The following essay was written for my WR 122, so before you read I would like to make the following points.
1. There maybe grammatical errors, as I am not the “good” student
2. This essay was written with much procrastination involved, so the quality may not be all that great.
3. The layout of the essay may induce eyestrain, due to the fact I did a copy past from word…
If anything I hope that you enjoy the read.
MMORPGs and how they challenge Patriarchy
Patriarchy has long been the system, by which the western world frames its beliefs and expectations towards men and women. For centuries the belief that women are the weaker sex, both physically and mentally, has been perpetuated by men retaining their dominance through actions such as discrediting their achievements, and spreading their beliefs and expectations through religious institutions. For it to keep its power it relies on the psychical differences between men and women, and everyone knowingly or unknowingly perpetuating the gender norms and expectations they create. It is because the system continue to works through only having male, female relationships, that other relationships that fall outside of this norm such as gay, lesbian, and transgender relationships are often met by crippling stigmas preventing them from achieving equality, as these relationships threaten the power-grip of patriarchy by functioning outside of the expected male-female relationship.
While in everyday society these expectations are in place subconsciously informing our every decision, there are environments that exist where the expectations are lowered, and the norms are challenged. These environments exist through your internet connection and computer, as entities known as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. (Abbreviated as MMORPGs from here on out.) A few examples of MMORPGs would be games such as Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, and mostly recently Star Wars: The Old Republic. MMORPGs challenge the expectations and norms of patriarchy because they provide the players freedom to play as different sexes, enabling them out act out online personas that would be viewed as inappropriate in the real world. This allows any player, or groups of players to achieve success in the game world regardless of their characters sex.
When a new player to an MMORPG logs into the game for the first time, they are presented with the task of creating a character to represent them in the online world. It is here where the first step in challenging the norms of patriarchy can be taken, in the form of the player choosing the sex, race and appearance of their character. For example female player who is routinely oppressed in the real world can choose to make their character a brutish looking male Orc warrior, who parades around boasting of their great strength and bravado in the World of Warcraft. Despite the fact that she is playing a male character, the more important thing to realize is that by playing a male character she is challenging the norm of “female meekness” by assuming the persona of a male Orc. On the other hand, one would think that if she picked a female character she would be only trapping her into the same situations she faces every day, only online, however that is not the case. If she had chosen to play as a female character she would able to get the same (if not more) empowering experience playing through the game, as she would be able to keep pace with male characters with great ease. The freedom of character creation allows the player to escape the prescribed aesthetics of patriarchy. Examples of this prescribed aesthetic would be muscular males who are large and imposing in stature, while the female characters would be small, slim and curvy. Thanks to the great amount of control given to the player, they are able to create a character based on their own aesthetics.
Even men take part in this challenging of the patriarchy system, most of them unknowingly, by choosing to create female characters to represent themselves with in the game world. When a male player chooses to play as a female character they do not realize that they are proving that women can achieve just as much power as a male character, albeit it is only in the in game world. Also by playing a female character it allows them to act out behaviors that would be frowned upon by their peers. From Rose, Weitz’s essay “What Price Independence?” she briefly touches on the stigmatization of male homosexuals. “Gay males threaten it even more by appearing to reject their privileged status as men” (Weitz, 488). My example of male players, playing female characters is not a threat to the system because they are in reality homosexuals, but instead by choosing to play as a female they are giving up their status as men.
The next way the MMORPG challenges the expectations and norms of a patriarchal society is through how the players go about acquiring power and wealth in the game world. Typically in this style of game, the players are given various quests, which upon completion the players will find themselves rewarded with strength and power in the forms of experience and equipment, both of which result in the character getting stronger, and the currency of the game world, gold, credits, gil, and coins being the most commonly used as names. One of the primary MMORPGs combat the norms of patriarchy are through the player’s ability to complete quests regardless of gender. While in other media such as movie, and books women are often portrayed as weak and incapable of completing tasks without a “mans touch”, this is greatly different in the world of MMORPGs, as female characters are just as capable as their male counterpart; they can just as easily “Slay 10 goblins” and complete the quest with the need of a male character coming to soften them up. There are times in the game when players are not going to be able to defeat their enemies on their own, at which point they will seek help from other players in the game world. In this particular situation another example can be seen, as there are no requirements forcing male characters into a party of female characters, due to the female characters being helpless. This is a great threat to the system as it proves women cannot only exists as equals in the system, but given the choice they can exists completely outside of the system. The greatest threat to a system is those that do not need the system.
