Category Archives: gender

Shake ya’ tailfeather – A strange tale of class, gender, and guild identities

[Lan: Another guest post, this time from S., the resident hunter]

The elusive Spirit Cat

My guildies and I were loitering in Org one evening, I on my main (female BM Hunter) and they on their alts (resto and feral Druids), preparing for some inappropriate adventure or another. I, in my efficiency, was repaired and outfitted, and sufficiently stocked, which left me to chat with my spirit bear. I noticed a fellow hunter next to me with a sparkly spirit cat – I acknowledged his pet with appreciation and mentioned in public chat that it was first time I’d seen one in “person”.

Meanwhile, I was chatting with my druid pals via Skype, and I started giggling as Mr. Hunter started to spread his digital tailfeathers, bringing out rare pets. I followed suit: spirit crab, rhinoceros, runed demon dog. I called over the druids to see this fascinating exchange – one of the druids has a paladin, and I’ve regularly seen him engage in a similar ritual with other pallies, healing each other continuously until they were out of mana.

For some reason, my druids did not like this hunter-stranger. The druids joined our little party in the Valley of Strength and made fierce gestures and commented that they should leave “their girl” alone. These were of course followed by alternate forms and their relative sparkly effects that make the druids so endearing.

The transformations started out small – cat form – and became gradually more spectacular – Moonkin form, triple tree form. For each heightened display, the hunter responded with a bigger pet – Maddex the scorpion, King Mukla the gorilla, King Krush the devilsaur.

Druids make themselves known in front of Shauxna.

During these shenanigans, Mr. Hunter whispered to me: Add me sweetheart maybe we can catch some bgs, double BM :D. As a RL female having heard tales of such wooing but never having experienced it, I related this to the druids via Skype. The emotes unfolded, and all the while Feral Druid was running around making sparkles in his characteristic style:

Resto Druid winks slyly at you.
Resto Druid says NO. Not going to happen.
Resto Druid stares Mr. Hunter down.
Mr. Hunter laughs at Resto Druid.
Mr. Hunter smiles at King Krush.
Resto Druid tells Krush NO. Not going to happen.
You pet King Krush.
You strut.

After cleaning up the wine I spit out from laughing so hard (pinot grigio is required for adventuring in Azeroth), I got to thinking about identity – there’s some gender business going on here, especially assumptions on Mr. Hunter’s part that I am, in fact, a female player. Or, rather, he just doesn’t care if I am or not.

There’s a class identity dynamic as well … I complimented Mr. Hunter on a lovely pet and he responded in kind based on the shared meaning we hold for our pets because we’re both hunters. Then there was some crazy difference in the risk-evaluation that was going on among the avatars compared to how we might interact offline … I’m not sure I would have approached Mr. Hunter offline, and while my guildies may have come to my “defense” in such a scenario (we are a bit of a family, after all), it’s doubtful that they would have come in brandishing their finest weapons (or other such sparkly equivalents).

The very sick grad student in me wants to write 30 pages on why this scenario is so fascinating.

How can you tell if that sexy blood elf femme is really a girl?

“Girls don’t play WoW.”

“There are no girls on the internet.”

Au contraire, my friend. Au contraire.

Which you already know, because you have had those flirtatious little conversations with other players either as a girl, or with someone you knew was a girl, or both.

But still we wonder…. if most of the people (~79%) who play are guys, and so many guys use female toons, how do you know that sexy blood elf female ‘toon really is being played by a girl?

Well, that’s one of the things we tried to figure out in the research we did. First, a few caveats:

  1. I’m using using girl in the most re-claiming and feminist of ways. I call myself and all those of female gender over 18 “women”, but today I like being a “girl” and am imposing that youthful moment on the rest of you. It’s meant in the most adult and empowering of ways.
  2. Our research was on Second Life, not WoW, and things are REALLY different there. Our findings on player chat applied in SL, and we really have no idea if they apply in WoW (or, for that matter, if they apply anywhere other than our island in SL). We’re just thinking that maybe they might. We’ll let you know what we find when we do the whole thing again in WoW this summer. Oh, and if they apply in Spanish, too.

But first you need some general context that our data don’t tell you. For that, let’s check out the findings from PARC about things  men and women do differently that we can see in Armory data. Some of the cool things  in their (really very sexeh) findings:

  1. Player roles: US men and women spend about the same amount of time as healers (more on that); Women are about 40% more likely to be ranged DPS than men are, and men are about twice as likely to tank as women.
  2. Motivations for play: Men are more achievement-oriented than women, and women are more interested in the immersive component than men.
  3. Characters: Women have more active characters than men, but men’s are of higher average level. And everyone likes the pretty toon races best, but women are more likely to be night elves and blood elves than men are (but remember, that still means that most BEs and NEs are played by men…).
  4. And yes, men are more likely to gank you. Well, anyway, they have more PvP kills than women.

Okay, now that you’ve got that straight, and you know that over half the female toons you see are actually being played by men, how can you tell if that hawt female troll tank is actually played by a woman?

Take a look at what people say and how they say it.

Oh, but look, this post is really long already. I guess I’ll have to tell you how to decode gendered chat in another post. Meanwhile, go take a look at your own Armory stats and see how you fit into the stereotype for your gender. Have a lot of Achievements? How many of those are PvP? Raid? How much do you tank? What races are your toons? Check out your /hug stats, too. As gender stereotypes would predict, women do that twice as much as men.

Remember, none of this stuff is meant to be rules, just averages. Many, many exceptions abound, and, if you’re reading a blog post about it, you’re probably more likely to be an exception. (Hm. We’ll have to do that analysis next time…)

Tidbits from research results

Poor neglected blog. I shall return to you now and provide a bit of an update. The worlds of steampunk, warcraft, and research are proceeding apace, with a major milestone reached: the big ole presentation on our results to funders, other teams, and various other folks. We SCRIBE folks showed our first big set of findings from our research.

It was rather an awe-inspiring experience to see the research being done by the other teams, including some really fun stuff from Nic and Nick over at PARC like this: did you know that about 33% of men regularly use female avatars in WoW – and they use those female ‘toons about for 30% of their gameplay? BUT! Women only play male characters about 8% of the time. What that means when you work out all the numbers is that over half the female avatars you see are actually played by men. (Confusing, I know. It’s because only 25% of WoW players are women… assuming their sample of 1,000 is representative of all 12.5 million WoW players. It’s probably pretty close, if not a bit more female than the total pool).

In our (much smaller) sample in Second Life, we had to work hard to recruit men (women are a bit under half of SL players, and they are more likely to participate in studies like ours). Among our 215 or so players, only 8% used an avatar with a different gender than what they reported in the survey about the offline gender – and most of those were men playing female avis.

What these studies show is that a) there are girls on the internet; b) girls do play WoW; and c) yeah, that hot blood elf may well actually be a guy. Oh, and that SL and WoW have really, really different cultures in terms of avatar use. For example, most WoW players have more than 1 ‘toon they play regularly, but among our participants, only 45% did.

Another amazingly cool result was from folks on the team headed by the inimitable Dmitri Williams at Annenberg USC: they used their amazing behind-the-scenes data from Everquest 2 to create maps of who trades with whom – and found a way to identify gold farmers.

Another one that really caught my eye was a project that set up experimental economics studies in Metaverse (which is a lot like SL) to take a look at people’s risk-taking behavior using things like game theory experiments (that’s game theory, not theories about games).

For our part, we talked about the kit and kaboodle, far too much to go into here, but a few fun facts (that were statistically interesting):

  • Gender roles in conversation and appearance are alive and well in SL: Women use 50% more exclamation points, about 40% fewer periods and commas, and 63% more apologies than men. They also used over three times as many costume items from our quest, and were 50% more likely to have a gender-idealized avatar.
  • More educated players really do write better: they use 43% more punctuation and 60% fewer emoticons than less educated players. Not that I am advocating against the use of emoticons :)
  • Older players (over 45) look better: they use avatars that are about 6% taller and are 50% more likely to be gender-idealized compared to younger players (18-25). Plus, older players use 33% fewer emotional phrases like “hurrah!” and correct their misspelled text 40% less often than the youngest group.
  • Leaders online kind of look like leaders off line: they have taller avatars, wore over twice as many of our costume items, and used about twice as many directives (like “go do that”) as non-leaders. That’s a lot like research that says taller, better dressed, and more commanding people tend to be leaders, even in groups of strangers. People who said they were high in leadership characteristics and behavior were more likely to be men, but those who were actually voted leader of the group (afterwards we asked them to identify the leader in their session) weren’t more likely to be male or female.

And just in case you missed it, you really have to see that Second Life quest trailer video that we made for our game:

(ps promising to start contributing here again. promise!)

Ada Lovelace Day +1

Yesterday was offical Ada Lovelace Day, recognizing women in technology and science. According to the Huffington Post, “March 24 was dubbed ‘Ada Lovelace Day’ in honor of this ‘tech heroine.’ It was celebrated as an ‘international day of blogging’ that honored not only Lovelace’s achievements, but the achievements of all women in technology and science.” Ironically, I didn’t manage to blog yesterday, but I shall on this today.

Ada Lovelace is hip these days, not only because she has kind of been “rediscovered” as a very important contributor to the development of computing who basically came up with the idea that computers could be more than giant calculators. She proposed to her close friend Charles Babbage that his “difference engine” could accommodate algorithms to perform far more advanced calculations, and she theorized that computers could be programmed with levels of complexity that would allow them to, for example, “compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” She is considered the world’s first computer programmer.

Poster created by Kyle Cassidy using a steampunk theme.

Ada Lovelace is also hip because she’s an ideal steampunk icon. Steampunk is most definitely sexy: clunky, quasi-magical machines rendered in brass and besought with decay run by dark and foreboding engineer- and science-types wearing Victorian-inspired clothing with a kick-ass, sexy twist. Women are kick-ass, not wilting violets, and men are raw and rough. Both have a touch of androgyny and most importantly, they make really cool stuff like giant dirigibles and mechanical people.

Two parts Mary Shelley, one part Lovecraft, and three parts Jules Verne, the steampunk aesthetic has come and gone over recent years, but it’s increasingly hitting the mainstream these days. Take a look at the SyFy channel’s Warehouse 13 or even their Sanctuary. I confess I’ve become rather enamored of it myself, even to the point of scouring the internets for the perfect strappy/buckley boots and adopting an affinity for button-down blouses with fitted vests.

Ada Lovelace (to return to the point) is from steampunks’ inspirational era (circa 1850s), and as a techie woman who thrived in an oppressive culture, she has become rather a feminist icon.

Another oft-overlooked woman in computing, Grace Hopper, created the first compiler for a computer language and came up with the idea of machine-independent programming languages. Think about that for a moment. Until then, each individual machine (the size of a ballroom) needed its own special language to turn on- and off-switches into letters and numbers and sums and differences. Machine independent languages joined all those little difference engines together, creating the possibility for computer-communication, and through them, computer-mediated human communication.

These  two women thought of computers as something not simply to perform calculations, but as having the potential for profound complexity. They saw computing as offering conceptual insights, building patterns, and, ultimately, as allowing for a far more organic and fluid environment where surprising things might emerge – like, say, virtual worlds?

Computers are so much more than giant calculators. They are embedded into our daily lives as extensions of our thoughts, our creativity, our sexuality, our curiosity. We don’t simply turn to them to solve a difficult puzzle, but instead engage with them and with others through them to explore formerly non-existent worlds. Reeves and Nash pointed out that we often treat computers as other human-like beings, responding politely, for example, when their code spits questions onto the screen. It’s not that we’re fooled, but that we somehow recognize a complexity that triggers a human-to-human type of interaction. Folks have claimed to be helped by automated “therapist” software (like advanced versions of Eliza) and I, for one, know how easy it is to get attached to those little Lantana-shaped pixels running about on the screen.

Computers are extensions of us. We are cyborgs, even without all those mechanical appendages. We are in the machines, and they are in us.

Thanks Ada. Thanks Grace.

The Beautiful People

belf lady

My hair is actually almost exactly the same. But I definitely do not look like a belf.

There’s something strange about getting to know people in WoW. Absent the body, you can be whoever you want in funny ways. Maybe you can’t really change your personality much (although perhaps some do?), but you can side-step all the judgements that come from the physical.

