Today’s NYT has an article (free registration required to view) featuring that rare species, women in MMOGs who actually are, you know, women in real life, highlighting such well known luminaries as Heather of Cove Merchant’s Guild. The (only shallowly explored, unfortunately) thesis of the article is that women tend to assume roles of leadership in online games, as opposed to those play-to-crush guys.

What women are finding so interesting about these games is that they provide a sense of community and social structure that you don’t see in other games,” said Patricia Pizer, a lead designer at Turbine Entertainment Software, which developed and regularly updates the Microsoft game Asheron’s Call.

In real life Heather Crouch is a 30-year- old stay-at-home mother of two in Austin, Tex. In Ultima Online, she is the leader of a merchants’ association in which about 100 other players participate. “I’ve never been into hack and slash,” she said. “It’s the relationships that’ve kept me in.”

The Times also elicited comment from other representatives of all three major MMOGs, including Dave Namerrow of Turbine, Carly Staehlin of Origin and Gordon Wrinn of Verant

Women and men both hold leadership roles in the games, heading local governments, military alliances and other groups. What most distinguishes women players, game developers say, is that they use their imaginations to push the limits of the games, pioneering ingenious new kinds of player contacts. “There have been emergent behaviors from women that are really kind of fascinating,” said Ms. Pizer, at Turbine. “Women are seeing openings for social interactions that the game designers didn’t necessarily plan on.”

Some characters played by women band together as informal “fashion police,” taunting characters who are badly dressed. Other women team up to help new players by handing out gold pieces, weapons and advice.

Women have also started innovative businesses. Laurence Valette, 35, of Versailles, France, operates an interior design firm within Ultima Online. Like any real-life decorator, Ms. Valette’s character tries to accommodate her clients’ wishes, however odd they may be. When an evil character told her he wanted his tower to be “frightening, though not vulgar,” she adopted a black-and-red palette and made judicious use of skulls as decorative elements.

Women (and those few men able to construct complete sentences and not distracted by bright and shiny things) are encouraged to contribute their analysis in our forums, which, as always, are safe spaces for women.