A member of my academic group defended her doctoral thesis today and because of COVID, the defence was zoomed for those of us who were not able to participate. The topic was: Social difference as action: A nexus analysis of gender and ability in World of Warcraft game culture which resonated with me because of method, power structure and online environments. I am not a gamer myself, but as the thesis argues: “Online human action takes on forms which are characteristic of each platform and community. At the same time, societal phenomena are present in technologically mediated interaction.” which to me means that I am allowed to relate to this world because it is not so different from the other worlds we occupy. In addition, the ways in which the interaction order changes, are similar to those in other online environments.
The opponent followed the method of nexus analysis in her questions which meant that she asked for details of the data collection, organisation, researcher role and lastly, she asked to position the research in the larger social context and initiate positive change in the nexus of practice the work analysed. She invited the new PhD candidate to graduate to a full participant in the conversation as the expert by referring to an Engadget article from 2012 asking why Blizzard is still, based on her analysis of a much more recent timeframe, ok with gender inequality in World of Warcraft? It is both an easy and a difficult question because the easy answer is capitalism, but the more difficult one is to try and go deeper into it. So let’s ask five whys and jump to conclusions:
1 Why is Blizzard still ok with gender inequality in World of Warcraft? Because it assumes changing it is detrimental to their business.
2 Why does Blizzard assume so? Because it runs a massive amount of testing on all of their games and constantly surveys their community, and the results imply it would be.
3 Why do the results imply this? Because the majority of the gamer community in World of Warcraft is misogynistic.
4 Why is the majority of the community misogynistic? Because the game design feeds misogyny and thus sanctions it, which in turn allows also the misogyny to amplify in the community.
5 Why does the game design feed misogyny? Because Blizzard believes it is the most desirable product for their target segment. We go a full circle here and feel free to draw the conclusion that either Blizzard is misogynistic as a company or it exploits a misogynistic world.
And this is the hard part. If we were to think that the company itself is misogynistic, we might question that their workforce is not diverse enough (20% women), or their diverse workforce is not in positions of power (apparently in Ubisoft, there are a lot of women in game design), or they have internalised misogyny. But if we believe that the company is “just” exploiting an inherently misogynistic world, it gets a bit sadder and harder because capitalism seems to be enough of a justification not to change. If the company believes that this is what a majority of their users want, or that most of their users do not care for gender equality in games, they can rest on their laurels, wait for the society around them to change enough to force them to act on this to please the market. And the change is slow. While the slimiest tv shows (e.g. Big Brother Finland) are changing, online environments in general continue polarising. A quick Google search showed that the gaming community seems to echo the spirit of the gaming companies — yet another boys’ club.
But the change starts from the gaming companies. They should take action when it comes to representation in their worlds. And like other social networks, they should create policies in the social interaction they enable. And if you have to be all capitalist about it, take the cue from Patagonia and make a good thing central to your brand.
P.S. Women are not the only minority the thesis deals with.