When I first started playing, I was really bothered by this. I had this thing where I just really wanted people to know what I looked like. Not because I thought that would particularly add to my appeal, but because somehow I felt I was misrepresenting myself with out the physical. Honestly, I have no idea why this was. I’m pretty much over it now.

But there are so many things we respond to about people when we look at them. I’m not just talking about how interact with them phyiscally, with all the attendant body language, smiles, eye contact. Those things can change everything about how we interact and respond, most certainly.

I’m talking about what we associate with looks in general. We believe the Beautiful People think they’re too good for us – unless, perhaps we believe we’re part of them. We believe dark skins mean one thing, slanted eyes another; pale skins mean one thing and brown skins something else. We look at people’s hair style, assess their weight, catalog their pimples, their baby face, their choice in clothing. We don’t have to be “racist” or “classist” or otherwise prejudiced against bad dressers and round tummies to react to these things. Regardless of the direction of our reaction, we have one. We’ve been trained by society and probably evolution to figure things out about people based on what our eyes see.

Online, we see nothing. Well, we see a screen name, a bunch of words in chat. In WoW we also see a ‘toon. A WoW friend once derided me for choosing a troll as my main. “A TROLL?” he guffawed. “How could you ever play a troll? They’re so UGLY! Oh my GOD! Their FEET! Those tusks! How could you play that? Why would you ever want to be so ugly?!”

I confess that in picking my troll, looks were a factor. IMHO, trolls are kind of cute. Curvy, mischievous looking, blue…. I like it. I feel cute as Lantana, and that matters to me.

He thought trolls were ugly. I was offended.

Offended! By his judgement of the drawing of the generic cartoon I picked to play WoW.

What is that about? I have no idea.

I didn’t want to be a Blood Elf because the females are too anorexic / prissy* looking. I know the males are pretty silly looking according to some folks as well, but I actually like them. And female trolls look like they can kick ass. And I like that. I’m happy to say, “In RL I’m built like my troll.” I know. I know. That’s probably really, really weird. And I’m not exactly built like her, anyway… okay, moving on.

Getting to know people in WoW, you see their toon(s). Their names. Read their text chat. Listen to their voice on vent. Your brain forces you to create some image of each person. And inevitably, if you ever do manage to see the real person’s image behind the toon, you are probably dazed and confused.

So, when I would get close to people on WoW, I wanted them to see me. Not even me in person, just a picuture of me.  Honestly, I didn’t have as great a need to see what they looked like, but… Maybe it’s that in some ways, some people would treat me as though I really did look like a Blood Elf. Which I don’t. And the idea they had some idealized image of me in their head bothered me. I wasn’t interested in pretending to look like a Blood Elf.

I’m not so bothered by this anymore with most people I become friends with in WoW. I’ve exchanged a few pics since those early days, and met a few folks I play with, but for the most part, I’m fine that people don’t know what I look like.

But recently I have made a few friends I chat with a bit more than others, and some I know what they look like, some I don’t. Does it change things? Well…. I’m not sure, to be honest.

But somehow, getting to know someone without the phyiscal is different. Is it more about the personality? Are we being somehow more “pure” in responding to pure person, not biased by the body? I’m not sure. The body matters. The phyiscal matters. Maybe we are wrongly afftected by the body in many ways. But ultimately, it affects us, which can be a very good thing.

Maybe the physical is just a really good filter. You don’t like that I’m not one of the beautiful people? Good to know.

[Edit: * This comment on female belfs is, of course, doing exactly the same thing as that guy’s comment about trolls. And I confess that I have 3 female belf alts, anyway. They actually are cute.]

Of traitors, sides, and evil

I mentioned briefly a few posts ago that I created a new toon. Those in the know will recognize immediately that this blue-tailed lovely is an Alliance character, which means I went other to The Other Side with this alt. I have finally spent some real time as an alliance player (she’s currently lvl 22, my new Lantanna), and have gotten a bit more exposure to that side of the quests, stories, toons, and the all-important Trade Chat.

Alliance vs. Horde - not a fair fight in this case.

Alliance vs. Horde - not a fair fight in this case.

