Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rambling: Quite Simply, I Like Eve

[TL:DR: Sugar likes Eve just fine and feels it appeals to the people who will like Eve, regardless of gender. This is a long, wandering highly opinionated spiral through her opinion on boys and girls inside of Eve. Proper words such as penis is used in the text below and may link to lewd web comics. The easily offended (those that are offended by everything) need not read further. Also, I fully expect people not to agree with me. We're all different. It happens. This TL;DR is actually short because the post is long. End Warning.]

Edit: This post was written before Mintchip announced that CCP hired her. Don't make connections that are not there. I debated not posting this or waiting weeks/months. I don't have that type of patience  I believe that the topic can still be discussed and accept that some people will run off topic.

I saw an article linked on twitter yesterday. I am prone to click on these articles. I often find interesting tidbits from parts of the internet that I do not explore. Sometimes, I find things that make me roll my eyes back into my head before I explode into a fiery ball of irritation and ranting

Boy's club: Why don't more women play EVE Online? is one of those articles that caused the later response.

Rant Mode Activated...

I rarely walk into the topic of women and video games. I know that it is a topic but it is not one of my personal soap boxes. I don’t define myself as a ‘female gamer’. I define myself as a gamer. I like computer games and I don’t ever pause and go “but I’m a girl”. I don't spend my time staring at myself reinforcing my gender on top of my identity.

I’d not enter upon this topic at all if I had not managed to read an article about Eve Online’s attempts to reach out to the female game population. Normally these things just make me sigh. This time, it reminded me of the special round table that CCP held called ‘the women of Eve’ where they wanted to hear from their female players and now I am just sighing a little bit. Obviously something about the female population of Eve, or I should say the low population count of the female population of Eve, had struck a cord with someone and was becoming a topic.

I didn't attend the women of Eve round table. I was busy doing eve things. Going to round tables about the game. Talking to other players. Harassing developers. You know, being an Eve Online player because that is what I am. Arianne Stone went to the woman of Eve round table. I met up with her after she slipped out of the room. I asked her what her opinion was and she shrugged. She said that she was the only one there that was not introduced to Eve by a male spouse. She found Eve because she was looking for the type of game that Eve was. I nodded at the time because I was in the same boat.

"What got you hooked on Eve?" I found Eve because I was looking for a game like Eve. The real question is, "You are female and play Eve, what kept you playing or caught your interest?" How can I answer questions about how Eve can attract female players when I was attracted to Eve just like it currently is and I am a female player. What that says to me is that there is some magical ‘girl’ box that they want to be checked and they are polling the females to find it.

But what about those of us who are currently in the game? Those of us who play actively? Some of us are vocal and write blogs, or pod casts, or run for the CSM. Others play the game like every other player out there. We found Eve. We play Eve. What is there isn't a magical checkbook that will bring more women into Eve because that box is already checked and the women who will be drawn to it filter into it.

As I have grown older I have learned that not every girl is like me. I don’t consider myself a tom boy. I do work in a majority male dominated environment. I like to paint my nails blue, I wear some makeup when I go out, I hate dresses, loathe pink, ride my own motorcycle and I don’t have children. I am married.  I just turned thirty four. I’m a working professional. My citizenship is American. My ethnicity is mixed. I check the ‘black’ box but I’m black/white/native American/Latino aka all American mongrel.  I own a house. I have a car. I like to travel. I spent most of my adult life showing dogs as my primary hobby. I paint. I write. I sculpt. I’m a good cook and my favorite color is blue. None of these things, except the fact that I am female is because I am female. They are all just part of who I am. I’m a sci-fi fan. I even write fan fiction for Eve that is not about sex and love stories.

So how can I answer what appeals to me about Eve as a female? Eve appeals to me as a game because it matches my personality. Do they also run around and ask what appeals to males about Eve or is it just assumed that boys will like Eve?

I personally love the complexity of Eve. I’ve made my in game career out of niche areas. Salvage. Exploration. Booster manufacturing. Industry. I play in the market. I PvP. I live in low sec. All of those things is how I would define myself as someone who plays Eve. I would tell someone how interesting Eve is. How the game play is like a strategy. How one has to seek knowledge to gain knowledge because it is not fed to them. I’d tell them about the devastation of loss and the frustration of failure. I’d gush about the rush of accomplishment and the sheer heady delight of finding yourself alive when you were sure that you would die in a fight. I could discuss for hours balancing logistic duties and the constant mental lists to keep the reactions in the POS running and profitable. I could shed endless tears about the hurricane nerf or share my hysterical joy at the Hurricane FI’s entrance into my life. I could discuss the amazing people I play Eve with and how they have added to my game time as well as my real life. I could point out that I traveled to Iceland to go to Fanfest and that I attended Eve Vegas last year and already purchased my tickets this year. None of this makes me stand up and roar, "These things interest me most because I have breasts and they are why I play Eve!”

