How Important is Gender in MMOs?

By Jeff Francis
How important is gender in mmos?

The role of gender in not only mmorpg games, but in video games as a whole, has been a topic of some debate for quite a long time. Several recent incidents have caused this discussion to once come again into focus. The most recent was the news that the Finnish eSports association Hearthstone tournament was open only to male gamers. As could be expected, this led to a huge debate of the role and fairness of mmo gender in online gaming. To show that this impacts video games on a wider scale, a great deal of controversy was also started when Ubisoft stated that there would be no playable female models in the latest Assassin's Creed game due to their opinion that it would double the work needed to complete the game. A number of experienced video game designers have publicly stated that such a view is utter nonsense, and female players (as well as quite a few male ones) were upset. However, we're not here to discuss whether or not Ubisoft is right in their opinion of the additional work needed to include playable females in the game. Instead, our focus is on the following question: how important is gender in mmos?

Tournament with women gamers

The world of online gaming has changed drastically over the last few decades. It was considered a given that the vast majority of gamers were males. As such, games were geared towards them. Yet, a fascinating trend has emerged in that more and more women are gaming, and the numbers are staggering. In a recent study, it was found that a full 48% of gamers were female. This has coincided with the rise of the average age of gamers (31) and the fact that more gamers (62%) are playing with others, either in-person or through online games such as mmo games. A full 70% of women between the ages of 12 and 24 play video games.

So is mmo gender important or not? Well, that is a mixed question, with mixed answers. Studies have shown that women tend to play games that put more an emphasis on story and plot, such as World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Online. Males are more likely to play games such as first person shooters like Team Fortress 2, but every year, the percentage of women does increase in every gaming genre. What is interesting is the intersection of mmo gender and eSports. Playing competitive video games is one area where you would think that men and women could compete as equals. The only criteria for being good at eSports is knowledge of the game, an intelligent mind, and fast reflexes, which is something both genders are capable of. That's why the Finnish association's banning women competitors was met with so much protest. Even Blizzard got into the act, and the ban on women was hastily overturned. Yet the IeSF World Championships still exclude women from DOTA 2 and Street Fighter 4. In a reverse twist, men are excluded from the Tekken tournament. Still, the world of eSports is still dominated by males as evidenced by the makeup of the majority of the world's top teams. Yet there is a huge push going on by women in games like League of Legends. Check out Twitch.tv some time and you'll find some very popular channels being run by incredibly proficient female gamers.

What I find intriguing about mmo gender is the reaction of players themselves. In the past, it was often remarked that 90% of the women characters you see online were actually men. While this was likely true at one time, that has been changing rapidly over the last few years. Still, women can find it a hard go if it's realized what their true gender is. Many women do face harassment online from other gamers. I've seen friends who have had incredibly rude sexual comments made to them due to the fact that they're women. A great deal of this nonsense is likely due to the fact that there are a lot of extremely immature boys playing online games, and they feel safe being a total ass online. Women also seem to be condescended to quite a bit more if asking questions about gameplay mechanics. This can be prevalent in very competitive games, such as mobas like League of Legends.

Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep

So, how important is gender in mmos? Well, to be honest, it really shouldn't matter from several perspectives. If you're playing online with other players, does it matter what sex they are as long as they're good at playing the game? The finest tank I ever played with in World of Warcraft was a woman, and she had probably forgotten more about playing her class than I had ever learned. Also, the virtual world is a level playing field, so restricting one gender or the other in eSports tournaments is ludicrous. Both men and women can handle a game controller or joystick and mouse combo with equal precision. However, when it comes to sales and marketing, mmo gender does have an impact. As more and more women are playing games, companies need to make sure that they create games women want to play but also work hard to make them feel comfortable doing so. That's why game companies should do more to police trolling in games and on forums, especially in the area of sexual harassment. As players, we need to treat everyone with respect. If someone is being a jerk, call them out on it. Gaming is supposed to be fun for everybody, and being anonymous behind your computer screen shouldn't give you the license to act like an ass.

Jul082014

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