Friday, June 6, 2008

Age, Gender and WoW

Not too many of you know this, but I am a soon-to-be 20 female who plays WoW. This isn’t overly special in and of itself; there are many women in my guild and in my old guilds, and I am friends with many more of all age groups. This isn’t actually, well, not completely, about being a young woman playing video games. This is more about being a young woman playing video games with older men.

Sounds awkward, doesn’t it? Say it out loud. Sounds even more awkward.

Personally, I’ve not had a problem with it. Thanks to the great interaction the WoW blogging community has experienced lately, I’ve met so many wonderful and amazing people, and age is just something I rarely think about when I’m on the internet, as little as I think about it in real life. I’m more focused on playing the game and having fun with people who want to play with me and enjoy my company.

Reality, however, is a cold, harsh mistress.

I still live with my parents, and sometimes I forget my headphones at one of their houses and then they’ll hear Vent, and the deep, masculine voices on the other end. And they start to ask questions. The obvious, concerned parent questions. Who is that? Who are you playing with? They sound…older.

Now, I was raised a little sheltered, a little protected. I was warned every single time I went online about giving out information and watching who I talked to and if I was going on that myspace thing to not use any personal pictures. I never did, and to this day I am very leery about putting my picture online. I’m a bit more open than before, but most of my “internet is an unsafe place” training is still locked in.

Besides this, a lot of modern cultures have an element of female paranoia (understandably) pervading the rearing of children. You’re taught not to trust strangers, especially men. Women do not walk alone, especially not at night. We need pepper spray and knives, and we have to watch our drinks constantly lest someone slip us something. We have to be careful and make sure someone is really being a nice guy, not just trying to trick us into going down a dark alley never to be seen again. Men can’t play with little children not their own without being seen as “too friendly.”

So, where does this leave me?

I can’t lie to my parents, I refuse to. I’m still in awe that, even with the whole generation gap, these people find me interesting and worth their time. I’ve been to plenty of social events where I’ve been stuck in an awkward place, too young to talk with the adults and too old to chill with the angsty preteens. My only recourse is generally to play make-believe with the small children and run around being dragons and care bears (though, honestly, I do really enjoy that). Needless to say, though, when you answer “he’s a something year old man living in such and such a place” it can set off warning bells in any parent’s mind. After all, it is difficult to imagine what interest a man over a decade or so a girl’s senior can have in her.

Even writing this post is awkward. I look over it and wonder how I can say this without offending my friends or putting people on their guard. Yes, the internet is a dangerous place, you have to be careful. You can get taken advantage of and hurt and tricked and fooled. But at the same time, the internet is changing the world. I can play WoW with a twelve year old girl and organize a raid with a 40 year old man. I can chat about blogging with a grandfather and help a 15 year old spec their druid. The internet becomes a sort of equalizer, and WoW moreso. Most people just want to play the game, and they find friends who are good players and just go from there. You find things in common, chat about interests, have a good time and get your goretusk livers along the way.

Times, they are a-changin’. I’m still going to be careful when I’m online, and I don’t just hang out with anyone who comes along. But I’m not going to let something silly like age dictate who I play with. That would lock me out of meeting and hanging out with some of the coolest people I’ve known to date.


Armond said...

The internet helps remove the illusion that age matters, and helps encourage the belief that friends should be made by their virtues, not their statistics.

Tox said...

Well, I've got nothing important to say...other than that I totally agree with your sentiments and you've probably worded them more eloquently than I could have in all my 20 years of life :P

Good Hunting,

Dezdemone said...

As a 25 year old female WoW player and blogger I know exactly what you mean. It's definately important to be careful with your private information in order to protect yourself. However 99.9% of the people that you and I are playing with are genuine, intelligent, and not-at-all-creepy.

Pike said...

