No Penises Allowed: EVE's Exclusionary Spaces

Author's note: I have been participating in or creating online communities since 1982, including early online Internet Relay Chat-based game communities and later MMO game communities. Although I have operated in traditionally heavily male-dominated spaces throughout my life, I am not normally interested in gender issues. I am, however, interested in creating a better community experience for everyone and that is what this is all about. 

The Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC)'s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are great places to find others who share some common ground with you and to have some fun. Want to grief newbies? There is a group for you. Want to pop into wormholes and gank the local inhabitants? We have a group for that. Your English isn’t great, so you want a Dutch roaming team? There will be a group for that too.

CFC members were recently invited to join a new SIG called “CFCNPA”. On the surface, its membership criterion is simple: no penises allowed (NPA). That was not a euphemism. The group’s goal is to “provide a safe place, a sounding board of sorts, for issues that women in the CFC have to deal with…” If that sounds familiar, it is because there have been similar efforts in the past, such as Sisters in Eve, an EVE University subgroup. The best known currently active group is Women Gamers of EVE (WGoE), an invitation-only, in-game chat channel for women started in 2003.

Some of the less enlightened CFC members questioned the point of the CFCNPA group. Is it discriminatory to have such a group? Yes. Is it sexist? Yes. Is it necessary? Judging from some of the invitational message’s comments, the answer is sadly yes.

The Great EVE Female Drought

[T]he average age is about 27 years old. 95% of the users are male and 5% women. Most of them have an education and some kind of a degree. Their average EVE playtime per week is 17 hours - Magnus Bergsson

The Entertainment Software Association now puts women at 47% of the general game-playing public. Those 47% are definitely not all playing EVE. Women are rare in EVE Online. How rare? Current authoritative statistics are not readily available. In a 2006 interview, CCP CMO Magnus Bergsson said 95% of the EVE Online player base was male. A 2012 EVE social capital study reported 96.1% males amongst the 541 players surveyed. The sample size is small, but it is suggestive that the gender ratio has not changed much since 2006. This contrasts sharply with World of Warcraft (WoW) where studies regularly report 20–30% female participation.

He Said, She Felt It Necessary

EVE’s heterosexual male dominance leads to an uncomfortable gaming environment not as obvious in games with a better gender balance. You might be thinking, “I don’t care what gender you are or what your sexuality is so long as you got my back.” That is probably true. How you feel about your co-pilots is not the main problem. Based on anecedotal reports, personal experience, and surveys like this one[2], women and other gender- or sex-based minorities can feel they are living in the boys’ locker room or in an American college frat-house living room.

Profanity, pornography, and sexual references permeate the text and voice comms. These could possibly be ignored or lessened by not clicking on links, using “no chatter” channels for fleet operations, and ignoring “Local”. It is much harder to ignore the unconscious denigration demonstrated through language usage: referring to women who have sex as whores or sluts; calling people cunts or bitches; or saying something is gay. It is not just women noticing these behaviours either. A corp CEO put his money where his mouth was, offering a PLEX via his blog to anyone creating a better term than “rape-cage” (referring to the practice of completely engulfing the area of a POS's force field, plus some space outside of it, in large mobile warp disruption bubbles) while also linking other language usage directly to low female participation.

Penises Are Allowed

It could be argued then that these female-only spaces fill a gap in the EVE ecosystem. Is the CFCNPA one necessary? On first glance, no. The most women simultaneously ever on the game-wide WGoE channel was 40. Many female CFC pilots are already WGoE members, so why not just encourage any others to also join, showing solidarity for a potentially larger group? Why start a dedicated new group? Why name it “No Penises Allowed”, which smacks of the juvenile behaviour the group is trying shelter from? An even better question is why name it thusly but then say it is open to transgender players who identify as female? You can have a penis and belong to this group.

My intention is not to disparage transgendered individuals. However, identifying as female is not the same thing as being cis-female: someone who was born female and who has lived as a woman within any socio-cultural context her entire life. Nevertheless, if women are rare in EVE Online, then the transgendered female has good reason to feel even more isolated and out of place than women. Recognizing a shared bond likely resulted in the CFCNPA’s membership criterion being commendably amended to be more inclusive.

Sexist, Discriminatory Cows

This summer, Xenuria started a thread proposing the creation of Trans Gamers of EVE (TGoE), a channel using the WGoE pattern[3]. There is also dedicated channel for gay, lesbian, and bisexual players. If such enclave channels exist and have gated membership based on gender or sexual orientation, then it is discrimination. In the case of female-only channels, it is also sexist. Women feel forced to be what they allegedly abhor. They become sexist cows, practicing reverse discrimination—through the creation of their own channels—on a population seemingly blissfully unaware an issue exists.

SIGs should be formed around game-based activities, shared interests, shared languages, or mutual enjoyment of each other’s company. Groups based on gender or sexuality should be unnecessary in EVE space. Reporting players for terms of service violations because of offensive or vulgar language should likewise be unwarranted. What will I be doing? I will continue to regularly join WGoE, lending the support of my presence to those more keenly aware of the issues.

TLDR? EVE Is Not a Locker Room

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just be here for a good time and a laugh together? Wouldn’t it be even better if that were a laugh that does not distance or discomfit the co-pilots who have our backs, be they female, Catholic, short, Norwegian, gay, fat, white, Malaysian, lesbian, Bantu, canine, or male? Nobody is demanding a complete personality change. If you say you don’t care about someone’s gender or sexuality, then walk your talk. EVE Online is not a single-sex locker room or a Brighton sauna (NSFW). Just remember to behave and talk more often like you are in mixed company; in EVE, you probably are!

  1. This study is notable both for its posting location and its contents. While participation numbers are low and gamers who have experienced sexism were more likely to participate, the comments and the statistics add support to the contention that at least some areas of the gaming universe are definitely felt to be not only female unfriendly but have led to women outright quitting.  ↩
  2. We are going to ignore the oddity of the TGoE channel’s creation being proposed by someone who is not a member of the channel’s intended demographic audience.  ↩
I am a virtual worlds researcher focussing on adult learning and communities of practice within MMOGs. I examine EVE through multiple lenses: as a researcher, as a new EVE universe participant, and as an experienced gamer. I'm @Eingang on Twitter.