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Mar 20, 2006

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In the Academy, there is a hierarchy. Everybody knows that the physicists and theoretical mathematicians are extremely intelligent, work hard to get where they are, and base their results on reproducible results, the scientific method, rigorous proofs... [Read More]

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Once again, the MMO-blogosphere has been psychoanalyzing players who sometimes or routinely play avatars of the opposite sex. While many games in the past allowed simple male/female choices, or no choice at all (no one questioned all the men who enjoyed [Read More]

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Do women wear the trousers in virtual worlds? A discussion on Terra Nova leads me to believe that it's the women who have the power in these online spaces. [Read More]

Comments

1.

As of tomorrow morning (GMT) I'll be away from my computer until the 2nd of April. If any TN reader has a comment she/he would like to address directly to me, please feel free to use my email address: bonnie [at] heroine-sheik [dot] com. I'll be sure to get back to you!

2.

I generally only use a male avatar when learning a mmog, it's a lot easier to get along with everyone. It means, 1. Leechers _don't_ harass you. and 2. I don't have to defend my sex. After all, there are no girls on the interweb. After I know enough about the game that I want to make a main character, a female avatar allows me to be more truthful with those I work with and, as a number of guys seem to have noticed, it makes trading much more profitable. Actually, I know a lot of guys who have female alts for nothing but trading so it may not always be a matter of identity but of manipulation.

3.

One interesting difference between the Roberts & Parks (1999) data from MOOs and my data from MMORPGs is that they found no gender or age differences. On the other hand, the gender difference in gender-bending in MMORPGs has always been very large ever since I started asking this question in EQ.

So, assuming that these two sets of data are mostly accurate, I wonder why are we seeing this gender disparity between these two kinds of virtual worlds? And is there also a lower gender disparity in gender-bending in more social virtual worlds like There and Second Life?

4.

I have a question about this phenomenon: Has anyone noticed a difference in gendered languages?

my girlfriend raised this point on the topic once, that for a french gamer, to successfully pass as a female character, they would have to remeber to constantly use the feminine forms of the language when referring to themselves, even indirectly. I don't know if this would make the exercise more difficult, or if for a native speaker this is a non-issue.

5.

This subject makes me feel all funny inside. :P

Oh well, here's my little bio...

I'm a 42yo man who has had an unshakable addiction to video games beginning with pong in the early '70's. I retired a couple years ago after 22 years as a journeyman carpenter/millwright. My interests include nanotechnology (molecular manufacturing), genetic engineering, basically all the NBIC technologies, and , of course, video games.

I play female characters exclusively; I like to make them as small as possible (even if it means sacrificing a slot to accommodate a size reduction appliance.) and as beautiful as possible. I've found this type of character perfect for manipulating other, mostly male, gamers; I think it triggers not only the male desire to protect, but also incites them into competition...either way I profit. ;)

Naming my girls is also very important because, as I'm sure many of you know, a really good name is far more valuable than gold. For this reason alone I always try to get in on the beta, on the off chance they might let us keep our names or at least start a day ahead of release.

Mastering emotes and the building of scripts and macros is also very important as it enables me to breath life into my girls and greatly enhances their charm and allure. People tend to gravitate toward highly skilled players, IMO, which helps me to accomplish another high priority goal: Networking. Building a high quality network is vastly easier with a good looking gal, IMO.

When you add everything up I'll bet that I can accumulate more in-game credits and high value items than 10 chinese gold farmers put together, and do so in less time! ;)

Which brings me to my true and ultimate goal...helping others. Whether it's getting someone an item or showing a group of newbs the best place to level, IMO there is nothing more satisfying than helping others in need. Indeed, helping people IS my end game.




6.

I recently wrote an article about on-line gender bending for the San Antonio Current. As one who regularly plays female characters, my theory is that many men engage in this activity because "virtual worlds are one of the few social spaces in which men can display female-coded behaviors without fear of social persecution."

I think Richard Bartle put it best when he wrote "For me, the question isn’t ‘why would people play the opposite to their real-life gender’ but ‘why wouldn’t they?’"

7.

Interestingly, the period over which I played the most female characters was when I was borrowing spare characters on a friend's account, and this friend happened to be female. I reasoned that these characters technically belonged to her, and if she wanted to play them again, she'd prefer a female.

Once, when I was designing a character, I talked it over with her, and she suggested a few things. I gave her a once-over and quipped, "Are you trying to make her a flirt?" I never got a response.

Two other people I know:
One plays a male empath (healer), and the other a female paladin. The interesting part (besides that it's a stereotype gender swap) is that the paladin refuses to let the empath get into a dangerous area, because, well, empaths shouldn't be in danger. I found it hilarious, because the traditional gender demarcations had been dropped in favor of profession demarcations.

8.

I read an article on this subject in an online magazine a while ago (I’m at work and can’t remember the link).

I usually create female toons though not exclusively and have wondered why as I never pretend to be anything but male when I play (on RPG servers I always roll male).

In part of the article I read it alluded to something I certainly found to be true for myself. That was, as I'm sure many fellow geeks would agree I just can't relate to "Jock" characters; in games, literature, film or television.

Now my toons to me are chars in a play not an extension of myself (at least to start with) and so I create the char's I like in television and film.

So if I want an action hero I think of Buffy not Clark Kent.

Now if the game has good scope for detailed body design and background this doesn’t present a problem. I can create an old man, a male teenage sneak thief, futuristic cyber-geek etc. If the game is limited and the body shape pre-determined to stereotypical male hunk/athlete types then I’ll create a woman, one who’s exploits in a world full of alpha male toon’s are more heroic just by the fact she ain’t built like Arnie :p

(So sort out those character models Blizzard!)

9.

I have a question about this phenomenon: Has anyone noticed a difference in gendered languages?

Gender-typed behavior patterns certainly give many "cross-dressers" (I believe I've begun to prefer the term identity tourist) away: from data I've been able to collect (lol, i.e. what I could follow up on in chat), most women who act like dicks also have them.

This is to say, that when I've been in a group/guild with someone who is overly critical or harsh, unconcerned about other people's enjoyment (i.e. ninja and or loot whores or doesn't care how other people are doing, etc.), not a good group actor, etc. -- they've turned out to be guys in reality when ever I've checked.

The corollary anecdote: My wife and I were playing Everquest together years ago and we got into a group with 2 or 3 other women-toons. After every single pull they would /cheer and say "woo hoo!" and "good job everybody!" and "we did it--yay!" -- did I mention after every single pull?

At the time, I hadn't really thought about this stuff, but my wife says "I bet these girls are really women." And we asked, and they were. When I asked my wife how she knew, she said "Simple. They actually care that everybody in the group is having a good time, and they view the results of teamwork as better than one person's ego. That's normal for girls, but pretty unusual for boys."

"Huh," I said. And I started paying attention, and this has been my experience through out my MMORPG days. Of course there have been exceptions, but I've found that it's largely true.

10.

Mid-30’s gamer and software developer, here. Married to another gamer. I tend to have a balance between male and female characters (alt-aholic here), and my choices are largely based on concept. Occasionally, I’ll shift a concept a little to better mesh with my wife’s alts- or vice versa. (Most of our alts have gender-opposite pairs, though 1 female-female and 1 male-male pair breaks even this pattern.)

Like Bonnie’s last respondent, most of my females tend to be “girl Fridays” (though I’ve never heard that term before…). Even when I’m not in a roleplaying group, I tend to stay somewhat “in character” with subtle changes in speech that seem to be more frequently attributed to females than males. It isn’t about deception- but more of being true to the illusion- and the shift seems to comes naturally, with little effort.

To me, that’s important. I’m not as concerned that people may discover I’m a male playing a female character, but that when females learn that I AM a male playing a female, that they see I’m presenting them well- not as a sex object, not as a female Rambo, not as the typical male’s stereotype of women. Something more genuine.

Back when I GM’ed pen-n-paper, I had the good fortune of having a female player in my group. We had male players with female characters, and she and I shared many laughs regarding their performances- it made me much more conscious on my own portrayal of female NPC’s- and much of this shapes the way I play them today.

11.

RL continues to be a man's world in a number of important respects. Virtual life is often *more so* with RP culture like Gor or BDSM privileging the male characters and placing the females into subserviant roles (with only some interesting variations like Panther Girls) -- and these RPs themselves IMHO seem to have evolved as a kind of safety valve against the RL societal pressures existing for creating equal rights and even equal outcomes in RL between men and women.

Re: "Why don't more women choose to present cross-gender? How come older men, and not younger men, more often switch gendered identities?"

1) Perhaps this could be explained some day scientifically by the presence of X or Y chromosomes -- not sufficient, however.

2) A more ready explanation is that many MMORPGs create a situation where female characters can get more perks of various sorts in terms of skills or goods or social dynamic in groups, so it's to an advantage to keep female characters going, as many have indicated.

3) A deeper explanation for more complicated social worlds without the quest/guild feature like Sims Online and Second Life has to do with the continuing intolerance and domination of men of the social scene -- so that only older males will face the greatest challenge as still being the most privileged in the male-dominated world.

There's not a *huge* amount of tolerance for the m2f -- they are still quite often ridiculed -- but there's even *less* tolerance for f2m.

