Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bonuses for Mixed Gender Groups

Because I'm a fool, I'm going to comment on a gender-relations issue. One would think I would know better by now.

Syp at Biobreak finds an interesting idea from the developers of Prime World:

Prime World has an optional gender bonus: a shield which will automatically deploy if the health of a nearby player of the opposite gender falls below a certain level. This shield is cheap, is in the default talent set for all characters, and is designed to encourage players of opposite genders to fight together. Teams are thus more effective if they are composed of both male and female players. In addition, this bonus helps encourage beginning female players, who feel more helpful when fighting in a mixed group.

All the commenters on the post are pretty appalled at this notion. But is it really that bad of an idea?

Now, maybe the stated rationale for the move--helping beginning female players--is weak. Though maybe it isn't. In the reverse situation, a lot of men would be loath to attempt something that would make them look foolish or incompetent in front of women. Making that situation less likely might indeed make some beginning female gamers more willing to take a chance on a group.

Apart from that, there is a better reason to promote mixed gender groups. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the Internet is that it allows like-minded individuals to find each other and form communities which reinforce each other. A lot of the time this is good. After all, most of us gamers get to participate in a far larger gaming community than we could have in real life.

But sometimes this is bad. There is a portion of the male gaming audience which is very misogynistic. The Internet allows them to find each other, and form all-male sub-communities that reinforce that misogyny, sub-communities which provide validation in the face of wider community disapproval.

A mechanic like the the one above pushes against the formation of deviant sub-communities. Mixed gender groups are mechanically optimal, and thus mixed-gender groups are more likely to form. I think it is harder to retain prejudice against someone when you're playing on the same team as they are. When the rest of your smaller sub-community values them as well.

Basically, if you have a poor opinion of women, and if you never play with women, I would think that you are more likely retain that poor opinion. Playing with good female team-mates forces one to readjust that opinion to match reality.

Another aspect to this situation is that women are often invisible in MMOs. Because the majority of players are men, and a lot of men play female characters, it becomes very easy to assume that every player you meet is male in real life. (What does GIRL stand for? Guy In Real Life.) A lot of women like this invisibility. They don't get hit on, or made uncomfortable, or in any way treated differently.

But there is a price for this invisibility. First, if everyone who meets a good female player assumes she is male, their prejudices can go unchallenged. Additionally, female players seem a lot rarer than they are in reality. If in every random 5-man group, one or two players were identifiably female, a female player would cease to be a novelty, and would be more normal.

Second, by choosing to be invisible, good female players cede defining the image of female players to those who are willing to publicly identify as female in-game. This often means the female players who are willing to trade on their feminity to get material concessions from male players, or to excuse poor play. Those women get to define female gamers, to the detriment of the larger female population.

You see much the same phenomenon with young players. There are a lot of teenage players who are competent, solid players. But they are invisible, and glide by on the default assumption of maturity. You only see the teenagers who are immature and cause drama. Thus all teenagers get tarred by the same brush, and many guilds institute age minimums.

A mechanic like the one proposed by Prime Worlds above might actually have positive effects on the game community as a whole. It nudges or pushes the players towards forming mixed-gender sub-communities as that is optimal mechanically. This makes it harder for misogynistic self-reinforcing sub-communities to form. It pushes women out of a comfortable invisibility, and forces male players to acknowledge them as female and as a significant portion of the community. The community definition of female gamers is more likely to match reality, rather than an unfortunate stereotype.

Between these two aspects, such a gender-based mechanic might actually foster a stronger, better community, despite the initial reaction of many people.


  1. If the world development behind the design of the opposite gender rule --that men and women fight in pairs due to some necessity of the magic (or whatever)-- I think people would have less trouble with it.

    Well, some people, anyway.

    Some men act like online gaming was the saloon of the 19th Century, where you went to get away from your wife/girlfriend/whatever and you could hang out in 'guy space'. The reality is, however, that there are far more women playing out there than the guys will admit.

    And then there are some people who are just plain misogynistic, and the anonymity of the net turns them into absolute jerks. Too bad their wives/sisters/cousins/girlfriends can't see their lunacy on full display.

  2. Regardless of good intentions, I am not a huge fan of social engineering by way of blunt objects wielded by people ostensively without higher education in the subject.

    Speaking of, have you seen their website? Very first thing that appears is a thin female mage with ample cleavage and a bare midriff. Now that is a company championing gender equality and parity, amirite?

