“I want to kill s---, that’s why I play this game,” said 29-year-old Lydia King about "World of Warcraft," the 10-year old subscription-based MMORPG. "World of Warcraft," or WoW as it is known, is the biggest subscription-based online game in the world, but it's unique for a whole different reason: Women really like to play.
Thirty-five percent of the 7.1 million WoW players are female, according to global market research and predictive analytics firm Newzoo. On average 29 percent of women own an MMO game, according to Nielsen. Indeed a female WoW player holds the Guinness World Record for longest videogame marathon on an MMORPG; in March 2014 Spanish teenager Hecaterina Kinumi took out the record by spending 29 hours and 31 minutes playing World of Warcraft.
“There’s a sense that this is a place for guys… I think women are the ‘other,’ a different thing in gaming,” said Cheryl Olson, co-writer of the book "Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do." “If I were to play WoW today, I would probably go in as a male character because I want to blend in.”
But being the fairer sex on WoW certainly can be odd at times. I’ve been a casual player since 2007 and keep coming back because of the generally amazing community and rich gameplay. After a yearlong break (graduate school), I came back to it at the age of 26 and noticed there are some WoW experiences that are specific to women.
Apparently I play into some sort of female stereotype, my main is a Blood Elf hunter.
In my old guild (I have since changed) and when questing with random people, most men refused to believe I was a woman. This often led to them asking me to “prove” my gender by jumping on a headset or sending them a picture. More than once I have been asked by men to give them my phone number, or been offered free items and gold from them just because I was a woman. As a rule, I refused all of it.
This attention made me feel uncomfortable and singled out. It is important to keep in mind that these experiences do not apply to the WoW community as a whole, and my new guild is amazing. They did make me curious to see if other women who play WoW felt the same way I did about the way women are treated in-game, so I asked on Reddit and interviewed a number of women. Here are some of their experiences and thoughts.
You Can Get Married On WoW
Erin Flynn, 28, started playing vanilla WoW (the original) during high school because her boyfriend and their mutual friends played. She started with a Night Elf hunter and then moved to a Troll hunter so she could play with them as Horde. At one point her boyfriend broke up with her when she beat his priest in a duel, although they got back together a few weeks later.
At around level 50, Flynn joined the guild Roll Initiative and made friends with the Guild Master and her friends. She actually married one of the friends, Gabe, last year. Toward the end of vanilla Flynn left the guild to raid and switched out her hunter for a priest because “I really sucked at being a hunter, plus I was pretty good at mana management and keeping track of health bars.”
For a month she tried out for one of the Top 100 guilds, Paradigm, and ended up being accepted.
“Paradigm was big enough that people followed what happened with them, and a new member was a big deal -- the fact that I was a chick just added to that excitement. I remember being so freaking proud and excited when I got an invite -- it was like getting into an exclusive club, and being told you were good enough to play with the real deal, the big boys, it was awesome.
“The guild itself was very welcoming. I've found when playing that a lot of the hardcore guilds honestly don't care what sex you are as long as you play well, and that definitely held true with Paradigm. My being a woman was interesting to them only because it attracted a bit more attention to the guild, but despite that I got in based solely on my ability to play the game -- they were very careful about emphasizing that.”
She played with Paradigm for a few years before taking a break for school, and when she came back around a year later, the guild had transferred servers, so Flynn jumped around through guilds.
“In my experience, it has always been the non-hardcore guilds that care more about sex and react poorly based on sex… I’ve had guys latch onto me in the game when they find out I'm a chick, sending creepy messages and hitting on me, but honestly I don't really blame that on WoW itself. That's just sort of gamer culture, and it's easy to ignore.”
WoW Dates IRL
Amanda Sulham, 36, also started playing WoW through her boyfriend – now husband – when she saw him playing it in his office room. That was around 10 years ago. From then on they had dates where they would play together.
They were part of a more casual guild and she says her experiences were quite “stereotypical,” like having men say, “Hey, you’re a girl, roll a healer,” giving her items or fawning over her.
“We still did things outside of the game, which was seen as a weakness because you weren’t grinding,” she said.
“It was the general feel of the game whenever you logged on,” said Sulham of derogatory things, although she never felt threatened. She also noticed that a lot of men played female characters.
“We still don’t belong in video games, apparently,” she said, adding that from her experience women are better at prioritizing their real life over the game. “I think in general even the most extreme woman isn’t that extreme.”
'Pics Or GTFO'
King started playing WoW around 2005, when she was in her teens, and got into it because of male friends who played.
The worst experience she had in-game was a year into playing, when a 16-year-old boy in her guild stalked her. Their conversation started off friendly but then he got inappropriate and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would plague her with messages, saying things like “Oh, do you want to have some fun?” and “What are you wearing?” or “You have such a sexy voice; I wish I could see a picture of you.”
Whenever she would block a character of his, he would create a new one and start all over again. When she mentioned the problem to her guild, she says their response was, “Oh, he’s just a kid, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” This experience is very much a pre-Battle.net account problem, now players can block an entire account rather than just one character. King eventually ended up leaving the guild.
She moved to a guild with casual players, which she says was a lot better because they had a lot of female players. Occasionally she would meet guys in-game that wouldn’t believe she was a woman, saying things like “Pics or gtfo (get the f--- out).”
King said that whenever she raided, a lot of men would assume she was no good and that she didn’t know how to play. They would give her lots of tips even though she was level 80 and in full raid gear. Other men would message her and think she was flirting because she kept messaging them back – one even asked when she was going to visit him in America, since she is from England.
Most of her experiences came down to being patronized or people seeking proof that she was a woman. “They either put you up on a pedestal or put you down as stupid or incapable of playing right,” she said.
King did experience some favoritism as well. “Some people would sometimes get me stuff – pets and things or loan me gold.” She also had a lot of positive experiences not related to being a woman: If she asked for help in general chat, someone would usually come, or a higher-level player would take the time to run her through a raid.
While her first character was a Night Elf hunter, her main is an Orc shaman, which she said she chose because she liked that they are “ugly.”
“It’s so strange to me that even today some people find it weird that I play video games. Like, why is that weird?” King said.