March 25, 2007

What Final Fantasy XI taught me about being a woman

Hello Vana’diel, goodbye real life

I don’t regret going through a MMORPG phase. It was a grand waste of my total playtime of 60 days of my life, but my life as Herbi the mithra shaped who I am today. I started playing Final Fantasy XI when I was 18. It was the spring or summer before I left for college, and my then-boyfriend got a copy of the game’s English beta version. We were both pretty obsessed with Square, so we were giddy to spend our summer in doors.

I’d never played a MMORPG before, and I was frustrated with how long everything took and how set back I was if I decided I wanted to play a different race (I picked a hume female who looked like me–good thing I’m white or I would have been sorry out of luck) or even just change jobs. I hated being a warrior, but kept playing and didn’t want to throw out the time I put into her and start over. When beta ended and retail came out, I was excited to finally have my own account so I could play with my boyfriend. I created Herbi the mithra thief, and he was a little tarutaru named Tofutie. We joined the Midgardsormr server with our other friends from beta, many of whom I continued to play with until I finally quit for good at age 20.

Sex kittens aren’t real live girls

Mithras in FFXI are a race of cat women where males are apparently a rarity. It was a joke that mithras are always played by men, and we called them manthras. A guy cross-dressing for some risk-free thrill was fine, but it was like there wasn’t supposed to be a real, live female subject behind the sex object.

People called me he sometimes, but not as often as I got called dude when I tried out World of Warcraft as a tauren and undead. (Can you imagine calling male characters “she” by default?) In our linkshells and parties, people often were surprised that I was the woman. Tofutie is one of those nice guys who goes above and beyond the rest by being a decent human being. He certainly was a lot more patient with other players than I was. He was a healer–a white mage and eventually red mage, and I switched was a paladin, the tanking class. I absolutely loved tanking, and miss it even now. “What! Tofutie is the dude?” our linkshell friends would say. “Girls don’t tank!”

I liked surprising people. I wasn’t supposed to be an actual girl playing the sex kitten. I wasn’t supposed to be blunt and crude and sexy and after all that reveal that yes, I actually was a real live woman behind the computer. That was just weird. And yes, I did like attention, but who doesn’t like to be rewarded with /praise?

Marriage is for heteros only

We’d do some casual role-playing in FFXI, but Herbi and Tofutie couldn’t get married because they were both women. Even video games have institutionalized heterosexual privileges.

Synth me a pie, bitch!

A friend and I tried to start a linkshell called FemmeFatale for girl gamers. I macro’d an advertisement and dropped it regularly by the auction house. I got mixed praise and criticism. Guys begged to join (some pretended to be women). We did let male-identified people in, which was kind of problematic because it was like a little club of “alright” guys who thought they were super special for not being misogynists or something. (I actually learned the word misogynist from another mithra thief, Nekomasa, that I admired.)

One time, a guy told me that there wasn’t a need for a linkshell for women, and that I should shut up and synth him a pie. I blacklisted him, but I was upset.

The linkshell fell apart when the leader’s in-game boyfriend said he was going to move to live near her. He was 19, she was 13. I found out her phone number and got another player to call her parents and tell them. I still think we did the right thing: no way the power dynamics in that relationship were equal


FFXI put me in situations where people used my gender against me. I used it to stay in a romantic relationship longer than I should have been, although Tofutie was a nice shield from being preyed oncourted by the creeps. And I never did reach endgame, I got too screwed over by other players. But I’d go back. I miss being Herbi and being an honestly good tank and I even miss a lot of the friends I played with. I’d go back and play again if I hadn’t quit to fill my time with studying and novel writing and bike riding and making new friends.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stopped being so reclusive, stopped dating, stopped being so unfriendly, stopped being so uninterested in school when I quit FFXI.

That’s it for my pithy conclusion.


July 8, 2006

Voice Changing Software for “Lady Gamers”

Filed under:Gaming Women, Gender, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 8:30 am

Harassed in game? Now, instead of reporting the harassment to moderators or challenging the ways the game environment and culture encourage it, you have a new way of blending in and participating: disguising your voice as that of a man’s.

According to Eurogamer, there is a new software available that can change the pitch of your voice in online games like World of Warcraft with TeamSpeak so you can hide your gender.

