Sunday, January 18, 2009

Angel in the House

When I first began playing WoW (World of Warcraft) in a serious way, and by that I mean about seven hours a week during which time I also journaled about my experiences, I thought I was a freak.  I wanted to understand what it was my son found in these computer games, and I figured  that  most of the people playing  were young boys.  I've since learned that women represent 38-40% of the gaming market, with most women playing games about 7.4 hours a week.  Which means that of the over 10 million who play WoW, about 4 million are likely to be women.  There is even a website ( for women who play.  

I've also learned that many women who play are over 40 and college-educated.  One women, a PhD anthropologist, spoke of "gamer shame"--that it's difficult for her to talk with her colleagues about the fact that she spends her free time playing games.  Many stay-at-home moms play games after they put the kids to bed.  I've  met a number of retired women professionals who play regularly.  Other women I met through the game admitted they had originally gotten interested in the game through their sons.  Some joked that they were addicted.  

And yet marketing for games continues to be addressed to a primarily male audience; the IGDA reports that 88.5% of game designers are men.  This is one reason why has initiated scholarships for girls to attend National Computer camps during the summer. Ubisoft, a large independent video game creator in Europe has also formed a group of female gamers for girls who may have been too intimidated to play games online. Women have also begun to complain about the objectivation and hypersexuality of some of the female online characters, so much so that Lara Croft's excessive breasts have been slimmed down some in the most recent version of that game.  Games that feature violence against women or protrayals of women as weak and helpless are targeted by groups like NOW and Media Report to Women.

I have  a couple of different avatars I play in Wow.  One of my favorites in a dranei hunter.  The dranei (the name means "exiled ones") walk upright but have horns and horse-like legs.  The females have large breasts and large behinds with tails that swish like horses do when swatting flies.   The clothes and armor available this character are tight, sexy and often more revealing than anything I'd wear in real life, at least since turning 50.  But she kicks ass.  She can beat the pants off of any monster or male character who messes with her, as long as they aren't too many levels higher.

I can't wait to see what will happen when the number of women designing games increases.  Game developers are reported to be making "kinder and gentler" games to appeal to women, but I think there's lots more that a woman's persective can offer.  We can bring a subtler, more nuanced approach to gaming--one that involves heart and intellect as much as strength and agility. 

Meanwhile I take some pleasure in not so gently subverting the purposes of the game designers in WoW.  In addition to the sexy dranei, I also have a "Death Knight" atavar: these are real killing machines with awesomely frightening armor and huge glowing swords they carry on their backs, swords that are almost as long as the the character is tall.  Despite the fact that the character is built for battle, I have turned mine into an herbalist and alchemist. Last night I played for about half an hour after a tough day at work. I didn't feel like killing things (although truth be told I often come home from work wanting to kill anything and everything), so I had my atavar ride her horse (a "Death Charger,") to a forest where I knew there were lots of herbs and flowers to be picked.  I then had her walk through the forest in all her glorious scary armor, sword glowing, looking for mageroyal and silverleaf, briarthorn and bruiseweed, avoiding wolves and monsters, and sometimes stopping to brew up a healing potion I'll share later with my online friends. 

Virginia Woolf wrote that women writers need to learn to "kill the angel in the house," her point being that women need to be tough-minded, wary of sentimentality and too much kindness.  We need to understand that violence and destruction is implicit in any act of creation.   My Death Knight understands this.  But she also understands that there needs to be flowers at the table and that wounds need to be healed, and she doesn't mind sometimes being the person to pick the flowers and heal the wounds.  In fact, she likes it.  Just don't mess with her when she's in a bad mood.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting how the gender is even so black and white in video games. My husband makes me play "Halo" and "Star Wars" with him sometimes and I often find myself thinking similar things. Most of all, I want a woman soldier with curly brown hair and skinny arms that can still drive the tank and "kick ass." Maybe we're in for a Title IX in the video game industry.