Gender Roles in Gaming 2: Transexual Boogaloo

Dude plays as a lady:

My rogue and her "srs" faceEarly 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.

Roided out

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.

My Norn thief in Hoelbrak in Guild Wars 2And honestly, as a geek who works at a computer for a living, I just don’t identify with such physical Adonises. Is this how women feel about all the hyper-sexualized female models?

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.

My female Night Elf monk in DarkshoreI’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.

My version of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2But now I start to wonder if I’m not simply rationalizing. Maybe I really do just make female characters to stare at eye-candy.

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.

My Dragon character showing off his faction uniform in The Secret WorldI guess I don’t really have a point to make here, and it’s a bit narcissistic of me to just prattle on about my over-thinking of my own choices, but, well, that’s blogging for you.

Conclusion:

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.

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9 thoughts on “Gender Roles in Gaming 2: Transexual Boogaloo

  1. Nice blog :)
    I never play a male character if I have a choice (sadly in a lot of games you don’t).
    I always feel like I want to related to a character ‘be her’ in some way. Even though the characters i’ve played are all very different, they all have some of ‘me’ in them. For some reason no matter how awsome a game (Resident Evil for one) Im not really that into it if Im forced to play a men (you must play the whole game as Chris Redfield before unlocking Sheva …). Femshep for one was HALLELUJAH awsome to me. No disrespect to people who just play for the eye candy (hey Im ALL for the eye candy), but for me its just not enough a reason to play a female. I need to identify with her at least on some lvl :)

    • Yeah, that pretty much matches what I said at the beginning. I don’t need there to be any “me” in my characters. I see them more like the characters from my novels — fictional entities created by but separate from me.

  2. Was expecting this post to get more attention. Anywho… I tend to view my characters as extensions of myself, each representing various aspects of my personality, but the gender doesn’t figure in to it. I tend to play more male characters than female, regardless of game, but much of that has to do with the movements or voice acting for the female characters being obnoxious. I also had my start in a Korean MMO and went with male characters as a way of avoiding all the horror stories, it just sort of stuck.

  3. Interesting post…can’t speak from a male perspective but as someone who has been “forced’ to play male characters in games because there were no female character options, I only play females now because I got tired of all the stereotypical male characters.

    Had a male rogue character once as a bank alt, but when I wanted to play the class I paid for a gender change.

    I don’t make assumptions about characters based on who plays them by gender as I think of them as avatars instead of extensions. I admit I will have a good laugh sometimes when a female character is the one with the deep, gruff male voice on Vent though…

    I suppose my only character “quirk” is that I seem to want to design them to look like me :D

    • You play a Draenei… Do you have horns and a tail in real life?

      Actually, that brings up an interesting point. It occurs to me that I’ve generally tried to make my characters as unlike me as possible. Even when they’re not the opposite gender or a completely different species, I still find ways to make them not like me. My Secret World character is black, and I tried to make my GW2 warrior look Asian — with mixed success.

      Hmm. *Strokes chin in thought.*

      • No, no horns or tail :D
        I try for facial features, eye/hair colour and hair style if I can find something. Probably why I prefer Draenei and BEs as it’s like playing an avatar “mini-me” – without the hairy goat legs or long pointy ear of course.

        Interesting though that I can’t even come close with Humans.

        So…when are you writing an article about how you avoid making characters to look like you? That should be quite interesting ;)

      • I may have to at some point, but it’s not too hard to understand. I don’t feel very comfortable in my own skin, and I play video games to escape from reality and from myself, so it makes sense I’d try to avoid anything resembling my true self in the virtual realm.

  4. I admit it. I’m kinda stalking you now. lol. Honestly though, I was curious as to what your answer would be. In the DDO guild I play in, there are lots and lots of female characters. I was the only female player for a long time, though now there are a handful. All my DDO characters are women. Typically, if I have a choice in a game, my character is a woman. Why? Because I take some amount of pride in being a woman who has decided to pursue my passion for gaming instead of hiding it as might be expected. I asked one guy why he always made female characters, and he said he’d much prefer to see a girl’s butt for a couple hours a day than a dude’s. I did have one male character in DDO, but then I decided on a naming convention for all my characters and decided they were all “sisters” in spirit if not blood (multiple races). I have one male Skyrim character, and games like Mass Effect, I’ll typically do a good girl run first, then a bad boy. That probably says a lot about me. lol Unless I have a reason for a change (like my hardcore warriors are generally fiery redheads) they are all dirty blonde/light brown, green eyes, and hair pulled back like my own.

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