As in many other spheres, males would like to be the ones who control gender-bending, thank you very much. They are willing to let themselves, or some of their number, transfer from male to female. But something makes them very, very unsettled about the opposite transfer from female to male. They hate it. They are suspicious of it and often find a 100 ways to pick on it. f2m is fun and pageant-filled and tolerable. m2f must "have no life" or be "up to no good" or "aggressive and unattractive".

The fear of deception in the anonymous avatar environment -- especially related to intimiate sexual partnerships -- is rampant, and the fear of humiliation and deception is projected on those who chose to present transgendered.

Many assume wrongly that a f2m or m2f are all about deception. Some are. Most aren't. Those who chose to enter this realm, however, will find they eternally have a scarlet letter upon them.

I find that nothing elicits hate from human beings -- the special kind of laser-like amplified hate of virtual worlds -- like the female inside a male that many males would like to suppress or not acknowledge, or the male inside a female that makes many males even want to kill the female, at least on a virtual level.

Curiously, it's often the gay community of both gay males and gay females, who can be the least tolerant of the transgendered. It's not supposed to be that way, but it is. They're the ones most likely to scornfully use a term like "identity tourist" or to think of cross-overs as weekend "bi-curious" types who either aren't serious. I'm thinking this could be about TGs making frivolous something they may have themselves come to in RL through various painful experiences (and even political and social oppression) and they're having none of it when they see others "play" this way. Or they see a f2m or m2f as somehow still 'suppressed' and not willing to just partner with the same sex as they are "supposed to" of they are G or L or B.

Or they figure if someone was *really* serious about being transgender, they'd have the surgery and social adjustments necessary to accomplish this need in RL.

GLBT is a mantra that many people will put on a doorpost to say their lot or their guild or their group is tolerant. But the "T" is not something they really make way for. There's no "T" in the annual SL gay parade. When did you see a celebratory "T" club or house or lot, that wasn't just a special event? The only "T" one might find is in a deliberately exaggerated, vaudeville sort of occasional event where some known gays might cross-dress as exotic females to become TVs for the day.

The very term "identity tourist" contains volumes of scorn, as does the pronunciation that women who behave like dicks must be them. It tracks with personal experience, so it can't be disputed in one sense.

But we would have to ask at what point would someone be allowed to be no longer an "identity tourist"?

If you played almost exclusively male characters in games and virtual worlds for 5 years, would that count? When would it get to count for you?

Is there a transgendered commission one can apply to for certification?

4) Yet another feature of this issue is the game of outing one's RL which goes on in many virtual world contexts as an internal form of stratetic game-playing quest/leveling/skill/reputation enhancement (somebody ought to study that phenom some day).

People who don't get in sync with the group-think, or who commit some real or imagined offense against the dominant group, can find themselves the target of Google witch-hunts, scanning of every forums or game they've ever been in, perusal of the back pages of the tabs like the SL Herald, intelligence-operative-like gathering of HUMINT to "get something on someone" -- and more. I can provide ample documentation of this!

If "that something" turns out to be a gender opposite to the one in a game, the forums jackals can be relied on to bruit it about, in defiance of the TOS mandate not to out RL details, and in some settings, like SL, get a huge big pass to do that not once, but for evermore, from mods and even company executives. A lame apology might include a lame comment like "we thought everyone knew".

Yet the intolerance level of males and the wider community for f2m vs. m2f can be seen in the way two avatars in the SL community, both with a certain prominence, very widely different in personality, are treated.

Torley nee Torgeson Linden, a self-declared RL male with an inworld RL male partner also m2f inworld, interviewed by Hamlet Linden, etc. and declared as a RL male, is always and everywhere, referred to as "she" (as is her partner) even by Lindens who see her in RL -- or *especially* by Lindens (as they tend to be the politically correct sort who try to respect GLBT differences).

Almost always on the forums, Torley is referred to as she, and certainly inworld and in public gatherings. In fact, so ingrained in this is the culture that it is inconceivable for most to step outside and refer to this avatar as "he" when everyone knows that of course she is she. She *is* she!

Not so Prokofy Neva. This f2m avatar is relentlessly, viciously referred to as "she" as part of an overall shaming and humiliation technique for which the SL forums are famous. This week's example comes in the SL podcast with a teen grid baron. A few maintain the courtesy of saying "he" as indicated on the avatar profile as a *choice*. Most congratulate themselves as being "in the know" by saying "she," and also get the extra sense of inner malicious glee that comes from sticking it to someone they love to hate.

Obviously, any transgendered avatar project is only as strong as the community's willingness to suspend disbelief. Communities appear willing to suspend that disbelief for m2f; they aren't prepared to suspend disbelief for f2m. Indeed, they even angrily proclaim that anyone insisting on that courtesy to refer to f2m as "he" is doing violence to reality, at least their reality. They've often, I find, have had to absorb so many genuflections per day in RL and in SL to be tolerant of all sorts of things that they don't really *feel* tolerant about, that when it comes to f2m, it's the last straw for them. They can't and won't do it, and become ugly and beligerent about being asked to as a convention.

That will prompt deep secrecy for some -- they simply don't wish to face that kind of hatred.

While there is a rule that if it is not on your first-life profile, it's not fair game for forums bullies to pick on, that's honoured more often in the breach in this setting.

It was never my choice to be "outed," not because I have some shameful secret to hide, but simply because I wanted my choice to remain intact. Isn't that why they call it Second Life? I also wished to be free of continuous IMs asking me to have sex with 2 or more partners of male, female, and in-between presentation.

Why did I chose a f2m presentation? Because I *can*. It's about *choice*. What amazes me is that this simple, normal, frank, every-day, completely legitimate answer: "Because I can" is one that utterly confounds and even irritates especially straight males, and they believe it gives them a pass to be utterly inconsiderate and intrusive.

Not only will straight males tell you that you "just haven't made and experienced the right female avatar yet" (like some straight males will tell lesbians in RL that they "haven't met the right male yet"), if you simply stick to your guns and say "Because I can" or "It's my choice," they will often not accept this simple explanation. They expect they've tripped over a tripwire that will explode (for them) into some deep, psychological revelation with all kinds of richly Freudian research topics. If you just keep saying matter-of-factly, "I prefer" (like Bartleby's "I prefer not"), you are challenged.

Surely if you made this exotic journey of f2m, you must have something wrong with you? Hence the characterization on the SL forums of such people as "suffering from gender dysphoria" who "must need help" and "perhaps could get this help even within SL itself from certified psychiatrists".

No one would dare say that about a gay male or lesbian female in RL in this day and age -- homosexuality has long been thrown out of the deviance charts and the manuals of psychiatric disorders. Not so transgender, even in a game.

The drive to out and undermine and ridicule and "bring back to normal" the transgendered person is still pretty strong in the RW as in the VW but I believe this will be changing.

There's something about the transgendered avatar that makes people think you're always and everywhere ready to have cybersex with them. You might proclaim preference for PG relationships on your profile - that will merely be seen as a flirtatious come-on by some. No one who has not experienced these kind of unsolicited offers for cybersex and mistreatment by strangers can understand what it is like; their first instinct is to deny that it goes on.

I'm thinking transgendered people in virtual worlds are about 20-30 years away from gaining acceptance, just as 20-30 years ago gays only began to gain acceptance and RL rights.

One of the greatest forms of violence besides a deliberate outing and constant humiliation of a cross-dressed avatar is the claim that they "do a disservice to real transgendered people." Now why would that be the case? If someone plays a person of colour or a furry in a game, does that do a disservice to real people of colour or animal rights? Please. Yet this is the argumentation I hear often when I make even the mildest pleas for tolerance of people who chose the opposite gender.

No one doubts that a RL transgendered person is "more real" than an avatar. Any avatar is more real than a real-life person, duh. But why would that give a pass to members of the SL community to write on Hamlet's blog comments things like, "Why don't you cut off a corpse's penis and sew it on yourself?" or to tell you in person inworld, "You know, they have operations now where they can use cut-off thumbs to manufacture pretty realistic penises. Why don't you try that?"

Uhh...no thanks.

I find a fair number of women who have at least one male avatar, and some who exclusively play male avatars but they are very, very closeted about their choices -- and small wonder, given the huge atmosphere of hatred and intolerance that will greet them -- especially from those who pride themselves on being for GLBT pride.

5) Some people explain their notion of cross-gender choices as "liking to watch the tail". I've heard that explanation. I personally am not buying it. I think the person enjoys being another gender for many reasons, and it is too bad they can't feel secure in that choice because of the hatred of society.

I think you put your avatar on like a glove because he fits. Why would you do anything else? Recently I was ridiculed by another avatar for not having a butt that she found sufficiently attractive. Apparently, in putting my avatar on simply because he fit like a glove, I didn't give enough credence to "doing this for the sake of watching the tail" school of thought. Gosh, had I been watching the tail, I would have given that avatar some better buns.

They do put you in these avatars in the forum of a kind of pilot, third-person feel, where you are watching this avatar fly around from behind him. Perhaps a certain percentage of people play the game looking at the avatar's tail, and they want his or her tail to be as nice to look at as possible.

I personally ignore that imposed pilot/tail stuff they give you from the game company. That will probably change someday. If you want to be in the immersive world, you simply screen it out, like you screen out the proscenium arch in the theater when you watch a play. You don't keep saying to yourself, my, what pretty theater seats and what a pretty arch and wings to this stage set all during the play. You just watch the play.

6) I've come to the conclusion that there are more than 2 genders, and there are a range. I think there are at least 6. They just haven't been mapped yet. Historically, they mapped on 2, and sometimes 3, as some societies have historically been willing to make way for m2f. Improved mapping may take place as avatars and virtual worlds are developed in sync with RL. There will be lots more interchangeability among these phases coming sooner than you might think.

12.

*f2m is fun and pageant-filled and tolerable. m2f must "have no life" or be "up to no good" or "aggressive and unattractive".

I meant to write that m2f is seen as pageantry and fun, and is therefore the most studied, and f2m is disliked and suspected more.

13.

I'm so missing out.

In what is no doubt a move that has obsessive-compulsive implications of its own, I have 8 WoW characters, neatly subdivided to experience as much of the game as I can: One of each class. Two of each race. Four of each gender.

I have never experienced any sort of different treatment with any of them. Frankly, no one seems to pay any attention to it. I hear a lot of apocryphal stories of "well, I rolled a girl toon and suddenly, people gave me stacks of gold," but have yet to see a single difference and, frankly, I haven't even heard of anyone in my guild or family that has experienced such preferential treatment.

I definitely hear a lot of homophobic chat in the general channel (to the point where I generally turn it off), and I suspect said chatters would be uncomfortable playing against type. But for the most part, I guess I just don't see it. Which is a shame, as two of my four female characters still need mounts, and would dearly love some gold-based attention.

I have, on the other hand, often wondered about the gender conceptions that informed *which* four were selected to be female. Maybe someone can pyschoanalyze the breakdown:

Females:

Human Priest
Night Elf Warrior
Dwarf Paladin
Gnome Mage

Males:

Human Warlock
Night Elf Druid
Dwarf Hunter
Gnome Rogue

14.

Prokofy Neva,
Interesting read, thank you for sharing your perspective, very enlightening, even if there are some assumptions I disagree with. I'm not a SL'er (ok, I am, but I'm still on the tutorial isle) so I can't relate to the online culture there, but I have to say that your account is disappointing, but not entirely unanticipated.


-------
This is only speculation, but perhaps the "age difference" may be explained by the nature of the social expectations for online games. Older (male) gamers may be more likely to be in established relationships, perhaps more likely to seek escape in the online world, whereas younger, unattached males might be hoping for a real life relationship to emerge from online relationships.

That would explain some of the hostility toward the "video game cross-dresser." If one was looking seeking a connection with the opposite sex, and used the avatar as a reference, then the fear of "false expectations" would cause a great deal of anxiety, expressed as hostility.

This would also seem to fit the pattern that I noticed, where the more game-based models, like City of Heroes, seem to have more tolerance toward us, while more socially-enabled games and the socially-centric worlds like Second Life seem to have greater issue with it. If social games increase the expectation of real-life bonds, then the community could be more hostile to challenges to those expectations.

SWG has(had) a much more robust set of social tools available than City of Heroes, and the oft-broken combat system was less a barrier for the socially-bent player. In SWG, I witnessed venomous witch-hunts for "gender benders" using all sorts of hate-filled names. When the same topic appeared in City of Heroes, the threads were routinely negated by much more tolerant statements that made it clear what the norm was.

One other trend I noticed in SWG: most of the prejudice seemed directed to the more human-looking races (human, zabrak, twi'lek). Few issues were raised-and few issues came up- on the RL gender of these races. I'm assuming that, as the avatars didn't generate much in-game sexual appeal, it didn't challenge the insecurity.

15.

Dear Terra Nova,

I'm a guy who plays almost exclusively bald male dwarves. Is there something wrong with me?

Sincerely,
obo

16.

I think that the reason you are more like to find a man playing a female character than a woman playing a male character has to do with greater social restrictions on men.

Quite frankly, it is far more acceptable for women to act in more like men in public. How many times have you seen a woman shop in the men's section of a clothing store? How many times have you seen the reverse?

Here is a story. I walked into an EB back in the day to buy a GBA. I wanted a fuschia one, because I thought they looked cool. As the guy in the counter got the ladder and grabbed the GBA, I was offered a platinum GBA no less than 3 times. I ask you--would a woman asking for the platinum GBA have the same trouble?

Your average everyday woman wears pants. She can even wear men's pants. In public. As a woman.

Your average everyday man does not wear skirts. He doesn't wear women's jeans. He can't even wear men's jeans that are made by a company that is associated with women's jeans if he wants to avoid ridicule. You didn't go to school with Jordache jeans in my grade school if you knew what was good for you.

Women are more free when it comes to gender expression. Women's liberation worked on that front at least. Good for you!

Men don't have the same leeway.

17.

this was an interesting article. i must have been fairly sheltered, as i had no idea there was such a stigmata attatched... >.>

the first mmo i played was ffxi, and i played a male there for 2 years. a couple months ago i picked up wow and decided on a female elf. why? purely aesthetics. the male elves struck me as muscle-bound ogres and frankly, the idea of playing one was rather repulsive to me :D

i don't try to 'role play' my speech or attempt to decieve anyone. i just act like myself. i really don't think it matters at all what gender you are or which you decide to play, and i honestly couldn't care less about anyones rl gender. i'm logging in to play a game, not to look for a girlfriend who lives 500 miles away. seriously, it's a game, not a dating service >.>

seems to me that the real problem is apparently the guys/girls who feel they need to change how they act depending on the gender of whoever they're talking to, either to manipulate or in hopes of getting laid (or cybered, in this case :P). that's about the only reason it seems to matter.

i also think that any distinction between the sexes, aside from the obvious physical differences (which technically does not even apply online, for the most part), is pretty silly and useless. i think i'm a far cry from the stereotypical mainstream male image. maybe, in a way, playing a male character would even be considered a mis-representation in some peoples eyes? o.O but that could be a whole different wormy can...

ok enough ranting, and i'm too lazy to proof this post. i hope it's mostly coherent :D feel free to email if you wish, not sure i'll remember to check on this article again lol.

18.

I think the skew towards older men crossing over has some foundation in a more secure sense of self, sexually. However, I also think there's a deeper reason that more older men can get away with it. I would assume that most of us who cross over are married. There's nothing more devious than a married man to play a woman, we've got a huge treasure trove of intimate knowledge about being a woman that younger men do not. We 'fit in' to female social groups better if we're working at it.

For me gender bending was always about the perks. Bat your eyes a little, invest just a small amount of time working some kid and chances are you can get something for your trouble. A little help, a little money, name it.

Here's an interesting question: Do female avatars get more random buffs in game that male avatars?

19.

I'm a guy who plays almost exclusively bald male dwarves. Is there something wrong with me?

Yes. You haven't played enough sci-fi games. ^_^

20.

It looks like I missed out on most of the interesting conversation, so I'm only going to post one thing here and be done with it --

I run in crowds that involve a lot of people who have either played a tabletop RPG in the past, or who are currently playing one. In this light, I don't really see what the big deal is over playing "cross-gender," because we don't use our characters to represent ourselves. Rather, the characters we play are the characters we'd like to see brought to life. There's even a little bit of ego involved -- RPing cross-gender is more difficult, and doing it well earns a good bit of respect. Among my friends, I see this view of the avatar as being pretty common, and it makes me think that maybe such a strict, fixed view of how the avatar represents the player (as you seem to be implying, Bonnie) is probably clouding any picture you might get from the data.

Maybe the best avenue of research wouldn't be to examine how people relate to their avatars, but rather, how much. Players like my friends and I who have a background in roleplaying would, I hypothesize, identify less directly with their avatars, and would exhibit a more balanced gender distribution than someone who thinks of their avatar as an electronic, idealized version of their "self."

21.

"'Simple. They actually care that everybody in the group is having a good time, and they view the results of teamwork as better than one person's ego. That's normal for girls, but pretty unusual for boys.'"

I'm going to be honest, it's a little late for me and I haven't read all the way through on these post, but this struck me the most. Pardon the lack of form or flow...

Speaking strictly stereotypically, we, American/Western/Anglo culture, veiw men and women completely differnt. We all can agree on this. This can be taken further though by spliting each group into two subgroups of the gender.

Men: Strong Selfless hero or heirarchal alpha males, heads of the clan

Women: Motherly, group caring OR sultry succubus out for her own gains.

Most of the people who play as female character fall into one of the two sides of the idea of what being a woman is all about. This isn't very pure in the sense of what the true ideal is, and it's much much more grey than this, but typically, that's the vibe I've gotten from them.

Here's where illovich's comment comes into play for me, back during the hunter-gather stage of civilization, men were the hunters and women were the gathers. Women typically had to care for the family, the group as the whole, while men, were out with the smaller section of the group hunting.

As an aside, my mother was a lot more encouraging than my father. While both parents were very supportive of me, if I needed a boost, I would turn to my mother and if I needed help in getting something done, I would turn to my father.

It has been said that the female form is the most beautiful of all shapes in the world. When I started playing MMO's, my first one was Ragnork and I made a male Warrior. That didn't last long due to several factors, and I moved on to FFXI, which I started Mithra for a couple of reason; stats, pleasing to the eye, and my personality is more playful, tongue-in-cheek and I thought a Mithra would help me put that through. Almost all MMO's balance male and female characters, which means each character I make now, gender should have no bearing whatsoever, however, the vast majority of my characters have been female, though I treat them and other with more gender neutrality

For the people who'd rather look at a woman instead of a male avatar, then I need to ask this: If you play other games, such as Metal Gear Solid, God of War, NBA or NFL video games, then how come you aren't as upset that the main characters aren't female? Along the same lines, why has adventure games with a female lead typically fail? According to the reasons that people give, Beyond Good and Evil should have a bigger hit than it was.