The list is endless but none of it is defined by who I am. I spend hours on my avatars but so do many men I know.  Every single one of my characters I have created is female.  So what? Eve’s male to female avatar ratio is around 50%. I know plenty of girls with male avatars. It is not something that interests me anymore then I obsessing about penises in fleet chat interests me. But that is not a way to define Eve.

Some use their gender as an identity but others do not. Many males use their gender as their identity as well. I’m often told that girls will hide being female or not admit to being female and to be female openly is to only look for attention. I will admit that the social dynamic of communicating with me is going to be different from communicating with a guy. I don’t see how that is bad. I am a female. I am not pretending to be female. I am not pretending to be male. I am just being myself. That may or may not be particularly feminine depending on the situation. Is Eve male dominated? Yes. But does that mean that Eve is somehow lacking because it is male dominated?

The article goes on to say:
Still, EVE Online’s gender ratio is overwhelmingly, if not surprisingly, dominated by men, even compared to other MMOs. In a paper for Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming, researcher Nick Yee presents the result of a multi-year survey of over 40,000 MMO players: roughly 15% of them are women.
If EVE Online were trending with the broader landscape of MMOs, we should expect to see almost four times as many women than are currently subscribed.
It seems that it is.  I keep reading articles that tell me all about being a female gamer. Often written by men who are not female gamers. Everything has to fall into neat averges and abouts or suddenly, it is bad. This is the fun, brilliant hot topic of the moment. Eve doesn't attract women! Why? It seems that today ‘bad complexity’ is at fault.

From the article:
“There’s bad complexity in EVE,” Nordgren tells me bluntly. “Only a certain type of person will ever work their way through it, and the majority of those people are guys.”
One example of bad complexity she gives is that new players often don’t have access to the information they need to understand the game’s mechanics. “We have those kinds of accessibility problems that we’re working on,” she explains, “and I think if we can shift some of this bad complexity out and just keep some of the good, interesting, challenging complexity, then we should get more female players as a result of that.”
What I walked away with was the idea that Eve is unappealing for the average female because it does not give the rules on a silver platter. To do well, one will have to go above and beyond the game to find out what they need to learn. This is unappealing to women and alienates them for the game. That means as they seek to connect with female players they have to make a more accessible game for the female players where they will not have to seek as much exterior information.

I don’t like mayonnaise. Nothing you can do to mayonnaise will make it appealing. Even if mayonnaise was made low calorie or guaranteed weight loss. Even If it was made blue and glitter applied to it. I dislike the stuff and it has no appeal to me. Nothing is going to make mayonnaise better. However, mayonnaise lovers may get irritated if mayonnaise suddenly turned blue and had glitter, or the original formula was changed to promote weightless and had thirty % less flavor. They might become irritated that they thing they loved was utterly changed to attract a group of people who did not want it in the first place.

Not wanting to play Eve is not restricted to just females. Look beyond the current 4% female population number to the total game population. We celebrated passing 500k users. We celebrate and we are joyous. It is not bad. But why do we not have a million users? Or five million? Or ten? The same reason we only have a 4% female population. Eve appeals to who Eve appeals to. Look on any forum that is in general about games and look at the questions that people ask about Eve.
  • Is it to late to start?
  • What is there to do?
  • Is it easy to get into?
  • Is it worth a monthly subscription?
  • What do you do in this game?
  • Is it a flight simulator?
  • Is there more avatar interaction?
  • I don’t want to lose my stuff!
I have never yet seen, “Since I’m a girl I don’t know if I will I be capable of playing this complex game?”

An excerpt by Thor Gunnarsson:
 “I think we have to be realistic about what EVE Online is,” says Thor Gunnarsson, vice-president of business development at CCP. “Science fiction-themed worlds tend to attract men.”
Does science fiction = boys? Perhaps the greater number of people casually interested science fiction are male. Does cooking = women? How many of the most famous chefs are male?

