Woman Like Me

Outline of Contents

In this chapter on MMORPGs, I will discuss the benefits of playing as a woman avatar & will touch on a few components related to doing gender authentically. Chapter 2 (Performativity) will expand on the dramaturgical & performative aspects of gender within the virtual world.

1. Benefits of Playing as a Woman (current article)

2. Gender Performativity

3. Sexuality Performativity

4. Cis-temic Sexism & PVE vs. Non-Consensual PVP

5. Black Like Me — Woman Like Me: The Damsel in Distress & Ethnographic Research

Terms to Know

WPW = woman playing as a woman
WPM = woman playing as a man
MPW = man playing as a woman (that’s me)
MPM = man playing as a man (I’ve never done that online)

Prevalence of Gender Swapping

Just as there are more male-to-female transsexuals than female-to-male transsexuals (Bao & Swaab, 2011), more men gamers genderswap to play as women avatars than women gamers genderswap to play as men avatars (Ducheneaut et al., 2006; Isaksson, 2012). In real life, everyone starts out as a developing female in gestation; in videogames, everyone starts out as a digital male in the character creation interface when starting a new game.

Chapter 1: Benefits of Playing as a Woman

Compared to the pervasive misogyny of the real world, which has planted its social structural roots in cis-temic patriarchal devaluation of women ever since the first societal acknowledgement of patrilineal norms, life as a woman in MMORPG is the equivalent of playing the game on easy mode thanks to the preferential treatment we receive as female avatars from male avatars.

  • Male players court attention from female avatars by offering us virtual gifts & favors (MacCallum-Stewart 2008)
  • In terms of sought-help being given or denied, “males are less likely to solicit help than females and, when help is sought, females are more likely to be helped than males” (Lehdonvirta et al., 2012, p. 32)
  • MPM are most likely to message MPW (me) & WPW (Lou et al., 2019).
  • Men will “try to give you things to hit on you” (Zhang et al., 2018)
  • MPW are more likely to ask for help than MPM (Lehdonvirta et al., 2012); MPM already know my girlfriends & I aren’t responding to their chat box requests for help.
  • We receive unsolicited interactions from males which enables us to utilize their assistance (assuming they aren’t too creepy) with an ongoing quest or challenge (Hussain & Griffith, 2008; Huh & Williams, 2010).
  • MacCullum-Stewart (2008): women avatars are treated more nicely, allowed to make more mistakes, & we’re much more likely than men to gain help from other players.
  • We are propositioned more than male avatars (Yee, 2008; Eklund, 2011). People ask us things like “where we are from” (Isaksson, 2012). I’ve also had a few men request that I send them nude pictures on snapchat (primarily in Grand Theft Auto 5 Online, though a couple in The Elder Scrolls Online; never on FFXIV).
  • Female avatars have higher chances to befriend others (Lou et al., 2013).
  • Women Like Women More Than Men Like Men
    - Consistent with research by Dr. Laurie Rubman et al. (2004), women gamers like talking to female avatars more than men gamers like talking to male avatars.
  • Women avatars are less likely to be targeted and attacked by other players (Hussain & Griffith, 2008; Huh & Williams, 2010).
  • Female avatars gain more profit from in-game item sales (Lou et al., 2013; Lou et al., 2019).
  • Men are more prosocial towards female avatars (Griffiths, Davies, & Chappell, 2004; Wang & Wang, 2008). For example:
    — “battle equipment and loot are often randomly gifted to female avatars with no social expectation for return services” (Elizabeth McMenomy, 2011, p. 54)
    — It is easier to make new friends & join guilds as a woman avatar** (especially if you’re a healer, white mage, or equivalent medical services role).***

Excerpts From Participants

Consider the following quotes from participants in several studies.

  • Linderoth & Ohrn (2014) — Ruth, a female participant with a female avatar, discusses male avatar behavior: “They are trying to flirt with smileys and offer gold. Sometimes they give you a little extra when you trade with them. They are in general rather flirty
  • Sarah, a female participant with a female avatar: “I think that girls enter the role that guys expect them to be, with sex jokes. Guys look at me. They put themselves in that role. Actually, I’ve done it sometimes. Do not know why, it just turned out that way
  • Erik, a male subject with a male avatar, who is apparently jealous of us as women avatars: “If ten people in the Guild need help, and one is a girl, guess who gets help first? It’s always the girl, no doubt about it. Power leveling, money, and why not buy the girl a mount while you’re at it. Many get special treatment because they are girls. It’s ridiculous
  • “It is much more likely that you will receive help if you are a woman than if you are a man. …Frida says that because of this — her ability to ‘use’ men — she has a lot more respect for female gamers. You can make men help you, but when you ask a woman you expect a ‘no’” (Eklund, 2011, p. 332).

