Archive for the OOC Category

Blog Banter #17 – Women in Eve

Posted in OOC on April 20, 2010 by shava

Breaking character, Shava steps from behind the terminal.  She’s a short, thickset, matronly woman of 50 with intense honey-brown eyes and a sly grin.  She is NOTHING like la capsuliere (intelligence training aside).

Shava has left Eve Online and come back.  Three different times.  So is it a coincidence that this post took 3rd place in the blog banter? *heh*

CK kind of inadvertently hit part of his own nail on the head, when he asked his Blog Banter question:

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?

My emphasis added.  CK, you are not speaking to me when you say we.  You are speaking to me when you say them.  You are speaking to me when you call me a Lady with a capital L.  It’s hard to pilot a ship from outside the porthole, stuck on this pedestal.  And you are just a sweet guy.  And you want to fix the problem.  But it’s got you in its jaws.

I don’t claim to speak for all the female pilots in Eve, but I can speak from my own experience.  Eve Online is a military/economic simulation.  It started almost entirely male.

There are a couple of comparisons that spring immediately to mind — both from my own experience in real life.

When I was a teenager, I had the pleasure of knowing Senator George Aiken, then recently retired senior senator and ex-governor from my home state of Vermont.  Aiken was an amazing man, a statesman, and he met me because someone forwarded my ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) test scores to him.  I had come out at 99%+ in every category but one (don’t remember which, sorry).  Aiken told me he had heard good things about me and was ready to write me a recommendation if I wanted to go to any of the military academies.  He mentioned Annapolis.

The year before, in 1985, Congress first authorized the military academies to take women candidates.  The first women attended the year he asked me this question — the year I turned seventeen.

My father believed in strict nonviolence in his social organizing (he was a Unitarian Universalist minister, and before that a high school science/math teacher, and before that a union organizer during WWII).  But one thing he’d emphasized to me was that to foster peace you needed to understand the causes, needs, and means of war.  Because of this, as a little hippie teenager in 70’s Vermont, I had read Clauswitz, Suntzu, and a great deal of history including military history.  I was encouraged to reflect how the Gita integrated the hard decisions of war (“how to kill your relatives without accruing terribly bad karma”) with spirituality.

But I was not prepared to enter the lion’s den.  Lion’s den?  The military?  Well, yes, I did have a lack of the suffering fools gladly gene and a healthy mistrust of authority that would have made military life difficult.  But I wasn’t actually primarily worried about that.

I was already a girl-geek, in a small town.  I had a bare clue what would happen to the first girls at Annapolis.  My prediction was, they would be eaten alive.  At the very least, their lives would be made enough hell that they would be nearly set up to fail.

So I passed on the officer’s life.

Instead, I became a software engineer, back when that was quite the boy’s club.  And I spent nearly every weekend of the late 70’s and early 80’s at the MIT Strategic Games Society, where Betsy H. and I were the only two women.  It made us very popular in that circle.  Outside of MITSGS, we were observed with curiosity and sometimes a little horror.

Women aren’t supposed to be interested in killing things, or war, or — yes — blowing sh*t up.

Now, Betsy and I were gamers.  We were gamer grrls before D&D took over MITSGS, and brought in a few more persons of the female persuasion.  I got commissioned to paint whole armies of lead miniatures, laboriously ordered by air mail on paper forms from Europe.  We did scale naval miniatures on a huge hex-paved courtyard at MIT, one nautical mile per hex, from dusk to dawn once a year.  We went en masse — the two of us and a hoard of young and not-so-young men — to movies like Alien and Das Boot, and really just about any war or science fiction or fantasy or special effects movie that came out.  We were geeks before being geeks was cool, and girl geeks before such a thing was anything but an anamoly.

At work, I affected a sort of baby dyke look.  Being a young looking early-20-something and pretty, the men I worked with (and I worked with almost all men) would either dismiss me as brainless, want to bed me, or get so flummoxed just having to interact, period.

