Gender Roles and Respect in the MMO Community

One of the things that I can’t tolerate in any community I participate in, physical or virtual, is discrimination, hatred and close-mindedness. I don’t associate with people who lack the mental capacity to understand why someone is different, and why that makes them unique and amazing people. In the WoW community, I do my best to stay out of the way of womanizers, chauvinists, racists and sexists, however with such a large player-base, we are as diverse in our mentalities as we are in our idiots. The most flak that I experience and observe comes in the form of sexism towards women, LGBT community members and supporters, and transsexuals. Many people are protected by the fact that they don’t share their orientations or their gender over WoW, since the game isn’t about political and social opinions, but rather a medium through which we interact with each other in the context of our game content. I’ve had plenty of experiences personally with these issues, so take the jump and read on. (note that this is partially a rant)

I myself am a unique individual. I fit into the mainstream effectively, however some of my preferences in how I conduct my daily life can seem offensive to some people. This has been a really hard thing for me to deal with because I get enough heat in person about it that I don’t need the added speculation in the virtual forums that I participate in. My first roleplaying experience with video games occurred with the text MUD Achaea. These roleplaying experiences were generally homogenized with my gender, at least for my first few characters. As time went along, I was curious about playing the other gender, and so I made a character that I grew very close to and roleplayed to my heart’s content. After a little time, I did what was considered normal in the context of the game, and I found a partner to marry. We went through the normal processes that were created for in game marriage, and I roleplayed my character’s gender just as if I were that gender. When I talked with my partner in an Out of Character sense, I didn’t share my true gender.

After a long time of being in this relationship and playing Achaea, I felt that I needed to share with my partner that I had been lying. My guilt was creeping up on me and I couldn’t contain the little inkling of shame that tarried at the back of my mind. I spilled the beans and needless to say, my partner was furious and divorced me. I never saw that partner log in again, and I felt terrible for ruining the game for them, however I felt it had been necessary. This is one aspect of my rant. I messed up in this situation, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I should’ve been forward with this person at the start, especially considering some of the things we ended up doing in the game. It wasn’t respectful of me to jump forward into a personal desire, and in the long run ruin someone else’s enjoyment of the game, since that’s what you play a game for; enjoyment. On the other hand, it’s completely plausible and acceptable to hide your gender for the very reasons I mentioned in the introduction paragraph of this post. There’s always that hate out there.

I didn’t play opposite gender characters except on a small basis in my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and my Shadowrun campaigns because of this experience. I was too afraid to try to explore that other side of me. When I started playing WoW, I chose opposite gender characters because they were easier for me to look at because by this time I was more focused on the opposite gender than similar gender. I experienced a lot of what I hated in the MMO community at this time: discrimination and lewd commentary from other players because I was portraying the gender I was. None of them knew that I wasn’t that gender physically, however it hurt my psyche just as much as it would hurt a true member of that gender. It made me very angry to see that the virtual community could take a step up in maturity and reach a higher level of thought then to make base and offensive comments just by seeing the model of my character. I’ve seen many other women also come under the same pressures, especially over vent when it’s hard to mask your gender.

Most of the guilds I’ve been in have had a few female players and a lot of male players. It’s sad that men are so horny so frequently, however hormones can only be controlled to a point. That doesn’t make any of this right. I’ve heard many instances of male players harassing female players over vent and over guild chat after hearing them on vent. Many try to hook up with them, and that’s the least of the offenses that I’ve experienced and heard.

Where has the respect and maturity gone in our community? Why did we leave our personalities and morals at the door when we checked into the game and registered our accounts for WoW? The virtual layer between us all enables a huge level of anonymity behind which anyone with a different opinion or feelings can hide and attack. That layer also protects those of us who wish to stay hidden and avoid this harmful contact. What are some ways to fix this problem? I feel at a lost, having championed my cause to deafer ears every day. No one listens to me anymore because they label me as that “feminist player” who’s interested in protecting the rights and dignity of the women in the game, but also those of the male gender who feel they should be female, or any variation from the “normal” gender roles that society has labeled for us. What are some experiences you’ve had in these situations, how did you deal with them, and how do you handle similar situations when they come up today?

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5 thoughts on “Gender Roles and Respect in the MMO Community

  1. Just a note that while being treated badly as woman for a while may have hurt you, it won’t have hurt you in the same way (and not necessarily as badly) as a person who identifies as a woman irl. I appreciate that you’re trying to empathise with it, but at the end of the day your identification as a woman stops when you step away from the computer, and ours doesn’t.

    Being an ally is hard. People don’t listen, and you often tread a fineline between whiteknighting and calling men out on their behaviour.The experiences I’ve had in these situations online have been limited because I choose to play in a guild that doesn’t accept that sort of behaviour, and I choose a server where the harassment is relatively minimal (RP servers tend to have a better atmosphere for the most part.) If harassment happens I know how to handle it because I’ve had it in the past and I know the best avenues for dealing with disrespectful people online.

    • Being an ally in any situation is hard – I’ve been a supportive friend from my homosexual friends in hostile environments, and there is great danger when judgements and violence start getting flung all over the place.

      I am fully aware that the pain can be and is worse for a woman. I’m not taking that away. However there are certain situations where men can be equally as damaged for similar but very different reasons, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

      • I’m not saying it should be forgotten, but saying they are the same thing is, frankly, well…put it this way, when journalists walk around in a fat suit for a day and then say they know what it ‘feels like to be fat’, I find that pretty damn offensive. It’s nice that someone is trying to empathise, it really is, but it’s very easy to get too hung up on the privileged person’s experience, rather than those who actually live the experience. I’m not sure if I’m articulating it very well.

        Yeah. When it comes to discussing the experiences of LGBT folk, or people with disabilities I am ultra cautious because I can make privileged assumptions about their experiences and what they want or need from a given situation. For example, in the debate about goblin sexuality it is easy for me to make the assumption that being able to chose between either a boyfriend or a girlfriend would solve the problem, when a couple of friends have mentioned to me that it isn’t representation that they necessarily want in that particular example, it’s that they’d rather have a quest that didn’t make assumptions based on sexuality at all. I think a lot of objectors to the feminist or sexuality-equality movements pretty much object on the basis that ‘representation’ is what is wanted, when really it’s something else.

        I am rambling now. I think it’s sad that ‘feminist’ is viewed as an insult these days, and I think it’s sad that demanding respect and diginity for other human beings is such an uphill struggle.

  2. It’s interesting… I hear a number of men say similar things when playing a female character. They’re overwhelmed by how demeaning guys can be, and how much harassment they got, etc. Men just aren’t used to it, and it’s glaring to them.

    Interestingly, I really don’t notice most of it. I’ve been dealing with it since I was fourteen. It’s white noise.

    • It’s certainly not something that most men have to deal with until they put themselves in situations like these. On the one hand, I’m happy that that is the case, on the other, I’m sorely disappointed that anyone, though mostly men, put women in that situation to begin with. It’s hard to overcome the stereotype that some men give to the rest of us.

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