Professor Gabriela Rios
24 Sept 2012
I’m Not A Gamer, But I Still Play Games
All my life, I have been surrounded by gamers. I was raised on video games, made friends with people who played video games, even went to conventions full of people who loved video games so much they dressed up as the characters. But, somehow, I never became fully involved in the culture. I’ve played a few, mostly multiplayer games at parties, and the occasional single-player adventure game, but I have never considered myself a “gamer”. Recently, the release of Guild Wars 2 has pulled me back into the gaming world. Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG, which stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people are playing together. My roommate invited me to join her guild – a group of people that she plays with in the game, most of whom joined online and don’t know each other in real life. They have been together for a little over two years, hopping from game to game and finally settling on GW2. I was given the chance to join and play with them, and I found that I had chosen to enter into a very interesting community that gave me insight towards and changed my view on the gaming community. I had been expecting a group of elitist, nerdy people who were too serious about a video game and would be climbing over each other to be the best and most recognized person in the guild; instead, I got a small group of very friendly people who are more concerned with having fun than being the best.
The name of the guild is Censura Ultra, and it hosts roughly 60 members at the moment. I quickly learned that there were people from all over the globe, and mapping them out showed a very intriguing demographic. I don’t know if it was the guild itself or the genre of game that attracted this particular audience, but it turned out that there were a lot of people from the midwestern United States. Users Knight and Helm live in Missouri and Illinois respectively, and user Plath lives in Wisconsin. In addition, there are a significant amount of Canadians in the guild, including users Arkrius, Mihawk, and Wolf. There are several outliers as well; there is a member who lives in New Zealand, and several in England, though I haven’t had the chance to spend much time talking to them because of the difference in timezones. Still, I was pleased to see how diverse the crowd is; I had been expecting it to be a very narrow market, and primarily within the United States, since it is an American-made game marketed primarily to Americans.
Another fascinating note was the age bracket. The guild has a rule of 18-or-older members, but still, very few of them were “teens”. Of those whose ages I know, only 4 of them not including myself are younger than 20. In addition, few are enrolled in college, and several are well into their career and are even married with children. There’s even a 60-year-old man who loves the MMO genre and enjoys playing with the guild. Because I never socialized with gamers outside of my age bracket, I had wrongly assumed that the majority of gamers were in their teens, enrolled in high school or college, and played with friends their own age. It turns out that I was definitely wrong about this, and that gamers come from a wide range of ages and lifestyles. I was surprised at how well all of these people got along within the small guild community, seeing as they come from such different walks of life. I have never heard a comment demeaning someone for their age or social rank, or even heard ages mentioned much at all. It was a very refreshing change from high school, where one year of difference may as well have been a generational gap and people were shunned from social circles because of it.
However, the thing that surprised me the most was the gender ratio. There are only four girls in the guild. My two roommates, myself, and a girl from New York. Somehow, out of 60 members, only four of them are female. To me, this was very shocking; I’d been friends with a lot of girls who played social, skill-based video games. What’s worse is the fact that it plays into the organization of power structures in the guild. Julia, the co-leader of the guild, is of course high-ranked, but she is only co-leader because her boyfriend is the official leader. All other officers are male, because there are more males to choose from, and they are all given preference because the leader is male. It didn’t make sense to me that there could be such a distinct gender ratio in a game with thousands of players, and it made me curious to know if this was a trend specific to our guild or if it was found in video games across the board. A bit of digging led to the information that 42% of online game players are female (ESA). I actually hadn’t expected this to be so high, and was very confused by it, until I found another statistic: when asked what type of “online games” people play, only 14% admitted to playing MMO style games. On the other hand, 42% said they played puzzles, board games, card games, and other types of casual games (ESA).
