Girls in Gaming
I’ve touched on this subject briefly in other articles before. I’ve also begun writing this numerous times before but felt in danger of coming off very feminist, which, I’m not.
I’ve been a gamer for a number of years and when I first started raiding in MMOs there were very few other female gamers around. In my guild of around 80 people, I was the only female raider. For the first few months, most other members presumed I was male. This was before the use of voice communications becoming so wide spread. All our interactions occurred in game, through text. Amusingly, once rumours spread that I was indeed claiming to be female, one member argued with another that I couldn’t possibly be. His reasoning? Girls didn’t play games. Unfortunately for the arguing party, the other member was my dad, the person responsible for introducing me to MMO gaming.
Over the years, I’ve seen this trend shift to where we are today. Female gamers are in much higher prevalence than when I began, though the genre of gaming tends to dictate the approximate percentage of female gamers that you find. Specifically related to MMOs, there would appear to be a high percentage of female players. Most raiding guilds however, particularly as you climb higher up the ladder of PvE success are male dominated.
There was some famous controversy a few years back when Nihilum, then the crème de la crème of the raiding scene, posted a recruitment topic including the line “girls need not apply.” After the initial outrage, they claimed that it was a mistake and the wrong recruitment post had been published. Never the less, it created a lot of debate at the time. Obviously, Nihilum, or indeed any other guild were or are, well within their right to exclude female gamers if they so wish. The worry was that firstly, other aspiring guilds may follow their policy and secondly, that they were, undoubtedly, the most “famous” WoW guild of that time.
The tradition problem with girls in guilds has been two fold. Firstly, the belief that they are inferior players (though I think by large, this is becoming a dated opinion). Secondly, that they are disruptive and distracting in male dominated communities. In the case of a guild like Nihilum (or many other cutting edge guilds), the ability of members to concentrate, for often hours upon end, is of paramount importance to their performance.
Is it wrong to believe that girls can be so disruptive? The problem I have here is that I’ve seen first hand that they can be exactly that. Prior to my current server, I was in the leading alliance guild on another realm. There was one particular individual there who’s behaviour ranged from flirtatious to outrageous. Certainly on one occasion she insisted on mentioning her underwear (in great detail) over ventrillo during a Sunwell Plateaux raid. There were numerous other incidences, more than I care to remember, where she shifted the entire topic to her sexual preferences. Not only did this disrupt the raids severely, but it didn’t win her many friends amongst the other, few, female guild members. As tends to happen in life, it’s the bad memories and poor encounters that stick in your mind.
It can be very difficult to be the only, or one of few, female players in a guild. You have to tread a very fine line between integrating into a male dominated sub-culture while still setting clear boundaries and maintaining levels of self respect. Some men have an annoying habit of labelling girls as over-sensitive or hormonal if they become offended by jokes or certain behaviour. “Over sensitive” – it’s a great term that can cover all manner of sins for the offending party. How we respond to such claims can merely strengthen their argument. If we act offended, we’re just confirming the label. If we back down, then we’re possibly allowing behaviour that was indeed inappropriate to suddenly be acceptable.
Sometimes guild chat can positively ooze testosterone and make it very hard to not feel segregated or isolated. In this case, it is neither parties fault but rather a bi-product of a male dominated community.
The sad thing for some female gamers is that regardless of their own behaviour, they can still cause problems within a guild, particularly amongst younger male members. However, when unwanted (and un-encouraged) attention is received it is not the girl at fault but the male player that should be dealt with. The same intolerance to harassment that should be respected out of a game, should be respected in game. There is a theory in psychology that states people will more readily insult each other or act otherwise inappropriately online because interactions lack the physical social cues that we receive in real life. That is to say, it’s easier to ignore the other person’s emotions or feelings when you aren’t faced with their physical presence. This can be either deliberate or accidental (such as mistakenly offending someone with the way you phrase a statement.)
Yet the great thing about gaming is it’s potential to be a hobby that can break down the bias or prejudice we may live with outside of the game. For a raiding guild we have the joint goal of downing hard PvE content. In that sense we should all be judged on our ability to play. We can be free from gender, age, race, physical disabilities and the like and purely be a part of a team. Gaming can throw people together from all walks of life that most likely, would have never had any reason to interact otherwise. Through gaming I’ve played with people from more countries than I will ever visit.
On a closing note, it’s hard to break down the prejudice that exist towards female players when large organisations merely reinforce it. Take a look at the icon used for the Gen Con SPA (spousal activities.)
Gen Con is without doubt, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world. The activities for these none gaming partners? Knitting, crocheting, scrap booking and jewellery making. For the more physically inclined, there are dance classes (belly dancing to be precise). Oh yes Gen Con, you have done so much for the image of gaming and the place of the female within that.