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The Plural of Anecdote is Data

March 12, 2012

(Thanks to Narci for the title.)

WoW Insider is on my WoW RSS feed.  I don’t always read the articles, but I like to at least glance through the titles since whatever they discuss is likely to be something the community at large is focusing on or will focus on in the near future.  So when I see a Breakfast Topic titled “Every Female WoW Player Has Healed At Least Once,” it’s going to stop me for a second.

In the latest Breakfast Topic post, Olivia Grace recounts a recent conversation with a male WoW player who told her exactly this in game.  She challenged him on the notion and he backed down.  The article goes on to ask readers whether there is any truth to this (common) stereotype, and the author proposes her possible solution:

I have a theory, just a theory, if you’ll allow me. I reckon it might be more that men stick to DPS and tanking, whereas women are happy to try healing. And once they start healing, they find that it’s one of the more varied and interesting roles to play. Especially in PvE, where you learn fights by repeating the same actions over and over, healing is the one role that has the variety. So women stay healing once they start.

Far be it from me to jump down any blogger’s throat for a theory – goodness knows I expound all sorts of crazy theories on here all the time.   I just can’t but help be confused by the idea that the description above fits only women – or only men – or only, well anyone.  Healing does feel varied and interesting to me, and that’s one of the main reasons why my main is a healer.  A lot of people, however, talk about healing as a game of green bars and “whack-a-mole,” which they specifically find uninteresting.  If you don’t like healing because you find the variety arbitrary rather than interesting, can I infer that you’re male?

Well, no.  That just sounds silly, doesn’t it?

How about if you say you like healing because you think of your character as something of a caretaker, as someone who steadfastly guards over those players who are constantly in the fray?  Do you prefer healing because you don’t have to get up close and personal with boss behind, or worry about cleave mechanics, enrage timers, etc. – because you like to enjoy fights, but from a distance?  And if so, does that mean that you’re more likely to be a female player?

Comments on large sites like WI and MMO Champion are often painful and notoriously full of trolls, so it’s difficult to have any idea who in the comments to the above article is being genuine and who is merely inciting reactions.  Suffice to say that, trolling or otherwise, there are plenty of comments already on the Breakfast Topic post that offer loads of reasons why women might prefer healers and, of course, why men might prefer tanks and DPS.

All to which I say ….
UUUUUUUUUUGH.   /headdesk

This doesn’t matter!

Ask me why I enjoy healing.  Ask me why I was terrified to even try it for the first two years I played the game.  Ask me why I am now similarly nervous about DPSing in  a progression situation.  Ask me why a tank was the first character I ever raided with and why she made me feel like I finally understood endgame in WoW.  I would be SO happy to talk to you about any of those things.

But DO NOT ask me for the numbers of how many women play DPS, or healers, or tanks in my guild.  Don’t ask me if I know a woman who hasn’t tried a healer – and don’t ask me if I know a man who hasn’t tried one either.  Don’t ask me if I consider myself a “caregiver” (whatever that exactly means), and how that has contributed to my decision to have a healer as a main.

Well intentioned or otherwise, all this sort of dialogue does is give people an opportunity to talk about and, therefore, reinforce ridiculous gender stereotypes they have about women in general and female WoW players.  Well, that and it makes my head hurt – and come on guys, it’s Monday morning after Daylight Savings Time.  Cut me some slack!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2012 11:04 am

    As a statistician, I can’t help but look for trends and explanations therein, but when I talk about them I try to make sure to emphasize that no matter what the trend is, it doesn’t tell you anything about the individuals. Perhaps that invalidates a bunch of the work that I’ve done on my blog.

    Statistics are information about a group, not individuals. It’s wrong to go from statistics->stereotype.

    • March 12, 2012 11:52 am

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for some time now, and I find the trends you’ve described extremely interesting as well. As Erinys mentions below, I have to imagine that data based upon personality traits, perhaps occupations, other hobbies, etc. might be slightly more predictive than gender in a case like the one described .. but as I’m sure you know that’s only half the story.

