Manas Dutt


I gamed as a girl on a multiplayer platform and debunked some MMORPG gender myths

More often than not, I flail around at the beginning of an article trying to provide background. This time I’ll dig straight into it — this study on gender dynamics in MMORPGs or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. With a sample size of 294 players, this study concludes that all online multiplayer games are rife with sexism and misogyny — so much so that MMORPG actually stands for ‘Men Masquerading Occasionally as Really Petty Gits’. Of course, the study doesn’t actually mention that last bit, but it might as well do so and limit the word count. The main findings of the study quoted verbatim are thus:

A common way to assert masculinity in our culture is to demonize and portray anything that does not fit into the masculine model as something to be avoided, such as femininity. Hypermasculinity allows for an abundance of sexism in online gaming. It has been well-documented that sexism is extremely prevalent…. Hypermasculinity, in this context, is an amplification of “masculine” cultural stereotypes (Parrott and Zeichner, 2008). It is often associated with “women-hostile concepts of masculinity” and relies on masculine physical traits and behaviors which can result in dismissal or hostility toward expressions of femininity in multiplayer gaming platforms.

Another recent study which examined the responses of male gamers to both female and male voices over voice chat in Halo 3 is used as a corollary to support the aforementioned study. The objective of the latter study was to play in games with other players and broadcast generic statements over voice chat such as “good game” or “hi everybody.” The findings of the study state that the female voice received three times the amount of directed negative comments than the male voice.

While I didn’t intend on questioning the authenticity of these findings, I decided to conduct my own rudimentary study to establish if this is true of all online multiplayer gaming platforms.

As basis of my experiment, I chose an online multiplayer game called Go Battle. This game is relatively new (released only 4 months ago) and is still running its Alpha version. It is much more simplistic than other MMORPGs like World of Warcraft in that the objective is just to kill other players using swords, shurikens and flying axes and collect coins that other players then drop. The player with the maximum number of coins reaches the top of the score-board and is crowned king. Every player gets only one life and must collect as many coins as possible within a single life span. Upon death, players can ‘respawn’ after 6 seconds and repeat the entire process. There is no element of long-term strategy in this game, as every player is confined to one single finite life and must make a real-time high score before h/she is killed or start over again. This worked to my advantage as I got to witness immediate reactions of other players to my avatar, whether or not they chose to kill my avatar on impulse, without any significant forethought. The server always has at least 200 players playing at any given time and peaks at 900+ players (presumably at night in Asian countries). Players can interact with each other using emojis. There is no text interface and communication is very limited, but existent nonetheless.

At the outset, players are required to choose one of 9 avatars and pick a nick-name. I found it amusing that of the 9 avatars, only 1 was a girl — and a pretty girly one at that, what with the electric pink armor and blonde locks of hair. It must be mentioned here that statistically, most online gamers are boys and/or prefer to play as a male avatar. I decided to play as both a male avatar and a female avatar to compare my overall gaming experience in both cases and to find which of the two was better. The single parameter I applied here was getting featured on the scoreboard by collecting maximum number of coins.

Initially, I played with a male avatar and got nowhere in the game. My avatar was mercilessly massacred by other players in a barrage of attack. I chose the name ‘Gus’ for my avatar (which was the most generic male name I could think of). Gus got killed within 3 minutes of game-play. My attempts at messaging other players to create alliances were also foiled. It seemed Gus had no place in a man’s world. Despite my best efforts, it was increasingly difficult to get featured on the scoreboard and collect enough coins. At the cusp of success, I was always clocked by another player.

After repetitive tries as Gus, I switched to playing with a female avatar and the results were interesting — if not entirely unexpected. With a shining pink armor, my female avatar was called ‘Sisa’. Sisa, I believed stood for every aspect of femininity, and would effectively deceive players into thinking I was a real girl. My ruse was successful and I found a considerably more pleasant gaming experience with Sisa. As Sisa, my attempts at interacting with other players (presumably male) were extremely successful. I received an almost 100% response rate and an eerie willingness on the part of other players to accept an alliance with Sisa. Needless to say, Sisa moved steadfastly up the score-board and within only 18 trials, was crowned King (the game doesn’t make a distinction between King and Queen, all players at rank 1 are kings). Don’t believe me? Here look for yourself!

What’s more, I found that engaging with other players — using heart emojis, worked to my benefit. Almost all players responded positively to heart emojis , in the hopes of making a connection with Sisa. I found that playing as a female was infinitely more rewarding in that heart emojis actually worked! Also, some players would stop attacking me as soon as I used the heart emoji. Some others (significantly fewer) would actually start killing other players in an attempt to protect Sisa and prolong her life. Sisa gathered many minions to do her bidding.

Conclusively, while this experiment is certainly not binding on gender dynamics in all multiplayer gaming platforms, I think it goes to say that at least in this particular online multiplayer game, girls are not out rightly shunned using misogyny or sexism. Of the two (Gus and Sisa), a Sisa or a Wonder Woman or a Mary would fair better in this multiplayer battle than say, Mark or Gus or Donald (yes, even Trump with his red power tie, would probably just be killed out rightly, faster than others I hope). While online gaming may be a world dominated by males, women are more than accepted on here.

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