This explained a lot. The reason the statistics for gender ratios in gamers seemed even was because of the inclusion of casual games. A girl is more likely to go online and play Monopoly with her friends than she is to play an MMO or a shooter. I personally adhere to that stereotype, and a blog article I stumbled upon made me see the reason why. Carrie, who claims to be a Ph.D candidate in biomedical engineering, writes on her blog that she “think[s] perfectionism is a big issue … Girls learn at a very early age that failure is not okay.” The moment I read this I entirely understood, because for me, failure is a big part of why I dislike playing video games. When I can’t complete something easily and I have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to do it, I feel inept, especially when someone else (a male, usually) can do the same thing in half the time and is socially rewarded for it. This is true in academics, video games, and social interactions. A later point in her article summarizes it beautifully: “If you’ve internalized the message that not immediately mastering something means you aren’t ‘good’ and ‘smart’ — that tricky level is just miserable and demoralizing” (Carrie). Girls are raised to think that if they can’t do something, it means they are stupid, unskilled and unsuccessful. This is enforced within video games when people watch a girl play; the more the girl messes up, the more she sees herself as a failure, and the more embarrassed she becomes.
I realized that this is probably a huge part of why girls don’t play massive multiplayer games. When a person is playing with thousands of others, and a mistake is made, it feels like everybody knows and everybody laughs. A boy takes this as a challenge to try harder and do better, but for a girl, it is demoralizing and embarrassing. She doesn’t want to be embarrassed again, especially in front of so many people, so she stops playing. I can attest that this is true for me; I hate being seen as a failure and a loser, and I don’t have the innate skill necessary for being “good at video games”, so I’ve stayed away from big multiplayer games or those that require a high amount of skill. It’s not because I don’t like them or because I don’t think I can become good at them eventually, I’ve just become demoralized, as Carrie put its, because I am not able to get it on the first ten tries. Plus, the fact that it feels like everyone is watching me and judging me only adds to my unhappiness when playing those games, leading up to the feeling that I’m actually losing out rather than gaining something from gameplay.
The problem is that boys take this to mean that girls are lazy, ignorant, or unskilled, and many boys feel that they are better than girls because they can play video games and have the drive to become better at them. This is especially notable in online communities, which are predominantly male, and tend to chase away female audiences because they don’t give room for girls to improve. Boys are expected to be good at it on the first try, or else improve until they are good at it, and can keep up with the people who are naturally talented. Girls, however, are seen much differently; they are to be taught, walked through it step-by-step, until they understand how to do it. If they never understand or simply don’t possess the skill to pick it up immediately, they are seen as inferior and cast aside. This setup for failure tends to drive them away, and makes girls who can play into a very sought-after group almost to an extreme, which in and of itself can push them away from playing the game as well.
Additionally, at the end of her article, Carrie adds that,
“It’s interesting to note that Angry Birds players are a much more gender-balanced group — even though Angry Birds definitely involves a lot of “hard fun.” Lots of possible factors, but I think “active failure” has a lot to do with it. Even when you don’t squish all the pigs, you make something happen. Instant sense of agency and control. When the act of failing itself proves that you can accomplish something, it’s a lot easier to keep your self-confidence and feel excited about your ability to succeed if you try it just one more time…”
I also find this to be a very compelling thought. Casual games are essentially what draw in females to the gaming market, and I am certainly guilty of this as well. This article made me reflect on the game choices that I make, and likely the choices of many other females; we are more likely to play something that we get some sense of accomplishment out of, which is typically different from the “serious” games that boys play that are the mark of a true “gamer”. Boys have a stranglehold over the serious game market because girls don’t want to be a part of it, just as girls reign over the casual gaming market because it doesn’t draw in a male crowd. This accounts for the huge difference in gaming demographics, and plays in to who has the most authority within each gaming market.
Taking a thorough look at the demographics in Censura Ultra really opened my eyes to the nature of the gaming community. People can come from all walks of life and still be treated as equals when they play together, but the skewed gender ratio creates an interesting power structure that has social ramifications, and is dictated by the psychology of game-playing. Although I’m not sure how to go about fixing this issue as a whole, I’m glad I now know exactly why I dislike playing video games, and can begin to take steps to brace myself against disappointment and learn to become a more patient person who can better react to failure in games.
Carrie. “Why Don’t Girls Play Video Games? Or, a Fail Blog.”Scientist Carrie. Blogspot, 26 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2012. <http://scientistcarrie.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-dont- girls-play-video-games-or-fail.html>.
“Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.” Entertainment Software Association (ESA), May 2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2012. <http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_Essential_Facts_2010.PDF>.
List of resources, incl. ideas, drafts, peer edits, and links to documents referenced: