MMO Players Feel Conflicted About Online Sugar Daddies

Illustration by Angelica Alzona

Kristin Carnage was making her way through a city in World of Warcraft when a stranger stopped her female avatar. The stranger, a male avatar, opened a trade window with Carnage and moved, in her words, "a ton of gold" in his section of the trade box. For a while afterward, he offered to help run her through content and sent her toys through World of Warcraft's in-game mail service.

"It felt weird," Carnage, 28, told me. "I'd return most of it or try to send gold to pay for it. I tried not to indulge the whole 'Please give me presents for being female' thing." Throughout her nine years on MMOs, Carnage has been asked for her phone number, real pictures, cybersex, and in-game companionship in exchange for unsolicited favours. "You almost feel obligated. They want to cash in on it," she explained.

This post originally appeared in October 2016.

There is a trope - rather, an unfortunate stereotype - in MMOs that female players get things easy. Gold, gifts, power-levelling, dungeon runs - you name it and women, apparently, are using their feminine wiles to squeeze it out of amorous male players in exchange for real-life photos, virtual sex or in-game companionship.

To prove the existence of a virtual sugar daddy economy, players still point to a moment in MMO history that took place on Craigslist. In 2007, a 31-year old woman offered sex in exchange for gold in World of Warcraft.

"I need 5,000 world of gold for my epic flying mount," she wrote. "In return, you can mount me." After the WoW community circulated her post, the Craigslister returned to write that she received her epic mount in an hour "while all of you idiots probably spent hundreds of hours farming for yours." The ad and its societal implications have haunted female MMO players for nine years.

Chie Rushii, a source's FFXIV avatar

Of course, MMORPGs wouldn't be "multiplayer" or "online" if players weren't meant to work together. It's right and good to help lower-level players through dungeons. Holiday gifts are what make MMOs' seasonal events so mirthful. Sometimes, a guild member needs new gear, and shooting them an extra thousand gold pieces is no skin off your back. But the line between "favours" and "sugar daddies" is thin, sources interviewed attest.

Chia, a 27-year-old Final Fantasy XIV player, has been offered favours and money by male avatars in exchange for "performing certain emotes for them." In FFXIV, female avatars have a few actions that, in certain contexts, can come off pretty sexy.

One is "/blowkiss," in which the avatar bends over at the waist. Recently, developer Square Enix added some "doze" emotes for, uh, tired avatars who want to lie down.

Over the last eighteen months, Chelsea says, she's faced consistent harassment from a Duskwight Elezen avatar, a stranger, who wants to give her money in exchange for suggestive emotes. Chelsea encounters him regularly when she passes through FFXIV's cities. And he is persistent.

Malkeria's FFXIV avatar

"The emote he wants most of all is the /pose emote," Chelsea told me over the phone. "Female Elezens, at the end of the emote, bend over a blow a kiss. He wants me to bend over in front of his avatar and make it seem like we're having sex."

In exchange for her troubles, the Duskwight Elezen man offers money, and lots of it. In other cases, he's offered to run extreme Primals with her. When a rare weapon drops off a monster he kills, he says, he'll let her have it. Sometimes he asks her what she's wearing.

She usually just signs off, making the excuse that she's headed to a real-life date. But for a while, when colourful, flaming horses called Primal Ponies were highly sought-after and difficult to get, Chelsea considered taking up the stranger's offer. She ultimately reasoned that his attitude was too abrasive.

The attempted sugar daddy dynamic isn't always so forward. Malkeria, 23, who plays South Korea-based MMO Mabinogi, spent a few hours with a random man in-game before she began to feel like he wanted to do more than talk. A little bit into their interaction, he opened a trade window. In it, he placed a cat robe that, in her words, "he thought would match my character."

"In return, he asked if I would wear it around," she said. It was cute, so she took it, looking forward to showing it off.

A few days later, one of her guildmates saw the robe and was quite surprised - it turned out to be a rare and expensive item. Malkeria immediately reached into her virtual wallet to to pay back the stranger, but she couldn't afford it. Their interactions began to feel charged with tension. The stranger continued sending her gifts, such as armour sets.

She found it nice, but she told me she'd much rather have obtained something on her own merit. She didn't like feeling indebted.

"I tell myself that I'll build up my own funds and be able to return the favour someday," she said.

