Sisters of EVE

Every few weeks, CrazyKinux runs the EVE Blog Banter – a collection of EVE bloggers giving their thoughts on a particular topic. The last one was about why so few women are playing EVE, and wow I wish I’d seen it earlier, because oh do I have thoughts on this.

To start off with: I am female. I’ve only been playing EVE for a couple of months now, but I love it to itty bitty pieces and wish to God I’d discovered it years ago. I do think more women should be playing, because the game is fantastic and many women who’d love it are missing out, but I don’t think CCP should change anything about the game mechanics themselves just to attract more women, because a) they’re not the problem and b) oh sweet Lord could that go horribly, horribly wrong.

So what is the problem? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I do have some pretty firm ideas on what it’s not as well as a few thoughts on what it might be.

It’s not because women don’t like spaceships. The SF community in particular has a huge, long-lasting and extremely frustrating blind spot about the fact that lots of women do like spaceships. Honestly. Really. We do. And we get a little tired when the conversation about it goes like this:

“Girls don’t like sci-fi, because space and guns and aliens are more masculine things.”
“No, lots of girls like sci-fi. I like sci-fi. I know huge numbers of women who like sci-fi.”
“It’s because female brains are more interested in relationships and empathy, whereas male brains are more focused on logic and science.”
“What? Uh, no, and honestly, there are huge numbers of female sci-fi fans. Seriously.”
“You see, men and women are just different, and sci-fi does not need to be feminised. Women don’t like it because it’s just not appealing to the way women think.”
“We’re over here! Hellloooooooooo! Here! Next to the tattered poster of the Millennium Falcon we’ve loved since we were fifteen!”
“It’s just more of a guy thing.”

And so on, and so on.

It’s also not because you can’t customise your EVE character enough, or paint your spaceship your own way. A lot of people are thinking that Incarna, the game extension that will allow pilots to walk around in stations as a human avatar rather than a ship, will bring in more women because women want to get to know their characters more. Incarna probably will open the game up to potential players who like a more Second Life-ish angle, but the idea of women being put off by the lack of a female character is… mistaken, I feel.

To illustrate. Here is the avatar of Calluna Ji, my main character:


Nice hair, right? I think she looks a bit like Natalie Portman myself, but maybe that’s just me.

And here is the avatar of Fungus XVII, half-troll priest, my avatar in the last game I played like crazy:


That game was Angband, a roguelike played with an ASCII tileset. Your character is always an @ symbol; other items, landscape features and monsters in the games are numbers, letters and punctuation marks too. (Fun fact: if you play Angband too long, like for an extended seven-hour session, the association between the glyph and the monster/item/whatever gets sort of burned into your head for a while, to the point where you take a break to check your email, and your friend Daniel has signed his off with, for some reason, a light-green ‘D’, and your immediate mental reaction is ‘ARGH A DRACOLICH HIT THE DECK!’, but, um, maybe that’s just me too.)

I do think the idea of being able to customise the look of your ship is a really good one that could add something to gameplay – people would probably be even less keen on losing a ship, insured or not, that was more Their Ship than just Interchangeable Bestower #24,731. But that isn’t about making things prettier so girls will play. Would any of us be playing Minmatar, if that logic worked? I mean, putting a Hello Kitty decal on a Rupture is not going to make it look like a cuddly toy.

It’s not because the game is tough/complex/full of spreadsheets and sociopaths (I’m looking at you, Jita 4-4). Women are fine with all of those things, in RL as well as in games about internet spaceships, and it’s a little patronising to suggest that we can’t cope with and thrive on any of them. Also, while EVE is indeed tough and mean, the idea that it’s somehow blisteringly hard compared to other games because you can actually die is somewhat exaggerated. If you die, you wake up in a clone vat. You may have to buy some new implants. If you forgot to update your clone, you might be set back in skill points, which would indeed sting like a bitter, bitter stingy thing. But, you wake up in a clone vat. Roguelikes, like Angband mentioned above, have permadeath – if you die, you’re dead. You have zero skill points, because you are dead. You have lost all your stuff, because you are dead, and you have not insured it, because even if there was a game mechanic for that, there would be nobody to collect the insurance, because you are dead. You can start again with a new character, if you want, and you can even name that character the same as your last one, if that makes you feel better about it, but the character you just lost, the one you might have been playing for weeks, the one that just found a Ring of Speed +11? That character is gone. Now that is tough.

So, what is it? How come the game is (by some estimates) 95% male, if there’s nothing in there that’s putting women off?

