When I was in middle school my sister introduced me to World of Warcraft, a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). For months I spent several hours questing and exploring the world, seeking stronger armor for my Night Elf, and creeping up towards the old 60 level cap. One day I got invited into a Guild, which is a group of people who help each other improve in the game and who go into dungeons and raids together. When I casually mentioned I was a girl many guild members reacted as if I had told them I was half unicorn. “Girls don’t play WoW!” one of them said, which was fine really. I can take a joke. However it kept escalating, until one of the members wrote to me, “Tits or it didn’t happen!” I was thirteen. They all knew I was thirteen and yet no one spoke against this. I was even more confused when I realized that about 40% of the guild’s active members were girls, including the second highest-ranking officer.
According to MMO researcher Nick Yee, about one fourth of World OfWarcraft players are female, so I was definitely not the only girl they had encountered in the game. Surely, this wasn’t how they treated every woman they encountered. I have also been told a few times, while visiting the auction house in one of the main cities, to /dance for people. Every type character has a particular dance, and being a female night elf, my character has a very sexy dance animation (based on Alizee’s J’en Ai Marre dance) that is activated when you type in /dance into the chat bar.
These situations are examples of how over-sexualized characters in gaming that play the role of the fantasy female incite misogynistic behavior. This is especially harmful in MMORPGs where there are actual people behind the ‘fantasy females.’ A lot of men in World of Warcraft play female characters, but when a woman is the one behind the female character they automatically extend the fantasy status to the person involved. As Andrea Rubenstein said in her blog post about World of Warcraft: “The fantasizers begin to associate the hypersexualized avatars with reality, and furthermore find it appropriate to force their fantasy onto any woman who chooses to play a female avatar.”
Women attending Comic-con in costume have also had to deal with the misconception that because they are ‘playing’ a fantasy character, that they are fantasy objects with no purpose but to fulfill the male Comic-Con attendees’ fantasies. Mandy Caruso attended Comic Con as Marvel’s Black Cat, and was approached by a group of men who wanted to interview her. Instead of asking her about her costume and her character, they asked her abouther cup size. When she refused to reply they began to ask crowd members to help with the speculation by shouting out cup sizes. Mandy, feeling frustrated after realizing she couldn’t make them see that what they were doing was wrong, walked away. In another publicized incident a group of women cosplaying Lara Croft at the Penny Arcade Expo were approached by an interviewer who asked them what it felt like to be in a room full of men who could not please them in bed. Meagan Marie, who was working at the booth approached the man and pointed out that his question was rude. They began to argue and the man finally told her that she was being an oversensitive feminist and that because they were dressed sexy, they were asking for the harassment. Many other instances of similar harassment have been reported in events like Comic-Con and PAX. These are women who have had their butt’s grabbed, been accused of attention seeking, stalked, and pestered. To some of the men attending these events the women are not only their fantasy objects, but also fake geeks who don’t know enough about ‘geekdom’ to deserve their respect.
The world can be a cruel place for geeks, especially in people’s younger years. Fortunately, massive multiplayer gaming and events like Comic Con are beautiful safe havens for geeks. Unfortunately, this safety is only reserved for white straight males (the amount of times I’ve heard ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ used as insults in World of Warcraft is terrifying.) For some reason, and this is happening in all kinds of media, people are writing content primarily for this audience. Not only are they losing money by not generating content more people would enjoy, and are not realizing that there are other consumers out there, but they are affecting the lives of real people. Yet it is not only the fault of those generating the content and the platforms where the sexism occurs, it is something deeper than that, because if a woman decides to wear less clothes she does not magically and suddenly become an object. We need to teach kids from an early age to respect everyone, and that they are not allowed to act on impulse simply because it gratifies them. Also, can we please shed the absurd misconception that women don’t play video games or participate in geekdom?