Find cow? Fund cave? Food core? We all sat round trying to work out what was written next to my name on the office whiteboard, my task for the week. Wait, I remember: ‘Find love’. That’s it. I have to find love in a videogame. This actually makes sense. Not many girls play videogames, which makes them an incredibly efficient social filter: you instantly cut out the majority of girls who have little interest in games and would only get sick of you talking about them all the time. Finding love is probably a bit strong – really the short term objective is to meet interesting, single people of the appropriate gender and age. What happens from there is probably too personal to generalise about.
Naturally the first place I thought to look was space. Space has everything in it. But EVE Online might be a challenge – its developers themselves admit “women don’t want to be spaceships”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could love a woman who didn’t, just a little bit, somewhere deep down, want to be a spaceship. Since my existing EVE characters were all startlingly attractive women, and that might attract the wrong crowd, I decided to create a new one. I chose a Gallente, since they’re broadly the most fetching of EVE’s bloodlines. An Activist’s ancestry, for a boost to my Charisma stat, and a Military Spec-Ops profession, to appear manly yet mysterious. Designing my character’s look was trickier: EVE’s character creation tool is sumptuous, but the outfits, backdrops and faces on offer are geared more towards camp, mass-murdering plexiglass fetishists than chisel-jawed studs. Early on I decided to veto any backdrops involving skulls. No hairstyles involving translucent plastic restraints over more than 60% of my face. No warpaint that resembled the blood or any other fluid of past conquests – military or romantic.
Take that off, put away the goat skulls and get a haircut
Once a female staffer had approved of my neatly trimmed facial hair, suggestively arched eyebrow and wry smile, all I needed was a name. Something with as many bold and handsome connotations as possible, while still sounding faintly like a space pilot. Meet Cad Dashing. A man who could truthfully introduce himself over a space-martini as “Dashing, Cad.” The Extremely Suggestible demographic would be all over me. He had sensible hair, his implants weren’t showing and he was pictured against a skulless bachelor pad wall – I considered him a success. I headed straight to the local asteroid belt to pick up chicks.
I’d decided early on that I would only initiate conversation with female avatars, ask early on whether they were also female in reality, and take their word for it either way. Research suggests that a little over half the female characters you’ll meet in a typical MMORPG are women in real life (Nick Yee, www.nickyee.com/eqt/genderbend.html). The main reason male gamers don’t see many female gamers is that so many react so childishly or obnoxiously when they do. Most girl gamers have learnt not to shout about it. An intriguingly blue-lipsticked woman was mining Veldspar ore from the asteroids of Duripant I – Belt I. I locked onto Ms Kasteen Hawkeye and set my ship to ‘Approach’. This is how flirting will work in the future. As I confidently crossed the asteroid belt to her, I selected ‘Capture Portrait’ on her profile, which saves an image of the character.
The best place to meet ladies is your local asteroid belt
But behind the progress bar for that, a dialogue box popped up. The question it was asking me was obscured, but it sounded like one I’d want to say yes to: one option was “Accept the invitation and add Kasteen Hawkeye to my personal address book.” Clearly, Cad’s rakish appearance had intrigued her, but the interface was unresponsive. This progress bar was blocking everything. This is how flirting will fail in the future. Cad Dashing is not the kind of space-rogue to be deterred by such setbacks, particularly with such a forward lady.
I restarted EVE, headed back to the Belt, and found I had an in-game email from Kasteen. “Hey! ^^” it read. I believe the twin circumflex indicates a raising of the eyebrows – a suggestive one, some neo-linguistics scholars posit. “Sorry about that.” I replied. “EVE crashed while I was attempting to capture your portrait.” I thought about this in Cad Dashing mode for a moment. “Clearly you’re too beautiful,” I added. By the time I arrived back at the Belt, I’d had a reply: “lol ^^”. This was a space-dame of excellent taste. I drifted over to her ship, and we sat. Her mining laser sipped at a classy Scordite, mine the more basic Veldspar. “So,” I started, “mine here often?”
“Just since last night lol”. Quickly we get into a debate about converting in-game currency into real money to pay the subscription fee, which I end with “And it takes money to make more money, so selling your in-game currency on a regular basis seriously impairs your profitability. By the way, are you female in real life?”
“Orite ^^ & yea i am Lol :p”. Wow, I got an eyebrow raise, a laugh with a capital L and a protruding tongue. Picturing this salvo of facial responses was confusing, but I think the overall impression is positive. I’d assumed this question would be the most problematic, both to ask without seeming sleazy and to get a positive response to, but Kasteen evidently thought little of it. I think I tacked it onto our finance talk pretty subtly, but I also wanted to suggest that I had a reason for asking.
“The developers say girls don’t want to be spaceships. But I guess you do?”
“I love space & roleplaying games ^^”
“Wow, are you single?”
“no... odd question to ask though”
This is true. In retrospect, it’s a much more sleazy thing to ask than a person’s real-life gender. I told the truth, but not the whole truth: “That’s just my automatic response when a girl expresses an interest in space and roleplaying games.” So Kasteen, with her quick laugh and jiggling eyebrows, was alas unavailable. Still, it had been surprisingly easy to run into a cheerful, friendly girl-gamer who genuinely did want to be a spaceship. She was the first female avatar I ran into – it took me longer to choose my hairstyle than it did to meet someone interesting. Next, I wanted to see if City of Heroes was as ripe for the prowling.