Body, Space, and Gendered Gaming Experiences
This reading, Body, Space, and Gendered Gaming Experiences: A cultural Geography of Homes, Cybercafes, and Dormitories, by Holin Lin, is a chapter from Beyond Barbie & Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming.
MY COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS:
In high school, when I went to LAN parties I always had to wait until someone was taking a break from gaming so I could borrow their computer since I didn’t have a computer of my own. We had a computer at home, but it was not capable of playing games. I did not get into really playing computer games until 2006. My boyfriend at the time was big into World of Warcraft (WoW), so I started playing that with him and was welcomed with open arms into his guild (to which several of his college friends also belonged) and eventually decided that I wanted to start raiding and then became a class officer. The raiding schedule was too much for me to keep up with while working, so eventually I stopped raiding and became a social player. I would log on to talk with friends in game and build up stockpiles of herbs, potions, and food for our guild bank.
When I started playing, I never gave any thought to the fact that I was a girl playing games – to me I was just a person playing games. I do not have any personal horror stories about trying to find guild acceptance in WoW because I had friends who played the game and they were in a super friendly and successful guild who welcomed friends-of-friends. When I first started playing, I did not have an interest in raiding – my interest was in the game lore and world exploration. Eventually, when I wanted to raid, I already knew everyone and I’d gone on smaller dungeon runs with most of my guildmates, so there was not a traditional “audition period” for me. It is hard for me to look at those experiences as gendered, but I do sometimes wonder what my experience would have been had I not been grandfathered into a guild as the significant other of a current member and a real-life friend of other members. How might my experience have been different if I had known no one? My lack of a computer at home had nothing to do with limited access as a girl and more to do with my family’s socio-economic status at the time. It could be argued that my initial interest in the game was gendered as it related to communication/storytelling and exploration, which are often attributed to things women desire in games:
Women commonly saw technological instruments as people connectors, communication, and collaboration devices. control, tremendous speed, and unlimited knowledge. Their technological fantasies were often embedded in human relationships, and they served to integrate their public and private lives. (Honey 1991)
Lin says that there is not a threat of physical harm when playing online games because the player is represented as an avatar in the game and physical harm cannot be done to an avatar. Lin also says, “Women’s fear and perceptions of risk are deeply rooted in their bodies, and avoiding dangerous places is a common practice for managing the fear of male violence.” While it is true that I have not experienced physical harm while playing an online game (other than sore thumbs or perhaps creeping carpal tunnel… does that count?), I have avoided specific areas in-game because of aggressive players. When I was completing quests on a WoW Player-Vs-Player (PVP) server, there was one area that I hated because it was always overrun with players from the opposite faction (Horde) killing members of my faction. I never went there alone after my first experience of dying over and over while being attacked by a group of 5+ other players. I was not, however, specifically avoiding men because I did not know the identities behind the avatars, which were mixed in gender. I also did not bring a group of men with me to play in that area – I often went questing with some of the many women in my guild.
I definitely experienced other players asking me if I was really a girl in real-life because I played a female avatar in WoW. I did not get this from guildmates, who knew before I joined that I was a woman and dating someone already in the guild. I did get random people who would message me in-game to ask about my identity. The only game I have specifically avoided due to gender-related harassment is EVE Online. I played it very, very briefly and gave it up because of the constant harassment that I faced simply because people knew that I was a woman. People who had never met me or seen pictures of me would make comments about what they supposed my physical appearance might be, comments about what they’d like to do to me, and would tell me repeatedly that girls should not play games. It was not a fun experience. I cannot speak to the atmosphere in that game today because I have not played it in over a decade now and I have never had the desire to go back.
I have always gamed at home or at a friend’s house. I have never used cybercafes, though one or two did exist in my hometown during high school. My college experience is broken up into two time periods: 2003-2006 and the present. In 2003-6, I did not play any computer games at college. I pretty much kept to myself during that time – none of my high school friends went to my college, my boyfriend was at a college 5 hours away, and I just simply was not as into gaming then as I am now. When I started gaming, I had no need for cybercafes or college gaming groups/resources. I had my own computer and shared an apartment with my boyfriend and we would game together at a two-seater desk in our living room. My play space was also my living space. My play space is still my living space.
I cannot find a decent photo of the 2006-2009 era desk setup, but I did find a photo that shows the desk in the background during a vacation weekend when John, my boyfriend-at-the-time, and I hosted seven WoW guildmates in our tiny, tiny apartment for a guild gathering weekend. Three guildmates were people we had never met in-person before, but had been playing WoW with for years, and the others were college friends of John’s who were also in the guild. They all showed up at our place to hang out and go to Great America. They came from Iowa, Michigan, Canada, and Indiana to our place in Illinois. We even got our photos taken at the portrait studio that I was managing at the time. The first photo shows the desk in the background with my and John’s computers, side-by-side, in the living room. We played like that for nearly 4 years until we bought a house and had room for separate offices.
- In what ways might women use online spaces as “safe zones” for exploratory behaviors with the lessened fear of physical harm and the benefit of optional anonymity?
- If women use online spaces as “safe zones” for exploratory behaviors, how can experiences in online spaces translate to physical world spaces given that the other people they interact with online also have the benefit of anonymity and a lessened fear of physical harm?
- Regarding play space… These days I more find that I use public space to play boardgames versus video/computer games. In most smaller board gaming circles that I am in, men definitely outnumber women. What are the parallels between women finding play space for online play and finding play space for analog games? What factors do women consider when joining a new board gaming group? How do they find groups? What public settings are preferred?
- Important elements of the gaming experience include both online and offline activities: place, space, discussion and sharing game expertise, competition, making personal connections as a result of online game activities
- Social relations exist among avatars, among players, and between avatars and players
- “Understanding the social experience of gaming requires consideration of two factors: social relations among avatar representations and social relations among player embodiments in digital and physical spaces.”
- Physical bodies and places are gendered
- “Women’s fear and perceptions of risk are deeply rooted in their bodies, and avoiding dangerous places is a common practice for managing the fear of male violence.”
- No threat of physical harm exists for players wearing either female or male avatar bodies
- Online gaming and travel similarities: unfamiliar spaces, pre-trip research on locations to visit, decisions about travel partners, recording and sharing of experiences through conversations/journals/photos/videos
- People can get into playing games in the same way that they decide to travel to specific locations: introduction/recommendation from another person
- As people make friends while traveling, people also make friends while online gaming that came become lifelong influences — online friends have the potential to become off-line friends
- Leisure researchers long noted differences in access to public spaces between males and females
- Physical spaces where online games are played are important: are the physical places where we play games viewed as mere portals or as real play space?
- Research suggests that “experiences in virtual game worlds and bodily experiences in physical spaces set aside for game playing are interwoven in complex ways.”
- “Young female and male players are subject to different social perceptions and face different situations when they share the same game space; consequently, game space characteristics produce gender-specific differences in gaming experiences.”
- CHAPTER WILL EXPLORE CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY OF ONLINE GAMING IN THREE SPACES WHERE TAIWANESE CHILDREN AND YOUTH – ESPECIALLY YOUNG FEMALES – ARE SUBJECT TO REGULATING FORCES
- 1) Parents supervise children’s computer usage and play activities at home (my focus for this reading)
- 2) In Taiwan, many local, regional, and nation governments are acting to regulate cybercafes (gaming equivalent of playgrounds) – adding to the stigma that cybercafes are dangerous places where girls and young women are at particular risk
- 3) College dormitories
- Online game players interact with a minimum of three observable networks: social relations among game-world avatars, off-line social circles consisting of fellow players and family members, and off-line interactions among players who originally meet online
- “Player interactions in virtual spaces occur via digital bodies, therefore female players do not feel physically threatened while exploring game-world spaces”
- Gender plays a pivotal role in social interactions in Taiwanese online game worlds
- Playing a female character has many benefits: male PLAYERS are generally more willing to guide, teach, and help female AVATARS and to give them valuable gifts
- Playing a female character has many detractors: more likely to be target of verbal harassment, flirtation, surveillance, and endless efforts to determine the player’s real gender and age
- Male players using female avatars are generally stigmatized as “girlboys” and viewed as taking advantage of role-playing opportunities to harvest benefits they don’t deserve
- Once gender and identity are confirmed, the chances of a female player being asked to meet off-line increase
- Female players more conscientious and vigilant about maintaining strict boundaries in terms of revealing their real identities and contact information
- Off-line networks of young female players consist of siblings and the few female friends and classmates who play the same online game
- Girls with game-playing siblings have more opportunities to be exposed to games, but siblings are less likely to play together due to competition for limited gaming resources at home
- The possibility of girls playing in cybercafes exists, but is restrained by a combination of self-surveillance and family regulation
- Size of young female off-line game communities tends to be small
- Home is primary play space for girls
Honey, M. Moeller, B., Brunner, C., Bennett, D., Clemens, P. & Hawkins, J. (1991). Girls and Design: Exploring the Question of Technological Imagination. Center for Children & Technology Technical Report Series, 17().
Lin, H. (2008). Chapter 5: Body, space, and gendered gaming experiences: A cultureal geography of homes, cybercafes, and dormitories. In Y. B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner & J. Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond barbie & mortal combat: New perspectives on gender and gaming () MIT Press.