In hindsight, I had a lot of fun new experiences in the last month and a half. This was despite my developing minor but chronic medical complexities since January of this year that lend itself to a whole host of stresses. Two months and a few days ago, I joined EVE Online after very inconsistent or indirect gaming experiences for years and years, such as logging into MUDs for socializing with old friends (that’s text-based multi-user dungeon for you folks playing Crysis on Ultra mode) and watching my boyfriend play his PS3 titles.
In fact, I knew what I was getting into when I was joining EVE Online. I had meant to play the game because I was thrilled by its portended difficulty. Also, less than two months after establishing my account, I would’ve completed a 45 page essay on EVE Online’s game interface and interactivity towards my degree in Cinema Studies. This was a few weeks ago. Now, looking back, the ache of the stress over academic pressures and the debilitating lack of self-confidence had faded almost into nothingness. Not just for this one paper, or this one class, but now I look back over the course of the last year and I think to myself: Wow, I did that. With the guidance and the kindness of many people, I have played hard and I have worked hard.
I had read a lot of articles about EVE before ever starting out on a trial account. Thus, on the thirteenth day, I was gutsy enough to be the last writer to meet the deadline for the 17th Blog Banter presented by CrazyKinux, where each of the eighty participants addressed the topic of how women have engaged with EVE Online, and how EVE Online ought to engage them in turn. With my modest knowledge amounting to an entry of nearly 3,000 words, and where other players may have far more in-game experience and astute writing background than I, CrazyKinux must’ve had his work cut out for him! Somehow, I have managed to find myself in his top ten winner’s list. My heart skipped a beat and butterflies (or frigates!) tickled my stomach when I read his announcement of the winning entries:
And a list of recommended reads:
CrazyKinux pronounced that it was near impossible for him to designate who is actually ranked #1, and whom #10, because of the complexity and expansive style and content of all entries. Regardless of where I am placed, I am honoured to be mentioned at all in the 10th spot, on the same list as the talented individuals above me. There is much that I would like to learn from the diversity of style, humor and experience that these and other entries exemplify. The lovely thing is that creative activities such as this generate continual discussion, from forums to TeamSpeak to commenting on other blogs, and are furthermore written by individuals of differentiated interests and backgrounds. After all, I take the attitude that games do matter, even when actions taken within it appear to only affect a self-sustaining alternate universe, with a certain set of rules and premises for conventional behavior. Indeed, they help us build connections between peoples and ideas, both in mundane and exceptional actions in our lives.
Rain Coehati, hailing from the new corporation that I’m now part of, Eve University, asked about our insights into how we can productively generate more interest for female gamers within E-UNI and the game as a whole. She had recommended us to read this blog post by a fellow female capsuleer for CrazyKinux’s blog banter to guide our discussion.
I responded, in my usual wordiness, to Marta Marchesi’s post. My response is a good summary of some of the new insights into this debate that I’ve discovered into my 3rd week playing EVE Online, thus also an updated supplementary to my original post for CrazyKinux. Here is what Marta said:
“The Uni, I think we’ll agree, is a unique entity in a unique game environment to begin with, and perhaps asking this kind of question from the inside may be a bit preaching to the choir, as the people who blow through here are precisely the ones who are slightly more advanced along the social scale than the average cro-magnon web person, as opposed to the rather less hot-house cultured players the Uni doesn’t let in so often.
Yes the game itself is daunting, and indeed I wholeheartedly agree with assessments that it takes a special kind of person flat out period to play Eve over the other MMO choices. And maybe I fall into that category because I do love it, and appear to dissent with a lot of the suggestion that the lack of avatar is a big damn deal in Eve. When I started, it was DARN REFRESHING to not log in and see seven billion rather less-than-realistically armored, big busted, wide hipped, pouty lipped lingerie models swinging the weapon of choice about.
Yes some people do use gender to manipulate others for benefit, but (and no I don’t presume to speak for myself but) guys, some days we just want to be treated like, well, you. Unless we ask for it.
And that, ladies and gents, is Marta’s Quick Feminist Rant of the Day. Or something. No, I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, and yes there are probably contradictions mashed up in there. Deal with it. :p”
My response –
I had truncated the quotation from Marta’s to the main paragraphs that I wish to respond to, given my limited experience of EVE so far of less than four week’s time (and haven’t run across as much misogynistic attitude as can be feared). And, also, I’m writing paragraphs right back at ‘cha. Despite that your post doesn’t claim to speak for anyone else, I find myself agreeable to many of the points made.
I had, indeed, joined the University after some investigation that I won’t be treated too differently as a female gamer, and that all the initial shock-and-awe would be only done in harmless jest and even a bit of clever irony. And that difference could be particularly articulated as: that I am in extra need of protection, that I’m easier to manipulate, that I’m only online because I want to provoke anyone, everyone, with my mysterious feminine wiles upon the blameless massive population of men who don’t know better to fend off such seductions. That’s the contradictions of the mainstream, chest-beating hypermasculinist discourse, and I can say that I’ve experienced all of these things in games and on the internet more generally. I’m not saying that all masculine discourses are this way, however, but that there is the likelihood of this being imitated more often in some circles than in others. If anything, the first impulse I had to look into the University is the association with academia and learning, even by name and by theme, if not by form, would generate a sanctuary of kindness. And I’m happy to say that EVE University has more than delivered, since my initial hypothesis.
I really like how EVE Online is so varied in its tactics too, that results can often be unpredictable, and it has very little to do with who has the faster controller or twitch reflexes. I find it rather perturbing that, in order to gain a larger female audience, it has been suggested that the game should be made more complex, more fuzzy around the edges of the established “realism”. Good god, no. The entirety of the existing fan base won’t like it, and furthermore you wouldn’t like the women who are lured by the new oversimplification of a game as pure sensationalist, “casual” entertainment. You’ll tire of them if they can’t offer anything constructive, and you’d want to send them back like those exotic dancers at Jita, because they can only do one dance even after so long. I am making a bit of fun at the utilitarian spirit alive and well in the community, of course, by my rhetoric is this: Why bother running through this whole meaningless, idealistic exercise of dreaming up a more casual, hello-kitty theme when it’s such an overtly zero-sum gain?
I had also submitted to CrazyKinux’s blog banter in my second week with my post here.
The premise of the argument that I made here is that there is that EVE Online’s form can be reducible down to a very specific type of competition – one that is guided by an industrial military complex. Women have been absent from – perhaps even exploited by – this form of competition for most of history. But it would be absolutely false to say that women don’t have their own forms of competition that are both fun and challenging (even emotionally charged) for us. Social competition is a necessary historical prerequisite for women to access the capital involved in the military industrial complex. To explain the argument’s implications: I am not saying that this way of competing is the right or wrong way, or a better or worse way. I’m just saying that this way is more familiar. To make networks, to debate about the values and characteristics of such networks that has no direct correlation to the military, territorial basis, and to vie for the best of these networks through a value system that is based on encounters rather than use value and exchange value… these are the “subjective” trends of social competition of the feminine (the subjective is in quotations because the feminine subjectivity is often seen in opposition to the male objectivity, and disregarded from professional public discourse as such). This explains why fashion can be important to network-making, all the way to why women seek social communities (such as games) in groups more often then men.
I want to extend the above argument further. I believe that there is a subconscious ideology that says: women are meant to stay away from the competition of the military industrial complex and all the imagery that is associated with it because that’s the way we are, biologically and naturally. It has taken a lot of unraveling of assumptions and predispositions of what society-at-large has told me what I can and cannot do. I don’t think that it’s by any coincidence that the women I’ve come across in this game are all forward-thinking, and doesn’t shirk from the notion of feminism as some kind of an outdated paradigm (“all genders are equal today! It’s the 21st century!” Not.), or something associated with angry, sexually-repressed bitches. We’re really different people, each of us, but I think what is common amongst all of us is an irrepressible curiosity, especially since military-based competition typically would not come “naturally” to us. As for my curiosity, I am not saying that the military industrial complex is the best, the ultimate telos of humanity, but I want to explore both its potential creativities and its inherent problems, to better face the day.
