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Do Girls Game Differently?

By Laura Genender on March 04, 2006 | Editorials | Comments

Do Girls Game Differently?

Editorial Debate: Do Girls Game Differently?

Editor's Introduction: In this week's debate, we change things up a bit. Laura Genender and Carolyn Koh are going head-to-head on the issue of whether or not women game differently than men.


Carolyn: I think women game differently than men. Just like they develop differently, and do things differently in other aspects of life, they game differently. Different things / aspects of the game are more important to them than to men. This is especially true in an MMO which mimics in some basic manner, real life.

Different things are important to women than men and therefore how they view the MMO world is different. Women enjoy the "fluff" in a game more than men do. Although both are goal oriented - xp and levels, the social aspect of a game is more important to women. Speaking from my perspective. I'm a competitive gamer although my time is limited. I find the most effective and efficient ways to gain xp and do it, but I will take an entire evening away from that xp leveling to hang out with friends in-game or obtain tokens across the game-world to exchange for a dress that does nothing besides look pretty on my character.

Men on the other hand, seldom will do anything that will not yield a gratifying amount of xp. Matching and "cool" looking armor may be important to them, but they compete on a different level.

Women will even compete on the number of cool looking weapons or dresses they have rather than the "uber" effects of each piece.


Laura: I disagree. While there are some women who enjoy different aspects of MMOs than some of their male counterparts, I think that the male population is also split. I know men who obsessively run through content - even quests with bad rewards or purely cosmetic rewards - that I purposefully skip. I know men who spend hours leveling up pets or making sure that they have every spellbook or recipe that their class can use, while I'd rather be out grinding the EXP.

I'm a very competitive and very goal oriented gamer. This isn't to say I don't ever hang out with friends or have fun; my idea of hanging out just happens to constitute a 3 or 4 man party deep inside a dungeon. I'll leave good EXP to help a guildmate or hunt with a guildmate, or to orient myself on another task (IE a high income quest or bot killing) but I won't just "hang out" in town and chat.

Many of the guys I hunted with in Lineage II were willing to spend extra adena to purchase masks or hair color changing potions or the like. Me, I kept an excel chart predicting what days I would be able to buy the next efficient upgrade that I wanted, based on income and current market prices. The only time I've ever owned more than one set of armor is when: a. I think it might be a good investment, either as a long term value increase or as a good bargain I can quickly resell; or b. there are two level-appropriate sets of armor that I can afford and use for different circumstances.


Carolyn: I knew a few male players in EQ and DAoC that were obsessed with making their armor match as well. Interestingly enough... they were bards... Anyway! There will be men and women that exhibit the behaviors that is normally associated with each sex. However, given that there are different behaviors associated with the sex of a gamer shows that to a certain extent, men and women do game differently.Heck... men even gender-bend more than women. Given that 80 to 85% of any given MMO population is male, half the female avatars you see running around are male players, and male players are more likely to "out" their own sex by leading them on, and publishing the results on the web. All that is part of playing the game.


Laura: I know I agree that there are men and women who exhibit behaviors that are normally associated with the other sex, both in real life and in the game world, but I still disagree that these behaviors really have anything to do with how men and women play the game. Thinking about all the male and female members of my guilds, friends lists, and voice chats...I remember there being a significantly larger number of men than women, but most of the women as being more 'hardcore gamer' style than the men. For example, one of my female clanmates in Lineage II runs 2 or 3 characters at the same time, sometimes not even in the same party. She has 3 characters all in the 50-60 range, and all active and well equipped. I knew another female via voice chat who was one of the most vicious PvPers I had met...and myself...well, I wasn't exactly an angel back in my Gladiator days. But enough anecdotes.

I think one of the big problems is that there are behaviors associated with males and behaviors associated with females. I think a lot of the stereotypes for gamer girls comes from inappropriate sources:

    a. The Real World - looking at how females act in the real world is not a good basis for how female gamers will act in games. You do not choose whether or not to enter the real world, or how you progress in it; you are born, you are raised to follow certain society norms, and you function in that society, even if you choose not to follow certain norms. In the gamer realm, we actively choose to create an account, then a character. We choose to log on, choose what quests to do, choose what character progressions to take. Our parents don't decide whether we have dolls or baseball bats. We decide. And as baseball bats general have more p.attack, that's the general route we follow.

    b. Gamer Gender Stereotypes - some people get to the next step: realizing that the game world is not the real world, and the same population does not frequent both realms. But then they use this information for evil. "Gamer girls are all fat, ugly, and can't get along in the real world" - we've all heard that before. I disagree with this greatly - I think that gamer girls are the same as gamer guys, just people that have fun playing video games.

    c. Men in Women's Clothing aka Crossdressers - like you mentioned, there are men who make female characters. Sometimes this is to scam some free items, but sometimes this is purely innocent - I know lots of guys that play female characters because, and I quote, "I rather stare at a girl's ass all day than a guy's." Either way, though, many people will see a female avatar and although they doubt it's authenticity, they attribute "her" behavior to the female gender. How can we truly say that female and men game differently when we can hardly tell the difference between them?