Is this Misogyny?
Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.
Misogyny is its own, large topic. It is one that is touched and flirted with as a question about women in gaming. I touch upon it to point out that I know it is a problem. It is an expressed problem and an existing one. But, I do not think that it automatically should be assigned to the 'problem' of a high male population and a low female population. That can exist without it. In the general, "Is this why women do not try Eve Online?" I think the answer is no. I believe that part of the topic is more pertinent for why some women leave Eve Online vs why some never start it.

Yet, I must expand upon the environment that CCP does not control even if they might attempt to. "Is the proliferation of ASCII penises a sign of 'no girls allowed?'" I don't think it is or has to be.

There are boys on the internet. Who knew?

 With boys go the things that boys are fascinated by. I'm talking about penises still. If I have noticed anything about boys and Eve it is the penises. I’m not talking about a steady sexual assault directed at me with the goal of making me uncomfortable. I’m talking about living in a world where men mostly talk to men which causes them to talk about the things men talk about. Being quiet on coms is very, very interesting. Men talk about ‘guy’ things just as girls talk about ‘girl’ things. It is the reflection of shared gender. I was sitting in Jita the other day and watched a magnificent ASCII penis scroll out of my local. It is easy to recount the endless images of bubbles turned into monuments for the penis, POS tower modules anchored to create penis imagery. And there is the Thorax. If anything I am often fascinated by men’s obsessive interest in representations of their own gentiles. But, considering the historic fixation that men have with their gentiles it may be just a guy thing. I've even had productive, conversations with them about their own discussions with each other. I wound up asking about the penis fixation that I see around me in Eve the other day. I was told that they don't know. It is like drawing on the wall of the restroom. Somehow it all went back to ancient times and pieces of history that say that men had the same fixation then as they do today.

More often then not these things, such as said magnificent multi-line Jita Phallas, are not aimed at the females in the game. The guys are so used to their not being girls that they are not aiming their photographic communication at women but at the other guys. I’m not chased out of the game because there are guys. I don’t need someone to put asterisk and hearts on my screen in place of ASCII penises so that I can maneuver my delicate femininity through Eve. These things are not being placed to chase away women. They are being posted because that is, historically, a thing that guys do when they are doing their guy things with each other. There is more flirting and sexual innuendo and insults among the males in the groups that I see then have ever been between the men towards women in those groups. In fact, they will stop and apologize to me if they feel their behavior is a bit rough with each other in case I was offended at them sparing with each other.

That is what I notice. The fact that when they check themselves. They are not trying to chase me out of the game. The ones that are would do it regardless for whatever reason. Sure, it might offend some people. But something will always offend someone. One could say that all actions should be taken with the attempt not to offend anyone but that reaches a level of ridiculous at a certain point. Someone is going to be offended by everything I have written up until this point and perhaps past it. They may even passionately disagree with everything that I say regardless of the fact that what I say here is my opinion. That's the side effect of people communicating with each other. But even that is people communicating with people who have differentiating opinions. People. Not genders. People.

Male dominated, in these instances of there being more boys than girls in Eve, is not a bad thing. It doesn't happen because something is wrong and broken. It is a natural filtration of interests. Interests that cross both genders and may strike the common public conscious of one more than the other. It doesn't mean that something is wrong with Eve if it has a larger male population then female. It doesn't mean that Eve is too complex for girls. It means that it is appeals to some groups of people more than others. Maybe that means that some women are interested in games with a higher population of women in the first place and you will not get their attention with a low population of females and no amount of game changes will solve it.

Are we going to see articles that Dust 514 appeals more to people who like first person shooters then people who like world building games next? Or that more boys play Dust then women so something must be wrong with Dust’s game play that it does not have a 15% female population? If World of Darkness only had a 15% male population would the game be considered broken or a success due to its attraction of female gamers?

Some of this may have cropped up with CCP Seagull’s becoming Senior Producer. Her job is to go out and figure out how to expand and keep eve going. I can see how she may look down upon the vast ASCII phallus littering the cluster and wonder what causes the decrease in female players. I took a moment to look into her a bit and found her twitter bio to be an interesting nod to "yes" this focus of women in gaming is a special interest of hers. After all, CCP needs players. Why are there fewer female players. What do girls like that Eve does not have and could have to lure them in?

What if the answer is nothing? What if Eve, in and as it is, is just not a game that will ever attract a large female following or even an ‘average’ female following for MMOs?

