Saturday, September 18, 2010

Are gaming girls too pampered to be good?

Hello, my name is Rebecca and I play WoW. I'm also a girl.

Girls, girls, girls.
I can already sense the burning glare from all you awesome gaming girls out there - but hear me out. It's to promote you I am writing this post. And this is a personal post, based on my personal experience. It is clear it won't apply to all of you, but it is at least a recount on my thoughts on the situation alot of gaming girls seem to be in. I will generalize somewhat, to make a point.

I started out playing Wow after my younger brother had bought it. As I watched him play I realized WoW seemed to be everything I always wanted from an MMORPG. I had tried Diablo, Ultima Online and various other games like them, but none had really stuck with me. So I stayed with my console games instead. What I enjoyed in playing was the social aspect and the storytelling - I loved Mario Kart as much as Final Fantasy. WoW seemed to had combined the best of these two genres into a huge and compelling game that I just had to try out, and so I took my first steps in Azeroth over 5 years ago and I am still here.

I played WoW quite differently then than I do now. Back then, the social aspect clearly outweighed the gaming aspects. I wasn't interested in becoming a good player, to know what stats/gear to use or how to play my class. I didn't want to raid. I was mainly interested in meeting new people while playing a game. And I knew from before, in my console playing days, that I had a powerful tool to get other players attention - I was a gaming girl.

People could ask me; "What is it like to be a girl?". I wouldn't know how to answer that since I've never been anything else. But if people ask me "What is it like when people think you're a girl?" I'd actually be able to say something. The wonderful thing about the internets and a game like Wow is that you can really be anyone you want to be. In this way anyone can experience what it feels like when people around you think you're a girl or a guy, no matter if that's the fact or not. Let's not start a debate on whether differences between girls and guys really exist - it's sufficient to say that girls and guys get treated differently no matter if the differences are real or not.

Things have changed dramatically since I started playing. The novelty of the gaming girl, at least in WoW, has subsided significantly. I probably wouldn't be far from the correct number if I estimated that girls make some 20% of the WoW gaming community today. When I started out playing I was overjoyed whenever I found another girl to whom I could relate. I had found a rarespawn. Today about one fifth of our 25man team are girls. We're still a minority, but we can be found in every other group. Someone proclaiming their girlness in chat doesn't get the same result it did 5 years ago. I know people gave me stuff, or did stuff for me, just because I claimed to be a girl - even if I never gave any proof of this claim. I even got an offer to join one of the best guilds on the server, eventhough I seriously had no idea on how to play my class (a druid at the time). And still today people think they can tell when they're talking to a girl (just as they think they can tell when they're talking to someone who's young). Eventhough the gaming girl isn't as outrageously cool anymore, people clearly still seem to treat them differently.

We have an idea on what a girl should be and could be. My question for this post is - does the idea gaming girls have of themselves, and their capabilities, hinder them in their gaming progress?

It's difficult to say what could've been if... I met Love about half a year into my gaming, and that changed the way I saw and played the game. Meeting new people became less important since I had already met the most important person in my life. Telling people I was a girl to get their attention became completely unecessary, even something to avoid. I didn't want peoples attention on anything but the fact that I was a fellow gamer. Moving away from this way of playing made me realize I could be an interesting person just on the basis of my gaming qualities, something I hadn't thought about before. It might sound silly, stupid or sad that I had this view of myself. But since the first day I had told someone about my gaming it had always seemed like the fact that I was a girl was the most interesting and important thing. Not what I played, how good I was at it or what I thought about it. And so this view stuck with me. My first months of playing WoW definitely confirmed this view.

I have no idea of course, but am I completely off when I think that most girls have had similar experiences? What has this done to our way of gaming?

A guy pretending to be a girl could also get this response, but probably wouldn't react the same way to it. Because he would know that the response is based on the other person thinking he is a girl. A girl must always wonder if it might actually be because she is a girl.

My WoW-gaming was easy-lane. I got stuff I didn't really deserve just on the basis that I claimed to be a girl. Somewhere I probably felt that that wasn't right. To justify my presence in that endgame raid/guild I had to tell everyone that I wasn't good enough for it. "Oh my healing sucks really". "Hah no don't make me dps, you'll only laugh". "Not sure I can tank that, you'll probably all die". And so on and so forth.

I started raiding in BC. I got into a Karazhan raid on my extremely undergeared priest, but this time I didn't think it was because I was a girl, but because the guild was desperate for healers. This time I didn't feel like I had to justify my presence. I could probably actually contribute to the raid. They wouldn't have let me tag along if I wasn't a healer and maybe also knew something about healing.