There's other things that are more interesting than anything else. Not to question peoples claims, I find it perplexing that usally within the first three sentences, sexuallity is discussed. In this day and age in which the "common" moral ground is being shook to the core as to what is "normal" and what isn't, people, from what I can tell, feel that they must assert themselves as one or the other.

This could be a couple of differnt things, not just one simple answer, much like life. For example, the upper management white collar boss who has a slave fetish speaks to his real life role of being in constant control of things and him being a slave to a dominating partner lets him feel the other side of the coin. Being male all day, 24/7 they never get to know what it's like to be the other gender. On the same token, they could be hiding their own sexuality that they are scared of the results of them being honest, or just not aware.

The better question is though, why should it matter?

22.

As a warning, this all might be slightly redundant.

I'm a 20 year old female who has played a male hume in FFXI for two years. The great thing about online gaming, in my opinion is that appearances mean nothing. As such, gender becomes meaningless - even after I told people I was actually a girl, they weren't astounded that I existed, or tried to hit on me at all. In fact, no one even asked why I played a male character. They were just happy to have a friend who they could joke with, PT with, and, on occasion, discuss their real problems with. I've always thought that gender was merely a societal and physical thing. Any deeper than that, and you can't really tell who's what or what's who, which as stated previously, is why people feel so comfortable in MMOs. It's nice to be somewhere where people don't judge you because of what you might have in your pants.

23.

I usually play also mostly female avatars, while being a man in RL. The reason is very simple: If I am to watch this little toon on the screen all day long, it should at least look cute :)

/me is remembering my darkelven girl in Lineage 2 ...

24.

Dyardawen>If I am to watch this little toon on the screen all day long, it should at least look cute

This has come to be used as an acceptable response by many male players of female avatars when questioned about it. It allows the player to experience having a female character, while not having their sexuality challenged. "Hey, I want to play a female character precisely because I'm so masculine that I prefer to look at women than men!".

When my younger daughter asked me why I was playing a female character recently, I gave this excuse rather than going into the long, laborious reason I really was doing it on this particular occasion (so long and laborious that I'm not going to give it here, either). She thought awhile, and then said, "but Daddy, you spend most of your time looking at the back end of a horse".

I'd be very careful reading too much into any statements by male players that they play female characters because they like looking at female avatars. Many of them do indeed like it (you gotta love those excited, bouncy jumps the female dark elves do in WoW), but I wouldn't say that it was necessarily why they were playing those characters. It's more complicated than that.

Richard

25.

I selected to play mostly female characters in WOW. I am straight and married. Here are just some reasons why I like to play female avatars: 1) The models look better 2)I feel special 3) People treat you better, even if they know you are male in real life.

Interestingly enough, when I play normal RPG games where you can select your gender, KOTOR for example, I only play the male story line.

26.

I've been playing female characters online since before MMORPGs. It was cross-play at first, but it became a tool for me to deal with my RL gender issues; eventually I transitioned iRL. Most geeky transfolk I know have similar stories.

In text worlds (mucks, mostly) I had no trouble being read as 'bitchy female'; my attitude, and a lot of the subtle cues of how I described my various selves had me read as female to the point that some people thought I was joking when I came out to them.

Nowadays I still pretty much play female characters, given an option - I spent long enough trying to play a male role in the real world, why the hell would I want to do it for fun?

27.

I find this whole issue a bit funny. People are entering a virtual world where they can define their representation completely separate from reality's restrictions. Yet still they're so very obsessed about gender, which is now a completely inapplicable concept whatsoever. I mean it's quite ok to use half-animal half-human as an avatar... but oh my if it's a she, then there's suddenly a need to explain oneself somehow.

Gender, as any other aspect of your avatar, is just one way of communicating something about yourself. And that something doesn't (necessarily) have much to do with "I want to be like this in real world too." Nor is it about "I want to be like this forever." And more importantly, it's not about "This is all that I am."

I mean of course I understand where it all comes from - the society around us makes such a crazy fuss about gender. We can only hope that virtual representation starts to open up the constructed nature of gender and identity, so people can begin to understand themselves better.

28.

Richard said
I'd be very careful reading too much into any statements by male players that they play female characters because they like looking at female avatars.

Yeah, you gotta be careful about people giving you an obvious answer when you want something else to be the case...

29.

As a happily straight and married male gamer, when given the choice about the gender of the character or avatar I play or use in a game, mmorpg or otherwise, i play as both male and female. I choose to play as a female because it gives me a different perspective of the games and the social situations in them that I don't get in real life. When I play as a male character, I relate to that character's experiences, emotions and actions but when I play as a female character I am opened up to a new range of interactional and social nuances that I don't get in my RW life.

It has nothing to do with decpetion, manipulation or even any repressed sexual desires, it is simply a desire to experience things which I don't usually get to experience. So, in many ways it is just like sky-diving, only slightly less dangerous but less socially accpeted.

30.

Fuji2001:> If you play other games, such as .... NFL video games, then how come you aren't as upset that the main characters aren't female?

New blockbuster: Dead or Alive Madden Football. Get the artists that "feminized" the armor in WoW (read: with so much flesh showing, HOW does this protect her?) and the... umm... physics... from DOA, and put it on top of the standard NFL game with random Madden mutterings. Do I really need to write any more to get people throwing money at the concept?

Seriously, though. The games you mentioned were either heavily character-driven stories (god of war, metal gear) that don't go well with gender-swapping options or they're familar to players as spectator-based games.

I, too, wonder why Beyond Good & Evil wasn't a bigger hit, but we can't forget that the Lara Croft series beat out an Indiana Jones game even when the mechanics were very similar. Many of the games with a female lead fail when they rely so heavily on the sex appeal that they use it to compensate for bad game design (the last tomb raider).

Then, of course, there are the games with reasonable game engines but are so gratuitous (dead or alive beach volleyball, rumble roses) that you feel yourself hard pressed to justify yourself when you're buying them... not to mention when your wife / girlfriend catches you playing them.

31.

23-year-old mostly-straight female here. I've wondered about this ever since I first started playing FFXI--my first MMO--when it came out. On one hand I'd always refer to anyone by the gender of their toon, but I tended to be mildly surprised when anyone with a female avatar was actually female in real life. Chalk that up to my boyfriend and his male buddies being the only computer gamers I know. I played a female tarutaru in FFXI, cutest thing ever, though I had a hume male and a galka for a bit (stupid FFXI charging for extra toons), but it wasn't till I got to WoW that I figured out what made me pick one model over another.

In WoW, I have male and female toons, on both Horde and Alliance side, but I tend to find one gender of most races to be completely unattractive (within the customization available). Almost all the males are muscle-bound, which I dislike, and most of their faces are pretty ugly too IMHO. Except troll males. Not that their underslung jaws and big old tusks are pictures of traditional male beauty either, but there's something about them, and their lean wiry bodies, that I just love. So my main is a level 60 male troll hunter.

On the other hand, I can't play human women because they're all built like underfed models. I really don't see anyone built like that waving a sword around, though they're passable enough for the mage or priest classes.

I do have a female dwarf that I'm very fond of. Now SHE looks sturdy. But not ugly and wierd like I find male dwarves.

I think something else that might be skewing my perception, though, is the fact that I'm a fan of slash fanfiction, where fan authors pair up male characters in non-canonical romantic relationships. It's all fantasy, and I hear that real gay men find the stuff laughable, but that aside, I think I might be gauging male toons on whether I'd care to see them in the sack with another male. Which as you can imagine excludes male taurens! And the rest I suppose because they're not my favoured body type or something.

Not that I've ever read slash fanfic about male trolls, but you know, if it was out there, I bet I would. Heh.

32.

Hmm. My main in my WoW guild is a male Dwarf Hunter. Of my alts: One female mage (human). One female druid (Night Elf). One male priest (Dwarf). One female paladin (human).

In the horde alt guild: One female undead (Warlock), one male Hunter (Tauran).

Thinking about it -- it's a matter of character models and character concept. On the whole, I tend to have more female toons.

I have found one correlation: Those from RPG backgrounds -- especially pen-and-paper -- tend to see gender as just another choice, like class, profession, or race. Those from twitch-based backgrounds, however, seem to see gender-crossing as a "Bad thing".

While that probably correlates with age (older players are more likely to be RPG players than Counterstrike players) I think the actual reason boils down to how they see their toon. RPGers -- not even hardcore ones, just those familiar with the genre -- see the toon as their "Character". Those from the more twitch-oriented games see them as their themselves.

There's more seperation between the keyboard and the character in RPGs. It's about your character's skill, not your personal reflexes.

33.

I'm going to beat my "goal" drum again, and suggest that many different types of players have many different reasons for playing MMOs, and that why you play a gender, and how you play that gender, will depend on your goals for the game.

For example, if you are into the score fast, score often, level-me-up-quickly, mode... build lots of characters for a little while to see which one is most easily optimized, and then pick one to level as high and as fast as possible, maybe with a support character... I'm guessing that your choice of gender is going to be waaaaay secondary to choices like race and class (most games have stopped differentiating between genders in terms of stats, which is... interesting). And how you play that gender is probably going to be a less complex issue, whether it's the same as yours or not. I completely and totally buy the "Dark Elf female's got a cute derriere," argument for this type of play. 100%. It ain't nothin' but her thang....