Thankfully, CCP does not seem to be insane, even if the article slants the quotes used at least they say:
"It’s not a goal for us as a development team to specifically increase the number of female players,” Nordgren says. Having a broader and more balanced fanbase would be a by product of good design, “more an indicator than something strive for.”
I understand that a businesses wants to grow and open its market. But, as Eve looks to expand to the territory of women who are not interested in playing Eve and wonders how it can get those women to play Eve, I am reminded of one of my first jobs. I was a waitress at Applebee’s in a nice, middle class area. We were one of the only restaurants in the area and we turned over the highest sales every week of every Applebee’s in the area owned by this company. The auditors came in and I was assigned the task of serving him and being perfect so that we got good reviews. As is my wont, I struck up conversation and showed interest in what he was doing. As we talked he pointed out that while we were doing well we should be doing better. The restaurant was situated in the middle of a highly populated area and the lunch rush was not busy with a wait. We should be bringing in more business then this and obviously somehow we, the staff at the restaurant, was at fault for not bringing in more people to lunch.

My response was that this was a nice, middle class income neighborhood. Also, most of the families in the area had both adults working full time. There were no businesses nearby to give us a lunch time rush. The children were mostly elementary school aged. The young adults in the area migrated down to Washington D.C. because the area was a suburban paradise. Further out it was farmlands. The people who wanted to come to Applebee’s did come to Applebee’s but just because we were in the middle of a populated neighborhood did not mean those people had the access or income to have lunch out at a restaurant.

Not everyone wanted to have lunch at Applebee’s in the middle of the week. Not everyone could. Not everyone wants to play Eve Online. Not everyone has the free time to dedicate to it. It may be that this number is greater in regards to female gamers than male. That does not make Eve Online broken. Nor does another game pulling a higher female audience.

And as I wind up my long, rambling walk I will end with this particular note: My husband does not play Eve Online because he finds it to hard and harsh and dislikes all of the complexity when he is just trying to relax and play a game and explore its content.

10 comments:

  1. Somehow when I think of women and science fiction I think of Portal and GlaDos....

    “Science fiction-themed worlds tend to attract men.”
    A dystopic crapsack setting attracts a different audience from an utopian star trek fantasy even if both are science fiction.

    The reason your husband gives for not playing eve is what I would expect as a 'girl' excuse for not playing eve. (This stereotyping is not meant as offensive and I imagine his reason applies to half the people that don't play eve and not just the female ones.)

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    1. Exactly on my husband's reason and that is why I posted it. It is not gender specific. He is a big science geek and a gamer but he is not interested in Eve Online at all.

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  2. This is very insightful, and as a girl gamer, I agree with a large majority of it. One of the worst decisions an MMO can do is to cater to individual groups, and i certainly don't want them to cater to us. (Well, unless it involves finishing Incarna...)

    I've been playing various MMOs for 10 years now, EVE for about 2 of those. You couldn't be more right about guys and their fascination with their genitals. It doesn't bother me; I find it weirdly funny. Maybe I've just been around it for too long.

    What you said about listening in on comms while not saying anything was dead on target. I reluctantly started chatting on comms within my corp, but anything I do outside of corp, I'd just rather say I don't have a mic. It just draws extra unwanted attention, and god forbid someone you kill finds out you're a girl and killed them. I just finished off that ugly bounty!

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  3. Nicely said.

    I'm a female EVE player, and I don't know why there aren't more women playing. I doubt it's because of the science fiction setting - I've been a science fiction fan my whole life and never experienced it being anything like 96% male as an interest (more like 50%-60%, if that). Plus, fantasy-based MMOs like WoW have a higher female playership than EVE, and old-fashioned swords-and-sorcery fantasy was hardly any more targeted at women.

    So I think it's more about the kind of game it is, and more importantly, the kind of game it sounds like it is when you first hear about it - huge, massively complex, hard to get into, time-consuming (I don't think this one's fair but it's definitely an impression a lot of people have), single-shard, sandbox, space-based, all about the spreadsheets, and with a playerbase that takes things really really seriously to the point of trying to cut the power to that guy's house that one time. Not totally accurate maybe, but that's the kind of stuff you hear about.

    I don't think there's anything in there that women are genetically programmed to find less appealing, but definitely women and men have different experiences of life in general that shapes the things we're interested in. If you're female and you're brought up from a young age to believe that 'serious' gaming is a male thing, you're less likely to get interested in anything that sounds like serious gaming, and less likely to know any women that have, and therefore more likely to believe that what you're taught is true. If you're socialised to avoid explicit conflict and aggression as much as you can, like a lot of women are, and you hear about this game where everyone's an amoral sociopath carving out their own space empire and out to destroy you - well, that's likely to sound less appealing to you.