Carolyn: Whoa... that's news to me. "Gamer girls are all fat, ugly, and can't get along in the real world?" The only ones I'd heard were "All gamers are pimply nerds that live in their mother's basement." That's male gamers, because "There are no real female MMO gamers. They are all played by males." :)

I’m not denying that there are men and women who game alike. At this time, MMOs are not marketed differently toward the different sexes. Indeed, they still seem to be targeted toward young males with the type of cover art featured. However, there are MMOs that attract more women gamers to them than others. There are some aspects of those games that appeal to women gamers and if anyone could distill that down to a formula, they’d have a golden goose.

    a. The Real World - I beg to differ. How females act in the real world is exactly, in my opinion how they will game. A highly competitive woman will be highly competitive in a game she chooses to play. A high achieving woman will do the same in the arena she chooses. As a young girl goes through different phases of her life, her gaming style will change. Boys go through different phases as well, but not phases as drastic as a girl's "Princess" vs "Tomboy" phases.

    b. Gamer Gender Stereotypes - see opening statement. I agree, girl and guys both game to have fun. Where there are distinct social groups of humans, there will be stereotypes which basically are are overly exaggerated & distorted generalisms. Often used by one group to denigrate another.

    c. Men in Women's Clothing - aka crossdressers - We know that men and women do game differently not only because of anecdotal evidence such as our own experiences and those shared on forums like the women developer's mail list and WIGI (link) , but actual surveys done of MMO players. This was one area covered in Nick Yee's surveys (link) - why and how much this was done by male and female gamers.

I will conclude though, that I've noticed that the experiences of women gamers differ depending on the age group they find fellow gamers in. I've always guilded in mature guilds - median age over 25 - and family guilds (spouses & children playing together). Largely because they were the high achieving and closely cohesive guilds. Which possibly could be a factor of the age group.


Laura: I was not implying that women act differently online than they do in the real world...what I meant was that you have a different population sample. Those existing in the real world are there for one reason: they were born here. In the game world we are not thrown together by a couple of chromosomes; we choose which game to buy and play, if any at all. What I am saying is that it takes a certain type of person, and more specifically, a certain type of girl to play an MMO, and because of this selective population, we need to alter our perceptions of people.

In fact, in some cases, we need to alter our perception game by game. You aren't going to find the same type of people in Lineage II as you do in Guild Wars, A Tale in the Desert, and Final Fantasy XI. Looking at a game like Lineage II you might say that the majority of gamers are PvP oriented...but if you took that mindset to A Tale in the Desert, a smaller, non-combat MMO centering on crafting, you'd be way, way off target. If you tried to compare females in the real world, females in a customization-heavy game like City of Heroes, and females in a grind-heavy game line EQ1 you would find three wildly different populations.

As for surveys and forums, that again is a very select population: the people who frequent forums are often the vocal minority, while the silent majority's opinion is underrated. I know I have never posted on a forum or taken a quiz dealing with female gamers.

If you ask a non-gamer what they think gamers look/act/live like, you might get the response "All gamers are pimply nerds that live in their mother's basement," or some variant of that. But if you ask a gamer what gamers look/act/live like, I doubt you'd get the same response. The less we know someone, the more quick we are to group them into a stereotype. No one really thinks of themselves as "the jock," or "the valley girl." We think of ourselves as individual and complex people. No one thinks of their friends as pure stereotype, either. But as soon as we start looking outside our personal realm, we start employing shortcuts.

As gamer girls become more prevalent in MMO societies, and as programs like Ventrillo and TeamSpeak make gender-faking more difficult, some of the old stereotypes are starting to fall apart. When I first started gaming, no one believed that I was a girl. I worked at a website for a good year or two and the webmaster still joked about needing to make me prove myself when we met in person (he suggested that I play at least 30 minutes of Lineage in front of him, and kill two people). When people finally started to believe me, their stereotypes simply changed, not disappeared; I remember trading pictures with a friend I used to play Lineage 1 with, and his first comment was "Whoa, you're not Asian?"

The problem with saying that males and females game differently than each other is that it operates on the base assumption that all males game similarly and all females game similarly. If you ask me, I think that all individuals game differently, and if we have to divide it at all, I would rather divide it by PvPers, Grinders, Crafters, Tanks, Healers, etc as these are categories that we choose to belong to, instead of being born into.


You can have your voice heard in our debate thread.