If, however, you are gaming for more social reasons -- either interpersonal RPGing, or for your own character development fun -- then the choice of gender is going to be a bigger deal. As is *how* you play that gender, regardless of whether it's the same as yours or not.

For example, in RL, I tend to present as not particularly macho. I have played, however, a wide range of male characters (in live RPGs and online), some of whom are even less "male" than I, some of whom are abrasively macho. Why? Because it was part of their character. I have also played female characters who are very "feminine" (in terms of social "norms"), and females who were quite "butch."

I have also played -- on purpose -- highly andogynous characters with no distinguishing secondary sexual characteristics and with gender-neutral names. In one case, in SL, to see exactly what kind of reaction that would get. I was treated, almost unfailingly, like a female lesbian.

I have also played games where the interactions with other players were either only NPCs or so bad or so dumbed down, that my choice of avatar was based solely on which one looked "best." And sometimes, "nice buns," played a part in that. Sometimes it was, "My god... this is the only avatar whose hair isn't a complete joke."

So... sometimes a banana is only a banana. Sometimes gender choice is about which avatar looks "good," whatever that means. Sometimes it is about deep, funky psychological stuff. It depends on the player, the game, the situation.

We all get to pick. Right? Because they're games... As long as we're having fun, it's all good.


* * * * *

To Prokofy's points about bad behavior towards gender bending in SL... yes, there's nasty people out there. In RL and SL. The more you do stuff that's "different," and the less concerned you are for what "they" think, the more likely it is that they'll give you crap. I have found, however, that SL is vastly more tolerant than RL, that there are far more avenues for safe, interesting exploration of all kinds of relationships, and that many folks are willing to be very friendly, if you return the favor. It just requires open, up front communication, even if that is to say, "I don't talk about RL in SL." As long as people know you are separating your avatar/character from your person... I've seen nothing but respect for that. Or, on the other hand, if you want to merge/mingle RL/SL, that's cool, too. But you've got to be clear about how you're doing it. IE, if you're going to "play," it's OK to play. If you're going to use SL as an extension of RL activities... that's a different story.

As long as everyone is on the same page... it's cool. It's just when folks are opperating under different sets of assumptions that things get twisty. And that's one of those places where gender bending/tourism can get very, very tricky. The border between RL/SL is *differently* porous for different people, and that can lead to confusion. And gender confusion is very painful for some.

As to why f2m presentation in SL (or anywhere) might get a cold reception from men... I think it might be the flip side of why so many men play female avatars. If we're putting on lady bodies so often, maybe we just can't understand why any woman in her right mind would want to be "king for a day..."

34.

a french gamer, to successfully pass as a female character, they would have to remeber to constantly use the feminine forms of the language when referring to themselves, even indirectly.

I would bet that this is about as hard as an English speaking guy remembering to use feminine pronouns, noun markers(e.g. actress), etc.

35.

Andy, I do have to point out that you're making no sense. A person trying to make an opposite gender avatar is obviously not going to have a very persuasive transgender if everyone can tell what your original RL gender is from reading your profile where you've spelled this out in patient and politically-correct colours.

In fact, long ago I put on my profile, "Don't ask, don't tell." I'm not interested in you droning on and on about your RL and your problems, and I expect you won't probe about my RL, either. I find that a good policy to have in virtual spaces and games.

But it's definitely not enough. You seem to require that people play transgender only if they put up a sign first saying, "Hey, look at me, this isn't my RL gender, but hey, make sure to provide a comforting and tolerant atmosphere for me to do my thing in."

That just seems silly to me. Why should the choice of transgender also have coded into it a requirement to go through such a ritual AND take on some kind of political rights struggle as well? Who wants to take all that on in a game?

In fact, as I've already pointed out

Perhaps you didn't mean to put this undertow into your reponse here, but it's there:

a) "many folks are willing to be very friendly, if you return the favor"

The undertow on this is that "if you found folks weren't friendly, geez, they must have *been* friendly, but you didn't return the favour, so it must be your fault if they are no longer friendly. To which I can only say, about Second Life: bullshit. You can come on as a brand spanking new newbie hours old and uncover the most vicious tirades especially on the forums.

2. "maybe we just can't understand why any woman in her right mind would want to be "king for a day..."

Read: "you must not be in your right mind."

Right. OK. I didn't expect this particular setting, even with the Ph.D. concentration, to be any more tolerant than any other.

*Always and everywhere* the response comes with *a little lecture*. "Be different, don't be this way, be that way."

36.

I (43yo straight male) fell into the habit of playing female avatars more or less by accident. My first MMORPG (or vaguely MMORPG-like object) was Guild Wars, and after perusing the class descriptions, I quickly decided that I wanted to play a Necromancer. One look at the male and female Necromancer models (plug-ugly dork vs sexy goth chick), and it was obvious that picking a female one was a no-brainer. I've played a lot of GW characters since then, and tried out all of the classes, but Necromancer is still my favourite class; most of my characters, and all of my Necromancers, have been female.

More recently I've been playing a lot of WOW, and again most of my characters have been female, but by now it's purely out of habit. The WOW character models are too bland and crude for there to be any aesthetic issue involved. With most of them, you have to look closer than I usually do to even tell the difference. (While there are a lot of things I like about WOW, Guild Wars still totally blows it out of the water in the graphics department.)

It may be the servers I play on (or the time of day -- I live in New Zealand, so I'm not usually playing at the same time as vast crowds of Americans), but I've hardly ever noticed any difference in the way people treat male vs female characters. Players in both games, or at least the ones I tend to meet, tend to take a very practical attitude and not pay much attention to character roles. I'm not interested in trying to role-play a female, so that suits me fine; on the (very rare) occasions when I get an "r u a real girl?" type of question, my reaction is always an instant /ignore.

37.

I think for the majority of people avatar choice has nothing to do with sexuality or gender identity at all. Particularly in Prokofy's case an excessive amount of meaning is being attached to a bunch of pixels.

From my experience "gender switching" is already an accepted fact on virtual worlds. Its also something that is easily accepted because there is no real differentation between "genders" in an online game.

The only cases I've seen where people even care are cases where someone literally attempts to present themselves as a different gender as opposed to just wearing a different icon. Actual roleplay as a different gender can generate major resentment in either case, because people percieve it as being deceptive.

The one point I do agree with is that f2m representations are likely to generate more anger than m2f. I believe that is rooted in real life issues of power and control. Men who don't percieve women as equals will naturally feel more threatened by a women gaining power (in their perception) by presenting as a man, than by another man that they would see as yielding power.

For reference I am a 31, married caucasian male, software engineer. My avatar choice runs about 50/50 male to female. I make no effort to disguise that I am male, and still use masculine language when referring to myself. When selecting new avatars I prefer them to look distinct so I usually cover the full range of available looks and races in any given game. Although when selecting "female" avatars I prefer to choose one's I consider visually appealing. IE: In EQ would not play a femeal troll or ogre.. Although I did end up with a "female" Iksar without realizing it until a friend mentioned it.

I believe you'll find technical people "switching" more because they will be less inclined to place any significace on digital gender.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar


38.

1) Admittedly the gaming community has more males than females, but as this discussion could be extended to many other areas, I think it's worth pointing out that f2m probably doesn't generate anger from just males. It might also be perceived as a step "backward" to females - themselves and their peers. Not in that males are inferior to females (though I'm sure someone has that opinion), but more in that women have struggled to be even this recognized as equal (though different). To go f2m (for someone who sees her avatar as an extension or, more to the point, an "idealized version" of herself) could be interpreted as admitting that females are innately flawed or inferior, that to truly improve one has to actually become male. Ironic, considering SetupWeasel's RL observations, but maybe the key for females with the above f2m objection is to do everything males can do without being male. It's related to Thabor's interpretation (power). Because females in RL, no matter how far they have come, are in an inferior position, ever-striving to catch up to the male (again, re SetupWeasel), they must first achieve this goal as themselves, as females, otherwise it loses legitimacy.

2) I think language is a little more complicated than Grant makes it seem. In modern English, many originally male nouns are now considered gender-neutral (e.g. actor, waiter, etc) or have gender-neutral alternatives (firefighter, flight attendant, etc). I'm sure a m2f could get by easily (and it sounds like many do) if it were just a matter of vocabulary. But consider a language like Japanese, where it goes way beyond nouns and referring to yourself (and I'm not talking about high-pitched, elevator/shopgirl voice either). Every utterance establishes your perception of yourself and relationship with the world. With what frequency do Japanese gamers cross-dress? And of those that do, how many fall into the categories discussed here?

3) A lot of people have mentioned the perks of being female. It'd be interesting to try to measure success. The onnagata of kabuki are supposedly more womanly than women because they personally know what men like/want. Do you business-minded m2f-ers operate on a similar premise?

39.

Me>I'd be very careful reading too much into any statements by male players that they play female characters because they like looking at female avatars.

Endie>Yeah, you gotta be careful about people giving you an obvious answer when you want something else to be the case...

Why would I want something else to be the case? It's not my mission in life to persuade men to play female characters.