I had only really ever played Horde. Brought to WoW by a friend as I was, I had no choice if I wanted to play with her (J. – see my early posts). This Alliance thing was actually a bit more novel and new than I had realized. Not only are there whole new sets of low level quests (yeay! new content for me!), the narrative seems rather different. My new Lantanna is now on the “good guys” side.

I never really bought the whole “Horde is evil” thing. But there is a morality story, here (which Elnia of Pink Pigtail Inn discussed recently). When we’re avidly on our killing sprees for gold, reputation, and XP, does it matter who we are, what the story is?

The Alliance races (esp. human, dwarf, gnome) are those that mythology generally identifies as the “good guys”, while Horde are the baddies, orcs, trolls, zombies (undead). I loved the idea of playing a baddie when I first started, but I do see, now, the slightly different narrative and atmosphere around WoW’s Alliance – the “good”** side. Even the names have this valence: “horde” is usually used to describe groups of threatening beings, a la “horde of invaders.”

How much do these narratives matter? How much do we really even pay attention to the stories of the game? (those not on Role Playing servers, anyway) Does it change how we play, approach our characters, interact with other people when we select the “ugly” side?

Some folks who study video games talk about the importance of the story – that the representations of “evil” or power, and the way that you move through ideas are part of what makes the games appealing and engaging. Many who study those stories do so as literary scholars, examining symbols and themes and characters just as they would in Shakespeare or Tony Morrison.

Popular culture agrees: the objections to Grand Theft Auto center around the stories and situations the game presents because of their violence, racial overtones, sexist scenarios, etc.

Other scholars such as Squire (2002) and Dickey (2006) point to the narratives of games like SimCity as providing educational potential (few such concerns over WoW, my friends -  although some people like IBM say you learn leadership skills…). Others such as Turkle explain that one of the reasons fewer girls get into video games is because the stories are very male-centered. Some even claim that breaking the narrative, working outside the story, hinders learning and reduces motivation to play. Of course, a big part of this is that in video games, we’re not just reading the story, we’re part of the story. From Nelson to Lanham to Murray to Steinkuehler, scholars have long hailed online participatory narratives as offering rich, flexible, and engaging stories that can be far more appealing than the linear stories of paper. We learn to read, write, and analyze with them. In fact, Steinkuehler (2007) claims, “MMOGs are not replacing literacy activities but rather are literacy activities.” We learn about and express who we are with them, in them, and through them, as Crawford & Gosling (2009) argue. In some cases, those narratives are part of a game’s purpose: games used by the US Army to train soldiers; a game about Darfur designed to teach people about the atrocities there; games for kids to teach problem-solving, etc.

So by joining and investing in the Alliance side, I’ve shifted into a different narrative within WoW. Part of me feels an allegiance, socially, to “my” side – am I a traitor to my Hordies for leveling an Alliance alt? Do we develop a loyalty for our side in a general sense? (I confess that I do have twinges of silly guilt over it…)

In some ways, I think we do. For sure, those pesky Alliance folks are always killing me, so yeah, I see them all as enemies on my server because the game makes them so. The obvious visible cues of our “differences” designed by the game including the way characters are drawn, the boundaries of “enemy territory” where every NPC will attack me without mercy, and the different leveling experiences, reinforce these loyalties.

I also kind of feel as though I’m spying. “Ooooh! Look! I can see Exodar without getting killed! I can talk to Night Elves! What are these folks saying in Trade Chat? Hm. They seem kind of nicer in Trade Chat over here…” In fact, I could be spying. On Destro we once made friends with someone who had a 70 Alliance toon, and he would periodically hop on Vent to let us know a raid was happening, or to coordinate a you-kill-me, then I’ll-kill-you arrangement for farming honor (in Nagrand, of course). It felt deliciously naughty.

So how much do the stories matter? Is the folk wisdom true that Horde tends to attract more of the 14 year old boys who want to vent their anger on the world? Do we gravitate towards – or get pulled in by – certain sides or races in WoW because of their stories? Is there really a moral difference?

**Note, though, that especially in the most recent expansion, the Horde aren’t entirely dsecribed as the bad guys, and that they actually join up with the Alliance to fight the “real” bad guy, the Lich King.