In that guild, which I stayed in for many years, I met a bunch of other gaming girls. I also met with a new kind of behavior, one I had never encountered before and most importantly ever only seen girls do - The no-sayer. When asked to do a particular thing in a raid, they'd simply say "no, I don't want to". When asked why they'd say "I don't think I can pull it off". I didn't think too much of it, maybe it was unique to these players in this guild, but then I switched guild. These two guilds have nothing in common, except they're both on the same server. And yet, again, I encounter this behavior. Another girl who simply says "no, I don't think I can do what you ask of me and I won't even try".

Another example - we sometimes ask healers to go dps, just because a particular encounter doesn't require as much healers as we currently have. These healers don't always have an awesome offspec gear, and no one expects them to do good dps. Yet only the girls excuse themselves when they do a "bad" performance, even though it is just as "bad" as the other offspecced healers.

Why do we keep excusing ourselves? Why do some of us say they won't try? Have you ever heard a guy do this?

I think the answer is - because we're allowed to. Maybe even expected to. Both these players who said they didn't want to do what was asked of them in a raid were excused. "Well ok, you don't have to if it feels bad, we can come up with some other solution". Do you think people would allow a guy behave this way in an endgame, progression guild? Maybe if it was minor things, but generally you don't ask people to do something specifically in a fight if you don't think they're the best at doing that.

In a book on language acquisition I am currently reading they write the following about learning a new language;
 "If there is a strong element of unwillingness or embarrassment in attempting to produce the different sounds of another language, then it may override whatever physical and cognitive abilities there are. (...) All these negative feelings or experiences are affective factors that can create a barrier to acquisition. Basically, if we are stressed, uncomfortable, self-conscious or unmotivated, we are unlikely to learn anything." (The Study of Language by George Yule, 2006)

Sure this is about learning a language, but could just as easily apply to learning and doing new stuff in a game like WoW.

Guys can say they suck too, but more in the sense of "I'm usually awesome but I messed up this time". Girls say it with a sense of "I usually suck so if I got it right this time it's just a fluke". The guy blames the circumstances (bad gear, bad luck), the girl blames herself (bad player).

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not angry with these no-sayers. What I am trying to say is that I get frustrated that girls, whom I know are great players, don't dare to try something because of some idea they have of themselves, and that this idea gets confirmed in this way. I always tell them that no one gets something perfectly right the first time they try it. Maybe not even the second or third time. But it's not enough. These girls are sure they will fail. It's an evil circle! They won't try, and if they never do they won't become good at it either. And a guy would just say "I will fail but that's your problem".

Coincidentally Kae over at Dreambound wrote a post on being a gaming girl just a few days ago (albeit with a slightly different take) and had apparently come to the same conclusion as me when playing. Maybe this is what we need to see in every gaming girl (and probably some gaming guys as well);
" (...) it's okay to be the hero. That you can be strong and beautiful without being a helpless damsel in distress. You can save the world without being a sidekick. If you want to do it in hiking boots or stilleto heels is up to you: just be yourself. That guys will still be interested in you even though you can speak your mind, and sometimes speak it through a Sniper scope in Unreal Tournament or a huge sword as you cleave through pixel-dragons."

Why do girls have to think "Nah, I'll just let everyone down..." when they should be thinking "Fuck yeah I'm gonna ROCK!".

And if you ask a guy why he won't do something you generally get the answer that he just doesn't think it's fun. I wonder if I ever heard a guy say they avoided something because they weren't good enough at it. These two things probably factor together, like me with pvp. I don't like it because I'm bad at it and I'm bad at it because I don't like it. But this goes for everyone, whether they are girls or guys so why does the girl have to use her lack of skill as an excuse while guys use their lack of interest?

I could rant on forever probably, but I must wrap it up somewhere and I might aswell do it now. Girls need to be yelled at just as anyone else. We need people to tell us "look, you're a great player and I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't think you could pull it off". And we girls must believe in it.

There seems to be a general idea on the (in)capabilities of girl-gamers. It might be rooted in the fact that girls usually have less overall gaming experience than guys and so initially come into a game less "good" than guys. This view then sticks with the entire gaming community until girls actually think they're, I don't know, biologically less good players than guys. They still find they have an easy time getting things (for reasons that's the matter of alot of research), but feel they have to excuse their presence, since they're not as good as everyone else who's had to struggle to get there. Or they just don't bother becoming better because they get stuff anyway. This way of thinking, and playing, stays with the gaming girl long after she's turned into an awesome player. Or even worse, hinders her from ever becoming an awesome player because she never dares take that step.


  1. Oooh. My reply might get a little long but it bounces around a bit!

    I do see a lot of the "things" you mention that girls say in the game quite often. A big part of that problem stems from girls thinking that they're playing in a "guy's game". That's not. true. at. all.

    When girls stop thinking that they're special snowflakes traipsing around WoW, and realize that WoW has both men and women in it, that's when they'll start trying new things and doing what *they* want to do/play/explore/tank/dps/heal. They'll feel more comfortable running straight into new classes, roles, and encounters if they know they are playing amongst other "gamers", not "guys".

    Another problem is unfortunately too many ladies associate themselves with "dudes" and not men. They stay in a guild with perhaps a nice guy boyfriend who has a few rude, idiot friends. Expressing their feelings to their boyfriend that a) they would like a different guild and/or b) they don't like the people in the current guild are sometimes tough because they don't want to offend their significant other. However, if the significant other has any respect for them, they'll support leaving and/or find a guild where both men and women treat each other with respect and build each other up to try new things rather than a) settle for mediocrity or b) tear each other down.

    Most of what you talked about is coming across as a lack of confidence. I think unfortunately there are so many "girls" in this game who fall into a whole slew of reasons why they a) don't feel like it b) don't think they can do it c) don't want to try. In the end it comes down to what you said in the end...building up your own confidence and associating yourself with people who will build you up as a fellow human being and gamer, not just because of your gender.

    Hmm. I hope I wasn't too vague or offtopic! I guess since I just had my 25th birthday, I've seen a lot of things that I did when I was 18-20 (giggled over vent) that now I think is pretty dumb (unless it's with close friends/guildies that I've known for years). Now that I'm 25...those things look pointless and silly, and I think that's what you're kind of getting at somehow. =) I'd rather play with other men (or mature guys) and be treated like a fellow human being, rather than be in a progressed guild where there are rude, unsupportive boys.

  2. When I read todays blogpost I first thought "She's writing about me... AGAIN!". Then as I read on I started to feel a bit ashamed. I thought I was the only one not wanting to try things I don't know exactly how to do. The only one excusing my existance... then I realize that it's my bad self confindence that shines through... again.

    I know that when I finally leap into something new and finally succeed I feel great! The worst part of trying new things is all the angsiety I fight with BEFORE actually trying.

    Personally I try to improve my self most of the time (I have bad days too) it is a constant struggle. Girls should learn to believe in themselves and stop excusing themselves for being girls. Easily said, hard to do. Just give it a try. :)


  3. @Llani
    Yeah, you pretty much wrap up my thoughts on it :) Especially this = "A big part of that problem stems from girls thinking that they're playing in a "guy's game". That's not. true. at. all."

    Well actually you're rather a good example on what could be if girls had the confidence to try. Unfortunately you're far from alone in not wanting to try things. Back in BC I didn't dare tanking myself... And how many times haven't I stopped tanking for weeks after one bad word?
    But you just recently tried tanking and I didn't get the feeling that you thought you sucked at it ^^ Rather the opposite! And it's that step I want to see more girls dare take :)

  4. I also believe Llani is generally correct. But I, being the naive 25-year old boy that I am, don't think that gender have to have something to do with it, as Llani said: it's a mater of confidence. I do avoid doing things that I have not tried or which I believe someone else can do better. But I suppose I wouldn't say no if someone told me to do something either, even if I believed we where doing nothing short of a set-up for failure. I guess I'd just be happy to be along for the ride.
    I don't know what I wanted to say really. Perhaps just trying to say that you don't have to be a girl to have confidence issues. And... maybe, that... There doesn't have to be that big a difference in how the genders deals with these problems.
    I won't deny however that there are cultural differences in how we are "supposed" to behave but fuck that. Seriously. "We are the adults now and its up to us to decide what that means." And I say we should let anyone be whom ever they want to be, irl or online.
    We can all be power gamers if we like, maths dose not separate between genders. But we should have room for other players as well. I've argued this in the past and that argument made it to this blogg. It might be another discussion, it might not be. And of course there is room for everyone already, they just have to be.
    Anyway, it feels like I got side tracked.

    Another thing I wanted to add was: Try reading ½prince. It's a Manhua (korean manga) about a girl playing an new mmorpg and she tries for the first time to play as a guy, since her brother challenged her, since he believes she gains an unfair advantage playing on her "female charms". It funny. And can be found here.

  5. @Hartland
    Thanks for the manhua, it was great (only just started though)! I especially like that the first 10 pages say just about what my entire post does ^^
    I agree that these confidence issues aren't gender specific, but they're expressed in a certain way among females, it seems. Like I mentioned, it seems like guys who don't dare try something generally blame lack of interest.