All I'm saying is that the "obvious answer" wasn't always the obvious answer (it registered in early surveys, but not much), and now it's also the "convenient answer".

Of course, some men who play female characters really do do so because they find those characters attractive to look at, and it probably is a factor even for the ones who have other reasons to play female characters. I'm not saying that every male who says they play a female character for easy-on-the-eye reasons is lying; I am saying that for a good many of them it might be only a partial explanation. For example, if it's a general human trait to want to see something you find attractive, why don't we see more RL women playing handsome male characters? And if we looked at the stats (if we had them), would we find that all RL-gay male players played male avatars?

It's also a fairly flimsy excuse for men who play as female dwarfs, trolls, lizard-people, ...

Richard

40.

Do you business-minded m2f-ers operate on a similar premise?

I can't point you to the citation, but I'm almost certain there exists an anecdote about precisely this. Maybe someone else remembers?

I believe you'll find technical people "switching" more because they will be less inclined to place any significace on digital gender.

So you're saying people will switch because it doesn't matter? Why switch? I find it hard to believe that these technical people flip a coin every time they create a character.

41.

Endie>Yeah, you gotta be careful about people giving you an obvious answer when you want something else to be the case...

Richard>Why would I want something else to be the case?

Well, I know why *some* academics, particularly those with careers in gender studies, queer studies and other related areas might want this to be the case. For one thing, outside of engineering, there's no Phd to be had in finding the elegantly simple solution, though saying things like "men like to look at pretty girls". Far better to show that men are, in fact, exploring feminine aspects of their characters, expressing suppressed macguffins etc, etc... Also, many writers in these areas have specific political agendas which, consciously or subconsciously, they shape the evidence to fit.

Why you would want such a thing? I have no idea why you took the line you did. I am far more impressed by your previous statement, asking why people *wouldn't* play characters of the opposite gender. This seems valid to me, since it I don't see it being a statement of anything in the overwhelming bulk of cases.

You're right that it is a far more interesting question why people play taurens of the opposite gender, or wookies or the like. There, the Occams-Razor-friendly, obvious answer (men like to look at pretty girls) is not valid.

And you ask why, if people like playing things they find attractive to look at, women don't play a succession of males they find attractive as much. Again, that is a far more interesting question. But it is hardly a rebuttal. The motivations of men and women are different, you say?!?

You say that the "I like looking at pretty girls" answer is more common now than it was in the early days. Well, the nature of the consuming audience has changed dramatically. Plus, despite the fact that the unconsidered life is not worth living, a lot of people don't necessarily think about their motivations enough. but when they hear Francis in PvP Online state that reason, they might say "ahhh, yeah, I suppose *I* do that".

An aspect that I find interesting, and that I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion, is whether men in particular, whether in single or multi-player games, like to see an attractive female character *in peril*. Approaching the question with the preconceived idea that men are identifying with aspects of the girl seems to obscure alternative questions like this.

Endie

42.

ME > a french gamer, to successfully pass as a female character, they would have to remeber to constantly use the feminine forms of the language when referring to themselves, even indirectly.

Grant > I would bet that this is about as hard as an English speaking guy remembering to use feminine pronouns, noun markers(e.g. actress), etc.

-----------

You're probably right. I guess it amounts to nothing more impressive than the assumption of the 'appropriate' tone, behaviour, and attitude that identifies feminine stereotypes even in english.

All I can add to this is that I'm playing an Argonian in ES:Oblivion. Honestly, I prefer the look of the lizardfolk... I have no complex species issues behind my choice.

He's a male lizardperson though... I tried making a female, but the designers gave them breasts. Why would a lizardgirl need breasts, I ask you?

43.

I think this topic says a lot about our society's preoccuption with gender, more than anything about gaming.

A similar recent thread about "race-bending" got maybe 25 comments in 10 days, and not much passion. This one has nearly doubled that in just 3. And don't even ask about the last one.

And can you even imagine anyone even asking this question about species? (eg, "why do people play elf, and not human? Who is doing it and what does that say about them?"). Can you even imagine trying to pass off anecdotes about such a thing as interesting?

Imagine reading:

-"I'm currently 19, straight white male. In addition to the elf characters I've played in RPGs, I also play the occasional elf skin in FPS I play... [In high school] I played michalla. He was an elven ranger/fighter in D&D. I'm not very good at make up names so I just stole my sisters hawaiian middle name. That was all my sister lent to the character though. He didn't last long... Recently I decided to take up my other big elf character... There is a little bit of elfism in the character and I'm trying to be conscious of the elven aspect."

Great reading, eh?

I continue to be fascinated at the importance people keep trying to attach to this issue. Possibly I am biased in that my only real contact with online gaming is World of Warcraft, which is both light in character definition and populated by a much more mainstream crowd (or at least larger one). I just haven't even seen people talk about this at all, other than the occasional "LOL @ U GUYS WHO PLAY GRRLZ" posts on the General Forum. Although even those have died down of late.

I also keep wondering random things like, "did the makers of monopoly have to read essays about "who picks the dog?"" Again, this might say more about me - I consider character generation about as important as "piece picking" in a board game.

44.

Endie:

A tremendous amount of scholarly work in a range of disciplines rests on the presumption that there is almost always more beneath the surface of what people offer as explanations of their own behavior. Not just scholarship: that's generally what gets called logocentrism in Western traditions of knowledge, a proposition that truth has to be found by looking underneath or within the surface that is presented to the world.

Most of us accept that presumption in a variety of contexts. Think about literary or textual interpretation of any kind, not just scholarly but everyday interpretation.

It's true that this can be a kind of assumption that violates Ocaam's Razor, that leads one to concoct more complicated explanations than the explanation which is offered first and foremost by people. It's also true that there's a tendency on this topic in specific to assume that the explanation that many male gamers offer is one that we almost have to look past or disregard and that this tendency may in some cases correspond to particular intellectual fashions in the humanities.

But I don't see any reason to just take at face value that the explanation "I like to look at beautiful or sexy women while I'll play" is in purely empirical terms the one that male gamers in fact overwhelmingly offer. I'd actually want to do a lot of pretty systematic ethnographic and survey work before confidentally being sure that this is the alpha and the omega of the explanation that most men offer, and offer consistently regardless of the context. Let's not forget the context in which the explanation is most typically put forward: it's usually in a thread on a forum concerned with a game where the original poster has said something like, "I don't get why men play women! Are they gay or something?" In a long career of playing MMOGs, I think I've probably read something on the order of 25,000 such threads on various gaming forums. If posters later say, "I play women characters because I like to watch women", the context matters.

My personal suspicion, as I suggested at Endie's blog, is that almost any male gamer who has played female avatars has a range of reasons for doing so, some of those reasons being relatively conscious, others being largely implicit or unconscious. There's no reason to categorically discount the "because I like to look at women" explanation, but no reason to stop dead at it as if it is an obvious and sufficient explanation. For the same reason, I think it's a mistake to categorize such choices as necessarily 'cross-dressing' or encode them as 'queer'--both kinds of readings strike me as being fundamentally uncurious and ideological.

At least some of the reasons any individual man plays female avatars are unspectacular, even more banal than "I like to look at an attractive female's posterior": whimsy, randomness, why-the-hell-not is surely one aspect of it for some male gamers. Some of it has to do with the metafictions and genres that gamers bring to imagining their role in a given game, of model templates from those fictions, of the non-embodied aesthetics like animations or clothing that a game provisions. There may be utilities that are realized through cross-gender play.

And I'd suggest that at least some forms of impersonation or identity play in our culture are non-sexualized or inappropriately represented as 'queer'--that sometimes gender play belongs in a broader class of identity play that would include historical re-enactments, Indian Guides, acting in dramatic performances, and so on--that simply the idea of inhabiting another subjectivity is attractive in its own right and that anyone who is "playing" with subjectivity may want to run through the entire possibility space of identities that a given game offers. This is Richard's basic point: why *wouldn't* someone play a female or an orc or a warrior given that such choices are a basic part of the grammar that composes the language of play in MMOs? In this respect, however, isolating out the choice to play across gender lines as loaded with special significance or requiring special explanation may be a mistake.

45.

Jimpy: the reason gender is "more important," is because it's a real issue, and an important one in real life. As is race, but race isn't something that gets observed, internally, anywhere near as much as gender/sex issues. I don't ever have to deal with an elf; I often have to deal with my wife ; )

Timothy: Corrolary question, then -- is a male's decision to only/predominantly play male characters also something that would be as interesting to examine? Are there a "range of reasons" for why one might NOT choose to "cross dress" in-game?

46.

Absolutely, Andy, or at least so I'd hypothesize.

Right off the top of my head:

1) Males who play only males do so out of a principled belief that there should be some form of correspondence between avatar identity and RL identity.
2) Males who play only males like the styles, looks or aesthetics of male avatars.
3) Males who play only males do so because they're thinking of beloved fictional template for most of their MMOG characters who happens to be male
4) Males who play only males do so because they create the exact same character on every MMOG, more or less, and because the first such character they ever created was male
5) Males who play only males like looking at male asses.

And so on.

47.

So you're saying people will switch because it doesn't matter? Why switch? I find it hard to believe that these technical people flip a coin every time they create a character.

I know a great many people who want to play a cool character, which can be of either gender -- say, a Lara Croft or a Vash the Stampede, gender irrelevant -- not because they relate on a deep personal level to the character but because they want to see this particular concept. Kind of like writing a book. Are the people I know with a good cross-section of the population being examined? No, probably not. But I know that taking the exact approach that seems to be suggested here would completely misrepresent the population I'm familiar with.

