Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Real world value systems in virtual worlds

Browsing through my newsfeeds I noticed several blogs talking about gender issues in virtual worlds. Again. For the thousandth time. I decided to just skip over those posts. I am all for gender equality in the real world, but I believe that real world value systems do not necessarily apply to virtual worlds.

For example, are you a racist in real life? I'd hope not! But in a typical MMORPG, like World of Warcraft (and it doesn't get any more typical than that), we are all supposed to be racists. Whether somebody in front of you is of your faction, the opposing faction, or considered "a monster", depends on the race/species of his avatar. We'd balk at the idea that we should judge somebody on his black skin in real life, but we are totally okay of judging somebody on his green skin in virtual worlds.

Are you a thief or robber in real life? Again the move to a virtual world changes our value system. In virtual worlds we kill people with the express purpose of looting their corpses. And how many RPGs did you play in which your character pocketed any item he could lay his hands on, even if those items clearly belonged to somebody?

So if we are playing racist killers and thieves in those virtual worlds, then why should those characters be politically correct when it comes to gender issues? I have trouble imagining Conan the Barbarian as being pro gender equality. Why are we perfectly willing to adjust our value systems to an imagined medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but not in others?

Reverse that question. Gender is entirely decorative and non-functional in your MMO. The only reason to have it at all is because of importing meatspace assumptions into the virtual world. Sexism is something you add to the game, not something inherent in the virtual world. Why do you want to add it?
I think Zubon has hit the nail on the head. It may be perfectly appropriate for an individual book, game or movie to portray misogyny according to its theme. However when misogyny and sexism have become so widespread as to be the norm in a particular medium I think we need to ask why.
If a virtual world my character spends its time killing and looting mobs, and it's not me spending my time killing and looting other players.

So a gender issue in the virtual world is about the sexes of the characters. It's when it involves the sex of the *player* than it's not a virtual world issue anymore. And most/all of the problem/discussions about gender issues in MMOs are related to female *players* being harassed, not female characters, so it has nothing to do with virtual worlds and I don't see why it should be interpreted/treated any different than any other real world harassment.
Why is misogyny and sexism so widespread in MMOS?

Well, same reason it's rampant in comics. When your client base is mostly nerdy teenage boys and nerdy immature men who are terrified of women, and the guys creating the product are cut from the same cloth it's going to be an aspergery sausage fest.

It's not the game, it's the people.

I think one should separate behaviors/attitudes towards characters in the game from the way people interact with one another. I think that is really the issue here.

As a male I have played female characters in WoW back when it was not that common knowledge that the gender of the character has nothing to do with the gender of the player.

By and large I observed tremendous differences relative to my male representation. Now here we differ in my observation - I found people to be nicer and approachable and far more helpful when I played as a woman, and I found life as a good looking female far easier than as a male character. Of course there were the occasional harrasments but you can easily mute those and by and large the positive impact was far greater than the negatives.

Interesting how no one ever mentions this.
Helistar, I wouldn't say it has nothing to do with it.

Having heard the reaction when a woman talks on vent for the first time, I can't blame them for feeling pretty uncomfortable even when guys aren't trying to cyber with them. While harassment exists in the real world, I'm unaware of any other social situation where women are treated so weirdly. She gets harassed while at the same time people assume she must be fat and hideous, because otherwise why would she be playing a MMO? It's very dysfunctional. Now, I don't especially care about the issue, because the answer is fairly apparent to me: don't play MMOs. They suck anyway, so why stick your hand down that garbage disposal. But that is not a satisfactory answer to a lot of people.
I tend to agree with djinn - I didn't see much of this alleged misogyny and sexism when I played WoW, and I played a variety of male and female characters. What there was of it was basically at a playground level. I didn't notice it in other MMOs either, though I didn't play as much as in WoW. Maybe it's different in multi-player shooters.

I think there are a lot of people out looking for excuses to be offended these days.
If a virtual world my character spends its time killing and looting mobs, and it's not me spending my time killing and looting other players.

Well, that is because you chose a certain type of game. There ARE games where you kill and loot other players.
People got used to guys playing female characters. If you were actually a girl though? It's a bit different.
"Acceptable" racism in games tends to be of the fantasy variety. Refer to:

The lines become a lot blurrier when the racism gets closer to the real world variety. If you had a game where all the bad guys are black, and lynching is a core game mechanic, I'm pretty sure that would come under a LOT of scrutiny. And if that were a common trope which was repeated in many games, I don't think it would be out of line to take a hard look at the cultural context for that.

And of course, there's also the important distinction others are making between misbehaving against a computer-controlled character, and actual griefing of a real person in their online persona.
I agree with this. And yet I remember my objections to EVE: I think how you behave in an anonymous setting says a lot about your morals/ethics/character.