This concept of grouping up with other players also plays a much bigger role in the world of MMORPGs, as various parts of the game will necessitate the need for players to form groups that are highly capable of performing coordinated actions if they wish to succeed. These large groups found in the world of MMORPGs are known as guilds. Much like character creation and ways to obtain power in game, the act of creating and maintaining guilds are not locked to one gender or race. As long as the founder of the guild has met all of the in game requirements he or she will be able to found the group and begin recruiting new members. With this freedom there is the ability to create guilds that are consisted entirely of female players, or ones that are friendly towards lesbians, gays, and transgendered people. For example the World of Warcraft guild known as “The Spreading Taint” is a guild that was created to take in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender players(http://taint.rtgc.org/guide.php?guideid=1) . Additionily guilds are able to collect vast amounts of in game resources and compete against other guilds to gain control of various regions, and the prestige that comes with them. All of this is important in order to challenge the stereotypes set up by society as guilds closely mirrors the situation women face in the work place. In the real world women often find themselves fighting against many obstacles in the professional world, drastically lower pay, sexual objectification by her co-workers, and advancing up the corporate ladder are just some of them. It can be significantly worse for those who have come out as lesbian and gays, or have revealed they are post-op male or female. The ability for a female players to create a guilds and occupy various ranks, threatens the male powers structures that exists in the real world, as it proves women are capable leading large groups, and performing the tasks necessary for the guild to function. In addition to this freedom it creates for female players, it also creates the same freedoms for those who are stigmatized in a patriarchic society, therefore challenging the stereotypes that society had set up in the first place.
The in-game worlds of MMORPGS provide several environments in which the norms and stereotypes of patriarchy can be challenged, but it would be asinine to not acknowledge to the rampant amounts of sexism that are prevalent in these games. Female characters (Player or Non-Player Characters) often reflect the expectations of what women should look like in the real world, with flat bellies, ample breasts, and a shapely lower half. Additionally the clothing of females in the game world, while they do provide more armor mechanically, the amount of skin shown in game is on par with the ‘sexy’ costumes women parade in during Halloween. Finally in the culture of MMORPGs, it is accepted as fact that most female characters you meet in-game are played by guys. This is centered on the logic of “Well if I am going to be staring at the backside of someone for hours on end, it might as well be a hot chick.”
It is important to remember that this rampant sexism is not only prevalent in videogames, but in all other forms of media that we consume every day, from the various forms of TV programming, to the magazines we see on the shelves of grocery market checkout stands, it is ingrained in our society. Much of the entertainment industry is predominantly male, and sex will never stop selling, however in the realms of MMORPGS, there are slow but subtle shifts. While the there is still no difference between playing as a male or female character in game, the methods of creating characters has advanced greatly. Obviously the advancements do allow users to control the breast size of their female character, but they offer much more customization outside of the sexual realm. For example the game Perfect World, is famous for its character creator because of the amount of customization it has, you can painstakingly create faces and body types for your characters that you find more attractive, or representative of you. While there are limitations to just how much a player can customize a character, creating a character no longer is just about picking which hyper sexualized avatar you want to represent you online. It is now a process that if you take the time, you will be able to create a character that reflects yourself, regardless of gender.
While sexism does exists in the various worlds of MMORPGs, they still provide the users a chance to rebel and fight against the norms and expectations set by society. Through the playing of characters that are not the same gender and the opportunity to achieve great power and create powerful guilds regardless of gender, every time the player logs in they are unknowingly fighting against the patriarchal standards.
“Taint – About Taint.” Mondaty 4/23/12, <http://taint.rtgc.org/guide.php?guideid=1>
Vesterman, William; Rose Weitz; Great Interdisciplnary Ideas. “What Price Independence?” pgs.478-492 1984