Why don't male authors always write about exclusively male people? I suspect it has the same significance.

48.

Endie>Why you would want such a thing? I have no idea why you took the line you did.

I took the line I did because it was reflecting my experience. We used to get the same amount of real-life males playing as female characters when textual worlds were the dominant paradigm. Back then, "because I like looking at female butts" didn't cut it as an explanation. People had to look more deeply into why they were doing it (even if, as Timothy Burke says, the resulting answers were often more superficial).

Nowadays, we see the same kind of proportion of male players playing female characters as we did when we had no graphics. Are people no longer doing the gender switch thing for the "old" reasons? Or are they doing them for the same old reasons, yet proffering the explanation that's going to give them the least hassle?

>I am far more impressed by your previous statement, asking why people *wouldn't* play characters of the opposite gender.

One thing I have noticed (and I'm sure gender studies theorists will rip me apart for saying this, but what the hey, I'm male, I can't help it) is that RL women tend to be far more attached to their RL gender than are RL men. Fewer women play as men because being female seems to be a stronger part of their identity than being male is for men. I'd guess that the gender studies explanations would be in terms either of a mind/body relationship or as a result of how society treats women (or, to be radical, men); whatever, the statistics do seem to show that fewer women play as male characters than men play as female characters. It's as if everyone divides humanity into two genders (male and female), but men (for whatever reasons) allow for an additional gender, "people". When a man plays a female character, he's actually just playing a different person, not a person of the opposite gender. When a woman plays a male character, she doesn't usually have that point of view.

>You say that the "I like looking at pretty girls" answer is more common now than it was in the early days. Well, the nature of the consuming audience has changed dramatically.

The size has, but why would the nature be different?

>An aspect that I find interesting, and that I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion, is whether men in particular, whether in single or multi-player games, like to see an attractive female character *in peril*.

Yes, this is an interesting question. It doesn't imply that the female character in peril need be played by the man who is liking watching her being in peril, either. It would take rather a lot of work to set up a study to find the answer, though.

Richard

49.

I am a 47 year old male with a female partner who also plays MMORPGs.

I've read countless discussions on this topic over the years and most of what's said mystifies me. In all MMOs (and offline RPGs) I've played I pick character gender by whim, not for any cosidered reason. I'd say that of all the elements of character creation, gender is one of the least significant, coming a long way below class, race or stat allocation. I'd consider it no more than another of the "what your character looks like" options, along with hairstyles, whether your eyebrows go up or down, etc.

In EQ where I have a couple of dozen regularly played characters, my gender balance runs slightly in favor of males. Of my six highest-level characters there, the ones between 55th and 70th level, I have three of each (and six races).

In EQ2,however, about 80% of my characters are male. I can't give a reason for this, other than that I was probably in more of a hurry to get those characters started at the time I made them and that I found the depth of visual options at character creation overwhelming and just clicked through it.

My girlfriend also plays a mixture of genders. In EQ1 most of her higher level characters are female but many of her "fun" or less serious characters are male. In EQ2, however, her highest level character is male. She also likes to create "families" of characters, particularly siblings, so she has a number of brother-sister characters.

While I don't question the interest in gender choice in MMOs as a subject for academic research, it does boggle my mind somewhat to see how seriously some gamers take this subject - I've always thought that playing cross-gender is a tiny imaginative leap compared to things that gamers take completely for granted (like playing talking frogs who chain-murder to become more powerful, for example).

50.

Richard said:
When a man plays a female character, he's actually just playing a different person, not a person of the opposite gender. When a woman plays a male character, she doesn't usually have that point of view.

That's interesting: I hadn't thought of that angle. If I had, i wouldn't be brave enough to suggest it, either ;)

Endie said
You say that the "I like looking at pretty girls" answer is more common now than it was in the early days. Well, the nature of the consuming audience has changed dramatically.

Richard replied:
The size has, but why would the nature be different?

Oooh, are you being deliberately obtuse? I was very young when I started playing on MUDs, BBSs, Prestel, Micronet etc, but I started way after you. And I remember, about a decade into my experience (circa 92-94) a vast change in the nature and number of those with whom I was conversing. Insert declension narrative here.

The people who played virtual worlds when you were watching them and noting their cross-gender play because they were in the same room as you (yes, I have read your book) were representative of a very small background. And the barriers to entry before 92 - maybe even later - were pretty immense.

Unless we believe that representation across cultures, backgrounds, gender, sexuality and the like has remained constant as it scaled, then the fact that the percentage of the population now entering virtual spaces is several orders of magnitude greater than it was even a decade ago (let alone in "the early days") will suggest that it represents very different types of people, with very different motivations (I suspect, without evidence, dominant amongst those will be "just playing", particularly in the big and gamey worlds).

51.

Timothy said:
Endie:

A tremendous amount of scholarly work in a range of disciplines rests on the presumption that there is almost always more beneath the surface of what people offer as explanations of their own behavior. Not just scholarship: that's generally what gets called logocentrism in Western traditions of knowledge, a proposition that truth has to be found by looking underneath or within the surface that is presented to the world.

I'm trying to think of a non-defensive-sounding way to say "I knoooow". And my reluctance to increase complexity in search of truth is not quite so marked as I must have made it sound. I don't believe in mis-applying Occam's Razor so as to always take the simplest explanation, regardless of other, more likely explanations that are supported by evidence. That would require greater complexity, in explaining away all that evidence.

Nor am i so arrogant as to try to dismiss the approach in general: I remember, as late as degree no. 3, being really, truly delighted by a writer's lengthy discussion of a single sentence by Aristophanes mentioning pheasants, and how they went on to construct a variety of plausible possible assumptions about 5th century Athenian society. Well argued, supported by other evidence, rigorously explored: it was beautiful.

My problem with a particular approach here is that it leaps to some of the more complex, fun explanations without any rigour in gathering or examining evidence.

If the simplest answer that explained the evidence on broad, mainstream character gender choices in MMOs was to do with expressions of, and experimentation with, player gender identity, then I would find that extremely interesting. But a bare handful of self-selecting narratives volunteered by men who read a blog on gender and sexuality in gaming (and *I* read Bonnie's blog,: this is not criticism of those who responded) does not support many conclusions beyond discussion of the nature and motivation of those who respond to such a call amongst readers of blogs on gender and sexuality in gaming.

Imagine if the Daedalus Project's next posting was based on a sample of seven, all male, six of them between 30 and 42, all of whom were not just aware of but actually chose to read the opinions of the survey gatherer on the subjects on which they were being surveyed!

Regardles of frequently cast aspersions in this field, I really don't feel I have a dog in this fight when it comes to the outcome. I have played female characters (although, as you suggest, I clearly prefer spending all day looking at male Tauren asses), but if it turns out that when I have done so that I was exploring my own gender identity then I will have been taught something about myself, which is a very great good indeed.

52.

"They could be your neighbors, your best friends, even... you! Yes, video-game cross-dressers are all around us -- but just who are these gender-bending gamers we keep hearing so much about?"

There's your answer as to why there's a paucity of genuine responses from online transgenders. When Bonnie stops coming across like the whole topic is *ever so amusing* to her, and stops using deliberately loaded and sensationalist terminology, more people may come forward and help her with her studies. Unless her aim is just to be *seen* as the one to commission when you want an article about online sex in your technology magazine...

When she starts taking the subject seriously, the people she is claiming to be an expert on might take her more seriously.

53.

Lots of interesting topics here, but there's something that hasn't been mentioned so far (unless I missed it in skimming a few posts):

Gender is a social construct and the borders are not clearly defined. Sex is a biological fact that cannot easily be changed (yes, I know there, are operations, but usually it doesn't work 100% convincingly). We have patterns of behaviour that are associated with or are expected of certain genders. You could equally call them stereotypes. I don't think I need to go through them, as we all know what I mean.

Now, many people don't fit into these stereotypical categories and are somewhere more in the middle in terms of their behaviour. I myself am male (sex), but some of my behaviours are not always fitting into the male category (gender). I'm straight (with a girlfriend who is and looks female [sex], but who's not too female [gender] in all respects either), but in some respects I just don't react the way it's generally expected from men. Lots of my female (sex) friends are equally not extremely female (gender), and exhibit some behaviours or patterns of thinking that might be more associated with males -- the same goes for many of my male friends, actually, but less overtly.

I think that the less you fit into the gender categories, the more likely you are to gender-bend in a virtual world.

Regarding the split between men and women: I think that there's more social pressure on men to be male than on women to be female. That's my absolutely unqualified opinion, grounded on no data whatsoever. ;-)

54.

Well said jan! I actually did try to mention exactly that - the fact that gender is a fluid social construct - in my post, but you said it much more clearly. :) And it's definately a point worth emphasizing. (It's also really hard to notice in our still very gender-polarized society.) I agree with your post almost entirely, and the social description fits me just as well.

However regarding your comment: "I think that the less you fit into the gender categories, the more likely you are to gender-bend in a virtual world."
I don't think that's true. To get back to one of the main issues in this discussion: In fact, I would assume people using the "I like to look at pretty figure" -explanation to be on the more gender stereotype-fitting end of the scale. Yet still they use different gender online.

