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 21, 2006

Terra Nova Discusses Colonialism in World of Warcraft

Filed under:Race, Videogames, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 8:03 am

In response to my post yesterday on Race and World of Warcraft, commenter Dave linked me to a recent Terra Nova article on Cultural Borrowing in WoW. Blogger Greg L quotes an undergrad paper:

The clearest indication of colonial awareness can be seen in relation to the excerpts concerning the Horde and Alliance cities. The majority of the respondents note that, in some form or fashion, that the “Horde seem to be more tribal or barbaric. Much more primitive or backward…. The Alliance cities are paragons of sturdiness, whimsy, technology, and nature. This reinforces the idea that the Alliance are the ‘good guys’ by being more advanced.” Part of this thought process seems to reflect a certain measure of acknowledgement for the ‘European’ or Western bias built into the good vs. evil dichotomy in the game. As one interviewee puts it, “Alliance cities are cleaner and more epic. Even the music is epic.”

No wonder there are so many more alliance players than horde!

The post was slashdotted, so there is a huge discussion going on. If you have time to wade through the comments, feel free to pull some of them to discuss here.

The Terra Nova post also links to a Gameology call for resources discussing Race and Video Games. Commenters were able to find some references, but race in video games seems even less examined than gender is. I wonder if most writers don’t feel qualified to write on race, like it’s something other people experience. It’s not; white is a race, too, and we can talk about it.


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 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.


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.


December 27, 2005

Women Who Play World of Warcraft – Survey Excerpts

The following are some excerpts from the responses I received to my World
of Warcraft survey
. Original spelling and grammar is still
intact. [Note added 6/29/06: I did not write any of this myself. These are the voices of many different women, and I did not exclude excerpts from anyone who responded.]



Women Who Play World of Warcraft – Compiled Survey Responses

As a companion to my women gamers survey, I also polled posters on the wow_ladies LJ community in November of 2005. I received 57 responses. Like my previous survey, this is by no means scientific or unbiased.

Read the original survey questions and actual excerpts.



December 14, 2005

Horde Hotties?

Filed under:Gender, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Statistics, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 2:43 pm

Via Terra Nova, PlayOn has posted a study on gender, race, and class selection in World of Warcraft. PlayOn’s bloggers Nick and Eric say what I was thinking when I read the name of the study: “It’s a little eerie how those 3 words have their own meanings in an MMO, but yet when you put them all together, you realize how much weight they carry over from the physical world.”

Onto the study results:

Here’s what we found in our data. The gender ratio is different for the Alliance and the Horde. There are fewer female characters on the Horde side. One out of three characters is female on the Alliance side. On the Horde side, it is one out of five. Our intuition is that fewer players choose to be female on Horde side because the female Horde characters are kinda … ugly.

Kinda ugly? Eloquence aside, what sparks my ire is the surveyors defining what they find attractive in their conclusion. No surprise, I believe beauty is a social construct. We are conditioned to find certain traits valuable and attractive, and night elves and humans in WoW conform to some of those Western standards. I don’t disagree, however, that many players as individuals do pick characters they are are visually attracted to. I happen to find tauren and dwarves good looking, but that doesn’t mean I have a fetish or am some sort of deviant.

The PlayOn writers consider gender-bending in character selection:

The Daedalus Project data suggests that male and female players are equally represented on both the Alliance and Horde. This implies the observed gender differences are driven almost entirely by gender-bending. Given that players who choose Horde are more likely to be competitive and achievement-oriented than players who choose Alliance who tend to be more customization and role-playing oriented, this makes a great deal of sense. Of course, as many players point out, they gender-bend to have an attractive avatar to look at. Playing a female Horde character would defeat this purpose.

It’s an interesting theory, but again, androcentric, as it neglects reasons women may choose to play male avatars.

Terra Nova responds by citing a study from 1977:

[M]ale undergrads chatted over the phone with female undergrads they did not previously know. Half the male undergrads were given a photo of an attractive woman and the other half were given photos of unattractive women (unbeknownst to the women themselves). This is analogous to interacting with an attractive female Night Elf online.


Given that Alliance avatars are more attractive than Horde avatars (especially the female avatars), and given that many social interactions on Alliance side are parallels of the classic Behavioral Confirmation study – men interacting with who they believe are attractive women, might this cause Alliance players to become friendlier, more charming, and more sociable in general than Horde players over time regardless of their RL gender or attractiveness? That is to say, a form of behavioral confirmation cascade that has an effect on the community rather than simply the individual level.

Again, I ask: who decides what is attractive? I’m curious if sexual orientation was considered in the 1977 study, or if all respondents were presumed to be heterosexual.


December 9, 2005

Gold Farmers Make New York Times

Filed under:Massively Multiplayer Online Games, News, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 12:57 pm

World of Warcraft continues to find ways to fascinate and disturb me.

Via Terra Nova, the New York Times has run an article today entitled Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to China. Gold sellers are running World of Warcraft sweatshops where workers put in 84 hours a weeks $250.

[M]any online gaming factories have come to resemble the thousands of textile mills and toy factories that have moved here from Taiwan, Hong Kong and other parts of the world to take advantage of China’s vast pool of cheap labor.

“They’re exploiting the wage difference between the U.S. and China for unskilled labor,” says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University and the author of “Synthetic Worlds,” a study of the economy of online games. “The cost of someone’s time is much bigger in America than in China.”

I haven’t read Castronova’s new book yet, but I plan to as soon as a copy finds its way to me.