Carolyn Koh and Laura Genender square off
Editor's Introduction: Every Saturday, we feature a debate between two writers here. If you have any ideas for future debates, please do not hesitate to post them in the comment thread linked at the end.
Laura Genender: One thing I've always hated in MMOs is when people assume that, just because I'm a female gamer, I should be really into the tradeskills and crafting aspect of the game. Personally, I've always avoided crafting skills like the plague; even in craft-centric games like A Tale in the Desert I spent more of my time working with flower genetics and exploring the desert than I did at the loom or the kitchen.
Like many aspects in MMOs, I think that crafting and tradeskills are often projected as a "woman thing" just because that's what "women do in real life." We cook. We sew and embroider. If there was a Pregnancy skill in EverQuest, I'm sure that would be highlighted as a big draw to the woman market.
Carolyn Koh: One thing I have found in playing MMOs for the past 8 years is that many female gamers enjoy the tradeskill and crafting aspect of the game. I myself do. It's a challenge outside of just blowing things up, and that is, in of itself, an aspect of an MMO that is more attractive to female gamers than to males.
I doubt that ship repair/modification, making explosives or weapon-smithing are necessarily "women things" *grins* I cook, I sew and I embroider but I did not play A Tale in the Desert. As explained to my gaming friends who played the game and tried to draw me in, I'd rather tend my own garden and watch my roses grow than tend virtual flowers and watch pixels grow.
Laura Genender: There are three ways to obtain items in most video games: you get it as a drop, you buy it from the store/someone who made it, or you make it. Getting good items as drops is usually rare, and while it's the cheapest option, no one can depend on this source. The cheapest, most dependable option (though many games have crafting failure rates) is usually tradeskills. Because of this, I think that most crafters are just people who have the patience to be money efficient, or do it to get rich. I don't see what that has to do with your gender. Myself, I am very impatient. I never crafted any items until I got into my upper levels, and even then I try to avoid it!
Carolyn Koh: I would argue that the best way to obtain items is to get it as a drop, make it yourself or trade for it. General sweeping statement coming... women in general tend to exhibit more patience than men. They are also nurturers and the "gatherer / farmer" of the two genders. Hence as a gender, there are more women than men that are attracted to other aspects of an MMO than the "kill, kill, kill" part of it.
Speaking for myself, I enjoy MMOs more than I have enjoyed PC RPG games because of the other aspects that I could participate in. The Questing (even though 99.9% of quests involve killing critters), the Tradeskills and the trading. You could even say that the female gamer is more multi-dimensional and enjoy more diversity in MMOs and hence tradeskills are an important part of the game for them.
Laura Genender: Woah, woah! Sweeping statement indeed! I think the whole idea of females as the gatherers/farmers is a little outdated, especially in the video game world. We gamer girls have all chosen to put ourselves in an environment primarily dominated by killing and maiming and blowing stuff up. The MMO genre is fairly young, and let's face it, the crafting systems in the majority of games are far from perfect. In most games, it's little more than gather, point, and click...this isn't exactly a sport of patience, other than getting all 500 animal bones so you can attempt to craft your sword.
Carolyn Koh: *grins*
Well, yes. I did warn you a sweeping statement was coming. But before this slips into a Evolution / Genetically pre-disposed / Nature vs. Nurture debate, I’ll back step. I agree that the MMO genre is still fairly young and yes, the crafting system is far from perfect, but there never will be that “perfect” system. There is sentiment that the StarWars model was perfect, that the EQ2 model is perfect, and there are those that hate one or the other.
However, given that the genre is still fairly young and given that women are only just beginning to get into MMO gaming, the percentage of female gamers that have chosen to challenge themselves in an environment that is dominated by killing, maiming and blowing things up is still small.
Girls in our culture are trained in a certain manner and that manner is not “blowing things up” hence they begin playing MMOs with a certain mind-set – they are not supposed to like “blowing things up” and hence they look for other things to do besides “blowing things up.” Hence Tradeskills are important aspects in an MMO to them.
Oops. I’ve slipped into the “Nurture” argument haven’t I? However, that’s how a person forms opinions, likes and dislikes, etc. Few rebel, and those that do are termed “tom-boys.” I know… I was one. I love blowing things up, BUT I love tradeskills too. Maybe I’m one of a strange breed. A female gamer above the age of 40. i.e. Computers weren’t readily available when I was 12… much less computer games.
Laura Genender: But that’s just it! I think that the majority of females in the gaming world these days ARE the “tom-boys,” the ones that are OK with blowing stuff up. The difference between the real world and the gamer world is that we CHOOSE to be here, and the girls who don’t want to blow stuff up generally choose NOT to be here. Video games, at least at this point in time, revolve around hunting monsters, fighting things, even fighting other people in some cases. There are few entirely non-combat MMOs, and none of them are anywhere near, say, World of Warcraft in numbers.