Waaaay back over ten years ago when the word "internet" was first coming into popular lingo my own parents were pretty strict about it. These days, they're much more lax-- my dad doesn't know much about computers, actually, but my mom is a blogger herself (for various non-WoW subjects =P) and is part of several mailing lists and for that reason she really understands the internet friendship thing. It helps that my boyfriend and I met online, and he's loved by my whole family! =P

My mom is actually very proud of my "blogging accomplishments" and it's nice to have that support.

I agree though, you do have to be careful. For all the friendly people you meet out there, there are still, sadly, the creepy ones.

Convalescence said...

Keep on'a blogging me, baby.

Haha, unconventional and possibly out of place, I think the metaphor can fit well, still.

I do hope I've become one you like to play and talk with. ><

Seriously, though! Keep writing, love. <3

Anonymous said...

"We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals."

Quote from the Hacker Manifesto, that same culture pretty much expands to online gaming. In the game it doesn't really matter who the other person is outside. We judge each other based on how we behave in game, and we create relationshps based on our game experiences.

To me, that's one of the great things about online gaming, and i believe it makes us better people, despite what the ignorant think about videogames and the effect they have on people.

Ratshag said...

This is a really good post. It deals with some very real issues, ones that I've never seen addressed in our WoW blogosphere. And I'm gonna leave a clumsy, rambling comment. Oh well.

Don't often talk about it, but I'm the father of a WoW-playing girl. And I keep a pretty close eye on what she's up to in the game, particularly when I notice she's partied with someone. I'm not worried, I'm not concerned, but I do feel it's important to be aware. And so, even though you are a number of years older, I can completely understand your parents still taking note, and wanting details, when they hear those older male voices.

One of those voices sometimes may be mine. I've been lucky enough to meet a number of interesting, intelligent, pleasant people through WoW. Grandmothers, men my own age, young married couples, and a few soon-to-be 20 women. People I never would have met in real life. And I'm really glad that the internet has changed the world like this.

Now, I know that I'm a decent, trustworthy, (mostly) harmless guy who's just looking to have some fun killing murlocs or whatever with my friend. A friend who is nice and bright and cracks me up. But I'm not the least offended or put out by your pointing out that not everyone is like that. Because it's true, and it's important to remember.

But I'm glad that it doesn't mean people can't be friends, just because they were born in different decades.

Megan said...

LFG, my van, will pass on all candy!

Bell said...

@megan - sweet deal, I'm in.

Alyse said...

I highly doubt that people are playing WoW are any real social threat. I've thought of most people who can't find a place in their life, akward at social situations in large amounts, or just very shy. Theres nothing wrong with any of that, but I doesn't scream pedophile or rapist.

Although you never know. I had my suspicions of you... :P

Bell said...

@alyse - WoW is like any community. The odds of finding a bad seed are small, but they're still there.

And yes, I'm a horrible influence.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 40-year-old guy, and while I don't have any kids of my own, I do have two young (14) cousins who I love dearly and I worry about them being accosted on-line by some perv or weirdo or "ERP" devotee in WoW. The good thing is that (at least for now) I'm more computer savvy than they are, so I can monitor their Facebook and MySpace pages for things that don't add up. Their dad does it as well, but I'm the computer nerd in the family.

I approve of the fact that you're guarded with personal information, pictures and so on. I've seen some bloggers jokingly 'dare' the internet to stalk them... going so far as to publish their home addresses or phone numbers and it makes me cringe. You're very smart to be careful, and I'm glad you are. Keep it up!

If your parents are concerned, ask them to sit and watch you while you interact and talk to people. Let them listen in. Kinda weird, sure, and let your guildmates or whoever know in advance so nobody talks about the poop quests, but it would probably ease their minds. Or freak them out completely. One of those. ^_^

Daxenos said...

I'm on the other side of the fence as the 40ish year old man that may need to explain, to his wife, the young female voice coming from the

There are times when I skirt around using gender specific pronouns so I don't get "the look". And I have what I'd consider a pretty good marriage...

Kestrel said...

Bell, I think this may be your best article ever. And what an insightful, thought-provoking one, at that. You make me proud to be part of the WoW blogging community.