Malkeria's Mabinogi avatar

Drea, 30, never knows how to engage male avatars trying to gift her things. "When it seems innocent, like, 'Hey, I really like your avatar,' and they send me a random food item, I'm like, 'OK, thanks!" Sometimes, it can get rather intense. There's a guy who followed me everywhere I went for a while, saying he's a higher-level player who will run me through higher-level content. He wasn't taking no for an answer," Drea said.

"It made me feel like I was in real-life, getting catcalled."

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, researchers questioned whether attractive female avatars received preferential treatment on MMORPGs.

Examining 2,300 interactions on World of Warcraft, they determined that "conventionally pretty" female avatars were more likely to receive help on in-game tasks. According to conventional wisdom, the same is the case in real life. The only difference is that, in the words of women interviewed, receiving unsolicited help can be insulting or uncomfortable, and especially when romantic expectations are involved.

To MMO-players on the receiving end of things, there are a few surefire signs that your new virtual best friend might want a little more than appreciation in exchange for his kindness. Overwhelmingly, women interviewed said it made them nervous. Toiling away on their own makes the rewards all the more sweet. Men who play MMOs with feminine avatars were professedly more ambivalent about receiving perks.

While about 40% of MMO-players are women, men are much more likely to gender-bend with their avatars. That creates the impression in many MMOs that more women play than actually do. Some men interviewed took advantage of this, using female avatars in hopes of receiving favours from horny male strangers.

Agent Rood, 38, says that he never "pretended to be a female gamer" with his female avatar. "However," he told me, "there were times where the assumption was made and I reaped benefits without correcting someone."

Rood played a female druid in World of Warcraft. He says he liked the aesthetic of the female night elf. When he was a low-leveled character, a veteran male character followed him around, delivering gold, items and anything he wanted for ten whole levels. "The whole time, I smiled and played along," Rood said.

One guy crafted a whole set of leather armour for his druid's next two tiers, along with a couple stacks of potion. It took an hour. Rood told me that he never did anything like cybering or stripping in exchange for the gifts.

FFXIV

Brendan G. has been playing MMOs for over a dozen years, always with female avatars. For him, it's also about the look of the female avatars versus the male ones. He's a huge fan of Samus, Supergirl and Wonder Woman, so, he figures, why not look like them in-game? As a result, he constantly receives gifts and favours.

"I've been offered gold, mounts, raid runs, you name it, for nudes, which is idiotic and disrespectful. The worst was Star Wars Galaxies," he said. Wherever he walked, he'd get "whispers," ranging from polite to NSFW.

"The only gratification I get is when I say, 'I'm a guy, dude, and why would you say that if I wasn't anyway?'" Brendan finds it insulting, even if nothing is requested in exchange for favours. He's a father and his daughter is interested in gaming; when she watches him play, he becomes concerned that she'll have to deal with this, too.

Carnage, for her part, says that the sugar daddy dynamic has plagued her throughout her nine years on MMOs. To feel on-par with male players and prove that she never benefitted from their affections, she doubles her gaming efforts. The stereotype infects her daily gaming in ways that are subtle, but insidious.

"If I'm not super badarse, I'm looked down on," she said. "I didn't want this or ask for it."


Comments

    If only these games had an in built "ignore" function.

    As a male playing MMOs using male avatars there are plenty of people that have made me uncomfortable. That happened with one guy yesterday. Immediately after his first message I hit ignore, problem solved.

    And on the other end of the spectrum you have the Guild Princess, who actively solicit this treatment from other gamers. We had at least one in one of our guilds in WoW, and knew from the Vent server web that she was indeed female. (As opposed to the guys who take advantage of this mindset)

    As a male gamer with typically female avatars, the only time I've been on the receiving end was in PSO back on the Dreamcast. Thought the other player was just being nice giving decent gear until I got hit with A/S/L. On honestly replying, the other person said they were only a teen and logged off.

      This happens in every game. When I used to play a lot of MW1 and CSS; we had this lass in our group that was the very definition of average at both games, but would spend all her time trying to captain us. So very very frustrating, it pretty much spelled the end of our group as our guild leader sided with her while two of our oldest players formed a new party and most of us split.

      Vagina's and penises make us do really silly things; I miss that clan.

    Something I have noticed with many online games is that when the matches are more public, womens voices are rarely heard. When I do hear women talking openly on chat, they are often part of a group of other players.

    I suspect a lot of the silent people are actually women with no allies present who don't want to invite good/bad/whatever attention.