Even if you started up an MMO with the goal of being a pure crafter, you’d have a really tough time doing this. In most games you need to hunt to get materials and recipes, and you need to level up through combat to learn new tradeskills. Some games require mana to craft, and in EverQuest II you can die if you don’t have enough hitpoints.
Couple this, now, with the immature crafting systems. When I say “far from perfect” I don’t mean the wrong minigame or unbalanced. I mean there is no mini-game. You click two buttons, your components disappear, and an item appears. Maybe if there were really fun crafting mini-games, crafting-centric gamers would be more willing to grind out the levels they need to craft what they want. But for someone who wants to be a true crafter, an artisan, what draw is there in the majority of popular MMOs? You gather stuff by killing monsters for weeks, then click two buttons and it’s all over. The upside to crafting isn’t fun or enjoyment or challenge, its cheapness. And this appeals to all gamers, female and male.
Carolyn Koh: Au contraire. Female MMO gamers today are mostly in the 20 to 34 age-group. They are girls who grew up with Nintendo and computers. Girls who fragged with the best of them while carrying their game disks in pink Barbie handbags. They also are girls who eschewed computer games as being too “tom-boyish” at a younger age, but now are finding MMOs fascinating as they are introduced to them and play them with a girl-friend or significant other. The “tom-boy” segment of female gamers is growing smaller as the numbers of women playing games grow larger.
I would say that we are in the Golden Age of MMOs right now and the market will only grow if developers attract more women into the genre. To do that, they have to do more than just attract the “tom-boy” segment of female gamers who enjoy the “blowing-up stuff” to the exclusion of other aspects of the game.
I agree with you about the majority of popular MMOs these days. There aren’t viable character progression paths for players who want to be a pure crafter. However, I’m not arguing that female gamers want to be pure crafters. I’m arguing that tradeskills are an important aspect of an MMO for female gamers. Yes, we like to blow things up, but we also like to quest and do tradeskills. To many, the robustness of the questing and tradeskills engines is more important than the different ways available to blow things up and the number of things to blow up.
Laura Genender: I wasn’t arguing the age of the female gamer population. I grew up with Nintendo and played Oregon Trail on DOS, as did the majority of gamer girls that I know. But you know what? None of my school friends did.
I agree with you that devs need to start finding ways to attract more women, but I don’t think it’s as simple as adding crafting and questing and nonviolent alternatives. Most women have a preconceived notion that it is Not Right for them to play video games. Devs need to find ways to open the market to women, and have good games to keep them here.
There are nonviolent gaming options out there, but if you look at the numbers of Second Life, Sims Online, and A Tale in the Desert players vs. World of Warcraft, Lineage II, and City of Villains… well, there’s a dramatically larger number of players in the violent games that are not at all trade skill friendly. While I’ll admit that the male to female ratio in the former collection is more balanced, there are still more gals in WoW than in ATITD.
I disagree with you that “trade skills are an important aspect of a MMO for female gamers.” I am a female gamer. I hate crafting. I’m not saying that all female gamers hate crafting, I’m just pointing out that we don’t all love it. I think that such a sweeping statement can only be applied to one type of gamer: the artisans, the crafters. I’m pretty sure crafting is an important part of games to them… otherwise, I’m not willing to generalize like that.
Carolyn Koh: And never the twain shall meet. I would never be happy in the long term with an MMO that has nothing else to do but blow things up. Certainly, they are great distractions from time to time, but the female gamer is no different from other females except that they choose gaming as a hobby. The majority want more to do than just killing things. There may be some that choose gaming as their only hobby, but the majority also enjoy doing crafts and this translates very easily into tradeskills in MMOs.
ATiTD appeals to a very narrow population of MMO gamers. It did not hold my attention because tradeskills was all you could do. Most MMOs are about killing things. Some with nice tradeskill and quest systems thrown in. It is the availability of these nice tradeskill and quest systems that will attract a female gamer to it, more so than a male gamer. Even my most gung-ho power-leveling, raiding female gamer buddies will talk about getting their armor dyed to match, how far they’ve come in a trade-skill or other, when dresses will be available for plate classes (in early days of EverQuest) and generally drive the guys bananas with our “girl talk” while waiting for a raid to start. I was in a guild that had a surprisingly high number of female gamers in it, and almost half the class leaders were female. The sole male gamer in the Mage channel used to tease the rest of the guild by first reporting “Oh no… now it’s about dresses. Wait… wait… they are talking about lingerie now!”
I’m not going to bring shopping and the ability to “try on stuff” in WoW or the housing and almost endless ways to decorate your Player House in EQ2 into this debate, or it will never end. I still maintain that “tradeskills are an important aspect of an MMO for female gamers” and I think we’ll continue this one over pizza and beer next time we meet.
You can comment on this debate here.