I play World of Warcraft. And I love it. As a female player. And when I decided to write something about the game, I figured I’d answer the question I get asked most commonly – “How’s the sexism?” My usual answer is a mashed-up, tangential, meandering reply about how it’s not that bad. When I decided to write something a little more formal, I had to pick that to pieces to organize it into something coherent, and I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.
World of Warcraft (abbreviated to WoW) is a mass-multiplayer, online, role-playing game (or an MMORPG, for short). As such, it falls into a lot of the sad trappings of online gaming culture. Female computer-programmed characters have skimpier, sexier armor. There are many more strong male leads than female leads in the over-arching storyline. Online, players use insults like “faggot,” “slut,” and “retard” on a not infrequent basis. “Go make me a sandwich” is as common a retort as “UR MOM,” and often texted with the same casual douchery.
Awww, that’s just gaming culture! Yeah, it’s bad, but at least the insults are aimed at everyone, equally?
Not quite. Female toons get stalked, courted, grinded on, flirted with, tea-bagged, and humped more than male characters. In starting areas, new female characters are almost always approached by at least one Creepy Jim who wants to “help them out” while naked and emoting kisses (the problem, for anyone who’s wondering, is solved by logging out for a few minutes and then logging back in – saying “no” just opens a conversation of “marry meeeeee, ur cute, i love youuuu”). At higher levels, Creepy Jim expresses his discomfort with respectful social contact by grinding up against female characters waiting for the boat, or via humping unsuspecting female strangers (the virtual art of sitting and standing in rapid succession while facing another player to make it look like intercourse). While these occurrences are not necessarily tied to being female in real life, it is a pretty blatant display of sexism.
As for being female in real life, there’s a different problem that pops up. On a male character, almost no one will believe the player behind the mask is female (the same is not true of dudes playing female characters – that’s totally normal). On a female character, if played really fucking well, another brand of special enters the ring, the Self-Proclaimed-Well-Educated-Atheist. The SPWEA will argue that, because of evolution, women cannot play aggressive characters as well as men can. Women might receive leeway if they play a healer class, because, y’know, they nurture babies and stuff. But only if they remain modest, without bragging. Bragging is a man’s game. Any counter-argument is, obviously, invalid because the SPWEA has seen the truth of the universe and is apparently omniscient. The freakiest part is that SPWEA is famed at large for his quick logic and brilliant insights. In the forums online, the SPWEA rules as celebrity-king.
If that’s the case, why the fuck are you still playing?! That sounds terrible!
Honestly? Because I like the game, and side-step most of the bullshit. I choose minimal contact with most players. I join guilds run by reasonable people, with reasonable people in them – or often guilds that just don’t talk much. I stay away from the online forums, which are separate from the game anyways. I recruit real-life friends to play online with me, and I hit the “ignore” button on those assholes who verbal-vomit into my playtime. Those who are cool, and funny, and sweet, get my attention and we end up chatting and joking around. Out of my control, sometimes the storyline takes a turn for the worse, in terms of great heroines crumbling into stereotypes, and I speak my piece to Blizzard (the company who runs the game), and hope the next expansion will be better. The most recent expansion, Warlords of Draenor, introduced a new strong female character, and I was mollified enough to keep playing.
It can be infuriating and disheartening, but I still just really like the game! I love the graphics, and the world, and running through epic battles killing shit. I played the original strategy game and fell in love with it, before I had even heard of the online role-playing version. I grew up with crushes on elves and orcs and mages, dying to be a part of that world. And with World of Warcraft, I can run through it, to an extent. So is WoW sexist? Yes, it is. Sometimes really uncomfortably and disgustingly so, but I find ways to work around that because I love the game.
WoW is the exception for me. I cannot watch movies with heroic men and weak women. I just can’t. And the same is true of the books I read, versus the books I throw across the room, revolted. Warcraft is different, for me. Like some of the slightly dudebro-ish friends in my life, World of Warcraft has enough charm and wonder and fun and possibility for it to be worth the slow frustration the sexism often inspires. As the world changes, and especially as sexism in games is under the spotlight, I’m hoping that Blizzard takes note and hires some better writers and better moderators.
So CHEERS! Here’s to suffering through the asinine, because I really, really like playing kick-ass night elves.