MMORPGs, whether subscriber based or free to play have an enormous userbase, with World of Warcraft 7.6 million subscribers, even though their numbers are down from a high of 12 million in 2010. These numbers are larger than the populations of some nations. If you look at the total number of players just of MMORPGs, they rival, and surpass the population of most nations, except China or India.
Contrary to the myths and stereotypes about just who gamers are (teenaged young men) industry and research studies show a different picture. The "2013 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry" produced by the Entertainment Software Association, (pdf) paints a different demographic portrait. Today's gamers average age is 30, 68 percent of gamers are age 18 or older, and 45 percent of gamers are female.
Real-world issues play out in these fantasy realms, not only in the real-time chat that takes place in-game between and among players, but are also embedded in the actual design and content of the games themselves.
Please read below the fold for more on the culture of gaming.
Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and agism rears its ugly head in game, and in many ways is built into game design. This should come as no surprise—real people play games, and bring their real-life biases with them. No one who has ever visited certain websites, or read through the comments sections on news pages or YouTube should even be surprised.
But there are efforts to address these ills.
Some self-disclosure is in order at this point. I'm a gamer. I grew up in a family that played games of all kinds, and as an avid reader of science fiction/swords and sorcery since childhood I was drawn to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) when I got older. My choice of avatar was always magic-user, and that led me to early video role-playing games (RPGs) with mages and warlocks and magical elves. I played my way through many games, like Ultima and the Elder Scrolls in single-player mode, and a number of years ago dipped my keyboard fingers into the waters of the multiplayer experience, at the suggestion of a friend.
It did not start out well. Oh, I loved the game play, and the idea of interacting with others for quests, and immediately made my first character a mage. Some of that interaction swiftly became ugly. As a woman of color I had to deal with daily confrontations with people using the n-word, spewing xenophobic slurs about Latinos and Asians, slinging around homophobic rants, and the first two guilds I joined were a disaster. I went back to playing solo, and turned off what is known as trade chat. By happy circumstance, while blogging here at Daily Kos, I happened upon a new diary series and community, the Daily Kos World of Warcraft Guild, which was comprised of members of a WoW guild founded by Kossak Moody Loner, and named "Wreck List" for the Daily Kos tongue-in-cheek nickname for the "rec list" (recommended list) of daily diaries here. I immediately paid to transfer my main toons from the server they were on, and switched my gameplay from Alliance to Horde to join the guild and have been there ever since.
Our guild leader, Dkosmama was interviewed by WoW Insider about the Guild back in 2011. Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Progressive guild thrives under uncommon leadership team. In the article she talks about the genesis of the guild's Declaration of Purpose and Principles, which includes this statement:
Welcome to the home of the Wreck List, the guild for liberal and progressive bloggers and their family and friends! Moodyloner founded the Wreck List to be a sanctuary from the bigotry and the threatening racist, homophobic, and misogynist language and ideas that we have had to endure while playing until now.I have seen the difference our guild makes in combating ugliness on our server, with the assistance of the in-game employees of Blizzard. We are certainly not the first gamers in WoW to address this. The Proudmoore server has long been the home of LBGT guilds and has established similar groups in other MMOGs they hold annual Proudmoore Pride events.
While guild chat is mostly non-political, it is also where we express our leftist political views, which sometimes may include a sharp word or two about republicans. Because some guild members did not come to the Wreck List through political blogs, we do not expect everyone to hold progressive views on all issues; however, we do expect that all members respect the liberal foundation of the guild. This guild is a haven for us and not a forum for debating the views espoused by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry or other provocative figures on the right. To that end, we do not tolerate promotion of right wing candidates or points of view in guild chat, whispers, or in vent. If you are a supporter of such candidates or a supporter of the Tea Party or their views, then the Wreck List isn't the guild for you, nor is it the guild for friends and family who are interested in such things.
We even became the subject of Republican pout-rage against one of our guild members, Colleen Lachowicz, when she ran for office in Maine, charging her gaming made her "unfit for office" (she won).
She said in response:
I think it's weird that I'm being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I'm in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What's next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!I have to admit that when I mention to my students that I am very active in a WoW guild they are surprised (and impressed) to hear that this 66 year old is a gamer. Quite a few of my guild-mates are in my age range and we have parents and grandparents who play with other younger family members.
Other MMORPGs have recently been embroiled in issues surrounding LBGT character development and same gender relationships and game play, notably Star Wars the Old Republic (SWtOR).
Game designer David Gaider was quoted saying:
The romances in the game are not for "the straight male gamer". They're for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO and thus don't need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant ... and that's ignoring the idea that they don't have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else.On the depiction of racial/ethnic minorities as non-sterotyped main characters there has long been open criticism of game developers, especially given the large number of players of color worldwide. Geeks of color are speaking out, along with nerds of color and women of color, and there are now blogs like Token Minorities, and discussions of misrepresentation of minorities. The lack of diversity in the world of game developers and designers is a question being addressed. There are a slew of critiques like this one:
To see Dragon Age fall back on that trope of “Humans Are White, Fantastic Races are POC” was really disheartening and just plain tiresome, to be honest. This has been a thing for as long as I can remember in fantasy, especially sword and sorcery fantasy in fantasy counterpart versions of medieval Europe like Thedas. People of color, if they exist at all in these settings, are typically either Orientalist Yellow Peril monsters from the ~Forbidden East~, or dark barbarian hordes from the wastelands outside the pristine lily white lands of the heroes, always threatening the white status quo somehow. At best, we’re noble savages who can teach the white heroes ancient wisdom and life lessons about how to be better people. This, despite so much history available about the diversity of medieval Europe, how it was much less white than people generally believe it to be. I know that Thedas really relies on the fantasy counterpart culture idea, but in a land of blood magic and dwarves and darkspawn, the idea that societies are racially and ethnically homogeneous is ... weird? Squicky? Fucked up?Of note are some new efforts. Assassin's Creed, Cry of Freedom has taken on the Caribbean slave trade as a storyline, with main characters like Adéwalé.
They have not overlooked the development of Native American characters either. Ratonhnhaké:ton, in Assassin’s Creed III was developed with the help of an actual cultural consultant.
The consultant, Thomas Deer of the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, helped steer Ubisoft Montreal away from errors. When the team asked about including ceremonial masks in the game, Deer warned them that any visual depiction of the sacred masks is considered offensive. He advised them on which types of clothing and jewelry to use and which types of spiritual music were off-limits. Even Connor’s name had to be cleared for use–in Mohawk culture, each name must be unique–and Ubisoft’s lawyers agreed not to trademark it.
“It seemed like they went above and beyond in trying to get the community involved,” Deer said in an interview, “and I don’t think it was really so much to cover their butts, just that they wanted to have a real, authentic product that stood up.”
There are independent projects that have begun to push the envelope and raise these issues. One such is the The Arkh Project "an effort by some queer people of color to make a 3-D RPG that runs off the beaten path", which has come under attack from haters who claim their efforts are "reverse racist." There are transgender game designers like Anna Anthropy, who are becoming more visible.
I could write multiple posts on women, gender roles, sexism in gaming and female characters. Alyssa Rosenberg raised the issue, yet again in Women Are Half Of Video Gamers, So Where Are The Female Video Game Characters?.
The Entertainment Software Association has affirmed what we already know. Unsurprisingly, an awful lot of women play video games, and that women are well-represented among frequent game purchasers:There are numerous books on the market addressing this, from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding The Market, to Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming:
According to a report released this week by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 45% of the entire game playing population are women and they comprise 46% of the most frequent video game purchasers. The study, 2013 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, found that women 18 and older make up 31% of the video game-playing population, while boys 17 and under represent only 19% of today’s gamers. Another study released by Magid Advisors found that 70% of women between the ages of 12 and 24 play video games. The study also found 61% of women between the ages of 45 and 64 also play games, compared to 57% of men in the same age group.
Ten years after the groundbreaking From Barbie to Mortal Kombat highlighted the ways gender stereotyping and related social and economic issues permeate digital game play, the number of women and girl gamers has risen considerably. Despite this, gender disparities remain in gaming. Women may be warriors in World of Warcraft, but they are also scantily clad "booth babes" whose sex appeal is used to promote games at trade shows. Player-generated content has revolutionized gaming, but few games marketed to girls allow "modding" (game modifications made by players). Gender equity, the contributors to Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat argue, requires more than increasing the overall numbers of female players.I also suggest looking at Feminist Frequency, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, which is "an ongoing series of video commentaries exploring gender representations, myths and messages in popular culture media. Created and hosted by Anita Sarkeesian."
Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat brings together new media theorists, game designers, educators, psychologists, and industry professionals, including some of the contributors to the earlier volume, to look at how gender intersects with the broader contexts of digital games today: gaming, game industry and design, and serious games. The contributors discuss the rise of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and the experience of girl and women players in gaming communities; the still male-dominated gaming industry and the need for different perspectives in game design; and gender concerns related to emerging serious games (games meant not only to entertain but also to educate, persuade, or change behavior). In today's game-packed digital landscape, there is an even greater need for games that offer motivating, challenging, and enriching contexts for play to a more diverse population of players.
As a result of ongoing challenges to the status quo some male developers are opening their minds to change.
Beyond issues of gender and representation, these vast communities of gamers, similar in many ways to other internet users of a progressive bent have an enormous potential. This Ted Talk raises those issues.
Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.Some interesting applications of gaming skills have already been applied to real-world problems, for example, gamers solved the decade-old HIV puzzle in ten days.
We shall see what the future holds for gaming and gamers.