Value and the self

One of the things about musing on the different spheres of value, shortcomings, definitions, is that the selves we develop in each of these spheres are related to the self we identify internally.

A lot of people believe in a “core self” that runs through all contexts, all roles, all spheres. This “core” self  is thought to be Truth, the “real me” that I choose to show or hide depending on the situation. That somehow the self we show when we’re nervous, or unsure, or cranky, or professional, or partying is not completely “real” – that those are fake parts of ourselves overlaid on top of truth likes masks. Not really “me.”

I see this a different way. To me, these are all parts of us, and should be embraced as real aspects of the self,  just as “true” as the self of the intense 4 a.m. conversations in which we confess hidden feelings or fears. I don’t see those other roles we adopt as masks, but rather different manifestations of who we are. In that sense, then, I don’t belive in a “true” self, although I do believe we bring out and push away different things at different times.

Chodrow (1981) claims that the self is fundamentally relational, and so is linked to norms of interpersonal roles that are necessarily linked to social contexts.  We gain a sense of self through interaction with those in the society around us and thus the self is intertwined with the other. 

This, to me, is fundamentally about being fluid, able to shift our language, perspective, approach to fit different contexts. I call it flexibility, along with cognitive scientists (cognitive flexibility), but I take it beyond their focus on learning and suggest that this is a more general social mechanism.

Some people are more flexible, meaning that some people adapt more easily to different contexts, speak the “languages” of different spheres more readily. They manifest the sides of themselves that suit their needs at that moment – not in a false or strategic way, but as part of seeking mutual understanding.

Thinking about who we are in WoW, then, is for me thinking about how we respond to and adapt to the specific contexts of that space. In a highly social context – in between battles, cooling down after a raid – we manifest that self that is more social, seeking out others, building bonds. In a demanding technical challenge, we shift to a more pragmatic, rational approach, perhaps.

I think this is particularly clear in gender roles (and I even have a name for it: Gender Role Flexibility). Along with Bem (1972) I don’t believe we are always “all masculine” or “all feminine”, nor (departing from Bem) do I believe that the balance between our feminine and masculine sides is always the same. I believe we change our gender-related behaviour according to the demands of the context, as well.

So when hanging with the boys in WoW, I tend to be a bit more “boy-like” – I call upon the parts of me that are more in-line with their prevailing styles of communication, values, and perspectives. Obviously this is different depending on the specific group, but the idea is the same. With an all woman group I might show more of my stereotypical feminine qualities, but again, depends on the specific women.

This is, in part, one of the reasons that feeling oddly ungendered in some situations in WoW (where everyone first assumes I’m a guy) is disconcerting for me. I think that flexibility, that shifting of what I bring to the conversation/situation is highly dependent on a two-way interaction. I identify the context of my interaction with the other person under certain assumptions – among them, that I am seen as “female.” Break that, and it turns out I’m not so sure how to act. Well, I can pretend to actually be a guy (physically), but that gets old. It’s too much work.

I just can't hit the button.

I just can't hit the button.

On the other hand, “passing” like that is interesting. It’s not hard for me, especially if people assume I’m male first (they’re not looking for signs I’m not male, I assume). I don’t get the sense that many of the guys I meet who play female toons are trying to “pass” as female – or that they even think others will wonder. For me, though, even playing a male toon is weirdly difficult. I’ve tried, but I just can’t hit that Accept button to create one.

I’m not on a role play server, and for some reason I have a really difficult time pretending to be things I’m not when interacting in WoW. I have a rough time “passing” in gender, age, occupation, you name it.

But I wonder sometimes why this is. Am I just impulsively trying to express myself as much as possible in this limited space with no body to help me out? Do I feel as though I’m lying? Neither of those quite rings true for me.

How much do we really tell our WoW buddies about ourselves? How much do we craft that more idealized self when we chat online? Leave out the pesky weaknesses and paint ourselves as we would like to be…

LFM BFF and WoW Sluts

Confession: I’m feeling cranky.

I have now heard from yet another male WoW player that, “most girls who play are WoW sluts.”

Lan: WoW sluts? Like…. wait, what do you mean?

