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Women in Eve

As I mentioned CrazyKinux is doing a Blog Banter special on why there are so few women in Eve (reportedly below 5% which is below the 6% CCP quoted a few years ago) and how we can get more of us playing:

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?

So why do I think women don’t play Eve? A lot of reasons. Nothing can come down to one thing. Visuals, gameplay, culture, and just plain luck. I can kick out a few ideas though, few of which are sadly going to help with the question of how to attract more women.

In the here and now of 2010, I’d say the biggest reason that there are few women in Eve is that there are so few women in Eve. After a while, this kind of thing becomes self-perpetuating. It’s hard to be the only woman out there. I’ve only been in one corporation where my first time on Teamspeak wasn’t greeted with someone exclaiming in shock that there was a girl on comms. (The one it didn’t happen was an all woman corp.)

And with so few women playing, the culture becomes more masculine and in some frankly very misogynist ways. Either I listen to guys using rape every third word and describing in horrific detail the details of their bio-break or I get embarrassed apologies for language far less offensive than your average PG rated movie. In either situation, my presence is awkward. As a woman, you are very aware that you are a rare and odd creature in the Eve universe.

Why did Eve develop this way? I’d bring up the look and feel of the game more than anything else. Eve’s PR, advertising, and outreach. Even the interface in the game. It’s dark. Very dark. Sharp featured, chiseled, desperate men, and they are almost always men, lurking in shadow, ready to kill at a moment’s notice. And then a nice dark gray background with a black frame just to make the point. It’s a brutal world and the graphics communicate that quite well. When there are women, they seem unapproachable, isolated, and very very hard. I don’t find any of it to be very appealing. I suspect that other women feel similarly.

I hate to even bring this up, but I have to admit I think there is something going on here even if I don’t like the possibly sexist connotations of it. The game itself has always been impermeably complicated and this is often blamed for keeping women away from the game. While I reject the notion that women won’t play complicated games, I think the particular type of complication in Eve is something that turns women off.

I’m reminded of last year’s vacation when we ran into a couple of “rail fans” (not surprising as we were on a train) and when they found out we were from Cape Cod, they immediately started to rattle off the type of train engine that our little tourist railroad uses along with all kinds of information about it. I’m into science, I game, I ride a motorscooter. But this was something deeply foreign. That kind of statistical geekery common to transpotters, baseball stat freaks, and Nick Hornby characters seems to me to be something that is almost exclusively a masculine interest in our society. And it’s exactly the kind of mentality that “fitting” a ship in Eve requires.

All games have this type of thing. WoW has sites like Elitist Jerks where you can look up what is mathematically the best piece of equipment or spell rotation. But nowhere is it so important or pronounced in the culture as well as the game system as in Eve. What do you do about that? Hopefully absolutely nothing because as annoying as I find discovering that I need Advanced Weapon Upgrades IV to fit this on that ship, it wouldn’t be Eve without this system. Dumbing down isn’t the answer. And it would also likely create a sexist backlash from existing players. But I can’t say I don’t think it’s a factor.

So how can we bring in more women? In all honesty, you got me. I have some suggestions that I think would make the game more friendly to women, but whether that’s enough to actually bring in people long term is another question entirely. I for one, do not want Eve to stop being Eve.

I’ll start off by bursting CCP’s big bubble. One thing I’m pretty sure won’t attract more women is Incarna, the upcoming “walk around the stations” addition. The fact that your avatar is limited to a facial portrait in a window has been posited as a major factor in women not playing and Incarna has been the great hope for bringing women to Eve. It will supposedly appeal to our interest in more social aspects rather than the hardware side of your main avatar being a spaceship. Just my opinion, but this is not going to bring in women because it’s going to end up being a huge sexist mess. If it had been in the game at launch, it might have been have increased the appeal of the game, but now the culture is already set, I suspect that Incarna will involve lots of naked or semi-naked G.I.R.L. avatars lounging around stations cybering men for isk. In fact, I’ll make the bold prediction that Incarna will actually turn more women off than it brings in by giving yet another outlet for alienating sexist behavior.

Some solid ideas?

First while Eve is a harsh place, starting to crack down on some of the more blatant sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive behavior would do a great deal to improve things for women. You may not be able to keep chat more pleasant, but you can at least remove characters with the word “rape” in their names.

And yeah, most importantly the rape thing. Guys? You the players? Shut the fuck up about rape this and rape that and rape something else shit. Learn a second motherfucking verb. Obviously I have quite the mouth, but this particular term is different. One sixth of all women are at some time in their lives a victim of sexual assault. For those who have been, “rape”  is not a random term of violence or just another offensive word, it’s something that’s actually happened to them.

CCP could lighten up some of the graphics in advertising. Don’t change the entire branding. Just give women more avatar time. And it’s possible to create avatars within the Eve world that don’t look like psychopaths, so try it. Not a ludicrous parody of happy joy joy, giggly girl in her pink spaceship, just someone that doesn’t look like an emotionless ice queen (Amarr) or a heroin addict not quite in recovery (everyone else).

And pay attention to where women are in Eve: right here. Women are very well represented in Eve blogging. More than anything, sell the story.

Eve has the best stories of any MMO and emphasizing these will do more to make the game more personal than all the pink spaceships or avatars of Incarna. Eve has not just the four race storyline, but also the player stories, whether it’s the fictionalized adventures of the Hellcats (and ex-cats) or the epic story of the Two and now Third Great Eve Wars. The out of game stories about what happens in game are a very potent weapon for contextualizing and personalizing the game. Cater to it and support it.

Directly into that comes Eve-Gate or Spacebook or whatever you want to call the upcoming “social networking” portal to Eve. To me, this is the big development likely to interest women, not Incarna. CCP: don’t make this just about game mechanics. This should be a very  effective way to increase socialization, communication, and storytelling within Eve. Let us work on our pages, link killboards and blogs. All things that should make it more approachable for all newcomers, but in particular women. And with web development being a bit cheaper than MMO development, probably with a far lower economic investment than something like Incarna.

But in the end, we all have to just deal with it. The game is almost seven years old. It’s a man’s galaxy and it’s probably going to stay that way. There are things that can be done to make the transition into Eve easier for women, but no matter how much I’d like to see our little sisterhood grow, wasting resources chasing a demographic that already has rejected your game isn’t going to be very fruitful.

Some other comments on the subject (and note the repeated comments about player behavior–no I did not cherry pick these):

The Ladies of New Eden

It’s Not About Fluffy Bloody Kittens People

New Eden doesn’t need to change for Eve–Adam needs to get over himself

Think Outside the Spaceship

Persephone Astrid on the subject

Hell Hath No Fury

3 Comments

  1. Pinkfluff April 26, 2010 8:26 pm

    Well I must say that ship fitting and the wide variety of combinations and tactics you can do are one of the things I love most about the game, and even more so with the new strategic cruisers. I could spend hours figuring out and optimizing different setups for my loki. Though in all fairness, I’m an engineer and many, probably most, women out there aren’t in technical professions.

    I do think alot of it is the player base. In my current corp it isn’t too bad because we actually have two female players (including me), and a number of the members I’ve know for years in the game and they have families in the real world so that aren’t the typical male player. A few years ago I was the only girl in an almost 200 player corp, and I also got the whole “omg a girl” on Teamspeak. Some people tried to hit on me, I got offers of things like a freighter full of roses and a private dinner on someone’s faction battleship. Not exactly the kinds of things I play the game for…

    I also agree that Incarna probably won’t help. Even if CCP designs and implements it in a good way, the current male-dominated culture will likely pervert it into something women don’t want to associate with. Yeah, the avatars could really use some work too. I actually like what my industrial alt looks like, but I remember being disappointed when I made my first character that all of the possible combinations weren’t very good. There was no way to not make her look like a typical tomboy/butch.

    I think if the story and role playing were more a part of the game it would help alot. I don’t really want to give up 0.0 to join a tiny RP corp with like 3 active members who occasionally does a mission together or shoots a few people in low sec, and a simple bio tab for your character hardly does it justice. Even most people who use it seem to just put flags and dumb quotes in it.

  2. Numtini April 26, 2010 9:10 pm

    I’ve never really been hit on in Eve. I think most players are more intimidated than anything else.

    I’d be perfectly glad to get a freighter full of roses. I just need to train a couple of weeks and I could fly it!

    On roleplaying, there was an interesting comment on Kugutsumen I think about whether or not CCP should just give up on the entire four race thing and concentrate more on the player corp and alliance as the storyline. To me that’s really where it’s at. Roleplaying in Eve isn’t about roleplaying a Minmater, it’s about roleplaying you as a miner, pirate, fleet pilot, or whatever it is that you want to do. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out, with the names of different alliances, it doesn’t make for really compelling literature. Other things are just implausable, like the complete collapse of Goonswarm. But it does have the odd benefit of having actually happened and that’s what’s really compelling to me about Eve. Maybe they could change the names to protect the guilty.

  3. Pinkfluff April 26, 2010 10:39 pm

    That’s a very good point. I think the story should be able to focus on the player organizations more. The official background story of the game is interesting, but player events are much more so because you’re actually a part of them, experiencing and creating them as they happen. I’ve been thinking about writing an EVE fic based on some of the major events in EVE that I’ve been a part of, maybe I will when classes are over. True, many names aren’t very conducive to literature, but you can always change the name for the story. Take the recent thing with Goonswarm for example. To me that makes for a better story (perhaps with more details or a few literary changes) than the same old Caldari vs Gallente and Amarr vs Minmatar that you always hear about. It’s the very fact that it is an unlikely but true event that makes it interesting.

    Right now all I know of to this end is a single part of the forum for corp/alliance RP. It would be great if that idea could be expanded and integrated into the game. Maybe a section for corp/alliance history and the ability to put insignias on your hull of your corporation, or even a few different options there. Each ship in your corp’s pvp division could have a squadron insignia that is different from the one the miners have, for instance. And of course those are just a few simple ideas.

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