    I'm a male player who exclusively plays female MMO characters (for reasons that are probably worthy of a Kotaku article in themselves), and I've been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour. Most of the time, just telling someone it's a guy behind the keyboard is enough to make them back off, but I also once had it happen where the other guy refused to believe me, which led to a fairly quick appearance on my ignore list.

    I've also ended up confusing guildmates who thought I was female (apparently I didn't "type like a guy" in guild chat) which led to some hilarious moments when i first started using Teamspeak with that guild.

      That's been my experience, too. Had some sweet young kid develop a crush because we played together a lot in the early days of WoW, and he just assumed I was female because my character was. And I'd never brought it up. I set him straight when it became clear he was crushing hard (all it took was saying that I'm male), but those early days... definitely got a bunch of, "Hey sexy," whispers and the like. That was in vanilla WoW.

      As years have gone by, running around on a female character in WoW, all that harrassment evaporated.
      But...
      I can only assume it's because all the fucking creeps are simply assuming that all characters might as well be male until proven otherwise, and when it's out-of-character (OOC) chat that reveals the player might be a woman that they get their creep back on.

      So I assume it's still hardly a 'safe' environment as such.

        I wondered that myself. While I've played since vanilla I've never had people hit on my female alts. It always seemed weird to me that people would do that in the first place, but maybe that's because I started playing WoW as an adult not a 13 year old?

    I once encountered a girl in a previous guild who thought I was trying to mack her because I always said hello, offered to help and give items for free. When she talked trash about my behaviour one time when she thought I was offline instead of on an alt, it was nice to see the guild rise up and explain to her that everything I do for her, I do for all the other guild members.

    I am a guy. If I get a choice in a game of gender, I tend to go with a few things in picking whether or not I play as a male or female. Hell, in most MMOs it comes down to look, and I don't mean how attractive an avatar is ether. Some MMO's do males better than females, and some do females better than males, and its not limited to the models, but it extends to how arms look on said avatar, or the voice acting. Some MMOs have the sex of the avatar based on the class, so if you want to play that class, you have to be that sex, though that mostly happens in Asian MMOs seem to do this.

    I played Fem Shep in the ME games, simply because I preferred the voice acting of Jennifer Hale over Mark Meer. Everything there after happened simply because of that choice.

    I will agree with the ignore thing, but ONLY if you tell them how your feeling about the situation first. For all you know, there just trying to be nice, or, as in most cases, they them self do not know how to talk to a girl, and they don't know any better because there parents never talked to them about it. I learned the hard way how to talk to girls, and even now I am still trying to work it out. As a guy, I can tell you it fucking sucks being called a creep or worse when all your trying to do is be nice. Or even worse, getting 'friend zoned', and then being told they want someone like you. Fucking stupid.

    I do like how the majority of comments here are trying really hard to find fault with female behaviour instead of saying DON'T BE A CREEPER because, you know, that is what this is about.

    For every one of your I'M NOT A MISOGYNIST BUT I FEEL THE NEED TO BRING UP A BAD EXAMPLE OF WHAT A GIRL DONE ONCE there's a few thousand creeper episodes.

    Your attitude is why this flourishes.

    Last edited 17/10/16 7:30 pm

      Whilst i agree to an extent, i think this generalises the issue a bit. We seem to feel a need to simplify things to get our point across, preferring a zero tolerance approach instead of a devised solution. I feel like the days of arguing about issues in a vaccuum are over. You will never, ever be able to dictate subservience and silence to an audience simply due to the topic of conversation, that's why we teach debate and effective discussion in schools.

      Also, DON'T BE A CREEPER. You can support a topic whilst still accepting discussion and navigating opposing perspectives, we'd just like it to be easier.

      Last edited 18/10/16 9:22 am

        That's as may be, but it's irrelevant to my point. What you are ACTUALLY saying is that internet anonymity allows people to expose their unpleasantness more openly.

        Hence why the majority of comment here was simply about demonising women in a feeble attempt to deflect from the actual issue at hand, and I will bet you a crisp $50 note the majority of males doing it here enact and enable plenty of misogyny in their lives.

        Because why the fark else would you come in to the comments on this story and start posting YEAH BUT A GIRL ONCE DONE SOMETHING SO LET'S NOT TALK ABOUT THE MASSES OF CREEPY GUYS THAT I TOTALLY AM NOT ONE OF, LET'S TALK ABOUT THEM AWFUL GIRLS.

