I swear, I need this bumper sticker.
It seems like just about every time I get together with female gamer friends, the topic of conversation inevitably (and much to my chagrin) turns to the cuteness of avatars and our frustration with the limited options we are usually given to control their attractiveness. I had a long, involved ranting session the other night, for instance, with another WoW gamer about how frustrating it is to play the Horde, mainly because the avatar customization options are limited to a few (arguably) unattractive races. We talked about how we both have female undead mages, whom we spent quite a bit of time trying to make as cute as possible, yet are still frustratingly unattractive. And how it disturbs us a bit that we care all that much, closet-inhabiting fashionistas though we might be.
But I’m gonna confess. I do care. An unattractive avatar is so disruptive to my gameplay that I will stop playing if I can’t do something about it...
This discussion of avatar attractiveness has been floating around for some time, but generally with a bit more righteous indignation from people who think some avatars are a bit too attractive, and in all the wrong ways. We all know by now that male gamers are stereotyped as liking sexy (hypersexual, even, or at least that's what's served up) avatars, and that disturbs a lot of people. So it's not surprising that when I talk to male players about gender bending, they often say that it’s because if they’re going to be looking at a toon’s bottom for hours on end, they want it to be a nice attractive female one (and in CoX, my MMO of choice, the female toons run in a much more attractive fashion than the males). The thing is, I and just about every other woman I know can point out a female toon created by a guy from about a mile away. Female players seldom go for the fish-net stockinged, long haired, please-do-me-after-I’m-done-kicking-ass look. The less clothes on the toon, the more likely it is to be a guy behind it. And if the toon has a name like ‘NoPants’ and has no pants, well yeah, no question there. And certainly no woman is going to make a toon called ‘The Naked Female’, though we might chuckle at the ingenuity and ensuing chaos. (Solid Sharkey gleefully called her ‘probably the most sucessfully disruptive force in MMORPGs ever”). But even I was disturbed a bit when he turned her inside out
Still, the idea of men picking female toons based on aesthetic or even playful considerations runs contrary to what is usually emphasized about gender bending, that ‘gamers, both male and female, say female avatars confirm what they already knew: Being a pretty girl has its perks. Female avatars are often the center of attention and showered with gifts such as swords or armor by other characters’. Brenda Braithwaite apparently thinks that it has little to do with exploration of sexual identity, and perhaps not, but I’d also have to disagree that it is always done for economic purposes. In fact, given the presence of ribald and often inappropriate sexism reported by many players presenting female, it would make sense to play male characters. And, as a researcher, I myself am curious to know what that's like.
But I have this problem. I can't make myself play male characters, especially if they are ugly. I have actually tried playing other people’s characters from time to time and find it unsettling on several levels. But I find it especially difficult playing male toons, particularly when the player has focused on creating something scary, ugly, or just badly dressed. I honestly can’t understand how someone could spend hours and hours looking at an ugly toon, let alone identifying with it on any level. Even when relatively attractive, male toons are generally very disoncerting for me to play. I guess this isn't really suprising - according to Nick Yee's survey data, it is relatively uncommon for women to play male characters. Sheri Graner Ray has said this has to do with male/female power dynamics, i.e. women feel uncomfortable playing 'higher in the social hierarchy' than they are (men don't apparently feel uncomfortable playing 'lower'). I'm a bit dubious about that, but sure enough, I have only ever personally encountered a handful of instances of a woman playing a male character: in one case, it involved a technicolored male superhero who looked like a psychedelic genie in shades of blue, pink and purple. I knew something wasn’t quite right, and sure enough, it was a girl behind him, who had just made him to see what it would be like.
So why do I exclusively play female characters? And why do they have to be attractive? It's really a question that perplexes me. But there is something about wanting to identify with an idealized (to me) extension of myself that is all too compelling. I hate to be shallow, but if I spend my physical life being a mundane 30-something mother who spends less time at the gym than she’d like, isn’t it okay that I should want to play toons that are superlatively and uniquely attractive? If given the options, I am happy to spend time exquisitely crafting them and I enjoy their beauty, partly as an extension of who I would want to be, but also just an external aesthetic appreciation. It does seem clear that women are more likely to think of their avatars as idealized versions of ourselves, perhaps because women inhabit their avatars more deeply.
In Play Between Worlds, T.L. Taylor argues
that the issue of avatar attractiveness is not about aesthetics, but about
‘While there is a fair amount of diversity among female players about which avatars are preferable, there seems to be a consistent message that they want a choice in how they look online. This is not about women not wanting to look attractive or even sexy. Women hold complicated relationships to even stereotypically gendered characters.’ [quote corrected 8/24]
I would replace the word ‘even’ in the last sentence to ‘especially’ – women tend to balk at avatars that have been created according to someone’s else idea of what’s attractive. But I have never interviewed nor met a woman who doesn’t want her virtual representation to be attractive, at least to her.
So why haven't we yet arrived at a point where extensive customization is a given?
After playing City of Heroes for some time, with its infinitely flexible character customization system, I was actually shocked, really shocked, when I played WoW for the first time and found my creativity so curtailed. I hated walking around in the same apprentice robe as everyone else, only to be given the same incremental upgrades to armor as other characters in my class and at my level. I winced when I ran into another gnome with pink hair in a similar style, just when I’d gotten excited about how cute mine was. In this case, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery; it only serves to show how unoriginal I am. And as I am not unoriginal, why should my toons be? And why shouldn't they be beautiful, if that's what it takes to keep me playing?
This is certainly not the first time this type of discussion has appeared on Terra Nova, but I'd like to put out a specific call to hear from the female gamers/researchers regarding this issue, or from those who think they might have a bit of that perspective.... or perhaps I am wrong in assuming that this is a bigger issue to women?
(Final Confession: I left several Guild Wars guilds immediately after joining because they had badly designed guild tabards that didn't match my outfits. That officially makes me shallow, doesn't it?)
Comments on My Other Self is an Ass-kicking Supermodel:
So why haven't we yet arrived at a point where extensive customization is a given?
Posted Aug 24, 2006 1:28:35 AM | link
Disclaimer: I'm a guy
The Horde's female models are not that bad. Undead can be made to look cool, and the voice work for them is great. Female Taurens rock -- they have a lot of style and their dance is wonderfully understated. Trolls can look good if you pick the smallest tusk size. It's only the female Orcs that I think really let the side down.
