Saturday, March 27, 2010

Female Gamer

I'm a woman and I play World of Warcraft. I made my first character, a female tauren druid on Kilrogg, on my boyfriend's account back when we first started dating (Jan. of 2005). I was hooked. Back then we not only shared an account, but also a computer. So most of our dates went something like this... go to his house, take 2-4 hour turns, except on Sundays (after he got his undead rogue on Archimonde to 60) when he got six hours to raid MC. In the summer of 2006, I finally built my own computer and got my own account, at which point I created a female undead rogue (who was my main) and a female troll mage (who is now my main) on Archimonde to be able to play with him. I am what is known in World of Warcraft as a an "alt whore," meaning I like to make multiple characters on multiple servers and take turns playing whichever one I feel like (in direct contrast to those people who focus on their one "main" character exclusively until they are so rich and bored that they make a secondary character or "alt," etc. etc. etc.). Most of these characters are female, although I do have a single, solitary male character to mix things up a bit. My DH (Dear Husband- the same former boyfriend who got me hooked on the game in the first place) has since usurped that character, which I'm not sure he would have done if the character had also been female.

Even though I love the game, there are some things that have bothered me about WoW since I first started playing. Not enough to stop playing or change anything, but definitely things that have made me uncomfortable or have made me stop and think. WoW should be a great equalizer. Male and female characters have no differences in their abilities except appearance. If you're a good player, you're a good player, and it doesn't matter what race, gender, religion, etc. you are. However, this is unfortunately not always the case. There are several inherent problems with the game including: 1) stereotyping of female characters- and the verbalization of this 2) behavior that would constitute sexual harassment or rape IRL (in real life) 3) portrayal of female characters in-game and 4) intolerance of women in leadership positions.

The stereotyping of female characters (in WoW there are only two genders- male and female, so I use man/male and woman/female interchangably for the purposes of this post, even though I know that this sex/gender dichotomy is a lot more complicated in real life) again breaks down into several categories: 1) who makes a female character 2) what types of characters do women usually play and 3) how are "known" women treated by men. To address the first category, who makes a female character, we need to address the idea that this is a fantasy game. Not all women are going to make female characters, nor all all women who make female characters going to make ONLY female characters. Some female characters are played by men. As a male in-game friend told me one time, "if I'm going to look at someone's backside for several hours each week, that backside might as well look good." I can't even blame him, because a lot of the male characters seem even more unrealistic than the female characters, either seemingly on steroids or riddled with multiple-sclerosis.

The second category, what types of characters women usually play, is based loosely in fact, although I'm not sure if an actual study has ever been conducted (do please let me know if there has been). Women seem to be drawn to the Alliance, because it has the more "beautiful races" including humans, night elves, gnomes, dwarves and draenei. Only since the introduction of blood elves to the Horde side, have women been more willing to make a Horde character (undead, trolls, orcs, taurens and blood elves). However, this has led to stereotypes of the Alliance as feminine, incapable, etc. while the Horde is portrayed as macho, overpowering, etc. (This might just be Horde stereotyping, since I don't spend a whole lot of time Alliance-side). Also, there is the stereotype that most women play healing (or passive) classes, like priests and druids, shy away from the tank (aggressive) classes, and will play some of the more hands-off dps classes, the casters (mages and warlocks). As a woman who plays an undead rogue (as well as just about every other race/class combo out there), this seems rather ludicrous.

Finally, there is the question of how "known" women are treated by men. By "known" I mean those women who have in some way told people that they are women IRL. The guys in my guild often joke around and ask me to "get in the kitchen and make [them] a sammich" and other such wise-cracks. While I usually take these comments in the spirit they are meant (I hope) and tell them to "go f*** themselves," they do get annoying. Especially when newly joined members pick up on it, and start telling me the same as well. Now, this is annoying especially because I keep telling people that my DH is the one who cooks around here, because he loves it, is a chef, and I can't cook and not because of some stupid idea that that is "his role in life." But somehow I get greeted with this line almost every time I go online.

Second, and this is the most frightening aspect of the game, is the behavior by some men that would border on or even constitute rape or sexual harassment if done in real life. Many people playing female characters experience the fact that people are just more willing to help them out with things or give them gold and items than if they were playing a male character. However, this is taken to the extreme by men who ask female characters to strip and dance naked for them in exchange for gold (most at risk here at the night elf females).

This actually happened to me while trying to level a female night elf hunter and was a pretty scarring experience. A male character came up to me and asked me to follow him, which I did, being the trusting, naive, and helpful person I am, thinking that he just wanted help with a quest (a task you complete in exchange for money and points to skill up your character). Once we got to a "secluded" spot behind a tree, he asked me to take my equipment (clothes and armor) off and dance for him. Being the naive idiot that I am, I did this, slightly confused about what he wanted. Imagine my surprise when he then took his character's clothes off and started dancing behind me. That's when I realized what he wanted (I know, I'm stupid, naive, should have seen it coming, but nothing even remotely that offensive had happened to me up until that point) and put my armor back on and logged out, practically in tears and rather traumatized. My boyfriend actually felt like I had cheated on him when I first told him about it, and now he likes to bring it up occassionally just to see me squirm because he thinks it's hilarious. I've tried to explain to him why I'd rather forget the whole incident, but it's rather firmly etched into my brain as that time I was mentally raped.

Third, there is the topic of female character portrayal in-game. I think this is a direct relation to the game developers being mostly men and not thinking about the fact that they could very easily market this game to women as well as men as a fun way to spend your time. The things that draw me most to World of Warcraft are the vibrant colors, the beautiful animations, the simplicity of game play and the general feeling that I am in an actual fantasy world. What I have the most issue with is the fact that almost every single race has females with big boobs, big butts, and skinny bodies. Also the armor sets when worn by a female character are usually a lot more revealing than the exact same armor set on a male character. Yes, it's fantasy, but a male fantasy. Even in my wildest fantasy, I wouldn't be running into battle half-naked.

Finally, there is the topic of female leadership. Although there are certainly all-female guilds, on the whole, big raiding guilds are dominated by men. Women, although they do sometimes rise quite high, are often passed over for the more "important" roles like raid leading. I successfully led several raids back in BC (Burning Crusade, the first expansion of World of Warcraft) and was even elevated to a "raid officer." But the second I dropped off the radar for a month or two while I was trying to slowly level up when the second expansion WotLK (Wrath of the Lich King) came out, I was tossed back out of my position as a raid officer and was no longer a viable candidate to lead raids even after I had successfully learned the fights well enough to be able to explain them myself. Also, I was constantly told to be less of a bitch, when men who were leading, who were equally harsh task masters, were complimented for their "firm leadership" or their ability to maintain order. Also, I was harshly criticized for trying out a new looting system, to the point where I started crying (yes, I'm an emotional person and proud of it) and quit the game for several months, only to come back to a guild where that exact looting system was now standard pratice. Was that because I was female and trying something new, which... gasp... actually worked or because it was "new" period. I'm certainly never going to know for sure.

Yes, I love the game, yes, I'm always going to come back to it after periodic absences. But I'm not at all happy with some of the gender biases inherent in both the game and the people that play it.

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