  3. I'm not sure I got this right: is it PLAYER of the opposite sex, or CHARACTER of the opposite sex? What to stop males to register with "female" sex just to provide the bonus to the guild group? It seems like a non-solution applied to the wrong problem.

    And BTW:
    Thus all teenagers get tarred by the same brush, and many guilds institute age minimums.

    has nothing to do with the image of teenagers, but just with the fact that many guilds raid until late night and want their members to be reliably present. 14-year olds staying up every evening until midnight just doesn't happen, which means additional roster problems.

  4. Helistar: I've been in guilds where the age limit was connected to the image of teenagers as being immature.

    I'm not averse to devs experimenting with ways to get the player base to be nicer to each other. But this is a weird way to go about it. Also, I don't really want to join a group that only wants me because of some passive buff. I also like that it's my choice whether I tell people I'm playing with that I'm female or not, and not a game mechanic thing.

  5. I'm not sure about this. Certainly, your arguments are very rational and I agree with the benefits that you list. What I am not comfortable with is the manner in which this is implemented, by giving a passive buff and almost "forcing" players to mix. I would rather have a gradual integration of female gamers, with the subsequent abandonment of old stereotypes.

    Actually, I am guilty of not playing with a female character, but because I do not like the female model of Blood Elves, or of some other races in other games, with their highly sexualized appearance or model-like bodies. Yet I do not make myself invisible, and if somebody addresses me as a male, I often correct them if appropriate, and I speak via ventrilo or teamspeak when required.

    I do not know what the solution to this bias many players have towards female gamers. I was hoping we would achieve equality little by little, being more present and engaging with the community in the same terms as our male peers. I am in favour of certain tools that encourage socialization, but I am not sure if this one is right; it is too blunt, negates player anonymity and might do more harm by ways of shoehorning something which ought to be natural. That said, I am only half convinced, and not totally against it, because your arguments were very appealing.

  6. "I think it is harder to retain prejudice against someone when you're playing on the same team as they are. "

    Right now we have women in the misogynistic sub-communities, validating the misogyny (no, it's okay, I'm not offended by this!). They've internalized sexism so much that they do not recognize it as bad.

    While I think your reasoning would work in a much better world than we have now; I don't think we're there yet.

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

  7. Call me a cynic, but in my post about this earlier and still today I kinda find this method...while maybe it had good be just flat out dumb. Gaming communities lately have shown themselves to be remarkably resistant to change (see the Cross Assault krefuffle)...MOBA communities especially can be very competitive. I would hate to see an attempt to bring women into a gaming community instead met with "Well we have a girl on our team for the buff." (not to say that there aren't good female MOBA players, there are! But look at what happened with they tried to do an all female LOL tourney).

    I think the answer is less about hanging out enticements, and more about changing the attitude of your community.

    Also, people on your own team can be even worse than your enemies...

  8. You don't really consider the fact that character gender is not locked to player gender. A system like this does not actually encourage male/female cooperation; it encourages more male players to roll as females in order to benefit from a buff (or vice versa, though I would argue that the ratio is more heavily skewed to men).

    Gender equality does not mean that there needs to be a 50% representation all the time. It just means that there needs to be the opportunities, and the nature of the internet provides such an opportunity already. If more females don't want to play games, we don't need to force them to. Where's all the pressure to have more male nurses and other stereotypical "female" jobs, like there is to bend over backwards to have them be firefighters and CEOs?

  9. For the record, the buff is tied to the gender of the *player*, not the character. I.e. if a female player was playing a male character, the group would still get the buff.

    Which, of course introduces its own set of problems, but let's just assume that the company manages to identify genders correctly in some fashion.

  10. I was under the impression that the characters in the game had to be male/female for it to work. That and confirming "gender" in a game is pretty wonky...they want people to connect it through their facebook I guess...which would rule out people like Tobold and myself who prefer gaming through a handle.

  11. Frankly I don't see this as a viable option. How could you prove Gender? (this has been mentioned i won't beat it to death) Also I dont see the point. I have never had trouble getting into raids. Never been bounced from a group or rejected due to gender. Our guild is 10th on our server and we have females in all of our raid groups who consistently top dps and hps.
    It seems to me that a higher percentage of females are good players then males. There may be fewer but the ones that play do it well.