It seems at least two or three times a week when I am in a dudgeon, especially now that I have a female tank, I am asked if I am really a “chick” or if I am a “creep.” Either that, or players will ask if I am a guy or a lesbian when I make some crack about my wife (I tend to blame wipes on her).
I am sure much of this stems from the random comments in the Trade channel that “Girls don’t play WoW.”
All right, playing female characters sort of started with a name. I had watched Young Frankenstein and decided I needed a character named Abbynormal, unfortunately, the name was taken – so I took Abbysomeone. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I created characters in the theme: Fraublücher, Sedagive, Frawnknsteen, Eyegöre, Schwanstücker, and Abbynörmal (I had since figured out how to make fun characters and tweaked the “o” to get the name). Only two are male characters, and sadly the irony of Schwanstücker, who is a female Tauren, is lost on those who don’t know the movie well enough.
Regardless, gender bending really turned into a pursuit of knowledge about gender roles and expectations in Azeroth. So, I began to explore the potential for sexism in the game. Would I be treated differently as a female? Would players more likely come to my aid? Would it shock them to see a female tank?
If you have been following these columns, you may have come to realize that I lean toward social and cultural criticism – along with a touch of philosophy. It really doesn’t matter what I am doing, reading, watching, listening to, etc., my first reaction is as a student who tries to understand how my hobbies either reflect or question our social and cultural norms. I noticed early-on, through playing female personalities in the game, that Azeroth leans toward the direction of Hollywood’s view of women. Like many female action heroes, women in World of Warcraft tend to have, shall we say, have abnormally large attributes – and show them off. But that is just the beginning.
All right, another confession, there are other reasons to gender bend in the game: It is so easy to manipulate post-pubescent boys into helping me. My gender bending really did start as an experiment. In response to the aforementioned Trade channel ramblings that “girls don’t play WoW,” I wanted to see how the boys would react to a female running with them. What I have learned, on the plus side, is that chivalry is not dead – well, not entirely.
Many times as I was leveling up, the big boys were more than willing to help on a quest, help I didn’t as often receive when I ran one of my male characters. Of course, and I am not making this up, many of the boys would use their chivalrous actions as opportunity to flirt. Whispered comments like, “Wanna cyber f***?” are not that infrequent. I have also made over 100g by dancing in my skivvies. Double that if you have a friend who plays a female and you dance together. If you got, flaunt it.
Other quick observations: female characters in cloth armor is no big deal. I assume that lingering gender issues lead some players to believe that (since cloth is softer) it is alright for females warriors to be wearing it – since our culture expects women to be soft. As a result, leather female warriors often hang-back and cast spells. Females in leather are not really questioned. I don’t have a character that sports mail, I’m not sure how a medium-fortified woman is perceived. That said, I have noticed that a female wearing plate almost always invites the notion that “girls don’t play WoW.” I guess tanking and heavy armor is a man’s place – leave the girls in the back throwing their spells and looking pretty. Even though stats are the same between the genders, it seems as though many players think that a female has no place at the front of the group taking the punches.
Massive Online Gamer recently conducted a poll – and the findings were especially interesting when it comes to gender bending in Azeroth. The sample, which was under 300 respondents, is very small considering the number of gamers out there but when it comes to gender bending in games – males are actually more likely to play female characters. While I would like to think there are good reasons for this, I can’t escape the notion that, as these games have a male oriented target audience, I see a bunch of post-pubescent boys wanting to see what the female characters look like in their skivvies. Better yet, it gives them an opportunity to look at a female derriere all day and not get in trouble for it. Often, I am asked if I play a female Blood elf, just so that I can spend my day looking at her butt. I remind players that my character is a cartoon – and anyone getting carried away with cartoon anatomy, might have a few problems.
I realize that video games, in general, are directed at a male audience. What I find funny is that the average gamer is 37 years old and 42% of gamers are female - which leaves questions about the portrayal of females in the game itself. Another interesting statistic to keep in mind is that women now make up 51% of the work force, which means that the men in this world better get used to seeing women in a leading position. Thus, the idea of a female tank should not come as a great surprise. As our culture evolves, so should our morals and views. What was once a “woman’s place” has moved from the home to the office – and now has transitioned from wearing cloth to plate and leading the charge.
It’s not so much how Blizzard portrays the female characters in the game that concerns me, I leave that to the scholars to debate, it is how the players themselves treat women – even perceive women – who play in the game. I hope that as things in reality change, so will players’ views of female characters.
How many of you gender bend and for what reason? Are you a female gamer who plays WoW?
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