What Men Dare Do! "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"

12Nov/112

Men Getting Catcalled in the Gaming World

So it might not shock anyone to know that I used to play a bunch of video games.  Mostly lighter stuff: text based political simulations like NationStates and CyberNations, but every now and then (usually while waiting for jobs to start), I'd play a little WoW or something like that.

So a bit of background about these games, political or otherwise, is that they're role-playing games.  You have to create a character and go play as it.  Frequently, in the political games, people would create a person who just represented whatever their own political views are, which frankly, seems a bit boring to me.  But some people would create entirely different personas, and others still might have multiple personas.  And although these games are usually overwhelming populated by men, a lot of these guys woud choose to RP a female character and (perhaps unknowingly) engage in some genderplay.

A common "complaint" among other men playing these political games is that they would point to a woman who had some sort of political position, or power, or influence and say, "She only got that because she's using her femininity to take advantage of all the kids/young men in the game," or something to that effect.  Whether or not most women were using some magic female tricks to lure men into giving them power, I couldn't say (protip: I could say: they weren't).

But what was most interesting was talking to people who created new character who were women, either for the purposes of spying or role-play or whatever, because they got harassed, stalked, and the cyber-equivalent of being cat-called.  I always knew it happened.  I wasn't one of those deniers who felt women only held power in these games because of their femininity, but it was so fascinating to watch some guys who did think that, having pointed out to all the apparent hay made of women's sexuality in these games, not realizing that so much of it was unwillingly foisted on these women.  I recall a specific time one guy role-played a woman in order to spy on some other group in one of these political games, and he came back after a few weeks telling me that because he was performing as a girl, he got hit on constantly, cat-called, harassed, and that generally people just assumed that any benefit or position he'd achieved he had gotten solely by (mis)using his female sexuality.  It was pretty eye-opening.

On another front, and perhaps more familiar to my readers than some niche political games is World of Warcraft.  It's not hard to find lots of interesting commentary on being female in WoW.  But what's interesting is how so many male players who have a female character (or "toon" as they're often called) on WoW will report being shocked at the sexism and harassment that goes on.  When you go into any of the main towns in WoW, you'll find hundreds, perhaps thousands of characters.  It's pretty hard to be a female toon in town and not have male characters blow kisses at you, try to hug you, flirt, or makes jokes.  And I'd be remiss not to mention the gendered expectations in how well you fight, heal, or do whatever it is your character is supposed to do.

A friend of mine who had played WoW for a while remarked to me that he liked playing as female characters, but in order to avoid the harassment that would come with it, would pick a character of a race (for non-WoW people: "race" means "species") that was least human-like, and thus least attractive to our norms.  That way he wouldn't get harassed or catcalled, because he wasn't playing as a "pretty" character.  Similarly, since he wasn't playing as very "girly" character, the assumptions that female characters are played by women and are therefore less competent were reduced; it was assumed that women would choose the girlier of the female characters.

I bring all these things up, because I wonder, as I usually do, can these phenomena, of men experiencing a bit of femaleness by RPing a female character in the gaming world, someone be made into an educational tool?  I'm always trying to wonder how we can bring an understanding or an acknowledgment of feminist issues to men who aren't on board with the movement.  Has anyone else had similar experiences in the gaming world?

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