P.S. Winter and a lack of Google Reader is coming: have you decided what you are using?
Whiteknightery incoming...

People like to feel good, taking cheap shots and harmless players achieves that, so I'm all for that useless discussion.

Love and peace!
Hoooooooh boy. Oh boyohboyohboy.


There are two aspects to the "gender issue" in games. First, the treatment of female gamers, both by the designers and other players. Second, the treatment and representation of female characters in game, mostly NPCs.

The first aspect should be easy enough to understand: Female gamers have been and continue to be subjected to incredible harassment and blatant sexism from male gamers, both in game and on forums/website article comment threads. This has nothing to do with the value system of the virtual world, it is an expression of real-world values. Games are designed and marketed towards a male audience a search for games 'for women/girls/females' and you get sickeningly sexist patterns emerging.

The second aspect is more subtle, but still relevant. The way females are represented in games are far from ideal in terms of gender equality. Hell, just watch the Tropes vs Women series to get the idea. The main point here is that this is not to do with the virtual world in question, it is a systemic issue. If gender equality in virtual worlds were an issue that was addressed consciously in each game, then we would find a range of worlds with varying levels of equality. But we don't. We find that the overwhelming majority of games are male-centric.

The fact that this is the case reflects a real-world value system. The reason that it is easy to separate your real-life values regarding racism, violence and theft from those values in a virtual world is because they are (for most people) clearly different. Our society frowns upon theft, and violence, and racism, so to participate in those things in a game requires a mental justification, that "this is not what I am like in reality". Gender equality activists are trying to get people to reach that point with sexism. At the moment, these virtual worlds reflect societal values about sexism, and as such they don't require any self-justification from the player.

When real-world values about gender equality are in line with those of racism/violence/theft, then you can argue that they should be treated like the others in virtual worlds (i.e. as something noteworthy).
*mussst resisssst*

Conan says,
gender is stupit. Betta is diversity management.

*sigh of relief*
"The way females are represented in games are far from ideal in terms of gender equality."

I agree. It is bizarre that human females are usually represented as being as physically strong as males, for example.
But in a typical MMORPG, like World of Warcraft (and it doesn't get any more typical than that), we are all supposed to be racists.

I'd say just the opposite. The Warcraft franchise has always been a rejection of the Tolkien-style portrayal of orcs as evil subhumans. Humans and orcs are on different sides in a war, and it's not clear if either side really has the moral high ground. There's a repeated message that the two sides could live together in peace, if they weren't victims of ignorance and bad leadership.

Individual NPC's might be racist, but there's always an underlying message of "Don't be That Guy."

(Speaking of which, I always thought that things like the Duke Nukem franchise were created to be grotesque caricatures of sexism, with a "Don't be That Guy" subtext. But after reading some comment threads about Tropes v. Women, I get the feeling that a lot of gamers think he's a positive role model.)

Player motivation is a bit harder to figure out, but I don't think Warcraft encourages racism there, either. The goal for most players is "Defeat the other side in spirited competition", not "Grief the other side until they get fed-up and quit so that you can have the server to yourself."
At the moment, these virtual worlds reflect societal values about sexism, and as such they don't require any self-justification from the player.

That's because you choose to see it that way. When I see an NPC being sexist/racist in afantasy medieval RPG, I don't assume that the developer is reflected in it, but rather that this is how that society functions. The audience of said sexism/racism isn't me, but rather my character.
Well, that is because you chose a certain type of game. There ARE games where you kill and loot other players.

Yeah, and they are called homicide or manslaughter I guess.

When I say "player" I mean the player, i.e. the person playing the game. I don't mean "player character". In a PvP game you kill other player characters, you don't kill other players.

Maybe the reason kill&loot is ok in games is because it doesn't really seem to translate much into the real world. The opposite interpretation seems to take place for gender issues, which is strange. More likely, the gender issue is already widespread in the real world and what irks is the fact that the game reflects it.
I believe that Fiction should be perhaps suggested, but never required to conform to societal wishes. Fiction is fiction.

For example, just because there are 10% hispanics in your community, does not require that you as an author write only books that contain communities with an exact 10% hispanic population. I think it's silly when authors are accused of hate crimes by writing fictional worlds that don't reflect real-world distributions. It's Fiction!

Now if an author uses a book as a medium to launch a deliberate attack upon a minority, gender, or whatever else (by including hateful content about them that is irrelevant to the plot), then I'd have a very low opinion of that author. But they'd still be free to write that book, it's just that not many people would buy it.

But a book set in medieval times dealing with medieval misogyny (which actually happened in that era), I would not consider a deliberate attack. It's a setting, not a statement.
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