Dude plays as a lady:
Early in my blog’s history, I did a post on how video games seem to mess with our traditional view of gender roles. Often, people — especially men — will play as the opposite gender, and it’s considered perfectly normal despite the cultural taboo that exists against cross-dressing in this part of the world. Sometimes, people even adopt personality traits usually associated with the opposite gender while playing. I can be counted among both groups.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon, though one that’s not easy to understand. The one conclusion that seemed to come from the comments on the last post was that whether you play as a different gender or not depends on how you view your avatar. If it’s an extension of yourself, it seems more likely you’ll play as your own gender, but if you view your avatars as distinct characters — as I do — gender-bending is more common.
A few recent events have gotten me thinking about this again. The first was stumbling across this article while researching for my WhatMMO work. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the short version is that the author discovered many of her male friends are playing female avatars because they find it easier to identify with those than with the steroid-abusing ubermen most male avatars are.
This immediately struck a cord with me, and I realized it was true for me, as well, at least in certain cases.
My mind went to my paladin in World of Warcraft, my second human female. Now, I was never fully happy with the choice of race and gender for her. I had to play Alliance to be with my friends, but I can’t bring myself to play Draenei, I’m just not a Dwarf guy, and human males are out of the question, so human female it was.
But why are human males out of the question? Because I can’t bring myself to play as a Brock Lesnar lookalike. Physical strength does not appeal to me — not in the real world, not in the virtual world. I respect cunning, intelligence, and grace. I design my characters accordingly.
While I’m sure this doesn’t explain all of my female avatars, I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle. It’s much easier to embody the feeling of agility I respect in a female avatar than in the testosterone-bloated goons that most male video game characters are. Certainly, this is why I’ll never play a male rogue.
The girls are taking over:
The other thing that’s brought this to mind for me of late is more personal: my monk has boobs.
You see, the other day, I hopped on WoW to make my monk, eager to try the new class. I knew it was going to be a Night Elf, and I’ve been playing too many females lately, so I went about making a very badass, distinguished male Night Elf monk.
And then I hit the button for female.
I’m not really sure why I did this. Certainly, I liked the male monk I designed. The female option just felt somehow right. It’s possible it’s because of what I said above. Night Elves are less roided than other races, but the females still look a bit more suited to an agile class than the males. Or maybe it was the lore fan in me screaming, “YOUR NIGHT ELF CAN’T BE A MARTIAL CLASS IF IT HAS A PENIS!”
This means that essentially all of my Warcraft characters are now female. My rogue, paladin, and warlock are also all women. I no longer play my shaman, death knight, or mage much. And I’ve been playing a lot of females in other games, too. This makes me wonder if there isn’t something more going on.
Oh, I have explanations for all my choices. My rogue is a girl because I was only playing males when I made her and wanted to shake things up. My paladin has already been explained. My warlock is female because I already had a male Blood Elf caster. My Shepard was female because I can’t stand MShep’s voice acting. My Diablo wizard is female because that’s the character’s canon gender.
Then again, that doesn’t quite add up, either. For one thing, my female characters don’t match up to my ideal of beauty.
Physically speaking, my ideal woman is thin, effeminate, soft-featured, fair, and blonde. Preferably with long, loose hair. Dianna Agron and Scarlet Johanson are prime examples.
My female video game characters don’t look like that. They tend to have pulled-back dark hair and be moderately muscular and grim-faced. There are exceptions, but that’s the trend. If I was playing for eye-candy, wouldn’t I be commanding an army of pixelated Dianna Agrons?
Then there’s the fact that I tend to dress my characters in practical armour that leaves much to the imagination, and my infamous disdain for plate-kinis. Although then again, I find classy attire more attractive in the real world…
Another possible explanation is the fact that I tend to prefer the company of women in real life, even outside my sexual preference. It’s not that I have anything against men; I just for some reason feel more comfortable around females, regardless of the nature of my relationship with them. And, more importantly for this discussion, I find it easier to form emotional connections with women. Forming an attachment to your avatar is a lot of what makes video games so addictive.
And just to muddy the issue a little bit more, there are still examples of my playing male characters. My avatar in The Secret World and my warrior in Guild Wars 2 are both men, and I’m quite happy with both choices.
Once again, I fear this post raises more questions than answers, but it’s interesting to think about. I find this topic endlessly fascinating and will likely continue to puzzle on it for some time.
I do think the revelation that some men are so turned off by the prospect of playing as roided man-bulls that they prefer playing women is worth taking note of. If nothing else, it’s another reason why having a variety of customization options in a game is a good thing.
What about you, dear reader? What are your thoughts on this issue? I’d love to hear any opinions or insight anyone has to share.