Look out for The World of Warcraft Reader, an anthology of scholarly essays on World of Warcraft, edited by Jill Walker Rettberg and Hilde Corneliussen and coming from MIT Press, Spring 2007!

I’ve considered doing a World of Warcraft course (I don’t know whether this’ll actually happen…) so was interested to see Aaron Delwiche’s undergraduate course on ethnographical approaches to Massively Multiplayer Online Games (specifically, World of Warcraft). Some of the student papers are quite good. Well, actually I started by reading Beth C’s paper on sexism in the game, and thought oh my god, this is the standard level of all Texan undergrads? We only have some students this good. What did we do wrong? Luckily (in a rather ungenerous sense of the word, sorry) a look at the other papers confirms that Texan students probably aren’t that different from Norwegian students, though perhaps the fact that they have to write a lot more than our students probably does improve their writing. Anyway, Hilde and I have been thinking about doing something on gender and World of Warcraft, so I was interested in Beth C.’s paper on sexism in the game. Yes, unsurprisingly, players have experienced plenty.

The paper makes an interersting point about the differences between races in the game. My dwarf rarely gets sexual comments, except sometimes slurs about how someone can’t see how anyone could fall for a short, bearded, dwarven woman. (So I guess the races encourage various stereotypical sexual responses.) Me, I think my dwarven warrior is gorgeous: strong, swarthy and with a determined look on her face. She even has wonderful black plaited hair. But look at this comment from an informant who plays a female night elf:

The female Night Elf dance is a stripper dance. When I first made my character dance, I laughed at her stripper dance and then tried typing /dance again thinking she would do another dance. I was angry when I realized the only way my character could dance was in a sexually enticing manner. How is my character supposed to dance when she is happy and trying not to be sexy? There is no way. Every time my female Night Elf dances, she is being a sex object…My boyfriend plays a [male] Night Elf druid, and his character dances like Michael Jackson. Thatís fun! Why are the females of the race relegated to being sex objects while the males are fun?

Yeah! My nine-year-old’s first character was a female night elf, and I was appalled when I saw her dancing. That’s worse than Barbie dolls. I was so glad when she made characters in other races so she could play with a wider range of expressions.

One interesting aspect of the paper is that it shows that male players playing female characters also experience sexism. I wonder whether that will make them more aware of it and less likely to condone it in everyday life?

Oh, anyone doing this kind of research on World of Warcraft should have a look at Nick Yee’s statistics and demographics for this and other MMOGs.

7 thoughts on “females dance like strippers

  1. Mark Bernstein

    Interestingly, I’ve been playing a female archer in CITY OF HEROES, and I almost never hear a comment about her gender or appearance. You’d think that in a game world based on the ultimate power fantasy (and with so many people wearing tights) that you’d see more overt sexism, not less.

    Thinking back, I’ve been asked (once) if I was really a girl. I’ve been recruited a couple of times to join supergroups for female ‘toons. I’ve been complicated once on my outfit in a moderately flirtatious manner (but clothes shopping is a big part of CITY OF HEROES for some people). I think that’s about it.

  2. Jill

    Really? I’ve only had a few really bad comments, though in some zones there’s a lot of guffawing about how no girls play WoW and stuff like that. I’m glad sexism isn’t necessarily the normal experience.

  3. torill

    Just a reference to your observation.

    check out the response of Pyrotrix 12/6/2005 4:42:54 AM PST:
    “Myself? I just think of a female druid when I see an exotic dancer dancing… :)”
    And to the point: he plays a human mage, so I hardly think it’s a tauren druid he thinks of.

  4. chris_v

    agreed, having more options for expressing one’s character through dance would be nice, but i’m not sure how practical that is at this point to have many dances for each character. but…

    “Every time my female Night Elf dances, she is being a sex objectÖMy boyfriend plays a [male] Night Elf druid, and his character dances like Michael Jackson.”

    huh? is the “michael jackson dance” not sexual?? that just shows how your view of what is sexual/sexist is constructed (i realize you were quoting someone else, but you did so to support your own point).

    why is the female night elf dance considered sexual in the first place? it seems we have to decide whether or not dancing in general is meant to mimic sexual behavior. i’d argue that it’s a bit of a paradox: of course dancing mimics sexual behavior, but we don’t have to see dancers as sexual objects (whether they are male or female).

    so, let’s take this from the point of view of a nine-year old who has yet to develop a sense of sexuality. from that viewpoint, no dancing is sexual. it is all an expression of something else. perhaps we should all try to be a little more like that and not immediately jump to the conclusion that the night elf is dancing like a stripper.

