How does your gender factor into the role you play?
Anyone who’s played an MMORPG knows how it goes. The “tank” is a dude. The “healer” is a chick. It doesn’t matter what gender the toons, or even the characters behind them, are. That’s the stereotype most players start with and it’s clear the real world perceptions of gender roles bleed into what people automatically assume in gaming.
Studies have been done to investigate what motivates male gamers versus female gamers. One of the most common results found is that women prefer socialization and communal achievements, while men aim for competition and direct victory over opponents. Beyond that, evidence suggests that females will actually lose interest in games that lack interaction or engagement beyond just the gameplay and mechanics.
Perhaps this is why the “nurturer” roles like healers are often assumed to be feminine roles, while PvP is considered a male domain. In fact, in a study done of Everquest 2 players, levels of aggression showed a distinct impact from who gamers played with: men actually demonstrated more aggression, and females less, when they gamed with significant others.
However, unlike MMOs, MUDs are far more encompassing of what one’s “role” means and is defined by. PvP and PvE are not isolated scenarios divorced from the rest of the game itself, but are intrinsically intertwined with core gameplay. In Iron Realm Entertainment’s Lusternia, for example, you might hunt creatures or quest to increase your city’s power levels, or jump in and help fight at a revolt to increase your commune’s influence in the world. Under IRE Aetolia’s new ylem system, cities group up for team combat every few hours to secure precious resources for their factions, and in IRE Achaea you may find yourself called upon to defend your house’s icon from attack.
Each of these situations listed yield all types of participants as the effects from victory are tangible rewards for both the individuals and the characters’ organizations. Combat and PvE participation is both about competition AND socialization. A player can fight for the sake of fighting and aim to crush their opponents…but they are just as likely to be driven to join in out of a desire to help make their organizations stronger.
But MUDs are not just about PvP and PvE. They are complex, with many other facets to the roles available. Players can design and craft clothing, jewelry and even alcoholic beverages, run shops as merchants, be a priest for an all-powerful god, or deftly manipulate political alliances as a government official. You’ll find intrepid economists, shadowy spies, philosophers, scientists, artists… because the mechanics of MUDs tie all of these elements – roleplay, combat, PvE, PvP, politics, economy – together to weave who a character is.
However, even with this depth to character that MUDs offer, do gender roles still echo through? In Aetolia, for example, there is a guild called the Druids which is focused on a defensive, supporting role, with the ideals based around protecting nature and communicating with plantlife. Membership in this guild has shown a far larger proportion of female characters than male, with all of the current leadership being women. Is this the mud equivalent of an MMO’s “healer” role?
So, what do you think? Have MUDs found a magical balance in incentive and motivation, making things appealing to both genders, a goal MMORPGs are still struggling to reach? Or are things still largely defined around real world gender roles? Are new MMOs on the market able to give such a diverse spread of salient roles; Archaeage, for example, is quite appealing to me, as it is giving players a lot of freedom in the politics. Personally, I think MMOs will always see an influx of female players in healer roles as long as the HEALER ROLE itself exists as a concept. Once the games themselves branch out to give the kind of wider supporting gameplay that MUDs offer – where you can highly support your faction, without having to sign up for a special class in specific encounters to get that experience – I think we’ll see a blossoming of female play styles. Until then, yeah, stereotypes might continue, but I blame the games themselves for this.