          I feel like you're blowing up your issue more than is requires. Unless this thread has been moderated and a whole bunch of posts removed there's very little blaming of women going on. In fact practically all the posts are supportive.

          The couple posts that aren't outright "don't be a creep" posts refer to events that people have experienced and they're pointing out *individual* behaviour not general behaviour. And I don't have a problem with that. Because lets be fair, the whole article is about behaviour from a few specific individuals not *every single guy who plays*.

            I couldn't tell you if that is the case as it is almost 2 years old.

              Yeah I realised that after I posted. Yet another old article being raised from the dead *sigh*

    I find it really saddening that women can't play games without this level of catcalling. Not because it's annoying in game, because it just shows that if left to their own devices, a large group of people would be this insensitive in reality too.

      Probably not, anonymity allows most of these people to actually be turds without recourse. That being said avoiding issues in games are easy, its no different than being a squeaker, a n****r, a casual, being told to kill yourself because you aren't "up to snuff"; its this wonderful feature a lot of games have called "ignore/mute".

      In real life you wouldn't associate with such people, so why do it in games?

        Great point. I'd also argue that "a large group of people" is probably misrepresenting the percentage. I'd be inclined to think the majority of gamers are pretty decent and it's only a small percentage of assholes that cause problems in most games. At least that's the situation I've experienced in MMOs. Maybe it depends on the server you pick, or the particular game, or hell, even the time of day you play. But I can't say I see a lot of this sort of behaviour.

    The only reason I prospered in FFXI was because I started the game with a female friend who happily took liberties with the extra generosity that came her way due to gender. I piggybacked off of her alliances in order to get gear and team mates. Being aware of the dynamic was a bit of a turn off though

    This whole issue is really stupid to start with,
    Within the last 20 years of online games, there has always been a /block or /mute feature.
    If anybody at all does not want somebody attention it is as simple as a 2second command line and that's it.

    Sure people suck, but everybody sucks everywhere, so just work with what you have.

    I remember I used to play a crap tonne of the first Diablo online, when I was eleven years old with a bloody dial up connection (nineteen years ago, I'm thirty now, man I'm old). I played as a Rogue, the archer class. It was my favourite class because the Warrior back then was ridiculously boring and the Sorcerer was too hard for me.

    Anyway. Back in the day, each class had a set gender you couldn't change. Warrior was male, Rogue was female, Sorcerer was male. Playing as a Rogue, so many other players in-game would make the poor assumption that you were a female, and would either A - attempt to shower you with gifts, or B - try to hit on you inappropriately.

    As an eleven year old boy at the time, I was so naive and thought it was awesome that people were giving me free stuff. They were so nice to me!

    Reality hit me in the head like a punch to the jaw from Batman though, when I started receiving sexually explicit messages from other users, who I assume were older men (or teenagers) and that they assumed that it was a woman behind the monitor of the Rogue, not an eleven year old boy. It was actually kind of scary and nearly put me off the entire game, so I can't even begin to imagine what actual female-players must have to endure.

    awe man these guys keep harrasing me and asking me to do /emote but i still wont just put them on ignore and move on with my life.... i wonder why.

      Because, if you read the article that comes with the headline, you'll realize it's less that people don't know how to use /ignore, and more, "Awh man, every guild I join seems fine until people who are supposed to be my friends start creeping on me and getting all skeevy, am I ever going to find somewhere that won't force me to choose between putting up with harrassment or blocking everyone?"

    all of these examples in the article (which i did read but thanks for ASSuming) are wholly unacceptable behavior i agree but they are also all random strangers who can quite easily be blocked and then report the player for inappropriate behavior then move on with your life. and lets be honest here.

    Blocking in FFXIV will prevent that player from speaking to you, PM you, attempt to trade you or really interact with you in any way. and if you are really concernced you can get in touch with a GM extremely easily.

    the same with World of Warcraft. and Blizzard especially takes sexual harassment extremely seriously and a player is likely to lose their entire account.

    my point is don't put up with it and think it will go away. report the behavior have it dealt with.

    was making her way through a city in World of Warcraft when a stranger stopped her female avatar

    Chelsea encounters him regularly when she passes through FFXIV's cities. And he is persistent.

    spent a few hours with a random man in-game before she began to feel like he wanted to do more than talk.

    The stranger continued

    There's a guy who followed me everywhere I went for a while, saying he's a higher-level player who will run me through higher-level content. He wasn't taking no for an answer,"

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