Gender and MMOs

Inspired by Girls Don't Game's article on hardcore raiding in WoW, I've gotten to thinking about Gender Roles in MMOs. Though “games” are still heavily biased towards a male audience, the MMO genre enjoys a more balanced gender distribution than any other genre except casual games. It's a widely accepted fact, though I am failure at citation, that women bond primarily through social interaction, and men bond primarily through engaging in activities in parallel. A man is more likely to consider someone his friend after they have played a game together, as opposed to talking to him.

This is a large part of why raiding (casually, in my case) appeals to me. I enjoy working together with other people to overcome challenges of various difficulties. However, as much as it is an oversimplification to say that all male raiders in WoW do so for that reason, it's an even bigger oversight to say that the High End Raid Environment only appeals to stereotypically male behavior. Of course, raids aren't really about social interaction primarily. I like chatting it up as much as the next guy, but I'm there to do my part to fight some giant dude.

However, my empirical observations (which is worth nothing from a statistical perspective, I know) show that of women playing WoW, they overwhelmingly favor healing roles in raids. If we assume this is true (again, HUGE statistical oversight, I know), let's ask why.

The answer “healing is a less competitive more socially oriented role” spring to mind for why this is. It's a bit of a canned answer, though, so before we go too far on that one, let's look at “competition” in an MMO.

In a PvE raid situation, aside from particular boss mechanics, the only direct competitive role is that of the damage dealer. Both tanks and healers are charged with letting the rest of the party do their job efficiently.

Every moment a DPS class spends taking evasive action is time they spend not doing damage. Every moment a DPS class spends dead is time they're not doing damage. Though the mechanics are very different, but there's only two roles: killing the monsters, and making it easier for other people to do so.

I can't help but feel that there is a link between standard MMO roles and games that are generally considered to appeal more to women that hasn't been explored yet.
All ya'all hold onto your britches on this one. I'm gonna do me some research; might have just stumbled onto something very interesting.


Natalie said...

Assuming you're on to something (and I think you are), I wonder how this would translate to other games that offer "support" roles? Tanks in MMORPGs, for one. Or what about the "gunner" in Double Dash, or the second player in Super Mario Galaxies? Do women tend to prefer those positions as well?

William said...

Well, if this is true, which I'm still unsure of, it requires the question of what the essence of the support role is that is such a draw.

I'm familiar with the enjoyment of making other people succeed, or being a key element of a team, even if I'm not directly competing, but I'm very hesitant to make any gender statements on the matter without stats to back it up.

Natalie said...

Oh, certainly not.

It would be interesting, though, just to explore what a "support" role is. For instance, you might break it down among preemptive (buffers), reactive (healers), and proactive (tanks) support roles. Or "support" as opposed to "core" roles. Or passive support roles (healers, SMG player 2) as opposed to offensive ones (tanks, DD gunners). I wonder if there's anything useful to be mined in there.