Today’s reading was Maps of Digital Desire: Exploring the Topographies of Gender and Play in Online Games by Nick Yee. This was a formal book chapter based on Yee’s research in The Daedalus Project, which I’ve referenced before in previous bits of research. The Daedalus Project, in short, was (it formerly went into “hibernation” in 2009) a data collection project that looked at gender, playtime, age, and a handful of other variables relating to MMOs. The data was collected via player-given surveys every few years, and then collected into a database.
The article itself uses the data within the project to fuel a conclusion: that game communities are more impactful on gendered play than gameplay mechanics.
Outside of demographics, Yee notes that the motivations for play in MMOs are similar between male and female players. Yee categorizes “play motivations” into three spheres:
Achievement: progress, power, status, numbers, analysis, challenging others, provocation
Social: casual chat, making friends, support, group achievement
Immersion: exploration, lore, fantasy, appearances, escapism
Yee’s categorizations show the many ways in which players “enjoy” MMOs. Likewise, they also show that there’s a great variety of “enjoyment” to be had within most modern MMOs.
The assumed, “popular” differences between the genders (in the gaming sphere) would seemingly mark these categories as gendered. I’m sure anyone who has ever belonged to a virtual community of some sort would immediately know the implications of each category without me even mentioning them: the casual, feminine space would be clearly defined. Likewise, the competitive, aggressive male space would also be clearly defined. The borders would be understood. Yee’s research, however, clearly shows that this popular assessment is bunk: in the category with the largest gender swing (mechanics), the overlap between men and women was 66 percent. Overall, the overlap was 87 percent. While there was difference, there was far more shared ground than feminine/masculine ground.
Yee notes, however, that even these tiny “gendered” spaces can be explained away with other statistics: age differences, for example, slightly inflate the numbers, as women gamers tend to be older than men.
This is about where we get to the elephant in the room: if women and men play for similar reasons, then why is their such a gender gap?
Yee’s interviewees offer some perspective:
“The only really off-putting detail is that it’s ludicrous that every time my elf fights, her breasts stick out to the side repeatedly. It is a constant reminder to me that this game is made for 13 year old boys, or men who still think like them. (World of Warcraft, female, 42)”
“But every ounce in a while, I seem to meet someone who wants to violently deny that I am who I am. And how am I supposed to respond to a charge of ‘You are not a girl!’ — I can’t flash ID or body parts to prove it. (World of Warcraft, female, 36)”
“There are things that happen in-game that make me embarrassed, as a woman and as a person who tries to be socially responsible, to be playing. For example, male players will talk about getting ‘raped’ without really thinking about it, things that happen will be referred to as ‘gay,’ which is offensive, people do crude things to player corpses in PvP [Player vs. Player settings], etc. (World of Warcraft, female, 29)”
With the exception of the first comment, all of these women have problems with the game’s community (and not the gameplay). Even then, the first comment could be considered a community issue as well, as the “community perspective” defines what parameters the game is developed to.
And so it is obvious then, what perhaps the largest “block” is on gender and MMOs (if not the whole of gaming).
But here’s my question — this article was written in 2008. The data is references was collected sometime during early vanilla World of Warcraft (as far as I know), with very few updates since then.
So… have things gotten better? Has the perspective changed?
Or, perhaps more to the point: has the recent (I’d argue 2010 and forward) surge of feminist (and queer) criticism directed at World of Warcraft impacted the diversity of the playerbase? Has it impacted developer dialog? Gameplay changes? Have advertising campaigns changed?
These aren’t questions that I can really answer yet — but they are certainly avenues for research later on in the semester. In the short-term, I’d like to interview a few WoW-based feminists to see what they think.