Warning, past the first link, some of the things I have linked in this article are Not Safe for Work/School/Polite company in general. Especially the third link which goes to a website called Fat, Ugly or Slutty. I’m also not sure if this actually fits into the Feminism category…

So while I was looking for articles that could be used for the paper last week, I stumbled across this gem at Gamasutra. The article is about an upcoming MOBA game (multiplayer online battle arena) that is fashioned after League of Legends. I don’t know much about League of Legends, so correct me where I’m wrong (I’ve wanted to check it out, but haven’t had time yet), but it’s an MMO that is primarily PVP (player vs player). The company that is creating this new game (Prime World) is making it so that female players who buy female avatars and male players who buy male avatars not only pay less for those avatars, but teams made up of “mixed genders” get special bonuses in their game. Although this was originally reported in several locations as being a discount only offered to female players (including the Gamasutra link above, which is reflected by the quote taken from the Penny Arcade report), it’s seeming like maybe somewhere along the way the message was crossed, or changed. That in and of itself stirs up a whole mess of problems about sex, gender and identification, not to mention their way of “verifying” whether you’ve boy bits or girl bits (since that’s apparently all that matters) is by linking your Facebook to your account, which is totally foolproof. I can’t speak on the sex, gender and identification, but I can talk about why being forced to identify myself to a game world as a woman is something that entirely turns me off of this game.

First, in order to get the “mixed gender bonuses,” I’m assuming by what little information I’ve found that you actually have to be a girl playing a girl matched up in a team with at least one boy playing a boy. That being said, I’ve lost a part of my anonymity as a gamer that I’ve so greatly taken for granted up until this article brought it to my attention. I realize that, as an MMO player, when teamed up with people who do not know me, and who do not have any access to anything beyond my online avatar, I come off as more or less genderless. I tend to not talk a lot in games like World of Warcraft, at least not to people I know. The few times I’m in a PUG (pick up group), I keep my talking short and to the point if the group is more than half full with strangers, and even then most of my chattiness goes on guild chats rather than party so the third party is never privy to them. The few strangers we’ve picked up long term have never asked me if I was a girl, and until recently, never knew or cared. Now they know, but only because I logged on over the weekend to stalk them until they logged on and asked them, “Am I a boy or a girl?” Most responded with “I don’t know?” So I had to push them until I got a response. Two said, “I’m assuming you’re a girl because your avatar’s a girl,” and one followed that up with, “but, I’m a guy and my avatar’s a chick.” Three decided I was a boy. One said it didn’t matter, and they didn’t want to know. Most of them admitted that they hadn’t even thought about it. I was just another person they enjoyed playing a game with.

So why do I care so much about my anonymity as a female gamer? Because I get tired of “get back in the kitchen” jokes from those gamers who do care. And those aren’t the only “jokes” I’ve gotten to hear or deal with, and I’m not alone in that regard. One time while playing a FPS game online (Battlefield: Bad Company 2), I had a guy who after figuring out I was a girl demanded I talk dirty over chat for him, and after refusing spent the whole rest of the battle team killing me. He even rejoined after the game kicked him for excessive team kills (a programed function to stop griefers), and annoyed the entire team to the point where they trapped him in a room and killed/rezzed him until half of them were booted as well. I’ve gotten messages like the ones seen in the link above, pictures of male genitals, etc. But on WoW, where I run around as both a male and female avatar, I’ve never disclosed my gender (until recently), and I’ve only ever had a problem with creepy messages once or twice in the entire five-six years I’ve been playing as compared to my once monthly (or weekly when I’m playing more often) as via Xbox with my female avatar.

I was more angry with this article when I first read it because the benefits were only for women, and they would have to play female avatars to get them. I felt that it would backfire on them in that male players would feel like women would be getting preferential treatment outside of the in game bonuses, and that it would have a negative impact on the women’s gaming experience. I’m not sure if the PA report had the facts wrong, or if the huge outpouring of negative reviews about the article made the creators of the game look back and see what they did wrong.

It’s been compared twice to ladies night at the bars, but my thoughts are that it isn’t like that at all. Sure both are offering discounts to encourage more women to participate in activities, but that’s more or less where the similarities stop. Some men benefit from there being more women at bars because the go to the bars to find women. I don’t know of many guys who jump on their MMOs to pick up dates in the middle of a battlefield online.