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?
Last time we touched on the subject of video-game cross-dressing, we asked the question: Where does it happen? This time, we want to know: Who's doing it?
Let's start with a some background info:
Lynne D. Roberts and Malcolm R. Parks 1999 piece, "The Social Geography of Gender-Switching in Virtual Environments on the Internet," indicates that 40% of MOO-ers surveyed were either currently presenting cross-gender in-game, or had gender-swapped in the past.
From the work of fellow TN-writer Nick Yee, we see that men are more likely to present cross-gender than women, and that, among men, older players (over age 25) are even more likely to do so. Nic's research also shows us that, out of an assumed 1,000 EverQuest players in the year 2003, approximately half of the female toons were being controlled by men.
When Dr. Kathryn Wright of Women Gamers put together an informal survey of her own on the topic, she found that the majority of her respondents -- all male -- were between ages 20 and 30, and that most played as female for at least 50% of their game time.
These statistics alone certainly raise a lot of questions: Why don't more women choose to present cross-gender? How come older men, and not younger men, more often switch gendered identities?
Statistics aside though, another question remains: What are these people like? Is there a certain kind of person, a certain personality-type, that's more likely to cross-dress than another? On one level, the idea seems a bit absurd, but remember that, in real life, we have plenty of preoccupations and presuppositions about what transvestites and trasgendered persons are supposed to be.
Many gender-bending gamers are quick to describe/defend themselves in forums as "normal" guys who simply prefer watching female tail. But what does that really tell us? I recently conducted a (highly informal) survey as well, and asked for anonymous personal profiles, hoping that the gamers behind the buzz could shed a little light on themselves -- and answer for us, in, perhaps, a more meaningful way, the question of who is cross-dressing.
-"I am a male computer geek, 31 years old, married, and a long time gamer. Currently I’m a full time college student again, focusing on east asian history, and the Japanese language. I used to do olympic style fencing, though today I’m too out of shape. Before I went back to college full time I was a computer tutor, corporate trainer, and repairman... I play World Of Warcraft and I tend to play female characters. Of my five characters only one is male. While in game I do not make any particular effort to fool people into thinking I’m a woman in real life, nor do I make any effort to let people know that I’m a man in real life. I don’t flirt, or try to produce any sexual vibes... I *do* tend to refer to myself using feminine terms (ie: “I’m your girl” instead of “I’m your boy” when agreeing to help someone)."
-"I know female characters are just as popular as male ones, but I [male] like playing as non-traditional ones, like a female Tauren. Female Taurens are so loveable! Then again, I did enjoy playing as a female troll, who was very cute, but very insane (it was an RP server). I like haiving cute, silly characters, that will actually whoop your ass... IRL, I’m a 20 year old male who is about 96% attracted to other males... I play as male characters sometimes, but when I do I usually choose an attractive one."
-"I’m a 40 year old male computer programmer/business owner, single, long time gamer on a variety of levels... Strongly introverted; favored hobbies are orienteering/hiking, reading, and game design; music tastes range from classical to new age. In terms of creating avatars, I usually seem to end up with somewhere near a 50/50 split in terms of gender... I generally create avatars the same way I did back in my pen-and-paper gaming days: I have a concept in mind, perhaps based on a character in a recent novel or movie, and that determines the character’s gender... While I have female characters of nearly all shapes and sizes, my favorites generally fall into one of two basic categories: tiny and brash (usually a redhead, heh), and the blond Valkyrie/Amazon type. Then there are the oddities like my female troll priestess in WoW with the red mohawk… I really enjoyed playing her :-)."
-"I’m a 30-year-old [male] software development professional who is an avid multimedia gamer, musician, and armchair psychologist. I’m rather new to the MMO scene, having never gotten involved in Everquest and being disappointed at Dark Age of Camelot. But when playing games that allow me to create an avatar, I usually choose a female character model first... When playing a female avatar, I enjoy feeling popular, sexy, beautiful, and more than a little powerful. it’s amazing how much power a smart female can wield over the desperate, the socially awkward, and the stereotypical unwashed masses of geeks that typically inhabit an MMO setting. And I play that up. Even something as simple as using an atypical male response (like using “cutie” when addressing a male or demonstrating “physical” affection) is enough to convince all but the most jaded skeptic that I am female."
-"I am a 42 year old male. I work for a large school district as their Director of Technology. I’ve been playing computer games since they were text on mainframes, and have beta tested just about every MMO since the first Everquest. I wrote for a major Computer Games publication for about 5 years freelance... I play my avatars like I would play with remote control cars. I am not my characters, nor do I role play much... In the fantasy MMO’s I am just as likely to play male as female. I have two males and a female avatar in WOW right now. My female is a human rogue, I really had this idea of a trim red head dressed in black avatar for this character, don’t know why, it’s just the image I was after... I don’t flirt or participate in blatant female ways."
-"I'm currently 19, straight white male. In addition to the female characters I've played in RPGs, I also play the occasional female skin in FPS I play... [In high school] I played michalla. She 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. She didn't last long... Recently I decided to take up my other big female character... There is a little bit of feminism in the character and I'm trying to be conscious of female aspect."
-"In real life, I'm a 39 year old [female] straight game designer. Pretty normal person, normal family. My hobbies are my kids, three of them. I give them all my time. Before I had kids, though, my hobbies were classic cars and metalwork. I plan to take the latter up again in the fall, actually. I've been a gamer since 1981. Given my long gaming history, I most fondly remember playing party-based RPGs where I would play a whole crew of male-characters. At first, I played characters like this because there was no option to play a female character. Now, I choose characters not so much on their gender - in fact, when I am playing, the avatar's gender doesn't even occur to me - but on what they do in the world and what their statistical benefits might be."
"I’m a [thirty-something, male] writer between employments right now, spent a lot of time in the tech-support business, the insurance business, and a few other odd jobs between... It used to be more of a mix, but these days I find myself playing female characters almost all the time. The ratio is about 3:1. I blame a long-standing fascination with the feminine mystique... I try to imbue the women I play with something of that sensibility. I also tend to play “Girl Fridays.” These are dependable, helpful, cheerful women who don’t shrink from adversity, don’t flinch from a fight, but are still, undeniably feminine... They are not, therefore, sexpots, nymphos, or anything else of the sort. I do not shy away from sexual play... I am also married, no kids."