I’ll wrap this up with an anecdotal opinion. Teamspeak is… interesting, but also very ends-driven. Why does it have to be that way? It made me aware of how much I wanted to ask about the people who wanted microwarpdrives, or a certain fitting of their ship, or certain strategies during wartime. What drew you into the game? What’s your philosophy on surplus values generated from the home planets of mortal citizens while you yourself have immortality (in reference to the Tyrannis expansion)? What do your kids think about you playing internet spaceships, do you think they’d be interested when they’re older? You sound very eloquent in your lecture, what degree do you hold? But I held back these mental questions that I would otherwise ask in forums. These are questions of curiosity, enabled by the desire to maintain networks that has no prerequisite other than the enjoyment of the encounter of ideas.
The sudden flurry of shared experiences within a game community must be one of the most unpredictable and satisfying things to be engaged with. When it’s a game that’s as prolific as EVE Online, with in-game politics as well as fan-made blogs, guides, databases, and creative media, these vast networks of internet media become the overall EVE Online identity to those who are familiar with the game as well as those who are not. Case in point, this very blog post is part of a network of 79 other blog posts responding to CrazyKinux’s EVE Blog Banter contest on the Ladies of New Eden. The questions posed to all blog participants are as follows:
What could CCP Games do to attract and maintain a higher percentage of women to the game. Will Incarna do the trick? Can anything else be done in the mean time? Can we the players do our part to share the game we love with our counterparts, with our sisters or daughters, with the Ladies in our lives? What could be added to the game to make it more attractive to them? Should anything be changed? Is the game at fault, or its player base to blame?
Despite the immense pools of existing talent, I will still consider that the low female demographic in the game is a loss to the diversity of opinion and politics within the game (Oops! Rather daring of me to say so, huh, right after citing CrazyKinux’s extremely diverse blog banter! My faux pas). Working towards drawing more female players will further diversify the careers and tactics that are at the disposal of all players, and experimentation amongst players itself may bring about new careers. I must stress that this is not an essentialist argument that says that women seek entertainment in fundamentally different things, and thus attempting to gain female gamers would completely eradicate all that EVE stands for. Rather, I would argue that women can be thoroughly engaged by the interplay between entertainment and creativity, leisure and competition that EVE has. But the devil’s in the details, so I will discuss some mechanisms that will enhance the game’s experience, rather than reform it.
And, despite the funhouse mixing of movie titles in my header, you may be able to tell already that the tone of this blog post is gently didactical. However, I also hope that it engages with my personal anecdotes and observations as a female gamer. Although theoretical at times, I hope that you get something out of my writing and continue this seasonal conversation. Feel free to jump around to different sections of the blog post, as the first few lines in each section should be fairly self-explanatory.
Personal attachments: I started playing just thirteen days ago. But I had been immersed for a couple of months before in the fan-made and CCP-made videos through Youtube, and browsing through the wikis to get a glimpse into the scope of the game. There was something that seemed different about the level of commitment that EVE Online machinima compared to that of other videogames: its nitty-gritty level of social and political negotiations and maneuvers between real players had me at the edge of my seat. I held out for a bit, and then curiosity got the better of me.
One of those tipping points was my gradual awareness of how much creative and technical writing has had built up the world of EVE Online. As a budding roleplayer and creative writer, having a community and developer interested in the lore of the world is a huge selling point to me. A hearty narrative also simultaneously functions as respite and as motivation in most games. I was not disappointed when I started my first days as a capsuleer: early career quests already cited the Caldari-Gallente conflict in its pre-written dialogue, while folks on public channels kept recommending me to sites within the broader EVE community.
The second selling point for me was that I heard how challenging it was, by just the game mechanics itself. I had always wanted for something unconventional and tactical, and it delivered in spades. Within hours, I became really enthusiastic about the ingenuity of the click-to-fly system rather than wobbling about in space by pressing the arrow keys. Of course, it allows a whole variety of fittings for items that can be specialized towards certain tactics based on distance and speed. Furthermore, it allows me to think of what I want to do with all that adrenaline at the moment of engagement. I can plan, coordinate, follow orders, remonstrate and call for diplomacy with my enemy. What a maddening mess it’d be if blob battles contained tens of thousands of ships that veer in all sorts of direction and can’t calibrate their distances and speeds for the optimal damage and tanking? The lucid number of menus only made it more immersive for me – as though I was simultaneously in the field of battle and engaging in combat remotely. The screen itself was the world of reality, and it was a good, strong feeling to be had.
Of clothing and of creed: I’m going to get momentarily philosophical here (posthumanist, if you were wondering). Perhaps not everyone is comfortable with the experience of associating deeply with machines. In my case, I feel materially connected to the screen as though they are my eyes, looking out towards the ship that I own, as though I am controlling it remotely from hundreds of thousands of light years away. In a way then, the screen of my eyes is traveling at superluminal speeds to give me information to react to so quickly. At the same time, I am interactively associated with the hidden character within my pod, which obtusely only becomes visible to another set of eyes – my enemy’s – when I get podded. Perhaps this invisible body is something that is more uncomfortable to women than to men, because women are asked to reify their bodies all the time, and their bodies are inscribed with extra meaning many times over. Because of this, women may be more ambivalent about relating to technologies than men, who has had a historical comfort, if not hegemony, in interacting with technological apparatuses. But I will not pursue this line of inquiry any further, for it does not productively give us an understanding of what should be accomplished to bring more female players aboard EVE Online, but only gives a hypothesis of why females may have been avoiding it at a subconscious level.
Neither do I want to jump immediately into the disposition that Incarna will draw more women gamers because of increased customization and fashion and having a body, without a broader framework to support this argument. I’m rather skeptical of stereotyped values. The above opinion is rather frivolous without basis, because there are undoubtedly female gamers who do care less about fashion and socialization, and this opinion is unproductive as to the broader type of innovation that CCP should bring to EVE while allowing it to remain quintessentially the same product that we love. Like the idea of it or not, Incarna shall come to be implemented in EVE Online. The question becomes, what sort of supportive infrastructure both in-game and within the internet community can help EVE flourish in a way that attracts productive and diverse women gamers?
I have no notions that there needs to be equal representation by people of different race, creed, gender, and religion in EVE. Not only is that an impossible ideal for any game, but it is also a fairly useless one to aim for. Difference will never be measured in equal numbers. Rather, what I am interested in is the diversification in ideas, of subjective intuitions that are as differentiated as our real life experiences. This generates discussions and tactics as never before, because the discourse of differences intermingled together creates simultaneously inclusion and dissimilarity. Women may very well respond and enact competition much more differently than men. Having more women in no way makes the game more ‘balanced’ – but in fact it will unsettle and make outcomes more unpredictable than ever. The existing EVE community would have to take on new negotiations and schemes to meet the expectations of their female corp-mates and enemies. Is that not thrilling? The EVE community has always touted itself to be the most difficult of all games, so I hope that it is not just hot air when it comes to treading readily into unknown territory of differentiated engagement.
There is a Ph.D. of Economics on the CCP staff who makes quarterly reports on EVE’s virtual economies. Blogs discuss whether corporations in EVE are realistic to real-life corporations, if they are business partnerships, or even the feudal hierarchal model. These characteristics are not necessarily fundamentally more impressive to men than they are to women. Similarly, investing strategically in multiple regional markets in New Eden is not intrinsically less creative than manufacturing outfits for Incarna. The main difference, I contend, is in the form of the competition. The markets may be measured by your margin of profit for your success, but the thrill of fashion design remains a more subjective competition.
Must we always compete?: So we’ve just entered the heart of my argument, which claims that the corporate mentality of competitive capitalism in EVE Online is a very masculine enterprise. That’s not to say that women can’t get into it because it’s masculine, but it is associated with the industrial military complex writ in large has historically privileged a masculine ideal first, and had been sustained by it. So, female players, who are aware that there is a certain masculine association with the art of war and the industrious stockpiling for war, may find themselves putting EVE Online down onto the “maybe I’ll join later” list.
There’s a multivariate solution to this:
In the next section, I shall detail some of the threads of thought of one of my broader suggestions from this list.
Planetary Folksperson Interaction and other curious inspections: Remember that there is something that is expanding the EVE Online world before Incarna, and may change the interaction of exploration yet again? Planetary interaction may also draw more girl gamers who have always wanted to fly somewhere to explore new planets and go into low orbit to observe curious new species and cultures, rather than rocks and ships.
Has anyone played the single-player PC game entitled Black and White? Maybe there’s something that can be taken from the page of that very unique game, and one line from the Sim City franchise. How are the people on planetside going to react to a capsuleer whose body is immortal, and takes their natural resources? Should they get a cut to keep them happy? Would they work more to your benefit if you pay for using such resources, or will they be militant in their labor demands? Are they religious? Should you institute a religion to keep them in line, or to aid them in a network of shared faith with other planets and societies? Can you learn trades from the peoplefolk towards working in Incarna space stations? Where else am I supposed to know to distinguish the mind-altering boosters from the girly cocktails? The Servant Sisters of EVE epic arc really didn’t go into that particular detail…
Speaking of exploring mysterious things, what if wormholes were more tied into the canon of storylines and mission running, even with the threat of that space closing up? Planetary interaction as also not neatly fitting into the calculus of pure profit margins, but also depends on your politics and ideology. Maybe ganking in lowsec does not fit into the same moral framework as indentured labour of a whole planet or dealing with pollution spillovers, since the capsuleer you’re ganking is immortal, anyhow. Maybe it doesn’t. Whatever the reason, it offers broader play styles and choices that may not be directly reducible down to military superiority or profit margin.
The naiveté of MMOs: MMOs are still in some ways in their infancy, and the visual MMOs that we associate with today have only had slightly over a decade of innovating the styles and gameplay that we’ve become familiar with. A lot of us still chose our games based on social aspects. This is a positive thing. The less positive would be that more casual players are more likely to chose games that appear social, such as upon a networking site like Facebook, or due to their popularity, or because they have great avatar customization. The latter especially shows how easy it is to slip into the trap of thinking that a game has a great community because no two avatars look alike, and therefore everyone can retain their individualism and let their personality burst forth.
Genre is also a deal-breaker for some, but at the end of the day, genre is not nearly so important as gameplay and the social experience that you get out of playing an MMORPG. If you don’t look after the truly social aspects of your game experience as the one that you feel is the most satisfying, why bother with an MMORPG at all? A console single-player would likely have better graphics and better immersion. I am no sci-fi buff, but I like it enough that it is a truer fantasy for me to fly a spaceship than to be a night-elf. But if there is no such thing as corporations and the institutionalized potential for meeting like-minded capsuleers, I may have very well let my trial time run dry without subscription.
The primary way to solve this would be through diverse marketing, and to let the game players mature in their viewing and interactive strategies. It’s comparable to the advent of film, in a way, that audiences will grow to be more sophisticated over time. Encouraging EVE’s player base to continually generate more EVE-related content can only bolster the interactive strategies that potential new players may come across, and take time to immerse him or herself in.
Diversification, or: It only does everything: CCP has been working towards the direction of inclusivity all along, but never at the behest of its original world. With Dust 514, the FPS players and those that want to joystick their ships will get their taste of on-the-ground battles, they way they like it the most. But it is more than just profiting from the market for CCP: it is tooted to add a whole new dimension the beautifully coordinated sandbox that we love so much of EVE. Dust is like a direct response to the Halo machinima Red vs. Blue, where the soldiers don’t know their own backstory and their own origins. FPS fighting in the sandbox (an FPS/MMO hybrid), tied to EVE Online, certainly expands the range of impact as well as the lore of the world, connecting many diverse forms of leisure and entertainment together.
As you can see, I’ve moved away from the paternalistic notion of “how can we market this towards the girlies” to “how can we diversify and enhance what is already at the heart of EVE’s characteristics”. Maybe with all this diversification, we’ll see a new class of ladies who are the ones to establish themselves in null-sec while sending their boyfriends into the plucky battlefields of Dust 514. Here’s to seeing things flourish.
Please take a look at some of the other entries in Crazy Kinux’s Blog Banter!:
Sorry, No Pink Spaceships Here Please
EVE Blog Banter: Chicks ‘N Ships
The Girls who Fly Spaceships
Is eve a man’s world? – blog banter
Blog Banter #17: The Ladies of New Eden
CK’s Blog Banter #17: What women want…
Blog Banter 17 – The Female of the Species
My follow-up to this topic into my third week of the game is available here. The post is entitled “Lady Vengeance returns: A roundtable about women at EVE University.”
Contest results: I am happy to announce that my entry is part of the top ten award winners of CrazyKinux’s 17th Blog Banter. Results were posted on his site on June 14, 2010, and can be viewed here.
Good luck to all entrants, and thank you for reading.