Now what I believe is is going on: They don't exactly want to look at a pretty behind, but instead they want to use what they think is sexy as a representation of themselves in the virtual world. On one way of thinking I'd even say this doesn't much differ on what they mean when they say that they like to look at a sexy avatar: When giving that explanation, they are indeed conveying (and re-enforcing) their identity by saying that they like to look at the sexy girl - the same thing I think they're doing with the avatar selection. Conveying a part of their identity.

Also there's the thing already noted in this discussion: that it's an easy way out of the question - to which an more thought-out answer might cause trouble and anxiety.

Actually (as I said in my comment) I think avatars, our somewhat freely chosen virtual representations of one shard of identity, may indeed do society a favor by shining a light on how constructed our genders really are. And most importantly even to people that normally woudn't face the issue at all. Maybe some of them start to think about the fact that they're quite ok with themselves even if they represent themselves as the opposite gender online. Maybe they start to see even genders in real life more as just something external that doesn't or shouldn't define the person underneath. Now I'm not saying that people start to understand this by playing WoW, but it may shift their perspective a little on the long run - and that's how I believe actual changes do happen.

Also what I'm hoping to hear about someday, is someone fighting the strict gender stereotypes replying to the constant questions: "Oh yeah, well don't you also play opposite sex in World of Warcraft?" Beacuse I'm thinking "Um, well, that's different" might not be quite as convincing as people want to think it would be.

(Oh, and as I sidenote I'll have to add that not even sex is clearly defined at all times. There are many examples of this even in human biology.)

55.

Richard said:
When a man plays a female character, he's actually just playing a different person, not a person of the opposite gender. When a woman plays a male character, she doesn't usually have that point of view.

I wouldn't say that's true. When I play a female character, I identify with her and play her the way a female character would behave. Same for a male character.

56.

Endie>I remember, about a decade into my experience (circa 92-94) a vast change in the nature and number of those with whom I was conversing.

There was certainly a large change in number. As for nature, though, well I suppose it did get more varied. However, by then the cultural norms were already established, and people tended to take on board what was there before they arrived.

>The people who played virtual worlds when you were watching them and noting their cross-gender play because they were in the same room as you (yes, I have read your book) were representative of a very small background.

But the studies concerning virtual gender-switching were in the main done in the mid-1990s, not the mid-1980s. The worlds were still textual, but the players were not solely comprised of computer scientists and tech-savvy hobbyists.

>the fact that the percentage of the population now entering virtual spaces is several orders of magnitude greater than it was even a decade ago (let alone in "the early days") will suggest that it represents very different types of people, with very different motivations

Perhaps, but that doesn't explain why the stats for men who play cross-gender are pretty much the same for graphical worlds as they were for textual ones.

Richard

57.

I'm male in RL, completely non-violent and unathletic. In RPG games I play characters who carry axes and chop off the heads of monsters. Characters who run for miles without getting tired. Characters who are strong enough to wear heavy armor and carry heavy weapons. Characters who befriend tigers and train them to kill monsters. Characters who are stealthy and stab people in the back with poison knives.

People don't look at me strangely when tell them I play a character that's a different age, race, size, build, personality, or profession. They don't think it's strange that I'm playing a bloodthirsty killer. But if I tell them I play a character with a different gender, they think I'm weird. What's up with that?

58.

I ended up skimming a bit towards the end, so I hope I'm not just restating something that's already been said here, but I think one reason that older men are more likely to gender-swap is that younger men, particularly adolescents, may be more sensitive to possible negative attributions that would attach to gender-swapping. Few places are so rigorous in their application of norms, perhaps particularly gender norms, than junior highs/high schools. I've also noticed that the toons who are really obnoxious in pick-up groups, engaging in a whole constellation of bad behaviors including name calling, drawing aggro, etc., are presenting as male, and in multiple cases have explicitly identified themselves as early-mid adolescents--so I'm not really arguing that people who are going to be totally jerks in-game will present as men, so much as that younger players may be less polite and may also tend to present their "actual" gender, which just by the overall demographics of players is likely to be male. (I have a blog entry on this here: http://wickedqueen.net/blog/index.php/2006/03/19/im-just-saying/

As for assertions of special/good treatment for female toons, I find that interesting. I haven't actually played any male toons on CoH, which I've been playing for about a month now, and so obviously I don't have a control case, but I don't feel like people have been especially nice--that is, any nicer than they'd be if I was male. I have had the experience of bringing on a new female toon and having male toons show up and start "helping" me make kills without talking to me or receiving any suggestion that their "help" is welcome; I find that rude and obnoxious, and I told them so. My first character got picked up early on by another female toon who teamed with me and helped me learn the ropes; one of her first questions for me was if I was "actually female."

I feel like at any given time, AT LEAST half the toons I see on CoH are female; this suggests to me that there are a LOT of male players gender-swapping. Does anyone know if CoH gender swapping might be more prevalent than in other games? I actually wonder if this is less prevalent on Virtue (the unofficial RP server); although some people seem to theorize that RPers wouldn't care about gender-swapping, if you take the "I like to look at chicks" argument seriously, you would expect it to be a weaker justification on the RP server. In general, though, it seems like the prevalence of female toons, most of whom can be assumed to have male players behind them, would cut down on "special" treatment, positive or negative.

59.

Similar to Dragoncat's reasons for avatar preference, in WoW I chose a female tauren druid-healer (as a mid-20s male) as my main on a PvE, non-RP server because she looked friendlier than the hulking tauren males, and she didn't take up as much screen space. The amount of room the toon takes up is not my primary concern, otherwise I would have rolled an Alliance gnome, but it mattered once I narrowed it down to only wanting to play a tauren. Recognizing that the gender gave no weaknesses or benefits from a stat point of view made the decision easier, as well. In the end I was going to act through the character in a relatively gender-neutral manner anyway. In Morrowind: Elder Scrolls III my avatar was a human female with greater endurance and less strength than the male, something that fit with how I wanted to manage the character's leveling.

Regarding Morat20's conjecture that people experienced with pen-and-paper RPGs see gender as just another feature to click through AND to shape how they play the character (acting as that gender OR ignoring it), versus twitch gamers who are accustomed to donning the mantle of the actor on the screen, from my experience I agree; I spent much more time in RPG worlds and novels and running around outdoors (inspired by any gender) than playing action games. While I was cautious at first about having a female avatar in a MMOG, my pragmatism won out, and my wariness was for the most part unfounded.

The color of the cat doesn't matter, as long as it catches mice. (paraphrasing economist, etc. Deng Xiaoping)

I am glad that it is an option to play any gender.

Endie wrote: An aspect that I find interesting, and that I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion, is whether men in particular, whether in single or multi-player games, like to see an attractive female character *in peril*. Approaching the question with the preconceived idea that men are identifying with aspects of the girl seems to obscure alternative questions like this.

Not Particularly; as I played a healer and saw that as the most engaging role for my approximately 6-month foray into online gaming (stopped for logistical reasons, and want to jump back in at some point), I got no joy in seeing anyone in peril, unless amusement from a picked-fight outside Orgrimmar. If I saw someone being trounced by NPCs, regardless of Horde or Alliance, I'd often send some offense toward the attackers, and if it was my own faction I might stay and help finish the fight. Yep, carebear. And no, gender didn't enter into it, unless there were kneejerk reactions that I wasn't aware of.

Jimpie wrote: I also keep wondering random things like, "did the makers of monopoly have to read essays about "who picks the dog?"" Again, this might say more about me - I consider character generation about as important as "piece picking" in a board game.

I did and still do deliberate about what piece I want to play. It can spur my imagination, alter my mood (slightly), and perhaps I like the way a particular piece feels when I pick it up. However, the pieces in Monopoly all have the same ability (though with different mass), while toons in WoW are slightly different (though not btw gender, except for line-of-sight). I will back up and add that, beneath the pragmatism, my choice of toon in WoW certainly colored my impression of the virtual world. If I were limping along as an undead thing I might see the beautiful green-and-growing landscapes a little differently than as a tauren, and feel more at home (due to assumptions over the years about what goes on in an undead cranium, if anything) in a dark and dreary canyon or underground.

Richard Bartle wrote: Fewer women play as men because being female seems to be a stronger part of their identity than being male is for men.

I take being male for granted, and I haven't had to fight for any particular recognition; the choice between male and female avatar is not influenced by duty to defend or represent my gender.

I won't paste here Jan's self-description, but it describes me, as well. Perhaps it is the open-minded family environment I grew up in, but I haven't felt much pressure to fit into a particular male mold, and so I have very little ingrained that I feel I ought to defend.

Ilari Kajaste wrote: (Oh, and as I sidenote I'll have to add that not even sex is clearly defined at all times. There are many examples of this even in human biology.)

Had I been able to adjust my avatar's features below the neck and inside the hide I would have given her an "utter reduction", maybe to the point of androgyny.

60.
So you're saying people will switch because it doesn't matter? Why switch? I find it hard to believe that these technical people flip a coin every time they create a character.

You don't have to flip a coin if you don't consider it a relevant distinction. Do you think I have to flip a coin to pick between different male models? I'm not sure we would even be having this discussion if it weren't for the design convention of forcing people to flip a switch for access to other models.

To put the concept more precisely, I believe people with a technical background will exhibit a normal distribution across the entire selection of models, rather than a distributions determined primarily by biological sex.

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