    “Thatís fun! Why are the females of the race relegated to being sex objects while the males are fun?” as a male, i could, in a naive-for-the-purpose-of-being-rhetorical way, ask “why must the males put their sexuality on display while the females are fun?” because, as i said, the “michael jackson dance” involves just as much sexuality as the “stripper dance.” both dances make the sex organs the focus of attention (unless of course, you get out of that mode of thinking for a minute and see all dance as an expression of something other than sex. not all desire is sexual, ya know, as has been pointed out by interpreting the “michael jackson dance” as “fun”).

    of course, this problem with the night elf characters could be sidestepped entirely if you played as Horde instead of Alliance, which seems the clear choice once you realize that the Horde is engaged in anticolonial struggle against Alliance oppressors 😛

    “Yeah! My nine-year-oldís first character was a female night elf, and I was appalled when I saw her dancing.”

    I realize the ESRB ratings are arbitrary, and I would have no problem with nine year old’s playing, but I’m not the one complaining. The game is rated T for Teens. Not N for Nine year olds.

    on a final note, the only “sexism” that i’ve experienced when playing female characters is that people are nicer to me if i don’t let on that i’m a male in “real life”. while that certainly does seems condescending when people are nicer to my female characters, the only “the way things should be” argument i’d make is that people should be nicer to male characters. (unless you want to argue that people should be meaner to female characters to balance things out).

    now, when people get on ventrilo or teamspeak and can hear your voice, that changes the game once again…but i’ve said enough for now.

  5. Carolyn

    At first, the whole dancing like a stripper thing made me mad. I mean, c’mon, I know the WoW demographic is squarely in the teen-young adult male market, but this kind of blatant objectification is ridiculous, right?

    Right. That said, I have a night elf alt that I have dance on tables in Inns. I rake in a lot of gold with /dance, /kiss, and the occasional /moan.

    It’s a disgusting stereotype, but I’m happy to make money off of it.

  6. Jill

    You make money off it? My god. HOW???? I mean, the /dance and /kiss I get, but then what? Surely they don’t just start giving you money without you saying somehting about, well, money. Do you go “give me a gold and I’ll kiss you”?

    I never thought of the prostitute quest… Definitely one to try with an alt rather than a main… Interesting, as you say, though disgusting in a kind of squirmy way.

  7. Rebecca K. H.

    Well, I must say that being a female gamer and playing almost all female alts has been a great experience for me.

    Sexism? Well, as one guy in my guild (a totally open and fair-minded 30yrs old man who himself occasionally experiences racism because he is asian) said, “does sexism still exist in society? Then why is it inconceivable that it exists in a virtual world made up of real people?”. And I must say that that is a damn good point. Why the hell does it shock people that in a gaming world, mostly composed of 12-18yrs. old boys and young men, the degrading “show us your t*ts” is an occassional (very occasional) occurance.

    In my 8 months of playing I have encountered idiocy of that sort very rarely (might I add that my former main as well as my current main alts are NE and human females all of which I purposely made to look attractive). As Chris V. pointed out, most gamers are significantly nicer and more generous to female gamers (and their female toons, of course). Whenever I’m LFG for some instance that is a bit too high for my little priestess I get plenty of offers for run throughs from “friends” simply because I am a girl. I’m given crap loads of gold for no real reason (although I have a personal policy that discourages me from accepting gold from anyone but guildmates) aside from the fact that I’m a female gamer. When selling items through trade chat ( I’m terrible on the AH so I stay away from it) I get twice as much money as I ask for from a gamer simply because… well, I’m a girl. lol. Aside from the almost usual obsessive teen boys that cling to you as their WoW girlfriend or something, being a girl gamer has made playing WoW a wonderful experience. lol. And the thing is, I make sure that I play as seriously as is necessary, refusing most generosity, even from guildies (with the exception of a few emergency gold here and there and the Staff of Jordan.)

    Also, on Chris V.’s point, how can one call the “Michael Jackson”-esque NE male dance non-sensual? The crotch grabbing, pelvic thrusting and groinal gyration of the dance is overtly sexual.To prove my point Michael Jackson was repeatedly censored and received plenty of bad press for the same exact NE male dance as it appears in his numerous music videos. So much so that music video stations cut and censored his videos, taking out the dance parts of the performances.

    Now, how is it that the same dance is considered to be less sexual than the female NE dance? Is it because it’s being performed by a buff, pink, blue or purple-skinned avatar? There seems to be a double standard. The male human dance consists of spinning, kicking and, yes, strong pelvic thrusting whereas the female human dance is a dance that is so matronly it might only be considered very-slightly controversial in early 1950s America. Now, now people. Lets not set double standards.

    If you people were bothered by certain revealing armor or something along those lines then maybe you could have an argument. The real problem (if there even is a problem) is with people like Carolyn who sort of (no offense Carolyn) prostitute their characters indiscriminantly at inns and such. However, plenty of male players do the same, not necessarily for money but, for simple amusement. Now, I can assure all of you that a player like Carolyn (a different sort of gold farmer) most likely had more gold by level 10 than most players in the game ever did. More power to you Carolyn! I think I might steal your idea. lmao

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