just ignore them.

Anonymous said...

Whether there is prejudice towards women in gaming or not is arguable, but as the number (and the length) of the comments, as well as the spikes in post hits show: people haven't entirely made up their mind on this yet.

Here's my take on things: you get treated based on the way you act and you act based on your perception of how the people in your surroundings treat or are likely to treat you. To put it in another way: it's all in you head.

So I'm quite convinced that a lot of women in gaming have at least once been (or felt) treated differently then a man would have in that situation.

I just think it's important to remember that this is not only because of prejudice but also because of your own expectations and actions. I'm never gonna make a dirty boy-sex joke in a raid, but I might go for the equivalent flirty joke. The reason for both jokes is the same - to bond and show where you stand on the current atmosphere of the social situation, but let's face it: the two get different reactions. One doesn't have to be better then the other, but they are different for sure.

Very round about way of saying what I mean, but I think I might have gotten it said.

The only other thing I'd like to comment on is this: Larisa you wrote "Seriously, being a real life woman in Azeroth isn’t that special anymore. There simply are too many of us. Gone are the days where you could feel special – being an adored princess or a misunderstood and despised martyr, fighting to get respected."

And that is what I haven't read anywhere else yet and what really clicked for me. It used to be a special thing to act and be treated differently. Now half the WoW population is being treated differently, but this doesn't have to mean they're being treated badly.

Men and women are not and are not treated the same. But I think the question of discrimination of women (by and large) in WoW is a thing of the past.

/end ridiculously long and flimsy comment

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of male players assume that all female characters, or at least 99% of them, are played by men; I certainly do, well I don't assume it's 99%, but probably 75%.

This does not stop me flirting with female characters, even if they are played by males; heck, I even flirt with my friend, and he is 6 foot 4 and built like a brick outhouse. Would I ever do that in real life? No way!

Funny though, I am less likely to flirt with real women online, once I know who they are.

Gender will always be an issue. It is in real life so why shouldn't it be in-game?
We are not androgonous clones, we are distinctly different (yes, the lines can be blurred), but that is no bad thing.

Anonymous said...

@DeftyJames: Writing about this topic I've come to realize that I actually don't really know what I'm talking about. I should try to make something more "male". Like a tanking dwarf pala with a thick beard or a human warrior. Level it up and see how people will treat me if I actually pretend to be a guy. Maybe I'll notice a difference then. I think I should be a bit humble about this. Your experiences are of course worth listening too.

@Syrana: Actually I don't know if people think I'm a girl or not. In meetings with strangers, like in a PUG, it's rarely a topic. Thankfully enough.

@Geoffrey: you're right and I'm glad you pointed it out. Stereotypes is our way to try to interprate the world and make it a bit easier to understand. We need to categorize stuff or the world will appear chaotic to us. But still there are many false sterotypes out there that try to force people into boxes where they wouldn't place themselves if they had a free choice. And that's sad.

@Klepsacovic: I think that I subconsciously do the same assumption as you. But it really is stupid. In our guild we have a ton of female toons played by men, especially after they made sex transplants available.

@Spinksville: thanks! And yes, for some reason I get a little emotional about it. I really long to the day when it's a non-topic, a non-issue. Then we will have come a lot further than now.

About Fandom (as the SF fanzine publishing movement calls itself): hm... It's not really WoW-related so it doesn't belong here. But maybe I'll make an exception and write a few things about it in a post some day. I could always make a few comparsion to what it's like to be a fanzine editor and a blogger.

@Misself: that story you published was really terrible and I can see that you’ve felt badly treated because of your sex. It’s rare though that you really hear a concrete example of discrimination like this. Most of the time people talk generally about “girls being badly treated” without any kind of examples or evidence. I don’t agree about the thing that girls either feel very good or very bad about other girls. I’m pretty indifferent, don’t feel anything special because of their gender. But maybe I’m unusual, I don’t know.

@Gevlon: Thank you!