By 1982, I was chief software engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation, working on the first commercial multimedia system in the world, matrix managing forty people to create prototype applications (and break the authoring system — or at least strain it to its limits).  That was also the year I got on the Internet, and discovered the USENET group net.women — about 50 women all over the US working for government contractors, the military, or engineering schools — most of us engineers and scientists.  We all had the same issues with the guys around us.  Being dismissed, having to work twice as hard to get an even break regarding respect or recognition, glass ceilings, what would now be called harassment (but then we just took for granted, mostly).

Men around us would test us with coarse language and coarser stories to see if we were ok with being “one of the guys.”  They would treat us differently in a thousand different ways, some meant as gentlemanly, but most meant to push our boundaries (sometimes in the name of bonding, often not).

Now, you can see from these issues (passing on military academy, dealing with being “the woman engineer”), that in the greater world, mostly things have changed.  Young women today in at least the coastal parts of the US generally are raised to think they can do whatever they want with their careers.  Annapolis is over 20% female (in comparison, 30 years ago, MIT was hitting about that same milestone).

Heck, the president of MIT is a woman now.  Geeks are cool.  More and more women are playing online games that involve strategy, tactics, military/economic simulations, and blowing sh*t up.  More and more women are playing really much more bloody and violent console games that really are far more squicky than Eve.

But, Eve is 5% female.  It’s not because the girl gamers are saying “Math is hard!  Let’s go shopping!” It’s not because Eve isn’t elegant and beautiful, because it is.  It isn’t because Eve is one of those limited games that can’t employ women’s oft-vaunted talents in diplomacy and politics, but only involve finite strategy/tactics.  Eve already has a distinct human dimension, as anyone would know who’d gotten to corporate leadership and/or null-space.

My thought is that there are two really major problems.

The first problem is CCP’s.  CCP markets Eve as a PVP space game.  Famously, mining in Eve is boring.  Famously, Eve is a spreadsheet game.  Famously, for the first while in PVP in Eve, the sh*t being blown up is probably you.  Repeatedly.

CCP does a lousy job of marketing Eve’s deep lore, rich player-driven story and politics.  They never really mention Eve’s complex cooperative play, involving holding together alliances of sometimes thousands of individuals to realize amazingly intricate military and political goals that must be shored up by a strong and willing industrial foundation, and executed with truly epic military engagements.  These are aspects of Eve that should attract women, who look for the social aspects of a game — that doesn’t necessarily involve feeding chickens on a Facebook page.

The bigger problem is that Eve’s internal culture, for the most part, is somewhere between 1976’s military academies and 1982’s software engineering.  At 5%, Eve is a boy’s club, de facto.  Women are, at best, encouraged to swear and spit with the best of them.  At worst, they are treated…differently.  They are treated with a sort of gentlemanly courtesy that cuts off comradery.  They are meant to grin and bear the incessant peurile humor at women’s expense.  If I never saw another ASCII space boobie again, I could just about stand it.  When someone calls you a dick, it can have some begrudging respect or affection in it.  But trust me, when someone calls you a pussy in Eve, they are not being polite.   I went through this in the early 80’s, and I am willing to deal with it.

Most women under 45 aren’t.

And to you, my brothers and friends in Eve, I speculate that you are just not going to change your behavior overnight.

So, what do we need to do to attract more women to play with us, in this amazing world we and CCP have built?

First, CCP needs to market to women.  They don’t.  I’m not sure they know how.  (Hej, CCP, I’m a marketing consultant in part of my real life, and I’m available for some hours on the side!)

Second, corporations need to decide if they want to be female-friendly, or not.  And it’s FINE if you decide you want to be hairy beer-swilling rude trogs in your own corp — but if you want to be friendly and really welcoming to women in Eve, look at how engineering schools and the military have progressively created guidelines to help their own hairy beer-swilling rude trogs to create an environment where women (and men) can thrive.  Hell, look at how *real* corporations do it (or fail to). And then sincerely ask the women in.

And remember most of us gamer grrls can still swear and spit with the best of them.


More blog banters on attracting the fairer sex to play Eve Online: