WoW Wednesday: Real Women of WoW
By Meredith Watson, OnRPG WoW Specialist
Studies have shown that half of all gamers online are women; however, that encompasses all games such as bingo, solitaire, Facebook games and the like. Roughly only 25% of console gamers are female. According to the PARC PlayOn phase II results women playing World of Warcraft are between 15% to 39% of the population depending on region. China is at 15% while the US has the most female players at 39% and the EU with 29%.
There has been quite a bit of attention lately on women who game and the ways in which they are treated in what is traditionally a male dominated activity. All one has to do is look at Fat, Ugly or Slutty to see what women have to put up with while playing games such Call of Duty, Modern Warfare and to a lesser degree MMOs.
But what of World of Warcraft? How does the majority of the community treat its minority? If you've played WoW for any length of time you've no doubt come across the stereotypes relating to the female WoW player.
To find out more about these stereotypes and the female gamer I had a chat with five women who play WoW from the EU and US regions.
Amber, 28, lives in South Carolina. She is married with two children. She is currently employed as a web content writer and is a blogger. Her main is a night elf druid named Ambermist who is mostly moonkin/resto, but likes to try every role now and then. She's guilded with <Chi Cerca Trova> on Durotan, where she has been playing with many of the same people for almost 5 years.
Avi, also 28, is from British Columbia and works as an office administrator. Avi plays on the Deathwing server. Horde. Her mains are a goblin elemental shaman and blood elf discipline priest.
Leanne, 23 from Essex UK is married, a drummer and works as a care assistant in a dementia care home. She has a Paladin main on Mazrigos EU. Alliance. She is a member of <Praestantia>.
Marianne, 38, Yorkshire is married with one daughter. She works for a haulage company and is also a bar maid. She plays on Lightbringer EU and has a predilection for night elves. She doesn't currently have a main as such.
Victoria, early 30s, from Scotland is married and works for the local government. She plays on Bronzebeard EU and Auchidon EU. She plays priests and has several alts.
There are many myths and stereotypes about female WoW players. One of the biggest is that female WoW players only play because their significant other does. Why did you start playing? What is the appeal of the World of Warcraft?
Amber says: My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) played, and one night as I watched him in Molten Core and he explained the bosses and how each person had a role that complemented the other players, I was amazed. I loved how these 40 people from different parts of the world could work together in a game to kill a boss, and I immediately wanted to be part of it. He asked me the next day if I wanted to try it out, and Ambermist was born.
Avi says: As cliché as it sounds, I started playing WoW because the guy I was dating at the time played. Except I was playing EverQuest II at the time. We both gave each other's games a shot. I ended up enjoying WoW.
Marianne says: My friends from another MMORPG started playing WoW, so I moved with them.
Leanne says: I started playing WoW around 10 months ago and it was due to my best friends. They had been playing for a few years and due to us having very similar tastes in books, films etc., they thought I would really enjoying playing.
Victoria says: My husband introduced me. Prior to that, my only real experience of computer games was playing first person shooters and at first I really didn’t see what WoW had to offer. It seemed a bit too childish and cartoon-like.
Announcing that you are a female in WoW can open one up to all sorts of unwanted attention through the stereotype is that those who admit they are a woman are attention seeking. Do you admit to being a woman in game? What is the usual reaction?
Amber says: Yes and no. I don't think it's helping any stereotypes for me to go around announcing that I'm a woman, the simple fact being that it shouldn't matter whether I'm a woman or not as long as everything that's supposed to die, dies, and the group stays (mostly) alive. I also don't hide the fact for the same reason: it shouldn't matter.
Avi says: My guilds, obviously, know that I'm a woman. I tend to not speak up in voice if I do a random pug raid because I've seen too many times where the reaction is "zomg a girrrrrrl" and I got tired of it. If there's another woman in vent/mumble, then I'll talk or once I get a feel for the group and know they're not going to have a childish reaction. Otherwise, I don't feel an overwhelming need to make a statement about it - I just want to play the game.
Marianne says: Yes, most of the time it isn't a problem. Sometimes if I feel like a male player is trying to get too familiar I tell them my age, and that I'm probably old enough to be their mother and it stops it dead.
Victoria says: When it comes up in conversation. I don’t go around yelling “I’m a girl” in trade chat or anything but I’ve never hidden it either. By the time they realise I’m female there isn’t anything to criticise about my performance. I’ve had a few people ask “if I’m sure” to which the answer is a definite “yes”.
Some studies show women tend to be more socially inclined versus men who are achievement focused in games. Is this true for you? Why do you continue to play?
Marianne says: I like to keep my mind busy. Gaming takes my mind off work, for example if I've had a bad day at work I forget about it when playing Wow.
Leanne says: I have continued to play because I find it so enjoyable and also to socialise with friends. I am rather goal driven so if there is a piece of gear I am determined to get or a profession I want to level, I tend to spend as much time as I can on it until I’ve succeeded especially when there is an achievement in there.
Amber says: I'm a raider. I mean, I enjoy leveling alts and learning classes and PvP, but at my core, I play to raid. I love working together towards a common goal, I love feeling like I'm part of something bigger than myself. I love trying for a boss kill over and over and it finally clicking.
There's a social aspect, too; when you raid with people as often and for as long as some of us have, there's a camaraderie aspect I really love.
Victoria says: I don’t feel I’ve achieved everything in game I set out to. I also find PvP to be a great way of winding down after a horrible day at work, plus through playing/blogging about playing I’ve met so many great people I’m just not ready to walk way yet.
Do you think women gamers in WoW are stereotyped? What would that stereotype be and how do you breakdown that stereotype?
Amber says: The fact that this has to be asked is proof we are. There are lots of stereotypes, but the one I've personally encountered most is the idea that women can't play as well as men. It's assumed that I won't do as well, that I'll be more sensitive to criticism, or that I can't handle complicated mechanics or a difficult role. And it might be true--but a) you won't know unless you let me try, and b) it won't be because I'm a woman.
I do my best at every role and with every task I'm given. Obviously, it's no secret to most that I'm a woman, so hopefully the repeated efforts of myself and other women gamers continuously proving the stereotype wrong will help break the walls. I've already seen it start to happen. I know there will be those whose minds cannot be changed, but I believe there are plenty more whose can.
Avi says:I think the most common stereotype I come across is that women can't play video games. If they're playing WoW, they must be terrible at it. I'm not sure if there is anything specific I do to breakdown stereotypes. I like to raid, I know fights, and I'll even assist in runs - so I suppose being knowledgeable about the game and classes that I play accomplishes that.
Leanne says: I do think women gamers are stereotyped to a certain level; they think we all must be massive geeks who don’t have social lives or partners, which is really a stereotype some give to all gamers. However, I do also think serious women gamers are looked upon as a rarity as people tend to believe we don’t know what we are doing and therefore can’t play properly, which couldn’t be further from the truth! I know many women gamers, some who are amazing players and can wipe the floor with others.
Victoria says: Definitely. I used to raid at a fairly high level when I had more free time and female gamers were definitely assumed to be below par by the vast majority of the guild/other people I interacted with, have zero interest in PvP and keyboard turn. The fact that I, as a female, was topping the healing metre, often the last to die on wipes and could be found ganking people was dismissed as the exception that proves the rule.
There has been a fair bit of attention given to harassment of female gamers in the community lately particularly that of Anita Sarkeesian and Miranda Pakozdi. Have you ever been subjected to any harassment or discrimination based on your gender in game?
Avi says: Oh absolutely. Before I learned to stop speaking in pug vents, right off the bat, I received some awful comments about 'better things I could be doing' that were fairly often lewd.
Leanne says: I have not been subjected to any direct discrimination but have seen some in game. For example, I was in a dungeon and one player did not like the way the tank was pulling the mobs and decided to start having a go at the tank. One comment they said was “You’re doing this all wrong you idiot. I bet you’re a girl in real life, you have no clue what you’re doing!”
Amber says: There have been a couple of situations where I've encountered someone who couldn't figure out where the line was drawn as far as being overly personal or sexual, but those situations have always been handled with either an ignore or the help of an officer/fellow guild member.
Victoria says: My first proper guild, despite the fact that the GM came to me in whispers with any and every problem, I couldn’t be an officer because I was female. Needless to say I didn’t stay there long. He also developed a bit of a crush on me. This led to a few interesting fights in whispers where he came with the immortal line “I wish you were here right now so I could beat you and then f*** you 'til I wasn’t mad any more”.
The World of Warcraft community has always been a mixed bag and most women who play have experienced the effects of stereotyping or downright misogyny. It is my experience that most women who play tend to stay within their real life friend circles or guilds to avoid the greater community at large. However, most men in World of Warcraft are not misogynistic or even care that there are female gamers but it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.