AV Voice Changer Software is somehow a unique product for female online game players who want to prove that playing online games is not a pastime for men only, and that their talent can make male partners goggle.

This attitude suggests that the status of male gamers is desired, and women must do what they can–such as hiding their gender–to elevate themselves to be like the boys in their own club.


June 29, 2006

The World of Warcraft Community Loves Women

One of my most linked posts has been the narrative voices of women who play World of Warcraft I surveyed last winter. My questions were open ended and by no means scientific as I invited respondents to openly define themselves and their experiences as gaming women. I included excerpts from everyone who responded in the blog post I made in December.

A user on the official World of Warcraft, Bleahadin, forums has plagiarized the survey results and reposted them in their entirety. Fortunately, other users have pointed out the post is plagiarized and linked to my original post. I mind that the voices of a diverse group of women being represented as the opinion of one individual.



May 20, 2006

Racialized Trafficking of Bodies in World of Warcraft

Last quarter, in my cyborg anthropology class, I wrote a paper called “The Traffic of Virtual Bodies in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.” I was nominated to share my paper in my university’s scholars week, and joined two of my classmates to present a fifty minute talk on World of Warcraft. To embody how ubiquitous World of Warcraft is, the classroom was standing-room-only. My first classmate showed us a slide show of the gamer’s architecture and talked about the ideas of real world cultures invoked by Blizzard. My second classmate logged in the game and showed us her tauren. She discussed how taking on a virtual avatar is a posthuman experience. I spoke last and discussed how I categorize the virtual bodies in MMORPGs by the individual, social, and political bodies and how they partake in the game’s economic body and are all trafficked for real world currency. Our presentation was a hit, and we had a great Q&A with the audience. I’m happy my first presentation to a big group (outside of the classroom) went so well. I closed by saying although I believe video games in many ways are sexist, racist, and classist, it’s okay to both critique and enjoy them, and that I’m optimistic people like us can demand games become more progressive.

As my classmate pointed out, Blizzard invokes what the (supposedly) mainstream male gamer wants. I left thinking about this, and wonder how much the audience becomes what the game designers think it is. Gamers may become the audience through a self-fulfilling prophesy when we either conform to their status quo or drop out when we’re told this game isn’t for us.

I personally find it racist for cultures to be appropriated and re-marketed as what the hegemonic white male gamer is told he should want (which gives the message that you’re the secondary audience if you’re a person of color and queer and a woman). I’ll use the tauren race as an example. As my classmate pointed out, tauren villages are decorated with long houses, teepees, totem poles, and a dream-catchers to represent a pan-Native American culture. Thousands of indigenous nations are lumped together, painted primitive, and sold to the Western gaze.

During my presentation, I brought up Ed Castronova’s finding that female avatars sell for 12% less than male avatars. I notice that because gender doesn’t affect the mechanics of gameplay, people are paying more for the desired social role in the game. I find this phenomenon fascinating, and I hope I have a chance to study it more in school and blogging.

I realize that cultures are appropriated and sold in video games, and gender influences the trafficking of virtual bodies (as feminist theorist Gayle Rubin points out, women are trafficked for gender alone), so I wonder… how is the traffic of virtual bodies racialized? I don’t have an answer yet. Your thoughts*?

*I expect you to respect my opinion that race is a social construct and racism is institutionalized when participating in discussions here. Do not derail the conversation to argue otherwise.


March 24, 2006

We Exist! Women & MMORPGs Survey

Filed under:Gaming Women, Gender, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, News, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 8:28 am

Nick Yee of the Daedalus Project is looking for Women Players of MMORGs to survey. You can take it here.

I find it amusing the first question is the respondent’s gender. Is this to make sure the respondents really identify as women? Then again, I asked it as well on my much more casual women and gamers survey, but I wanted to include people who identify something other than the female/male binary. I prefer write in responses for gender when a survey asks since, for example, the experiences of a techy woman-born-woman may be rather different than a male-to-female transsexual, a woman who could face entirely different challenges as a “minority” into geeky stuff.

The Daedulus questions call for narrative answers, and bring up many of the issues we discuss: MMORPGs catering to male audiences, the need for women’s games, and what it’s like identifying as a gamer. I’d love to hear what you all have to say if you’d oblige me with a copy and paste to this post’s comments. I’ve shared mine below.



March 23, 2006

Where I’ve Been

Filed under:Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Videogames, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 11:07 am

my dwarf oat at level 11

I have a confession to make. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft with friends to pass the time on my spring break. I’m Oat, a level 11 dwarf hunter on Feathermoon, and Imdira, a level tauren 14 druid on Silver Hand. I like to RP, if anyone would like to join me. I’m a bit of a noob and would enjoy the company.


February 25, 2006

Not Quite What I Picture When I Hear “Girl Gamer”

Some recent attention has come to my World of Warcraft survey on the the play girlz and WOW Insider. The latter site posted a follow up on “girl gamers” yesterday.

The the three images at the top of this entry are the images displayed in the three linked posts, the first from the play girlz and the second two from WOW Insider. The first is a screenshot of a blood elf, an upcoming playable race very similar to the in-game appearance currently playable night elves. The second image is official art for an undead female (very much unlike her appearance in game, which is not mainstream “sexy”), and the third is another image of a blood elf. The breasts are the center of the second and third images, nipples outlined in the last picture.

I’m not sure that the post authors themselves selected these images or not, but it is ironic to read criticism of the sexism women encounter in World of Warcraft besides images of sexualized characters. Portraying female characters as highly sexualized reduces them to objects with a single identity: their attractiveness. That attractiveness caters to the hegemonic heterosexual male–the gamer with the loudest voice in World of Warcraft. This portrayal fuels harassment by the dominant player who has difficulty seeing beyond the sex appeal before him. If he sees women in World of Warcraft as foremost a hottie, he believes she is there for his pleasure and treats her accordingly.

Edit: Elizabeth of WOW Insider recropped the images. They look much more tasteful.


February 14, 2006

Looking for Interviewees: Gamers who Bender-bend

Filed under:Gender, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, News — Lake Desire @ 7:38 am

Game journalist and blogger Bonnie Rueberg is looking for gamers who swap genders in Massively Multiplayer Online Games. She is putting together gamer profiles for an upcoming Terra Nova post. From her blog:

I’m putting together a short list of profiles of players who present cross-gender in MMO’s for a post on Terra Nova. It’s nothing formal, and I don’t need names or explanations (See it all goes back to your childhod…), just a brief description of what you’re like in RL — things like, what you do for a living, how old you are, what you look like, what your hobbies are, how long you’ve been gaming — and an even briefer description of what you’re like in-world.

So, if you’re interested in sharing a little bit about yourself, feel free to email me at bonnie [at] heroine-sheik [dot] com, or, if you’re feeling brave, leave a comment here on the site.

Have fun, all you gender-benders. I’ll link the Terra Nove post here when it’s released.


January 28, 2006

Being Queer Sexual Harassment in World of Warcraft


Blizzard’s stance was clear that recruiting for a guild using “GLBT” was inappropriate as, the company said, it may “incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game.”

The fact that queer players get harassed in game is a reason there should be GLBT-friendly guilds (well, ideally there should be no harassment, but in until we defeat heterosexism there should be a safe-space). Blizzard is punishing the victims for their harassment, for trying to unite and create a place where players can enjoy the game without people speaking hatefully towards them. I’d hope women wouldn’t be penalized for advertising a female only guild for similar reasons.


January 24, 2006

Broadening the Audiences

Filed under:Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 8:12 am

Terra Nova contributor Mike Sellers has written a post entitled Which Broader Market? The post calls for making Massively Multiplayer Online Games more accessible to audiences beyond the perceived single white male with twelve hours a day to devote to a game. Sellers asks:

Do we want a broader market for MMOGs? A lot of people say it, but do we really mean it? And if we do, which market do we mean? Do we mean the growing market of older women players, or of couples playing together, or do we just mean those core gamers whose minds the industry has already captured with consoles (and who have yet to be distracted with actual life)?

Do we want a broader market for MMOGs? I do. The current state of MMOs is elitist. It is a medium of entertainment primarily available, accessible, to that imagined niche that has the money and leisure time to devote to the game. I suggest beginning by making the in-game experience more appealing to “minority” gamers by not drawing them out and isolating them as an anomaly, an other, so the gaming experience will be enjoyable enough for people like us to stick around.