      Video games are used as a form of escapism for many people who play them. So while I may play a female character because I identify with her, I may also choose her specifically because she is NOT like me. Last I checked, I’m not a 10,000 year old, 6 foot tall elf who can shapeshift into a tree – but coming home from work and getting to be that for a while is certainly a lot more fun than playing a character who looks and acts exactly like me would be. Similarly – you couldn’t pay me enough money to make me even think about working in the medical profession, but I love healing. Given how much of video games are about engaging in activities with avatars which are very different from our own activities and appearances, I can’t imagine a more difficult medium in which to attempt to turn data into information about the players’ motivations.

    • March 12, 2012 12:33 pm

      I agree that it would likely have more to do with personality than gender. There is a problem that personality analysis is much harder since it’s less…explicit? I would either have to administer a personality exam in the survey or rely on self-reporting. Even then, it’s a far more subjective measure than gender is.

      Administering a personality exam is problematic because it’s very lengthy and long surveys can really turn people off and prevent you from getting sufficient data. Self-reporting has issues for obvious reasons on top of the fact that people would need to know their personality type.

      There are so many things in the world for which there is no perfect solution, it’s awfully frustrating.

      As a side note: I myself have a healer that I enjoy playing quite a bit. I’ve actually healed to varying degrees on all 4 of the current healing classes. However, when I consider how much I also like tanking and how much I dislike most dungeon finder tanks, I find myself queueing as my tank instead.

  2. March 12, 2012 11:23 am

    I would imagine we all have different reasons for healing or not healing.

    I starting healing for one simple reason, the character I was playing (a Priest rolled to be shadow) could only get a raid spot if I healed. I wanted to see the content so I healed. Just like all the paladins, priests and druids in my guild (who were mainly played by men). When I made the character (right at the start of classic) I wanted to melt faces and kill people, I had no idea that if I was to see end game content without rolling a new character, I’d have to heal. That bit definitely wasn’t in the game manual.

    With time I discovered two things, 1 I was good at it and 2. it appealed to the control freak in me. I got to choose who lives and who dies, that mage who whined about priests getting a certain bit of loot.. oh look he’s dead on nef’s priest call again… that must be the 10th time in the last 10 kills. What a shame 😀

    I’m not in the slightest bit nurturing but I am aggressive, I play to win and I’ll do whatever it takes to win in PvP and down bosses. If that means playing healers, so be it.

    I keep healing because I do find it the most interesting and dynamic roll. In PvP against smart players, I’m the target and I like that. The struggle for survival when their entire team is trying to pound into little bits is far more fun than playing say a rogue (which also appeals to my inner control freak). In PvE, there is so much to keep track of, where everyone is standing, where you’re standing, anticipating which of the rogues is going to do something stupid and saving their butt when they do it. Using your cooldowns, being prepared for eek moments, so much information needing processed all the time, especially on new content.

    However I know plenty of guys who feel the same way about it. People who have tried tanking and dps but yet come back to healing again and again.

    Perhaps there is a certain type of personality who prefers healing but I don’t believe gender is relevant.

  3. Kess permalink
    March 12, 2012 11:52 am

    More anecdotes for the data soup:

    My guild currently raids 10 man normal Dragon Soul. We have a pool of about 15 regular raiders. 3 of those are female. One is a warrior tank, one a bear tank, and the third is a rogue. In my previous guild, back in Wrath, we ran two healers for most fights in 10s. The other healer was female, with the third healer (for two fights) was male. We had 2-3 female DPS, depending on who showed up.

    In my experience, it is random. I enjoy healing because I like having personal responsibility and a tangible sense of being crucial to the success of the raid. That’s probably why my second preference is to tank.

  4. March 12, 2012 12:05 pm

    I read the WoW Insider post and spent the next ten minutes banging my head against the concrete wall next to me.

    ‘all this sort of dialogue does is give people an opportunity to talk about and, therefore, reinforce ridiculous gender stereotypes they have about women in general and female WoW players.’