~Grandpa Kes~


Jandrae said...

Great article dealing with real life issues that seem to be ignored in WoW blogs. Keep it up =).

Anonymous said...

Wow, Bell.

Nice blog. I had never really thought of it other than abstractly. I play with people ranging from 13 to 68. Men and women, and we all get along very well. I never thought of how it might sound if someone's parents heard vent. Though even my parents have questioned me talking to strangers on vent, and I'm a 30 year old man...

I may have to blog on this topic...

Sweetpetal, the Sweetest Priest said...

Interesting post... but your claim that "it is difficult to imagine what interest a man over a decade or so a girl’s senior can have in her" seems somewhat disingenuous.

Here's a hint. It's not her conversation. If you're still really not sure, ask Ratshag. I am quite sure he'll be happy to explain in more detail. With pictures.

But on a more serious note, both my daughters play Wow. One's almost your age, one's only 11. I don't really worry about them very much, to be honest. I keep a mild eye on the younger one, but the worst she gets is bad language, and she gets that worse from her father.

On the other hand, I've always told my kids NEVER to give out private details on the internet. I don't do that myself. I hate it when people ask "Where are you from? What do you do? What's your name?" I always think, and usually say, it's none of their damn business.

Bell said...

@sweetpetal - Actually, I'm good friends with Ratshag, who is much older than me. And I would please like to ask you to consider how your tone comes across in text, because that seemed almost derrogatory towards my fellow blogger and compadre. I'm also great friends with Bear and Kestrel, and Fimlys and many others. All male, all older, with children and wives and some with grandchildren, and some without any romantic affiliations. And to say it is disingenuous is actually the point; the fact that you immediately thought that proves it. It's exactly the same conclusion the majority of people jump to. Which is, in the end, the point of this post.

This could eventually devolve into a debate of that ever-elusive topic, of whether two people of a gender attracted to each other (male-female, female-female, male-male, and so on) can ever have a truly platonic relationship. However, the need to group together and the relative safe anonymity of the internet (when you follow the proper rules) can lead to great friendships between people who would find it awkward to form such relationships "IRL."

I think it's great you watch out for your children and yourself. It's a great habit to get into. However, generalizing people under one label will cut out a lot of your friendship opportunities.

John W. S. Marvin said...

LOL, I'm a 52 year old guy who sings (badly) in vent when the raid takes a break. Now I have to worry about young ladies' parents hearing me... ;)

andrew123 said...

I agree though, you do have to be careful. For all the friendly people you meet out there, there are still, sadly, the creepy ones.

Buy WoW Gold

andrew123 said...

A friend who is nice and bright and cracks me up. But I'm not the least offended or put out by your pointing out that not everyone is like that. Because it's true, and it's important to remember.

Buy WoW Gold

Anonymous said...

Nice post Bell! Not a subject that I would have dreamed of reading about in my search for information and tips for resto druids and I am impressed that you actually have taken time out to contemplate this subject and you are effectively still a teenager. That is not meant to be a derogatory remark rather an enlightening thought from a 40 year old father of 5 children ranging from 12 to 22. It just goes to show that age really does not mean that much behind the confines of a keyboard! I Have been playing wow now for perhaps 3 years on and off and have a 80 druid that is reasonably well geared in all specs. I meet many people in WOW of varying ages and of course many different cultures playing on the European servers and coming from Sweden we are very mixed.

With regards to being careful with stalkers, pedofiles, general social misfits and capital punishment candidates, I think that it is just good general practice to be careful about distributing your personal information or contact details. I do think that it is the parents job to give the children the tools to be able to indentify and judge for themselves the good from the bad people out there (and there are a great deal of bad people out there unfortunately). This i believe can only be done by allowing the children to form their own opinions and impressions of the people they meet not merely by telling them that they can´t talk to this person or that person.

It does horrify me actually to think that the parents of some of the girls I play with in my guild when raiding would view me as a potential threat for their 19 year old daughter.

Great blog and definitely food for more thought on my part!