I think, honestly, part of the reason is that ratio itself. Once something is largely male or female, it becomes A Guy Thing or A Girl Thing, and that becomes self-perpetuating. Lots of women probably aren’t interested in trying something that’s filed under ‘man stuff’, because of a huge long history of socially-enforced gender stereotypes on the one hand, and a pick-your-battles attitude on the other – if all you know about EVE is that it’s a spaceship MMO with a mostly-male playerbase, you might well be forgiven for rolling your eyes in anticipation of all the inevitable “wow a GIRL hey a/s/l??????? lol” stuff and not bothering to find out any more.

I might have liked Evony, for example. But I’ll never know, because any game that gets advertised like this is suddenly about 500% less appealing.

What could CCP do about that? My suggestion would be to advertise the game with a view to promoting what makes it different. I saw several print and video adverts for EVE without ever realising it was more than just an FPS in space. Admittedly, Jita 0.01 ISK price wars are less easy to make an appealing trailer out of than cap ships warfare (I don’t think this one counts, either; for all non-players know the market stuff at the beginning is just worldbuilding filler), but hey, take a shot anyway. The game is great as it is, but there’s no point changing game mechanics to appeal to potential players who don’t even know what the existing game mechanics are. Reach out, not by gimmicky Stuff Girls Will Like additions, but by making sure that the girls who would like the game know that the game is there.

And also, honestly? There are probably more women playing than you think.

There was a “hur hur girlz suck they keep wanting to make us watch Sex and the City instead of playing internet spaceships” conversation in my corp’s channel recently. I mentioned that some girls actually like EVE, and several people told me that, haha, no they don’t. I said that there were probably women in this channel right now, even possibly – shock! – in this conversation, and was helpfully corrected (“no really, Calluna, EVE is like 98.99% male”) before everyone got on to talking about how periods are icky. Yes, they were actually discussing that. Really. Really.

At that point, I could have done two things. One was to jump right in, point out that I actually was a girl in real life, and spend a good chunk of my evening arguing. Another was to kick back with a glass of wine, turn up the Ramones, warp to an asteroid belt in the empty lowsec system I’d just found and start blowing up rats.

It was not a tough choice.


6 Responses to “Sisters of EVE”

  1. April 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Yeah, noticed the lack of REAL girls. Was chatting in local last night to some Russians that were Noob fishing. *sigh* so many new players fell for the protected cargo and got themselves shot…
    Anyway I kinda put out a warning on local and got chatting to the perpetrators.

    They asked me to join their corp on the strength of my testimony that I was female… I would be the only female in their entire corp.

    Was not a hard decision. An offer of membership based entirely on my gender? Let me think…. Besides, they were noob fishing, that was just mean!

    Gah, with all these boys around I am in danger of slipping into a maternal roll and wagging my fingers at naughty players. I need to kill more stuff, get it out of my system.

  2. April 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Oooh, super-tempting! “Join our corp! We grief newbies. Also, we’ll give you an extra-special title because you’re a girl.”

    If you’re still mining and want some lower-hassle places to mine in, I’m doing a lot of exploration in the quieter bits of Metropolis at the moment and keep finding gravimetric sites. Not doing anything with them myself, so you can have the bookmarks if you’re interested.

  3. April 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Sounds good. Have pyrite and tridium en mass, but isogen is what i am really after as well as mex- whatever it is. Might see u on tonight ;-)

  4. May 5, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I’ll see your Angband and raise you a Dwarf Fortress…

  5. May 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Dwarf Fortress! Ohgod, I am so, so tempted (especially by stories like this), but I’m about 85% sure that EVE + Dwarf Fortress would mean I would never leave the computer ever again.

  6. May 30, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    I am glad to have found your blog; it is definitely an interesting read! Yours are the kind of blogs that make me with I had more time to work on mine (and more things to write about in it than I currently do).

    I am also insanely jealous that you got a chance to see the Sansha’s invasion events personally. That’s the kind of thing that makes me want to be online more often… but I really shouldn’t.

    I am -not- jealous of your experiences as a female in EVE… but then, I don’t have a lot of people to talk to in-game so there have been few opportunities for others to tell me I’m not a girl.

    I do agree with your points on ‘girlifying’ EVE, but I have to say I’d LOVE the ability to paint my ships. Not pink, mind you – but a sleek, sexy dark blue or an almost black red color would be nice. Basically, the colors I’ve always said I wanted for my hair but will probably never actually use.

    I am relatively new to the game (having taken several months off after starting last fall), and haven’t been too involved with PvP. For me, the game is about the people – I just wish my time zone were more talking-to-people friendly.

    I hope you continue to post about your experiences in EVE and that the pirates hunting you enjoy looking at their motionless screens for several more hours. Safe flying!

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A new EVE Online player comes to term with spreadsheets, spaceships and the steepest learning curve in MMO history. (SPACESHIPS, you guys!)


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