Anyway, you'll have Blood Elves soon.
But it is a shame that armour can't be coloured. Ultimately, every character is headed towards looking exactly the same as any other character of the same class and gender because there's one set of armour generally considered to be the "best" for each class.
Oh, and not all guys are about putting as little clothing on female models as possible. I like layers and a bit of designer flair that's not just about plunging necklines and dodgy pants.
It's the male models that suck. That's the reason I play a lot of female characters in WoW. Taurens are okay, and if we don't care about faction, so are some of the human males. Gnomes: stupid. Night Elves: sad. Orcs & Undead: boring. The male Trolls have their moments, and they've got the best voices of the male options. Dwarves aren't too bad, but the emphasis on drinking doesn't appeal to me.
When the expansion hits I'll be doing a male Blood Elf (warlock) for this dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf55KafifsE
...and a female Draenei (shaman) because, well, look at the picture on http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/burningcrusade/townhall/draenei.html -- the males are hideous blobs.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 1:57:29 AM | link
Lisa>After playing City of Heroes for some time, with its infinitely flexible character customization system, I was actually shocked, really shocked, when I played WoW for the first time and found my creativity so curtailed.
Practical issues aside (eg. the extra bandwidth inherent in using customised faces), one of the problems of a high degree of choice is that it crosses the border between editing and art. The more you can change the way a character looks, the more it becomes necessary to have some actual skill at what you're doing. Some people (that would include me) have no ability to draw, and the same applies to their ability to create pretty faces from fiddling with parameters. Would you be happy being able to customise your character's look to make her pretty, knowing that there are other people out there who'll be so good at it that your character will look dowdy beside them?
Well, maybe you would. In some cultures, though, you most certainly wouldn't. In particular, one game I was consulting for did extensive tests in Korea and found that the players would prefer to have a limited choice from beautiful avatars than a free choice of how their avatar looked. They didn't want anyone being prettier than them, and if that meant they all looked the same, well, that was a price worth paying. This was a couple of years ago with the impact of newer games, so things may have changed, but nevertheless I do think it illustrates a point.
>when I talk to male players about gender bending, they often say that it’s because if they’re going to be looking at a toon’s bottom for hours on end, they want it to be a nice attractive female one
They're lying. They play female avatars in the same proportion that they did when there were no pictures, and when there was only a first-person view. This response is the standard "reasonable explanation" that has evolved over time that casts the decision in a positive light: anyone who suggests a man plays female characters because he wants to be a girl is deflected by the suggestion that actually he's so much a man that this is the very reason he plays a girl.
There are many reasons why men play female characters, and appreciation of the visual aesthetics is but one, minor one of them. However, because it's acceptable, that's the one people give.
I have a female character in WoW, and when my daughter asked me why I played her, rather than replying "because I can" and then getting into a long discussion about it, I gave the hours-of-looking-at-a-backside answer. She immediately pointed out that actually I spent most of my time looking at a horse's backside. Recently, when she saw me playing a male character, she asked me if I liked looking at male characters' backsides too.
>I'd like to put out a specific call to hear from the female gamers/researchers regarding this issue
You have to be careful here. One of the problems with "women and computer games" is that those who play the games "get it" in just the same way that the male players get it, and are no more able to offer an explanation as to why others of their gender don't get it than are male players. The ones who don't get it, but struggle on valiantly, playing only in order to try understand those who do get it, invariably present a picture missing key elements.
Your call is slightly different, in that you're asking for female players (ie. those who do get it) to discuss why they want customisably pretty avatars and male players don't, but you're still setting yourself up to get an incomplete picture because of the "and male players don't" aspect. You can indeed discuss why female players want what they want, but if the gender of the researcher is important then you can't discuss why male players want what they want. You'd need male players to participate in the discussion for that.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 3:12:27 AM | link
That's a bit strong, though you bring up an interesting point about playing female characters prior to them being made up of hundreds of polygons and some nice textures.
I used to P&P RPG, and I did play female characters then. The best way of describing my reasons was: "I played the sort of character I'd like to meet." This reason survives all the upgrades to graphics over the years and still encompasses the "I play a character I enjoy looking at" reasoning.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 3:49:33 AM | link
Yah, but I like playing characters whom I precisely would *not* want to meet.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 4:00:30 AM | link
Just a quick correction, in the passage quoted I actually write "This is not about women not wanting to look attractive or even sexy." An awkward sentence to be sure but just want to note there is a second, important, "not" there ;)
Posted Aug 24, 2006 6:25:04 AM | link
To date, in all my years of playing P&P RPGs, I tried playing a female character once, and the experience was fairly brief and uncomfortable because I couldn't get into the character in anything but a superficial way... it was too hard, and therefore didn't give me the relaxed enjoyment I played for.
In MMOs, I always play male characters, except for the one large exception, which is Eve Online, where I just wasn't happy with looking like an old ugly man. I chose a female avatar not because it was female, but because I was more comfortable with looking attractive as a female (in a situtation without a human avatar running around) than unattractive as a male.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 6:30:13 AM | link
Richard said: "...one of the problems of a high degree of choice is that it crosses the border between editing and art."
In SL, where you have an enormous degree of flexibility, you have some fantastically beautiful avatars. Some in a realistic sense, some in various fantasy modes. You also have some who are ugly on purpose.
And you have a disproportionately large number of people who do not understand, never having taken an art or drawing class in their life, that your head should really, really REALLY not be that small.
Some of my SL buddies and I refer to it as the "wee haid" syndrome.
I don't know if it's because "big head" sounds bad or folks are just farting around with the controls or what... but there are lots and lots of SLers with heads that just... kinda... look... wrong. And it's because they are 15-30% smaller than they should be for their height, shoulder width, etc.
Similarly, people tend to make their eyes too close together. Little things like this become disconcerting. They also make the really good avatars stand out. Which can be a mark of status of sorts.
I'm all for choice, but Richard is right -- the tools for beauty also enable ugly; both purposeful and inadvertent.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 8:12:57 AM | link
Interesting point about not being able to get into the character, Daniel -- do you roleplay in MMORPGs?
I'm male and 9 out of 10 of my characters are female. To me it's an aesthetic decision -- even started a silly site about good looking avatars. :) I don't roleplay at all -- perhaps I'd be more inclined to play male characters instead.
Have the studies looked at the link between roleplaying and cross-gender play?
Posted Aug 24, 2006 8:21:10 AM | link
Lisa: "It does seem clear that women are more likely to think of their avatars as idealized versions of ourselves, perhaps because women inhabit their avatars more deeply."
I hope this is not true... my g/f plays a galka in ffxi.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 8:25:51 AM | link
Lisa, thanks for this. As we continue work on our documentary, identity (in MMOs) is the issue that keeps me up at night. Lately I’ve been obsessing about race/ethnicity, because one of our interviewees clued me in to the unspoken rule that 99% of African Americans won’t play African American avatars. I think this speaks volumes about identifying with your avatar. Gender, and genderbending is such a complicated topic, I’m nervous to touch it. Especially after you’ve problematized it here!
As to avatar creation: I couldn’t play WoW because of their ridiculously limited choice in avatars, and my jaw dropped that millions of people find it okay to have avatars that look exactly like them running around in every town or guild. This is especially unacceptable coming out from Second Life. I must say, in SL my co-producer plays a grotesque, misshapen avatar, and wanted me to as well- he thought we’d stand out when gathering people in-world for interviews. I couldn’t do it- the joke became stale before I finished creating him, and I just couldn’t bear to look. So instead I play a green angel, and admit that I spend a great deal of time looking at him and wishing that I had wings.
Here’s an interesting fact: though Nick Yee has proven that 50% of female avatars are controlled by males, in Second Life the percentage is far, far smaller (according to a number of interviews with SL residents and Lindens- I have no hard facts).
So why is gender bending less tempting in a “social” MMO as compared to a typical one? Must we own up to our gender bending?
Also, Richard, I’d love for you to elaborate on the myriad reasons males choose female avatars. I felt the answer was so neatly wrapped up by what I often hear in interviews- males like looking at them and/or use them to be showered with gifts.
Okay, head spinning- must go blog about this…
Posted Aug 24, 2006 9:45:33 AM | link
I'm not sure I want to live in a (virtual) world where everyone is beautiful.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 12:21:10 PM | link
Personally, I've found that other people's gender attitudes have made it hard for me to play female characters online. My preferred role in most MMOs is as a tank, a character focused on absorbing damage and protecting their team. However, my cute blond female tank in City of Heroes got into endless arguments because teammates wouldn't let her do her job. It bothered them to have her taking most of the enemy fire, to the point where they'd deliberately try to pull enemies off her even when she was better suited to taking the damage than they were.
Furthermore, people were a lot more likely to listen to my battleplans when I was playing a very large male character than when I was female or even a shorter male character.
So, now I pretty much exclusively play large male characters. It does feel a bit like surrendering to stereotypes, but it's just so much better in terms of effectiveness in my chosen role.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 12:54:54 PM | link
Some random thoughts from a male perspective:
1. As long as there's no difference in maximum stats between male and female characters, I'm good with either -- I don't seem to prefer one over the other. And that's been the case since at least Ultima Underworld I.
What does that imply, if anything?
2. I can't put my finger on why (yet), but I find that I also accept the notion that women tend to feel a greater degree of identification with their avatars than men feel with theirs. I think of it as inhabiting a persona vs. riding (in) a vehicle.
Some people seem more prepared than others when running a character to identify themselves as that character. The pain, pleasure, satisfaction, disgust, pride, and so on that the character might feel in a given situation are felt by the person controlling the character. These players know they aren't the character, really, but they play (and report themselves as playing) as though they were the character.
For other people, the avatar is a machine to be operated like any other tool. It might be a really interesting machine with lots of moving parts to be carefully optimized as though it were a high-performance race car. Or it might be just an old beater whose only value is that it gets you from place to place; the action is what matters, not the thing you use to get you to the action. In both these cases, though, the avatar is something fundamentally and permanently outside the self.
My impression is that the first group is much more likely to consist of women, and the second group is much more likely to consist of men.
3. Is there a trend in RPGs (online or single-player) to increase the number of options for customization when creating a new character?
I've got this theory (probably not original) that this is happening, and that it's related to the way that Western culture is becoming increasingly individualistic. The "right to privacy," "abortion rights," mass freakouts when laptops containing Social Security numbers are stolen, et cetera, are all beliefs that can be consolidated into the idea that "people own themselves." In other words, you own your body, your self, along with all its attributes and data about what you do with your body/self.
The corollary to this is that if you own it, you have the right -- and should have the power -- to control it. We can see this in the increasing real-world acceptance of tattoos, piercings, and the like, but wouldn't an increasing level of control over the appearance of avatars in online worlds be another confirming instance for this theory?
If there's anything to this notion, then wouldn't virtual world developers (including MMOG designers) be smart to support it by offering lots of character creation customizations, by giving players full control over what attributes of their character can be "seen" by other characters, and by giving players full control over how information about other characters will be displayed/perceived by their character?
4. One MMORPG in development that is slated to offer considerable customization of character appearance is Hero's Journey from the veteran text game developer Simutronics.
Not only will the character body generator offer a boatload of options, Hero's Journey (the game) is apparently being designed such that the appearance of clothing and armor won't fully determine its capabilities. Wearables will have sockets in which objects called "wyr" with various offensive or defensive or utility capabilities can be installed.
The result should be that you can wear anything you like because its functionality won't be related to its appearance. Presumably, a simple tunic with a bunch of high-end wyr could offer more protection than a wyr-free suit of plate mail.
In this way, Hero's Journey is sacrificing "realism" for greater variation of appearance. What players wear (the theory goes) will be a lot more diverse and more reflective of the player's personality because it won't be inextricably tied to functionality as in most other MMORPGs.
So what do folks here think about that?
Posted Aug 24, 2006 1:59:02 PM | link
Bartle: "...anyone who suggests a man plays female characters because he wants to be a girl is deflected by the suggestion that actually he's so much a man that this is the very reason he plays a girl."
Nick's research that says half the women are men also suggests that women identify with their avatars far more than men do. Men aren't their avatars. Men control their avatars.
Personal anecdote. I once tried to introduce my girlfriend to EQ. She tried it very briefly, then quit. I ask why. She said the could not take it when "she" died. In fact, she cried when her character died.
I had another girlfriend who did not play video games, but would watch me play RPG's. She said she could not play games like that, because she could not handle the characters -- herself -- dying all the time.
My son used to cry when he lost in a game -- not because his character died, or that his character came in second, but because his mom beat him. "You're supposed to let me win, mommy!"
Anecdote and intuition wins here. Boys don't become their toys. They control them. Girls imagine themselves as Barbies. Boys don't imagine themselves as Transformers.
The aesthetic justification, however significant you might consider it, is still far stronger than the transgender justification. Men who control female avatars more readily select "attractive" females -- and I'm not talking about just WoW (which limits race to faction). Tomb Raider would not have sold even half as many copies as it did if Lara Croft did not sport her twin guns.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 5:46:53 PM | link
I'm female. I play WoW and other games. While I usually play female characters, I go out of my way to make them scary, ugly, and unsettling. Why?
Because being attractive in these games is the norm.
With the exception of the Night Elves, the Alliance side of WoW is the most bland, characterless, uninteresting collection of renders I have seen since Palace Chat. It is continually baffling to me that someone would pass up the outstandingly dynamic Undead to play the board-straight, whiteboy-dancin' Human.
I would rather be lauded for my originality or intimidation than my prettiness. Online, "pretty" is the new "average". If I wanted to look like everyone else, I have a whole wide world full of real live meatpeople that would reward me for doing so.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 7:02:01 PM | link
My perspective as a TG person:
In PnP games I usually randomly chose the sex of my character unless I had some concept in mind. Because I was afradi the people I played with would figure out I was TG and then not play with me anymore.
In console games, I often chose the female character.
When I started playing MMORPGS I just stuck with female characters and they seemed to fit. As one person said to me, "you just have to be a girl in real life, you're too nice to be a guy."
In FFXI I started out as a female Hume white mage, though I often switched to Red Mage, Black Mage and later on BeastMaster. I liked keeping the party safe.
When I joined Second Life to take part in some chats I didn't know about the fashion stuff and chose a male avatar since I used my "male" nick. I have two nicks, one I used for things needing my real name and techy/geeky stuff and another I'd used for transgender related stuff Though recently I've been trying to combine things and be more open about being TG.
So there I was, male av and then I found out about the fashion. And I wanted to have a pretty av too. So I switched to a female av and made her pretty...eventually. She's idealized of course, she's model tall and quite frankly I think she's beautiful, in a classy way. I have her wear glasses sometimes because I do, and the haircolor I have her use most of the time is similar to mine. And most of the things I have her wear, I'd wear myself, if I was pretty like her.
So I guess she kind of serves as an additional outlet for my TG drama, which helps truly.
I've been blogging about her and related fashion stuff:
From what I can tell, Second LIfe has a higher proportion of female players than other games, so a higher percentage of female avatars are played by women. I also think it has a higher than average number of TG players, I've described the game as the perfect digital crack for a transgendered wanna-be fashionista.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 7:04:39 PM | link
An interesting side topic to explore would be the differences between avatars in pen and paper RPGs vs. MMORPGs. I happen to be a woman who plays both extensively, and there's an interesting split for me. In Dungeons & Dragons, I tend to primarily play male characters, but I have only female avatars in WoW. I have come up with the following explanation, although it may only be true for me. In D&D, I am physically present with the other players -- they know what I am female, and so I am free to choose to play a character with attributes that seem more appealing to me (ie, masculine). However, in WoW, unless I'm using Ventrilo, there's no way for people to know that I'm female, and I'm not comfortable with being mistaken for male. So I choose a female character to correctly advertise my gender.
Regardless of medium, however, I always strive to present an attractive avatar to the world. My D&D sorcerer Sekhmet has burning amber eyes and long flowing black hair, my WoW priestess Arcavia has dainty tusks and cascading blue braids. For me, creating an attractive avatar just makes sense -- I take 20 minutes out of my day each morning to style my hair and put on makeup, and I dress to look my best. There's no reason not to look my best in a virtual world, either!
Posted Aug 24, 2006 7:40:24 PM | link
"Here’s an interesting fact: though Nick Yee has proven that 50% of female avatars are controlled by males, in Second Life the percentage is far, far smaller (according to a number of interviews with SL residents and Lindens- I have no hard facts).
I play mostly "social" games myself, and from my experience, there is no possible way that 50% of the female avatars are played by men. Maybe it is because people are more afraid that they won't be able to pull it off in a social game like SL, but my gut feeling is different. If I remember right, Nick got his data from games that were overwhelmingly played by males. People like to have a recognizably distinctive avatar (even if it is not the prettiest one), so filling up all those available female character options makes sense.
In a social type of game, the subscribers are usually more gender-balanced to start with, and people don't need to do this.
Posted Aug 24, 2006 10:43:50 PM | link
Excellent! It feels liberating to come out of the closet about my avatar preferences. This response is pretty much what I expected; gamers (male and female) have a wide range of preferences when it comes to avatars - the key is providing enough options to cater to a range of tastes. And I think this addresses Richard's point about customization in the hands of those who may not leverage such power in an aesthetically pleasing way: it may be important to provide options, but to provide them within a relatively limited set of paramters. So in CoX, there are millions of options, but people don't generally make toons with teeny little heads because the options are presented as components, not infinitely malleable tools. (although they did add scales in a later update that allow much more granular control).
And Bart, yes, the Hero's Journey system sounds interesting - not so dissimilar in function from CoX's enhancements, but tying them into the costume is interesting. And then, yes, allowing costume customization that doesn't have anything to do with stats adds a great deal of latitude, again a la CoX, an environment in which one of the many sub-games is fashion and character development. (it's interesting just how many toons the average CoX player has - it's just too fun to make new ones!)
I'm still pondering why I just can't identify with my characters as entities completely separate from me, but that might require a little more thinking.
TL, so sorry about the misquote! I have since fixed it!
Posted Aug 24, 2006 11:34:23 PM | link
I've been blogging about her and related fashion stuff: http://ccslfashionista.blogspot.com
Oh, my sister! I love these! Yay, I am not alone!
Posted Aug 24, 2006 11:38:38 PM | link
Lisa said: I'm still pondering why I just can't identify with my characters as entities completely separate from me, but that might require a little more thinking.
Well, that gets into some deep Freudian doo-doo.
There are two reasons, in some schools of psychoanalytical thought, why we pretend and play make-believe and change ourselves and wear make-up and dress up and put on nice clothes and act differently in some situations; i.e., why we do all the things implicitly in social situations that we do explicitly in roleplaying games. We do these things to please others, or we do them to please ourselves; external focus or internal.
Some folks will tell you that much of the play that is socially encouraged on girls has, at its root, an external focus: "Do these things so that you will be better at being a friend, a helper, a team-mate, a wife, a cook, good-looking, a keeper-of-pets, a keeper-of-houses, etc." Boys, on the other hand, are led towards types of play that has, generally, an internal focus, or, at least, less of a social focus: "Be a builder, a fighter, a driver, a hunter, a finder, an earner." This isn't radical, new thinking here. Hunter vs. gatherer often translates into single-focus vs. group focus. Internal skills-building vs. external.
I don't mean either of these styles to come across as negative -- both types of play are valuable.
Where this may have an impact on the ability of you to disassociate yourself from avatar choice or completely invest in a character that is entirely separate from you -- i.e., to distance yourself as completely from the "play object" as much as men do -- is that the process in social-focused play (which is what girls are often taught/encouraged more of) is MEANT to reflect who you really are. What you "pretend" to be in that setting, is not entirely for your own benefit. You play to get better at actually being a part of something real, something linked to the play, albeit metaphorically. The play is not, inherently, for your internal benefit. It is for the benefit of "other;" the friend, the group, the team, the family, the husband, the child, the house.
When you put on an avatar that differs significantly from your social/self-defined profile, you are, essentially, "wasting play time." Now, that boundary will differ from person to person, depending on what role you see yourself in and what you've been conditioned to see as your purpose in various groups.
Boys, on the other hand, are taught to experiment and play and pretend for the sake of it; all for their own benefit. Essentially, no-holds-barred play. That makes it much more likely that they'll be comfortable playing a wider variety of characters and avatars.
Don't know if that's helpful. I'm not sure I buy it myself, but it's one interpretation of how we split the focus.
Posted Aug 25, 2006 8:23:33 AM | link
From one of the great unwashed masses:
Complex character creation was actually a "barrier to entry" to online gaming for me before World of Warcraft.
I would go to try out a game, and be told I have to tweak things like "cheekbones" or select from fifty different shades of skin tone and forty different eyebrow shapes before I could get started. Frankly, it was dull - I wanted to start the game. Options to "quick start" with a random character were unappealing - part of me felt like I was 'supposed' to do all this obscure customization, so I did it, though resentfully. Of course, that made the pain even greater when I went to make a second attempt (or second character). So I'd just stop playing.
For the masses, I suspect it isn't much fun to have the first formative hour of your gaming experience focusing on character art, especially if you are new to the genre.
Although I agree the WoW characters are amazingly bland in their sameness, it is far preferable to someone like me, who basically wants to get to the wolf-killing, and doesn't really care about the eyebrow-picking.
As to gender-bending, I agree that the "butt watching" is a false but easy answer to give. For me, it has to do with a lack of personal identification with the avatar - it would never occur to me to be an "important" choice, any more than hair color. I took a long time picking a "class," but all appearance options got about 10 seconds each, and a simple, "yeah, that seems to fit." It probably says something about my socialization that the healer ended up a female and the thief a male.
Anyway, I understand how avatar attractiveness is important to some people, but for the non-artists, the idea of having to "draw" or even think about my character's appearance is daunting. If I had been in Richard's control group, I would have said the same thing: Give me some generic "pretty people" to pick from and hand me a sword.
Posted Aug 25, 2006 10:39:59 AM | link
What might be interesting is if the game was coded so some of our stats were determined by your appearance.
So, if you have a larger head you have slightly more intelligence (or more potential intelligence.) If you were small and think you have a faster running speed. Narrow set eyes and NPCs treat you as a criminal and often times don't sell items to you. Skin tone could determine starting city or alliance. If you have tatoos some quest givers ignore you.
Why shouldn't appearance have consequences?
Posted Aug 25, 2006 12:34:43 PM | link
I had exactly the same reaction to WoW, which I just started playing earlier in the week. I can't believe how little customization is available on the avatars, and the way everyone ends up wearing the same stuff just makes it worse. Obviously this is partially a consequence of a more loot-based system--you don't have any armor in CoX (also my game of choice) and costumes are totally non-functional, so it makes sense that they can look pretty much however you want. CoX does allow for the status communication aspect, however, by offering costume options like capes and auras that are only available after the toon as completed a particular mission, available only at certain levels and above.
Re: Richard's argument about skill at avatar customization: I don't think that applies to CoX. It certainly applies to SL, in which someone had to give me a starting body/face skin so that I could adjust it to something I wanted but that still looked right. SL offers SO MUCH (and so detailed) customization that, in the absence of any presets, it's very difficult for an inexperienced user to make something that looks good. CoX, however, has a wide variety of presets for faces and bodies, and loads and loads of costume items that can be combined almost any way the user chooses (and don't forget the importance of color, which is also the user's choice). While CoX does offer face and body sliders, it's possible to make an attractive AND unique toon without using them. Furthermore, I feel like their character models are less blocky than the ones used in WoW. I've mocked the way that female characters run in CoX endlessly, but the way they run in WoW doesn't seem any more realistic--just less sexy/aesthetically pleasing. I'm a woman and "butt watching" is pretty important to me.
I do take issue with the assertion that "the less clothes on the toon, the more likely it is to be a guy behind it." I recently did some work on this with CoX players, and it was an argument given by numerous female players--almost all of whom went on to say that THEY had a toon or two with a huge chest and fishnets etc., but they knew that all other toons that look like that belong to 14-year-old boys. The idea that women don't make these hypersexualized avatars is so pervasive that women who do assume that they are bizarre outliers. I don't think they are, although it may be true that men make that kind of avatar more often; I don't know. But this seems to be a symptom of a more insidious gender ideology in these games: people make female defenders and controllers because those are "weak" ATs, and they make a lot of very traditional arguments about what constitutes "authentic" female appearance/behavior. Essentially, in MMOGs, "nice girls don't X" becomes "REAL girls don't X" when people are trying to determine if someone is "really" female (not that I think they actually do that too much--ask people if other players are gender-swapping and they'll say of course, but in most cases I don't think they spend a lot of time trying to decide--they just treat female avatars as female by default).
As a previous commenter notes, however, it does seem to be at least somewhat common for women to create "unattractive" female characters, at least in some games--perhaps particularly in games like WoW where there are races available that are less sexualized. I personally was disappointed in the lack of attractive options in WoW, but for other women, playing a female dwarf presents at least a partial solution to the contradiction of wanting to portray a woman but also wanting to avoid some kinds of attention.
Posted Aug 25, 2006 1:01:56 PM | link
I am a girl that plays WoW. I much rather prefer playing female characters, although I am currently playing a male troll as my main. That experience is a very interesting story, which I'll get into in a moment, but hopefully what I post here will shed another angle on this discussion.
First however, I'd like to respond to some of the comments above:
Richard Bartle said:
"There are many reasons why men play female characters, and appreciation of the visual aesthetics is but one, minor one of them. However, because it's acceptable, that's the one people give."
I definitely agree with you on this one. Guys always claim that they make female characters to "look at a cute female's backside" while they play, but I think this excuse is used far too often for it to be universally true. My theory is that many guys want to explore what it's like to play an opposite gender, just as females may want to make male characters. The only thing wrong with doing that is the fact that they feel they have to cover it up with a semi-macho response. Also, I think the other facet to this is that female characters may receive more attention in games regardless of the player's RL gender. Many people escape to these games to craft a new persona or "life" for themselves, an alter-ego. Female characters seem more conducive to the fantasy of being at the center of attention, being the "star," being popular and sought after, having the upper hand in a situation where the majority of a player base is male, etc.
"I had another girlfriend who did not play video games, but would watch me play RPG's. She said she could not play games like that, because she could not handle the characters -- herself -- dying all the time."
I think this comment can be read two ways. From initial reading it sounded like your girlfriend didn't like to play RPGs because she characterized herself with her avatar so much that she felt pain/sympathy/empathy/hardship/whatever when her character died. I read it a slightly different way. When I play WoW, I hate dying because I hate to LOSE, not because my avatar itself has tragically succumbed to an orc, made dying noises, and fallen to the ground. The fact that I hate dying makes me even more competitive about being successful, so perhaps your girlfriend's comment was more about not liking the confrontational aspect of player versus player gameplay, or feeling like you "lost" to the game.
Okay, so more about my current play status. I used to play all female characters, and they had to be pretty. Don't get me wrong - I've probably created >50 toons, of all races and all genders, across 4 WoW accounts. I took a male Orc hunter to level 54 until I realized why I was more and more loathe to log in on that character - he was male and ran around awkwardly, and I didn't have the same internal fantasy experience in the game when I played him as I did when I was on a female character. At first I thought it was the Hunter class, until I closed my eyes and imagined whether I'd be having fun if my Hunter were actually a female night elf. The answer, to my surprise, was yes.
Currently I am playing a male troll mage. A friend offered this character to me when he decided to bite the bullet and quit the game, and gave me the opportunity to join a guild that is in the US Top 5 in terms of Naxxramas progression (the newest/hardest dungeon in the game...the race for progression is kind of a nerdy prestige thing). Unwilling to pass up the opportunity to join this guild, I took the troll.
My experience playing the male troll has led to some conclusions. I had not imagined that the gender of the character would impact me as much as it currently does (perhaps I should have known from past experience, but I was so focused on being able to access endgame content that it really didn't cross my mind). The troll, for those who don't know, could be viewed as one of the most awkward looking characters. They have big feet, big noses, stoop, and are second largest in size of all WoW models. Objectively, I actually don't find male trolls to look that bad! In fact, I think they look kind of cool. I didn't have a problem with them at all until I joined this guild, where everyone actually makes fun of trolls for a number of reasons (can this be called troll racism? haha!).
Anyway, out of 80 guild members, only two are female. Thus, when I'm on vent with the guys, or in raid chat, I get lots of typical "male-teasing-female" comments, but when my screen shows those comments going to a male figure, it feels a little out of place. It feels wrong to me to be sporting myself in a male body when all other external inputs are being directed to a female person, if that makes sense. In a very humorous way, I have wondered more than once if maybe this is how gender identity sufferers feel - as one of my guildmates put it: "I hear you're a woman trapped in a troll's body."
The truth is, even if it's a game, the fact is that your social interactions with the other human beings in any online virtual environment are the same as in real life. If someone makes a biting comment about you, doesn't it hurt your feelings? If someone does a /hug, doesn't it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? (Yes and yes, don't be shy.) Therefore, it feels disjuncted for me when my social interactions with guild members put me in the place of a "female" when in the game I am treated in the social status of a "male."
Anyway, yes I agree that there is a lot of fun to be had when you're exploring a different race, gender, culture, etc., when you are able and willing to hide behind that avatar. However, when you're in a situation like mine where I can't hide the fact that I'm female, and don't really feel the need to hide it, the fact that my representation in the game is male is counterintuitive. Also, as evidenced by this thread, many people have many different play styles, so it's a good thing we have WoWs and SLs and CoXs to make our lives interesting. :)
Posted Aug 25, 2006 1:55:25 PM | link
I find it fascinating that most of this conversation has revolved around mostly superficial aspects of avatar creation - that is, whether or not they embody a certain cultural norm of what is considered "cute" or "sexy." What about customization features that would allow for much more loose definitions of what constitutes the "body"? For example, I'm curious as to why most avatar-building systems do not allow for (dis)ability customization. And, it seems strange that almost no games allow for multi-species avatars or ones that show augmented humans. I suppose this is because most games are locked into the fantasy-rpg realm, but given the relative popularity of Gamma World and Rifts in the tabletop RPG world, it's still odd.
Just a thought.
Posted Aug 25, 2006 2:09:02 PM | link
Lisa said: An unattractive avatar is so disruptive to my gameplay that I will stop playing if I can’t do something about it...
I totally agree. This is a major reason I could never get into WoW. BTW I've just started playing CoV and I'm totally addicted to creating charcters (like many others I'm sure). And almost all of them are sexy females.
So the issues for me are:
1. I really enjoy avatar customization as a creative activity.
2. The less control I have over my character's appearance and abilities, the less attached I feel toward it.
3. I enjoy looking at sexy female forms in *any* artistic/entertainment medium (in RL too believe it or not). I'll take Underworld or Aeon Flux over Terminator or Mission Impossible any day.
Regarding the attractiveness of avatars: virtual worlds feel a lot like that classic Twilight Zone episode, "Number 12 Looks Just Like You." Everyone looks attractive, there are not many models to choose from, and if you want to stand out, you have to look unattractive (I'm thinking overweight, balding males in hotpants dancing in SWG cantinas).
Posted Aug 25, 2006 2:24:33 PM | link
I'm a guy and I've played both male and female toons, though the majority of my mains have been female. Currently my main is a female Warlock and my alt is a male Paladin. (Note that my Paladin was my original main, until I leveled up the Warlock and took to raiding with her instead.)
Thinking about it, I think I generally prefer attractive-looking avatars and I associate that with a humanoid female.
My first MMORPG character was a male in DAOC. I made my eventual main a female Elf because, at the time, I thought that it just made sense for a magic-using Elf to be female (Elves got a racial bonus or two for magic-using, hence one basis for racial choice - plus they looked cool). That was literally my thought process. As she became my main, I assocated with her and the name used - it became my default for all successive MMORPGs.
Next, I was a human female in SWG. I never really levelled up any alts so I never made a good effort at an alien toon. I made a female because the clothing options for a female were much broader than for a male. There were various outfits – dresses, skirts, tops – all sorts of things. Whereas males in SWG had shirts and jackets, and limited selections for those! I suppose it was like playing dress-up, only online and anonymously. I will note that I experimented being a Dancer in a cantina for a little bit and found getting hit on by other players to be extremely obnoxious. The profession itself wasn't very enticing, either, but the it was really a combination of the two that made me stop that in a hurry.
Then I tried SL for a time. I absolutely love the character customization in SL! I spent hours working on mine and got her looking *just* right. I prided myself on her appearance. She looked like a somewhat-small goth – whitish skin, black hair, black makeup. Very sharp. When I named and created my avatar, I always had in mind roughly what she would look like (and that it would be a she). In a somewhat weird turn (or at least I found it somewhat weird), I was even asked to pose for a photo shoot. At least one of the pics was displayed in someone's art gallery. It felt odd being "photographed" but the gallery itself was cool and I felt honored to have my photo there.
I loved CoH's character creation for the same reasons as SL – so much customization! Even though the actual body choices were more limited than SL, the costume options more than made up for it. The costumes! I spent hours creating new chars with new costumes. I found that more interesting than the gameplay (hence, me cancelling my account). My "main" was a female, ice-based Blaster with the same name as my DAOC, SWG and SL mains.
In WoW, my first main was a male Paladin. I liked the class and felt that the char should be male. I knew, before the game was released, that I would make a male Paladin as my main. It just felt appropriate, "right." My second main, a female Warlock, was also chosen because the combination felt right.
Maybe it's me bending to stereotypes. Female characters for magic, male for tanks. My dwarf Priest is female. My night elf Rogue is female. I made a female Warrior "to be different" (and because some of the plate armor skins look absolutely ridiculous on a female). My Mage is a male gnome but he's not being levelled. My Hunter is a male dwarf but he's not being levelled.
Hmmm. Maybe I just prefer playing female avatars? I don't do it for extra attention (at least not specifically). I don't do it for the "backside" excuse, though I've quoted it as my reason before. Y'know, maybe Bartle hit it on the head - "Because I can."
And for the record, if it wasn't apparent above - I greatly prefer more character customization than less. (SL & CoH ahoy!) However, I appreciate that not everyone does nor should everyone be forced to do so. I've seen too many "off" SL avatars for that.
Maybe it's akin to the whole 90/10 of computer-based realism. The first 90% is easy but it's that final 10%, the hardest part, that will make or break the realism. You can be at 98% or 99% and if the wrong things are off, viewers will instinctively reject it. If a SL avatar is close but off in those subtle ways (e.g. eyes too close, head too small for body), it ruins any attempt at an acceptance of the perceived realism. Just a thought.
Posted Aug 25, 2006 2:46:56 PM | link
The game I play now is Entropia Universe, after a stint at most of the major brands. One thing that struck me was that the avatar customization model allowed for real people, with some strange defects along the supermodel look. For instance, you could be fat in a somewhat realistic way, and the proprotion altering was great. Its nice being able to create realistic looking avatars as well as the ugly and beautiful ones.
Posted Aug 26, 2006 5:51:38 AM | link
this just popped up on the allakhazam home page, apparently the BBC is interested in our relationships to our avatars for a documentary they are working on:
"We're looking for a wide range of gamers (UK and US) to feature in the film - from teenagers to pensioners, newbies to guild leaders, and from addicts to part-timers.
We're particularly interested in hearing from you if:
- You're passionate about your Avatar - whether it's just like you, or contrasts dramatically with your life offline
- You make real money through your dealings in a game
- You are worried about addiction - either for yourself, a friend, or a relative
- You are organising a protest or event in a game
You regularly meet with other gamers in the outside world"
Posted Aug 26, 2006 8:24:16 AM | link
Just my experience, for what it's worth, as a fellow female researcher: I try not to care, but I do.
For example, in Second Life, I have two avatars--one who's "me", and one who's an anonymous research alt. Problem is, since it's through research that I've acquired lovers/sugar daddies (eek, I know), it's my research alt who has all the looks: she's got the best body, shape, hair, etc. that Linden dollars can buy. Now, unfortunately, I can't seem to bring myself to play as "me"--because "me" is a heck of a lot less cute.
Posted Aug 27, 2006 1:19:07 PM | link
I wrote my Master's thesis on a similar issue in World of Warcraft, but without focusing so much on the issues of gendered character creation. I agree, to a degree, that women are focused on a lot of different elements of character creation and development, and especially in a lot of fine details, such as facial features, armour colour and style, hairstyles, and so on. But my research also suggested that men are concerned with similar issues when they are constructing their characters. Responses to my questions about character creation and identification with men yielded a range of issues with characters. One complained that he couldn’t make a male character that didn’t look angry, although he was role-playing a benevolent paladin. Another complained that he had a difficult time playing a supposedly frail priest who visually looked like Conan the Barbarian.
I think the main difference that came up in responses was that while women tended to want an attractive character, men tended to want a character that matched up with their vision of what the character was or could be. This isn’t to say that men don’t want attractive characters – some responses from male players were focused exclusively on the unattractiveness and lack of character options – or that women aren’t interested in creating a character. However, there was more of a bent to a male focus on the character as a means of approaching a role-playing game.
Posted Aug 27, 2006 2:06:36 PM | link
I'm a male who plays female characters in RPGs. Not exclusively, I do play males as well, but I prefer females. My partner plays WOW with me, and she always plays females and has no interest in playing a male character. Usually we get around as a pair of female trolls. My female troll is fierce looking with dreads, piecing eyes and large tusks, where as my partner likes more feminine looks.
