Thursday, March 24, 2011

The evolution of female MMO players

I read a post today from Jinxed Thoughts that sort of piqued my interest and got to making me think even further. You see, the virtual worlds of MMOs have become their own culture which has evolved over the last 15 plus years. The interaction and involvement of female players has also evolved. And that is what I decided to talk about today.

So, 25 years ago I was playing AD&D on tabletop. It was me and the guys, the nerd squad...typical Saturday night. Then BOOM! Brian brings a friend into try the game...a FEMALE friend and she was cute to boot! Us nerd guys had a chance in the world with girls who actually at least would smile at us. So began my experiences with women and gaming. Yes I'm getting to my point here in a sec, but it's my wall of text so please bear with me.

Years go by and low and behold I'm in the Age of MMO's. In the beginning we knew there weren't very many if at all female players. There wasn't a way to prove it since vent wasn't really up at that time. Yet, there were plenty of female avatars running around. Thus began the era of geeks who play female toons...I blame Tomb Raider for that lol. This brings upon other topics of toon genderbending of which yes I do occasionally play one. But back to the point at hand. I might have been able to see 1 in 100 RL female video gamers who played mmos. Most were husband and wife teams with just the spattering of female single players.

Time passes, I don't think about it but then I run across some podcasts dealing with RL gamers that are female with a wide range of ages. It brings up a ton more of social issues within the community when this is revealed as a truth (back in 02-03) from the casual gamers world, much like a woman being brought into a monastery. Most young boyus who were into MMO's acted like young boys and pretty rude over all. Older guys were trying to actually find relationships from the virtual space dreaming of Lara Croft in their arms. The female gamers weren't having an easy time integrating in a world dominated by hormone driven boys. Female toons had the ability to look like Maxim models and even the strongest armors were Ahem...well not there, mostly it was skin and a lot of it (this still happens lots lol). So, while guys were begging for real females to play, I have a theory that by their own ideas and or attitudes, they kept females from playing, or only accepted those females who either A: used flirty sex, or B: were one of the guys.

In the early 2000's Nick Yee created the Daedalus Project which attempted to look at the social and psychological aspects of the MMO gaming world. Allot of interesting topics started to rise when the issue of gender came up. One such study started to show an interesting trend of how females were introduced into the gaming world. One of the biggest points of that was that at that time, female MMO gamers tended to be on average older than thier male counterparts and were far more likely to be romantically involved with the male gamer PRIOR to coming into the MMO world. Checking around the net, I find that women who play WoW often start with romantic involvement prior to participation. The above site by the way is also a statement on the social issues at hand. Warcraft Chicks is by it's own nature a use of male orientated terminology.  This by the way, was the case for me when my wife decided to join into WoW. She knew I wouldn't stop playing so she gave it a shot and eventually really enjoyed it. Mind you the findings were from respondents and therefor a sampling with probably some bias or disparity involved. Overall females participating were about 16.5 % of the population base as of 2003.

This gets to my main point, female interaction has increased since then. Socially MMO's have crawled out from the nerd cave and into mainstream. Now there are different motivations for women  who play. For some, the competition of play or achievements. For others, the social aspect. For others, to spend time with family. As women have begun to populate more and more into the gaming world, we notice also different personalities arise. Back in 2009, Sydera wrote this post on female architypes that can be observed in the MMO community and not always in a pretty way. Now we begin to see the different identities arising within the community. But by and large, these particular stereotypes tended to arise more so in the Raiding Guilds than on the casual/social side. I contend here that when competition for pixelated rewards which have no REAL intrinsic value, specific personalities arise through the need of competing. They are often perceived as being bitches, divas etc. I'm wondering if that's just the social complexity for competitive play, of which I do believe Raiding is.

Now much of what I have said above is condensed and somewhat simplified but it is bringing to light a social aspect of this game that is sort of...not mentioned. My hats off to the female gamers of the world. Special thanks to my wife who has been my steadfast partner in WoW and a couple other MMOs as well. Even when no one else is on in or guild, we always got each other.

So, these were the thoughts which went on in my mind and are up for full discussion for any who care to. I know that there are a good many female bloggers out there as well as males. What will be interesting is to see the response rate if any on the subject. With that, enjoy your day and happy hunting!