    This says so much better what I feel, so I will quote you and say that I’m glad I’ve found your blog, because you seem to have a great deal of sense to say. The last thing we need, IMO, is anyone making this about dividing anything along gender lines.

  5. Gorbag permalink
    March 12, 2012 1:22 pm

    I’ve never really thought gender was an interesting way to sort people, as individual variance is so much bigger. Even something like height, where the average for men vs women is distinct, individual variance is larger than the difference between those averages.

    I had a gender studies professor ask the class to list some positive characteristics of women, and then do the same for men. We had a list on the board for each gender. Then he said “are there any on the list for women that would be negative characteristics for men, or the reverse?” It’s obvious the answer was no – things that make a woman a good person also make a man a good person.

    Gender is a pretty boring and uninformative filter for understanding behavior. If you’re looking at why people do something a certain way, and no other explanation fits, call it a gender difference – but don’t go looking for gender differences when other sorting methods are more revealing and more interesting.

    PS my healing team is all male, and the 2 women in my 10-man raid play pure DPS classes and have never healed. The plural of random gender stereotype is what? 😀

    • March 12, 2012 9:06 pm

      I came here to say mostly this! You’re more likely to find a wide range of differences between 10 individual woman than 5 women vs 5 men. People are unique! News at 11!

      I started healing because after hearing the 10 minute spiel “why I should play WoW,” I had decided that DPS was too common and I wanted a more unique job. Then my friends said that as a noob I should probably leave tanking for when I knew more about the game, and thus a healer was born!

  6. Dancingblade permalink
    March 12, 2012 1:28 pm

    …because there is ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS for genetics (and therefore, gender) to influence behavior. What is hardwired, and what is learned? Discuss.

  7. March 14, 2012 1:24 pm

    My gender does not influence how I play.

    The assertion that a person’s sex (which is really what most of these people seem to be referring to) is the driving force behind playstyle, in-game roles, etc., is utterly ridiculous.

    I enjoy tanking (except Cataclysm content because ugh). It’s what I do. I am female and I identify as a woman most of the time. By Olivia’s logic, I’m doing it wrong. SCREW THAT.

    You’ll pry my sword and board from my cold, dead haaands (or my bear form, or, or, or…)

  8. March 14, 2012 4:49 pm

    I’m a healer and I am proud!

    I am a girl & I played a tree healer for 5 years. I loved every minute of it & I can tell you why.

    I’m needy. Yup. I like being needed, I like being depended on. I liked healing in PvP & Raiding environments because every encounter was different. I like the challenge, I loved running around in circles throwing heals. One slip, one mistake and you were milliseconds away from chaos. I loved it.

    I’m not a fan of competition. While I love a good Us vs. Them battle, I think DPS have there teammates to compete with as well. Not healers, no one ever links the healing meter.

  9. March 15, 2012 1:27 am

    I hate to add to the stereotype but I am female and I am a healer. But I play a healer IRL so that’s why I play a healer in game!
    Great read Tzu 🙂 as always

  10. March 15, 2012 9:50 pm

    I have boobies and I could not imagine anything worse than healing. I have tried – briefly, but you know – the stress is just too much for me. Admittedly the last I healed at cap, was back in BC on a shammy – and I had barely played resto – it was actually enhance with a resto set. We needed healers and I got thrown in.

    Admittedly, I don’t mind raid healing – but I cannot do 5 mans. My holy priest is level 44 or something and I cannot handle the pressure. Perhaps it is different with a well geared and stable group? I don’t know. But I think all roles are dependant on the personality and not the gender.

  11. March 18, 2012 2:08 pm

    It’s nice when someone writes a post which says everything you were thinking but couldn’t think of the words to express.

    I read that post on Wow Insider and once again felt somehow inadequate, even thought, oh my poor daughter, I must have been a terrible mother. 29 characters and they’re all dps or tanks.

    I have wondered why I have never tried healing. I think it’s a combination of not wanting to learn with strangers who may be less than kind about mistakes and the responsibility of keeping everyone alive, yikes!

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