Sunday, March 10, 2013

Accommodation, Resistance, and Ranged Roles in Games

In our discussion last Thursday, we talked some about the stereotype that women always play "background" roles, like healers, spellcasters and other ranged positions. There is also a stereotype that these roles are not as strong or important, which is probably linked to how gendered "female" they tend to be. Being a healer in particular is often a thankless job.

In many major games there are essentially three different roles for players. First, there are the heavily armored, slash and shoot frontpeople who can take more damage than others-- often called "melee". Second, there are the "ranged" folks who do damage, like often lightly-armored spellcasters. Lastly there are the healers, who do the least damage and focus on keeping the group healed and prepared.

These sorts of delineations in roles are common in games with team play, like the massively multiplayer World of Warcraft and the single-player but squad-driven Mass Effect. The roles are often inspired by table-top RPG's, like Dungeons and Dragons.

In Mass Effect, Adepts are biotics specialists. They wear light armor and use abilities like telekinesis and spatial distortion, harming enemies from afar. Liara, pictured here, specializes in biotics. Players can choose to be an adept.

When discussing women playing the ranged and healing roles, I was constantly reminded of my own experiences. While playing both a mage and a healer in World of Warcraft, I am often confronted with sexist comments like "oh, of course you play a healer, you're a girl". I don't think there is actually any truth in the statement that more women heal than men, but I think that there is an important gender dynamic occurring with ranged roles and the women who play them.

As a healer, I feel a large sense of power and control. The role is always varied and exciting. I get to literally have the lives of my team in my hands. This is a challenging and sometimes nerve-wracking experience, particularly with new encounters, but I think that I handle it very well. While healers often cannot do much damage, they are very important to a team.

I think that healing allows me to enter into the gamer space as a women and play a role that is powerful without being relegated to the heavily-armored, "slash and burn" roles that are often associated with men. In a way, the stereotype of "women as healers" or "women as ranged" makes me feel confident and strong in my healing role. Playing healers or ranged characters may allow women to carve out their own space in gaming communities, where they are strong, necessary components of the game and retain some sort of femininity.

The Priest crest in World of Warcraft. 
Priests are primarily a healing class.

K noted in our last meeting that often times when she plays with a team of women, they are more interested in communicating and strategy than men. I would agree with that based on my experiences as well. I think that because women are often socialized to value relationships and communication, they work well on teams in video games. Communication, strategy, and ranged ability are valuable components of gaming and women may find these skills to be gender affirming in the gamer space. Rather than becoming "just like the men" and taking on traditionally male roles and strategies, women may carve out their own space through an interplay of accommodation (choosing roles that are seen as more feminine) and resistance (making these roles their own, taking control of important team functions).

While women can and certainly do play both ranged and melee roles, the women who are playing ranged roles are not simply accommodating the stereotypes. In many cases these women are actively creating a space for themselves in an often women-hostile environment. These roles may allow women to become powerful and important members of a team without the insistance that traditionally masculine roles and strategies are the only way to be valuable or strong.


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