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Apr 18, 2006

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2.

It never occurred to me that the people engaging in this activity could be fully cognizant of their roles as just roles. This kind of made me sit up and take note; it really is just a digital manifestation of what can be seen in just about any major city when some guy decides he wants to try being a girl and goes over-the-top-fabulous.

In an odd way I’ve now got some respect for those that participate in the charade. I always saw it as a deceptive and potentially harmful activity (especially to the “queen” who may be supplementing and/or exacerbating a deeper psychological need). Now I see it as more of an exploration, so more power to you.

3.

One of the problems with this sort of thing: Is there any reason we should believe the 'confession' is anything but an attention-getting lie?

If someone tells you they are a liar who misrepresents themself to get attention, they put you in a bit of a bind when it comes to interpreting the value of their account of things.

4.

As this article demonstrates, online environments and in particular virtual worlds remain a rich environment for experimentation and learning. This includes learning about gender-based roles and forms of interaction, be they social, sexual, or whatever.

There is little doubt in my mind that a significant minority of players in MMORPGs use their characters as a "test bed" for learning about how to interact with people, including "serious" relationships and/or sexual activities. Everyone with half a gram of intelligence realizes that the other person(s) involved may be play-acting too, which could lead to blind-leading-the-blind situations. In addition, there are some people who simply enjoy role-playing. Online virtual worlds provide a nearly perfect setup for cross-gender roleplay. Certainly one should never other people are being completely truthful or honest regarding the RL identities. In fact, in most role-play situations I've completely given up worrying about the RL identity of the person and simply deal with the in-world character as presented.

One of the most interesting aspects of online gaming is how gamers seem to be maturing. It seems to me that when two MMORPG characters get a bit too romantic or frisky in public, the cries of "Get a Room" (even in games that don't have such facilities) occur much faster, much louder, and from far more voices in recent years. In times past, prurient observation or clumsy attempts to join in seemed more common. I believe that online gamers are becoming more "adult" in many things, including cybersex.

5.

One of the problems with this sort of thing: Is there any reason we should believe the 'confession' is anything but an attention-getting lie?

No more reason than we have in any other form of net-based research or anthropology. I suppose the more interesting question is: why do you automatically jump to that conclusion here and not elsewhere? What is it about Rufa's story that makes you feel it might be anything but the truth? -sj

6.

SJ: why do you automatically jump to that conclusion here and not elsewhere?

The whole 'telling the truth about lying' mode just brings out my suspicious nature, I suppose.

SJ: What is it about Rufa's story that makes you feel it might be anything but the truth?

The reliability of the witness.

7.

Well, damn. Here I was hoping there'd be some deeper, gender-related reasoning to your suspicion. Oh well. ^_^ -sj

8.

There's not much that's particularly unbelievable about this story. It's not the first time I've heard one like it and I went through a lot of similar stuff myself. And I agree with Arnold Hendrick that a lot of players, maybe even more than a significant minority, are using some kind of identity exploration online -- usually nothing quite as dramatic as crossplaying, maybe as simple or unconscious as just expressing their personality in different ways -- and then carrying those experiences back with them into the real world. If you look at Nick Yee's research about identity and player-avatar relationships, I think that's born out especially for younger players.

I crossplayed a lot when I was a teenager and into my 20s as well. I found it was pretty easy for me to "pass" online as a girl just by being myself, since I was never that inclined to engage in really overtly boy-like behavior--I'm probably not the only one, and actually, passing as a girl in online worlds was a pretty easy way to escape from that. I always tended to discourage flirtation or leading people on, as I didn't want to get entangled in anything messy, and had heard stories. Over time I was able to really explore the social role and be a more specific version of myself -- except female -- the kind of girl that I admired and thought was cool. Kind of tough, able to hang with the guys, but decidedly separate in many ways as well. Willing to smack one upside the head for acting like too much of a jerk.

A few years ago I came to the conclusion that I ought to explore this stuff a little more. So I started taking hormones and changed my name legally to that of one of my online personas. (Which was something pretty normal, not Sunflower or Elethandria or anything like that.) Yadda yadda yadda, the story goes on, and I think you get the gist of it -- I'm transgender. Nowadays I can "pass" just like I used to online, but pretty much anywhere I want, in part because I'm fairly small, young, cute, and unremarkable looking -- thanks for helping me figure this stuff out early, online worlds! The potential problems with relationships remain, but definitely not impossible to figure out. My family, my long-time friends, and some of my business associates and clients know that I'm transgender, but a lot of other people in my life don't, and it doesn't often come up; most of the people close to me are pretty discreet. So that's where *I* stand today, kind of a different spot than the narrator of the story above.

I do feel like crossplaying was a significant part of my journey to get here, which of course doesn't mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that most crossplaying players are trans like me.

So, I guess I could be lying about all of this too, right? Since I'm "crossplaying" not just in virtual worlds, but in some more complex, thorough fashion in the real world too. Of course, like "Rufa Heindeger" says, some bells are impossible to unring; unlike him I can't turn my femaleness on and off at will, nor can I really "go back," nor would I want to. This is who I am and it makes sense on a pretty deep level.

I'm curious, do you doubt this story since there are ways in which I'm not what I seem? (And other ways in which I certainly am, I should add.) I have to admit it is somewhat dramatized and focused on the subject of this post; there are plenty of other factors in my life related to being trans that I didn't mention. It doesn't surprise me much that questions about credibility and truthfulness come up when the subject of crossplaying is being discussed. Trans people are pretty used to being portrayed as liars and as inherently deceptive; it's a stereotype you see in television and movies, heck it's even been used in courtrooms as an argument to legitimize our murder. But hey, it's the only life we have; you do what you can with it.

9.

Holly, thanks for sharing your story! I think it's a great example of how cross-gender role-playing online can be a meaningful exploration -- if not for all people, than at least for some -- a real counter-example for all those who believe that the issue of presenting cross-gender lacks depth or true meaning.

10.

Wait a tick...

Me: What is it about Rufa's story that makes you feel it might be anything but the truth?

John: The reliability of the witness.

I misread this my first time through. I assumed you were referring to Rufa as unreliable, because of your previous assertion that it's difficult to trust someone who asserts that they have a history of lying (although, in Rufa's defense, he did say that he avoided lying about his RL gender).

Instead, it seems you're referring to Bonnie, which seems uncalled for. I revoke my cute smiley.

11.

No, I wasn't referring to Bonnie. Your first impression was correct.

The reliability of the witness is only the first element of my reaction. It could just be the way the confession of 'Rufa' is written, but the type of self-identifications offered by the author, and the types of rationale,... I think there is a danger of losing some important information about this issue in accepting the self-analysis of the author too readily.

Although I'm suspicious about it, it don't doubt its value to a researcher. My original question was serious: Is there any reason to trust this particular story about 'Rufa'?

Holly seems to suggest that it fits into a familiar model: "There's not much that's particularly unbelievable about this story. It's not the first time I've heard one like it and I went through a lot of similar stuff myself."

I think that's an excellent gauge of reliability for a non-researcher, but I don't think the any social scientist would be comfortable limiting the field of reliable accounts to those that meet their pre-existing expectations.

I don't know how the issue of lying is being dealt with by the interviewer in this case (or if it even matters in a study of this kind), and that's really what I'm curious about.

12.

"I don't know how the issue of lying is being dealt with by the interviewer in this case (or if it even matters in a study of this kind), and that's really what I'm curious about."

I suppose I'm the one to answer that :-). I think the point you raise is an important one, as it exists in the background of almost all online research, but, I also think, for the most part, our suspicion has to remain a backdrop to the landscape of online research, and not a point of stagnation. What I mean is that, if we stopped short in front of every account and said, "How do we know you're telling the truth?", we wouldn't get anywhere. The unreliability of information is part of what makes the internet what it is. The crapshoot that occurs with a story such as Rufa's is a meaningful part of the territory.

13.

Tanks Bonnie, I appreciate the reply. I'm going to read your Q&A post.

14.

Some people indulge in games in order to NOT be themselves. To look and speak and behave like a hobbit, instead of like Bart Simpson in a hobbit costume.

That is the nature of FANTASY -- to want what we do not have. The old wish to be young again, but the young wish for maturity. The short would like to be taller, but some of the tall might prefer to be smaller.

It's called ROLE PLAYING. Yes, I know it is extremely rare in MMOs, where most regard their avatars as nothing but exotic combat vehicles. But I am encouraged to see someone studying it.

The games perfectly reflect our society. Young females are "sex objects" and young males are "violence objects." Whoever tries to break the mold will be either secret, or outcast.

15.

One of the problems with this sort of thing: Is there any reason we should believe the 'confession' is anything but an attention-getting lie?
If someone tells you they are a liar who misrepresents themself to get attention, they put you in a bit of a bind when it comes to interpreting the value of their account of things.
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