Realistic Sex-Linked Name (Not Gender Neutral; Avoid Immaturity)

→ Correct Answers = Amber. Brooke. Caitlin. Danielle. Eleanor. Isabella. Jennifer. Lillian. Mary. Olivia. Rosa. Sally.
These first names & others like them are necessary as part of performing gender. If you’re attempting to perform sexuality as bisexual, many names can be adjusted to assist: Cait. Bella. Jenn. Lilly. Liv.
- Please note that these names do NOT mean that bisexual women tend to go by a name that’s in-between; however, other gamers may have that belief. Thus, this name change would be catering to the lay gamers beliefs about bisexual women rather than the reality. Moreover, female players were more likely to report being bisexual (14.15%) than males (Williams et al., 2009).
[See this article at Autostraddle for a list of the top bisexual female & lesbian names.]

Yes, I’m wearing a mask in these images. #WearAMask

Breast Size (B is best for performativity)

C Cup → Breasts should NEVER be larger than a C. That’s a red flag for immature 14 year old male. A C cup will certainly help you obtain resources from male avatars, but will hinder your interaction potential with other female avatars. In addition, some male avatars will make a show of rejecting a C cup female to impress another avatar.

Race & Skin Color

Research by Jansz and Martis (2007), Williams et al (2009), & Dietrich (2013) found that most MMO gamers play with White avatars. This is the case whether the game allows an explicit race choice option or if the game simply allows a selection of skin tones. Why? Well, we spent most of summer 2020 engaged in a national conversation about race, and the work, though improving, remains incomplete. However, a few pieces of information from that dialogue may prove informative:

GamerGirl Takes on the N Word

Height

Lastly, don’t make your female avatar taller than all the other women avatars… staying around 5'2–5'6 works best. Fortunately the default height for my race & sex is 5'4, the second shortest because Lalafells don’t count (see Figure below).

My Avatars

I’d like to end this first chapter by sharing my avatars from the three MMORPGs most relevant to this current piece. Other games (e.g., Black Desert Online, Fallout 76) may be discussed in future chapters.

Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

In ESO (the MMORPG I spent the most time playing before starting FFXIV in December 2019), I realized early on in 2016 that if I asked for help with something in the chat box , help would come, and it would be male. Many males.

Final Fantasy 14 (FFXIV )

(“What are you?” My avatar is not a WHAT.)
My creation of an apparently mixed avatar in FFXIV was far more successful following my experience on ESO. I have the darkest skin tone of most other players I team up with & cross paths with. My guild acknowledges me as a half Persian & half White woman. In fact, observing Ramadan came up in conversation earlier this year. In my real life as a Catholic, I haven’t seriously participated in Ramadan since I was much younger due to my bireligious upbringing with a Christian mom & Muslim dad.

Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5)

My first online game was Grand Theft Auto 5, which I started on its birthday in 2013 but never played online until April 2015. I eventually got “tired of creepy guys hitting on my female characters.” In particular, if I rejected a male avatar’s advances he would most likely try & blow up my vehicle or run me over — the only two revenge options available to those males as I learned early on to play in passive mode (negates much of the open-world player-versus-player risk) to avoid the hostility that may emanate following any injury to their digital manhood (quotes from Zhang et al., 2018).

One male after another lols

(Chapter 2 Teaser)

CyberGender Identity

Our cybergender identity is not a noun. As posited by Judith Butler (1990) in Gender Trouble, our gender “is itself a kind of becoming or activity, an incessant and repeated action of some sort” (p. 112).

Gender Identity & Expression: Pronouns Matter

Given the effort associated with successfully performing one of the other genders online, I take it personally whenever someone in guildchat says something like “Are you guys ready for this dungeon? / Do you guys have the mechanics of this boss down?”
Of course, I don’t vocally criticize my guildmate for their microaggression. In fact, none of my guildmates have ever heard my voice because using voicechat would reveal that I’m a male.

6 of my 7 KO’d teammates commended me for finishing off the boss… solo. Someone was jealous.

Appendix of Chapter 1

Sidenotes

1. Chapter 1 of Black Like Me

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Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD

Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD

I'm passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of others, & that's something I have the opportunity to do a professor & researcher.