    And once the playerbase is weighted so heavily male, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in itself, because lots of women are going to think that if they start playing they'll stand out as unusual and have to deal with all the unpleasant consequences of that on top of the steep learning curve and time commitment, and decide "nah, not worth it" before giving it a try. (That actually was something I was worried about when signing up, but not enough to put me off, and honestly it's been pretty much fine - I've flown with some great people, the playerbase is more mature than lots of games, and apart from a few sammich jokes and "it's an actual GIRL!" comments on comms it's been fine.)

    I don't think any of these are problems CCP can/should fix, because they're not problems at CCP's end. And I would really worry that if CCP did explicitly try to make the game more appealing to women, it would mean doing some condescending godawful Incarna Meets Lego Friends stuff that would only serve to piss off the existing players, male and female alike. But I wish more women - and men! - would give it a try, because I think there's a lot of people out there who'd really, really love it if they did.

    (My husband also doesn't play because "it sounds too complicated to be fun". I've tried to con him into doing some nice relaxing mining and letting me handle the minerals, but no go.)

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    1. I will admit... I am normally the one making the sandwich jokes by myself. The shocked reactions can be priceless.

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  4. Of the sci-fi fans that I know at least 30% of them are female, I find it a little simplistic of CCP to state that the them of EVE is what is putting women off playing the game. I think the truth of the matter is that EVE is very complicated and in the early stages not really very much fun, what keeps you playing EVE is a personal thing- for me it was the hard sci-fi theme and a determination to not let the game beat me. but EVE is a niche game and without completely overhauling it then I don't think there will ever be a huge playerbase, male or female. Of the men that I know who play games regularly none of them have stuck at EVE, mostly saying that it was boring or excessively complicated. This probably applies to women as well.
    When you actually start playing EVE then it becomes clear that you are playing in a heavily male dominated game, this will appeal to some women but will be deeply off putting to others. I can see how this would stop some women from playing EVE, my main problem is that from some people there is a basic assumption that you are only playing the game for attention, or that you must be terrible, or not know much because you are a woman. At FanFest I got dismissed by people who assumed that I was a girlfriend, I can't blame them completely, statistically that was the most likely reason for me being there, even a CCP dev made the assumption. The thing that I found frustrating was that the question wasn't "are you here as a girlfriend or a player?" it was a statement "you are here as a girlfriend", this may be indicative of the games industry as a whole, but it is frustrating not to be acknowledged as an equal, or to have fight harder to be considered one. There were and are a number of guys who I play EVE with who don't think like this but it frustrates me that this is not the majority, and I don't know what can be done to make women in gaming less of an issue and more of a regular thing.

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  5. Wow ... Thanks for sharing these insightful thoughts.

    me

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  6. This got me thinking. From my own experience in eve (being pulled in by clan mates in a BF3 clan, who are also in a nullie alliance) the learning curve is harsh. I do like it now that I am more into the game, but at first it was daunting and the penalties very harsh for the amount of information i could easily find. The result? 3 month break from the game without any skill training. just let the account lapse. The community of players around me got me back in, and i started to get it. Now its tons of fun. I am getting my feet wet learning proper fits etc and how to fly my ship before i sign up and join the null sec war.

    The question I have then becomes this: What if I didn't have the community pushing me back towards the game after that first bout of frustration? I probably wouldn't be playing and loving the game now. With that there then becomes a second question: Is there a lack of community around eve (or at least a smaller one) that overlaps with female players who might like the game than there is for male players? and could this contribute to the low turnout of women in the game?

    To me it seems kinda likely, even if men being men to men isn't intended to offend the fairer sex; it still can.

    That doesn't mean it is a CCP issue, but the idea of having more information more easily accessible could help because it could keep them playing long enough to find a community that is going to be welcoming and have a tolerable level of penis jokes.

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  7. I'm a male gamer so the only useful input to the discussion I can offer is introducing my wife to Eve Online and her subsequent reaction.

    She doesn't like the game because for the most part it is "delayed gratification". Meaning all the things we enjoy about Eve are separated by mind numbingly boring tasks. She plays games to experience that fun feeling (gratification) preferably many times during the playing session. If your playing session isn't long enough in Eve you might just view it as another online job!

    Interestingly enough many of my male friends (even my kids) don't stick with Eve Online for the exact same reason.

    I don't see much gender bias in my limited experiences...

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