This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.
I think (all
two three, there’s three now, of) you already know the answer from the featured image.
Oh, I suppose I could spin off some prose about the oppressive origins of labeling those who prefer Player vs. Environment as ‘carebears’. I could definitely write a good thousand words about how this feeds into the patriarchy by enforcing the masculine stereotypes of a warrior culture, and degrades those who do not fully participate within that culture as being both less masculine; and therefore degrades femininity as being lesser and an object of scorn. I could. I could wax political about how the hyper-competitive nature of PvP, especially that in MMOs, lends itself to reinforcing gender stereotypes in a culture that’s already struggling to be more inclusive and less harmful towards women. I could, I could.
Yeah, you know what, fuck it, let’s do this.
Let’s stare into the abyss and mind not what stares back. Let’s discuss video game culture, especially that of an MMO (where this conflict comes into question the most, for varying reasons) and the division and denigration of players based on their gameplay preferences, and, how that culture is fed by and feeds back into gaming culture as a whole. And yes, we’ll tie this into the patriarchy as well because goddamnit, I’m feeling like breathing smoke.
So. Some terms. PvE. In most MMOs, the default state of play – you create a character, you either by yourself or cooperatively gain experience and sometimes items by defeating computer-controlled opponents, collectively, referred to as “mobs” (short for “self-mobile units” from old MUDs). Usually a very controlled environment, the computer’s advantages are typically a higher threshold for taking damage and a higher capacity for dealing damage, tuned in a way that usually requires coordination and communication, or just overwhelming force to defeat.
PvP. In many, but not all, MMOs, an alternate style of play that can either conflict or complement the base PvE game. There are a few MMOs where PvP is more of the focus or the default state. (A good, modern example of this would be Guild Wars 2, which is tuned around PvP balance with PvE adhering to PvP rules and not the other way around. Players again can individually, or cooperatively, gain experience, currency or some form of advancement by defeating other players. The challenge is that other humans are unpredictable and less constrained by AI, and are (in theory) equally matched in power. In some games, the PvP and PvE experience are mutually exclusive, including EverQuest, where most of these terms, and the divide between them, originated.
The idea of PvE being a “lesser” version of gaming style in MMOs has strong roots than the pubescent male warrior state of mind. In fact, in EverQuest while it was a “harder” way of playing, it was a poorly implemented and frustrating experience for those who “went red” (PvP players had red names to notate their status. The default for names was blue, hence “bluebies”, a thinly veiled reference to “newbie”.) This higher degree of difficulty wasn’t due to any additional requirement of skill, the switch to go red was simply an afterthought. It was fairly easy to see that the frustration of playing as PvP character led to the need to denigrate those who did not.
The term “PK” or player killer, came from EverQuest’s predecessor, Ultima Online, a game, which, in full disclosure, I haven’t played. The model of the player killer was well cast when EverQuest came around, indicated in no small part by the name. Misappropriation of the “gangsta” image and persona happened fairly rampantly, birthing the image of the overly masculine (but barely pubescent) male gamer content to “own” people at a sociopathic rate.
Where does this all tie together? Let us then take a look at the phrase, “care bear” as it’s applied to PvE players. Care bears, for those unfamiliar, are multi-colored anthropomorphic bears with various cheerful images on their bellies, like a smiling sun, or a heart or a rainbow. They’re toys and cartoons marketed toward young girls and are renowned for their dealing with adversary by their “care bear stare”, in which rainbow colored beams shoot out of their bellies and I don’t know, rainbow you into happiness or something. It’s fairly cloying and overly saccharin, and applied as a label towards people not interested in player vs. player combat, completely intended as a degrading label.
I think you can see where this all leads. It’s the ultimate denigration that I’m concerned with here, so let’s jump a few paragraphs into the good stuff. It’s one thing to be upset at others that want – and get – things you don’t, especially when a lot of MMOs will try to cater the experience to the broadest market. For many MMOs, PvP considerations can be considered secondary, if at all. While nobody likes being treated as if their interests are secondary, consider the target market for video gamers – heterosexual males from teenage to early-mid adulthood (as best illustrated by the “straight male gamer” a few years back.) This is a very privileged group – a group that is quite steeped in their own privilege especially in American patriarchal society. And by the same story as linked above, that privileged group doesn’t like it when they are not catered to.
There is also the competitive nature of PvP versus the cooperative (or at least non-competitive) nature of PvE. This is, I believe, the root of the term ‘care bear’, painting the PvE landscape as an overly saccharin cooperative paradise, with not a single competitive drive to be found. Again, this language is that of hyper-masculinity, and lends itself towards degradation of those who don’t participate as unable – unable to compete, unable to handle the supposed ‘rigors’ of competition (as if there were some stake outside of virtual points), and so on. Consider also the language of the victors in a PvP competition – gendered terms as insult, or just as often, sexuality terms as an insult. (Author’s note: I really don’t need to spell these out here, do I?) These terms are all either feminine or referencing homosexuality, which is often in homophobic constructs, a form of femininity as well. Again, these are oppressive terms meant to degrade an individual, but reinforce culturally the idea that women, and femininity, is the lesser, is less able to compete and is something to be scorned.
So why use the term “care bear” in my post? I honestly enjoy the term and embrace it. Gaming culture is filled with colloquialisms and acronyms that often are nonsensical that are appropriated from many sources. While there are some words and phrases that are beyond redemption (seriously, calling someone a ‘naga’ in World of Warcraft is not funny and incredibly oppressive,) there is certainly power in taking a word or phrase and owning it, embracing it and making it something that’s a positive. Personally, I think my PvE tendencies are awesome – I could camp a spawn like a BOSS back in the day, and my role play? Mmmmm chiilllld…
Plus there’s not a damn thing wrong with rainbow lasers. So there.