@Maiara: thank you for your long and very relevant comment! I think your right that it all boils down to what you see. It’s possible that I’m less sensitive to discrimination than other – that I’ve been in situations which other women would have found humiliating for some reason and I just don’t see the problem. And maybe that affects my actions and thus makes me less likely to be badly treated. It’s just so out of the question. I refuse to become a victim and therefore I won’t.

@Vlad: Actually I DO think that the traditional ideas about sexes and gender are becoming a little bit obsolete these days. And that’s a good thing. Who knows what the future will carry for us? I remember reading an SF book where there were three sexes and all were needed to make some sort of offspring…. Not that I expect things like this to happen anytime soon but it’s refreshing sometimes to free yourself a little bit from the expectations of what’s “normal ” behavour and what’s not.

Unknown said...

Regarding discrimation
It's just like the day President Obama sworn in where reporters kept bringing up how he is the first black president and kept interviewing high and low profile african americans if they thought they would ever lived to see that day.

I don't mind that but if they keep repeating saying the same thing and asking the same questions ... it gets annoying and you have to wonder if

Younger generations and new immigrants knows the historical value of the event but they stop there .. why? because they know there is no use of instigating the issue.

Fish said...

I think there is a different general bias in wow, it's not sexism but agism.

I find in general that most players don't care whether aplayer is male or female as long as they are skilled. Personally the female players that I know are more hardcore and into raiding than the male players I know.

I do believe however, fairly or not, that players are discriminated against based on age. I can't even say that I believe this is a bad thing, but again, just a pattern that I see.

Anonymous said...

I think age plays a huge part in how you are treated.

The men in my guild don't seem to care/call attention to the fact that I am a woman. But they are all older, and married or dating. Women are no longer "foreign" to them.

Also, I am married and my husband plays the game as well so there is no flirting going on of any kind.

If I interacted with 14-year old boys maybe my experience would be different?

Beth said...

I see the entire gender thing a very specific way, and this cover-all advice for any gender situation:

1. Women are all different. You cannot make generalizations and still remain accurate.

2. If people in a guild treat the women with preconceived notions that they do not like, those women should leave the guild and find one that isn't stupid.

3. If a woman experiences blatant sexism in any form, they should report it to a GM. Reporting doesn't auto-close an account unless the person has already been very very bad, so there's no reason not to (unless the woman is lazy, which really isn't good enough imo).

Anonymous said...

@Darraxus: Yep! I thought you needed to be shaked around a bit... :)

@Herc: Yes, it's really a balance isn't it? I really don't want to deny or pretend like passed injustices haven't existed. But sometimes clinging to them can hurt your casue.

@Fish: you're probably right but we're not talking quite as much about it. Younger players are supposed to be immature and unreliable, hard to cooperate, even though they may be skilled (especially when it comes to PvP). Older players are supposed to have slower reactions and maybe aren't quite as competative... You see, I've got some prejudices as well!

@Ana: yeah, I guess my motherly appearance will turn most young boys off a bit... It's not that attractive to flirt with someone who's turned 40...

@Birdfall: /agree.
Though I think you could do wise not to be too picky when it comes to point 2. If you really look for insults I think you can find it anywhere. In WoW and in society in general. But of course you shouldn't put up with a guild that you feel treats you badly.

Jenneke said...

I could really recommend the articles Nick Yee has written on player behaviour in MMOs. He's a scholar at Stanford and really into the world of online gaming, especially MMOs. I believe he has written something on gender differences as well.

Anonymous said...

I very rarely see women being treated differently to men (perhaps it is happening behind closed doors) in online games anymore. As Ana said above the few times I do see issues arise it is usually very young players involved, usually the male.

There are a lot of women gamers these days and I was very plesently surpised to see that my guild is pretty much 50/50 split, sex-wise.

Anonymous said...

My guild is also fairy evenly split 50/50 m/f, which is why I was shocked to go to the Lich King launch event and see like 2000 males and 3 women. I suspect that we're the exeception rather than the rule. I suspect it helps that I'm an RP server named 'Sisters of Elune'