  1. I really do think you are right when you say that competitive playing from girls is perceived as them being bitchy and/or divas. It's something I've been wanting to write a post on for a long time, but it is a difficult subject. My idea is something along the line of;
    girl is perceived as bad player - girls thinks she's a good player - girl asserts her points of view - confident gamer girl is seen as bitch because people can combine the notion of girls being bad players with girl who says she's a good player.
    Much can be said about this of course...

  2. That should be "Can't combine" of course...

  3. Women walked into the sacred "man cave"; many due to their male partners that played.

    I know I did when I met my hubby, the writer of this blog. Before I met him, I always thought video games were a waste of time. My youngest son also played. So I had a choice...find something to do while hubby spent hours on the game or join them. I jumped in with both feet and have been hooked ever since.

    Yes, they created a monster with me. LOL. Having always been a competitive person that comes across in my gaming. I enjoy making my toons the best they can be and I resent some of the push back I get from male gamers. A lot of times I'll build a male toon just for that reason.

    With us its a family thing and a way for us to do things together even when we are thousands of miles away from each other. It's also an escape from day to day stresses. Rather then come home and kick the dog, nothing beats a few good battle grounds.

    So move over boys...the girls are building their own "cave". And actually it's to your benefit. If we are playing with get more game time.

  4. @Zinn ~ interesting points there. Here lays the quandary of what quantifies a bitch/diva or simply a woman who is competitive and wants to win in a team orientated event such as a Raid. It also brings up social stigmas concerning can a male take direction from an assertive female and still retain his masculinity. Would this mean then that female leaders have to bow down and cater or coddle male players who require training/mentorship in something as high stakes as raids or Rated BG's? Or can men see the wisdom of a competent female leader?

    I often see in the real world female leaders needing to magnify thier personalities to get jobs done when their subordinates are male. The MMO culture seems to have the same difficulties. I personally could care less who leads, only that they are competent and willing to teach those who are willing to listen.

  5. @Laura ~ ROFLMAO! Yes, only if I'm invited to that cave dearest! But this brings up another point about mothers who play the game, especially when husbands or children who also play are away. It is a way to still stay connected. It has it's own set of rules as well psychologically speaking which can spin off unto it's own topic for discussion.

  6. I met my wife in college at the D&D club. She's been the one to find something like "Magic: The Gathering" and think "Oh, he'd like that" and introduce it to me. She's not surprised I enjoy WoW. Instead she's surprised I didn't get into it sooner.

    She doesn't much enjoyed WoW as she has different games she prefers. Wow is something my kids enjoy instead and gives me a chance as connecting with them.

    My gender-bending experience goes back over a decade doing role-play in text-based MUDs. We didn't have the excuse "If I'm going to watch someone's butt..." Instead it was about story-telling.

    I have no problem pretending to be female. It doesn't bother me much. Why should my gender have anything to do with my blog?

  7. @Kallixta ~ There isn't an issue at all with the gender bending, although I notice younger players have issue with it. Personally, I think as long as one doesn't decieve another about reality, then there is no issue. In my post I even let readers know I have female toons. As to storytelling, this actually is a time honored tradition anyhow. Look at the Era of Shakespeare. Actors were n ot female though the parts were, ergo...nothing wrong especially if you are an RPer. This may be an interesting topic to explore unto itself so thank you for your insight. Have a great day!

  8. I think I was very lucky to have a science/math background before entering into the world of MMO's. I had loved playing RPG's on nintendo and other consoles, but was always nervous about the MMO side. I was more afraid of enjoying it so much I would want to do it all the time! And I did after I started playing with my husband.

    So, why did I mention the math/science background? I went to a small university and was the only female in my upper level math and chem classes. So I guess I was already accustomed to guys being guys when I came to this.

  9. @Me - Hmm interesting tieing into the real world and integration into the virtual world. It has been percieved that women are less inclined to work in the mathmatics/science areas for a focus which is also male dominated. The relationship between new areas where women are succeeding in and the cirtual network of MMO's seem more and more inter related. I notice that quite a few female players who are raiders seem more inclined to break down numbers and parse out factors than was generally seen say 2 years ago. The competativeness seems to have increased through analysis and technique. I'm more curious as the the why of the phenomena. Good bringing up this point!