WoWguy47: Well, you know. They’re only there to find guys because they can’t get a date in real life.

My new slut, er, alt, Lantanna.

My new slut, er, alt, Lantanna.

Lan: So… most girls are picking up guys all the time?

Wowguy47: Yeah, and you know, they just cause all this drama. This one girl who was in our guild was dating this guy, and then she broke up with him, and it was all this drama. God, I hate guild drama.

Lan: So what happened?

WoWguy47: I dunno, she quit or transferred servers or something. Really, having girls in the guild causes so much drama. They’re all like, ‘you’re my new BFF’ and then it goes to shit.

Lan: Ah, I see. What about him? Did he quit?

WoWguy47: No way, he’s one of our best [tanks/DPS/mages/w.e.].

Lan: So she was only there to find someone to sleep with?

WoWguy47: Yeah, really most girls who play are like that. This one girl who used to play with us slept with, like, tons of guys.

Lan: Um, you mean slept with as in “slept with” in WoW, or met offline and then slept with?

WoWguy47: Yeah, met offline. Or yeah, I dunnno, probably in WoW, too.

Lan: So that was why she was playing, you think?

WoWguy47: Yeah, she never had a boyfriend before WoW and then all of a sudden there’s all these guys that she’s with. It’s so annoying. Either they’re there to pick up guys or they’re just really dumb, you know, asking the dumbest things.

Lan: So what about people like me?

WoWguy47: Well, you know, you’re fine. You’re not a WoW slut.

Lan: So have you ever had a girlfriend in WoW?

WoWguy47: Well yeah, but that was different.

Lan: Ah, I see.

Here’s something I don’t understand. Why, when talking to a female, do some guys say obnoxious things about females in general? Do they think I won’t notice? That I don’t count? That somehow it’s cool to think “girls” are dumb/slutty/problems and I’ll be charmed that they’re still talking to me?

As I say. Cranky.

(and no, this wasn’t a conversation with a specific person, rather a combo of many very, very similar conversations I’ve had)

They don’t play this game, do they? Pt. 1

A recent post by Ixobelle with a fascinating yet painfully familiar description of the amazingly, astoundingly, appallingly, and stomach-turning-ly common racist talk of WoW has inspired me to tell my own little recent story.

First, a bit of background. “Trash talk” of the sort I personally associate with teen-aged boys’ locker rooms, is all over the public chat channels of WoW. Sometimes you don’t see any, and then something – or someone – will set off a spark, and the epithets fly. All the racist, or homophobic, or sexist, or whatever-ist terms your mother washed your mouth out for using in public are tossed around with abandon.

Periodically you’ll see some folks objecting, but the truth is that during these exchanges, it seems like everyone in WoW is perfectly comfortable with the worst.

We’re not talking about calling each other names in fun, here. A “yo bitch” can make me smile just as much as the next girl when said with affection. We’re talking about flat out name calling and “social analysis.” Uggh. Ixobelle’s post says it all, really. Read that first.

Done? Read it? Okay good.

A few months back, a player started spamming (repeating over and over) in Trade chat the following:

This was repeated many times over about a week.

This was repeated many times over about a week.

It’s my suspicion that this was a bait. A /who revealed that the character was level 2, in a city (hard to get to until level 10 or so), and stayed at that level all week.

Nevertheless, the bait worked. In response to progirlgamer’s announcement the comments start to fly. From things like, “r u a fatty?” to “if you wanted to be treated equally don’t tell them you’re a girl?”

dont tell

More comments like, “even real girls are not that obnoxious,” “it always surprises me to find out that there are girls who are genuinly [sic] that stupid,” “progirl… GROW SOME BIGGER BALLS!!!! lol (i kid),”  and advice like, “just kill yourself” and warnings like:

voodoo

So. Here’s the thing. Some of these people were reacting simply to the fact that someone was announcing she (supposedly) is female. And, from what I could tell, it really seemed as though there was some surprise at that. I know we girl gamers aren’t the majority in WoW, but come on! Were these guys really thinking that women aren’t reading their Trade comments, joining their pugs, in their guilds?

(I am, I confess, assuming that most of those comments were from guys – some are pretty unmistakable, but some could have been from either gender.)

So, I wonder. Does everyone always assume I’m a guy? I’ve written about this before, and I certainly get a lot of, “that guy used Bloodlust” or “hey man” from those who don’t know me.

And do I come out as a girl? In my guild, yes I do. But in “public” as it were? Well, progirlgamer certainly was teaching me that I wouldn’t be too welcome.

Seems to me that a whole lot of people assume everyone they interact with is a (white, straight) guy. We’ve all seen lots of Trade chat comments like, “girls don’t play WoW.” Is that entirely in jest? Or do some people think, maybe, that the one or two women in their guild are the only women they’ll find on their server?

So tell me. Have you ever “outed” yourself? Let people just assume? And what happens?

The work of WoW

[this was posted on the day it was written]

I am now level 80, and even have some decent gear, although not much. The guild does many more activities, especially instances, and I really enjoy them. There isn’t all that much for me to do alone except “dailies” – short stand-alone quests that you can repeat each day to earn gold and often reputation with a faction to enable purchase of high level items from NPC vendors.

I have changed my orientation to the game, and within it. I am basically dividing my time between being a restoration shaman healer (especially for instances) and a melee class enhancement shaman. The former is more useful and more widely needed, but very high-pressure, especially in 5-person instances where I am the only healer. Car. is our top healer, with fabulous gear, lots of know-how, and many instant and area-of-effect druid healing spells. I can’t compete with that, but I can be useful, especially when the “tank” (the character who is strong enough to take most of the damage from attacks) is good like D.

I have a lot of issues about being a healer. It’s fun, and it makes me feel useful, especially because my class is never going to be at top levels for damage done (or DPS, “damage per second”). In sophisticated playing, where coordination and support with the group is the main goal, shamans are incredibly helpful. But especially in pugs (pick-up-groups) my low DPS signals low status, and I feel keenly aware of my poor performance.

But healing is very, very difficult. Partly, my problem is switching back and forth from melee to healing class – it always takes a while to adjust to the new game-play style. Partly, when party members die, it is automatically considered the healer’s fault.

I am, as it turns out, pretty sensitive to angry players, although largely only from strangers.

This game is, as I noted early on, a “boy world” where power, domination, and control are paramount. Although the game itself seems designed to foster certain cooperative values, in practice it rarely does. Status comes from high levels of damage, and healers, although greatly needed, and at high levels, are not given as much respect as others. This can be subtle, as most understand how necessary they are, but few compliments to healers will be given in groups of strangers, and most players basically ignore healers unless something goes wrong.

This is certainly a gendered value system, if only by virtue of its parallel to stereotypical masculine status markers. As a woman, I feel this keenly. I am aware that my personal values, motivations, and interests are not so exclusively in gaining power, yet I feel embarrassed and rejected when I am not powerful enough.

This sets up a conflict between what I do for myself in the game and how I participate with groups. For the latter, I need the best gear so that I can heal well. But I am not focused and advancement-oriented enough in the former to be able to achieve the latter.  Since hitting level 70, this has been my weakness in the game, and has kept me from advancing according to its norms around player value generally.

I am adding additional barriers to this difficulty by splitting my attention between healing and melee fighting. I have some pieces of good gear for each, but would have more if I focused on one or the other. I do not because a healer alone is rather boring to play, and, as someone who is intimidated and uncomfortable with pugs, I need to be able to have fun alone.

In many ways I am not a “good” WoW player, then. I do not focus enough on the “work” I need to do to be the best, and I have made some choices that hinder me further. The game itself is designed to privilege those who are willing to repeat the same activities many times over to advance their gear. I confess: this bores me. Instances are fun because of the people I do them with; pugs are not fun because it feels too much like routine work.

In short, I am a social WoW player, a classification that is greatly derided. I am also, unsurprisingly, typical of many female players, especially those in my age bracket. I focus on the relationships and social interactions I have in the game, often to the detriment of advancing according to game achievements.

Lloydvi, C.'s toon, and Lan, almost 70.

Lloydvi, C.'s toon, and Lan, almost 70.

Also, it should be noted, to the detriment of myself.  That would be the perils of guild drama. Ahhh yes. That will, perhaps be tomorrow’s entry.