Women in EVE, and MMOs in general, has been a topic of discussion for a very long time. We young to middle aged men sit around and wonder (well, some of us do) why more of our girlfriends and spouses are not banging down the server door to come sit in asteroid fields and mine with us all day, or to camp a stargate for 4 hours with no kills, or wade through 5 hours of lag to conduct a POS siege, or deal with can flippers when running missions in empire. All that said, I’m not sure I’ll be logging into EVE today. All the same, there are nearly a quarter of a million of us who play EVE like it is a religion, but a very small number of those players are female. When I asked my girlfriend why, in my view, games like WoW have a higher proportion of female players, her honest response was, “Well, I don’t play EVE because I liked making dresses with my zombie priest lady in Warcraft.”
This got me to thinking. My girlfriend played WoW with me for a few months until I got sick of it and went to EVE, and before that we played Ragnarok Online together for a couple of months before I got tired of grinding for cute bunny ears and went to WoW. In both cases, it was not the hardcore gameplay that attracted her. She liked running the quests and killing the monsters, but enjoyed playing dress-up more than smash-up, and she also got more into the social and role play aspect of the guild we were part of than the raiding and grinding. This is not to say that she was playing virtual Barbies. There was a great deal of focus for her on character-driven story and a personal experience driven by tangible character development, something that EVE often lacks. This is obviously not true of all, or perhaps even most, female gamers. I know a few women in EVE’s Mercenary Coalition who are as rough and tumble as they come. It can’t be ignored, however, that this desire for a more social and character (and pretty dress) oriented style of gameplay is an attraction to at least some female gamers.
Also, for her at least, the aesthetic model of the game just isn’t appealing. While talking to her for the material of this entry, I asked whether Ambulation, the ability for EVE players to exit their stuffy (and probably smelly, after 4 years) capsules and walk around in space stations, scheduled for release some time around the Second Coming. She said that it would only be interesting if it was the norm for gameplay, but that she suspects (rightly so, I think) that the main thrust will still be watching “your gray blob float in the big black blob.” In WoW and RO, she enjoyed watching her character change as it progressed, and the ability to customize equipment. For me, this concept is rather alien, as it has always been the game impact of the customization that I am concerned with rather than if these blasters go with that microwarp drive, or if my armor plating is so last season.
So, why don’t more women play EVE? I honestly have no idea. All I know is why my girlfriend doesn’t play. If you have a girlfriend or spouse who is a gamer (all five of us), but does not care for EVE, please ask her why. I would be very interested in building a stronger discussion on this. Also, if you are a woman who plays EVE, or if you know one, please ask her what keeps her logging in. My theory is that there are a significant number of female gamers out there who feel that playing a character that is essentially yourself in a big phallic spaceship is not as interesting as playing a character of a fantasy race with its own story, appearance, etc. Obviously CCP shares some of these beliefs, as I have heard it mentioned that Ambulation is partially going to target the elusive female gamer. If these presumptions are wrong, they need to be corrected. Speak up, ladies! Show us dense males what it is you want in the game. It’s not like we men have the best track record knowing what women want in any situation, so it’s hardly surprising that game development is any different. The ways of females are mysterious, and trying to explain why they make certain decisions often leaves me feeling like the chimps in 2001, just banging away at the obelisk with no real results until I eventually forget why I tried in the first place.