My theory is culturally we (both men and women) believe that women are more attractive than men. So when given the choice of anonymously playing an online character, we choose the more attractive, the female. This is especially true in WOW where the male characters are all ugly and macho. I am a fairly feminine kind of guy and none of the male characters resonate with me.
It also seems fairly socially acceptable in WOW for a male to play a female char. It is assumed that all female characters are probably males. In 18 months of playing WOW I've never been hit on once. No one complains when they find out I'm really a guy. In fact I've never even been asked if I was a real girl or not.
I would say that the majority of males playing female characters are exploring the other side of the gender divide in a socially exceptable way in a safe controlled environment. Not like the real world where if that guy trying to hit on you realises you are really a guy in drag you are going to get the shit beaten out of you. Yes, been there done that. LOL
Posted Aug 27, 2006 10:52:04 PM | link
It's so good to know I'm not the only woman that hates an ugly avatar. After playing a Tauren druid to 60, she's more or less permanently retired, mostly because I hate looking at her. I'm much more satisfied with my undead priest these days, although she could use a seriously day at the spa. And she looks awful in her Robe of Insight. These things are important.
Another gripe I have about WoW is how everyone looks like everyone else. Last weekend my guildies and I were in the Hinterlands doing the elite quests in Jinta'alor and there were two other Horde groups there. When our paths crossed, which was often, I couldn't tell one person from the other without mousing over the avatar. As healer for my group, it was annoying. It's true all cows look alike!
I could play on the alliance side I suppose, for the pretty factor, and I have tried, but my guild dates back to the earliest days of EQ1 and I just can't get into playing alliance without them.
Posted Aug 28, 2006 4:08:39 PM | link
As background I played UO in the 90s, Everquest I, Final Fantasy Online, and once ran a large guild in Dark Age of Camelot. I never bent genders in any of them.
Last year a number of game designers I respect told me I "had" to play WoW. I knew it would eat too much of my life so I put it off, but in January 2006 I bought the game and tried it out.
I had recently read some material on MMOs and gender, figured that I would not be playing WoW for very long and decided to play a female avatar and a female identity.
My plan was to play a short while, experience a little bit of how the other half lives and then quit. Of course I got hooked and ended up leveling to 60 and playing until the game got dull in May.
Once I realized that I would be playing for a while I decided I needed a model to work with, otherwise I would never be able to stay in charachter. The easiest thing to do was modele my charachter on my wife, including the way she greets people, gift giving patterns, and various other types of social intereaction. I played an undead mage so it was impossible to model her sense of fashion (go here: http://www.cache.com/, http://www.escada.com/ you won't be seeing any of that on the undead).
It was eye opening in the way that many comments said it would be. That has been discussed a lot before and I have nothing to add beyond saying that my experience mirrors that of many women and people (like me) who have played them.
But I found Helen's obsevations interesting. I found the gender thing to be high impact as well. I suspect this was partly because I had to work at it to maintain my little lie, but also it left me a bit less comfortable because the skin I was in was not my own. I experienced the same disjointed feeling she had.
Since my model was a very fashionable woman I tried to make my avatar look attractive. To Lisa's point, this was effectively impossible. And speaking on my wife's behalf, this is totally unacceptable. I played WoW differently than I played my other games, with a greater focus on fashion. There is not much there, and this is an issue for female gamers. I'm not saying that a lack of pretty cloths, or attractive avatars, is the number one reason that fewer women than men play WoW. But it does show that the dev teams that build these games are not playing attention to something that is clearly, obiviously, without a doubt important to women.
Posted Aug 28, 2006 8:28:33 PM | link
So, there appears to be a strong element of aesthetics and sensibilities, particularly with female players?
If this is a case, then the industry could attract more people with the inclusions of elements that make dress-up dolls, action figures, and other popular play elements. For example, home decoration was a hit in UO, character customization was a hit in COH, etc.
But, how do you really dress up an undead to look fashionable?
Posted Aug 29, 2006 3:14:53 AM | link
Frank said: "How do you really dress up an undead to look fashionable?"
Have you never seen a pretty little Goth gal? 5'2", eyes of blue... but oh what those dripping, poisoned spikes embedded in the back of her wrists can do...
Honey, a gaping hole in the chest through which one can see daylight peeping through may be a turn-off to some... but that's no reason a girl shouldn't be able to dress nice in a matching ensemble that she put together herself, have perfect hair (it keeps growing after you're dead, you know) and a really pretty, delicate katana instead of one of those nasty, huge claymores. Ewww. So tacky. And shoes... Really. The shoes in WoW are just, well... Let's say they ALL look like they were designed by Orcs. Alliance, Horde, Elves, Dwarves... what-ev-er. If Blizzard added the "Louboutin Tribe" I'd swear eternal allegiance and never look back.
Posted Aug 29, 2006 9:33:43 AM | link
But, how do you really dress up an undead to look fashionable?
Posted Aug 29, 2006 4:13:53 PM | link
I was talking about WoW Undead. Guild War got the goth fashion down. Well, at least based on my own sense of aesthetics.
Posted Aug 29, 2006 9:29:17 PM | link
This is a truly fascinating discussion, and I thank Lisa for starting it and hosting it.
As a guy, looking back at the games I've played and the characters I created, my pattern seems to be:
- In single player games (baldur's gate, diablo, dungeon siege, morrowind), I almost always create a female character, and stick with her the entire length of the game.
- In MMO games (everquest, daoc, wow), I tend to start with a female character, and then after a few levels I end up creating a new male character, and switch completely to playing with it instead.
My best-guess analysis is that, in a single-player game (or, in my initial days with an MMO, where I'm still playing it like an SP game and not interacting much with other players), I'm relating to the avatar, imagining myself adventuring with her, and I generally design the character with traits matching women I find attractive (light skin, long hair, etc). Whereas, once I find myself interacting with other players, I have to now begin relating as the avatar, and it does start to feel .. not quite right, acting as a female avatar, and I have to switch to a character that's more .. me.
In other words, a difference between feeling like I'm beside the avatar, vs feeling like I'm inhabiting the avatar.
In terms of customizability, I do remember a distinct feeling my first few days with EQ, way back when, thinking, "daamn all these elves look alike!" and thinking they had really, very few models to choose from. In DAOC, I recall you could apply dye to your armor, and so at the very least customize your color scheme. Playing WoW for about a month now, I admit I haven't had any particular feeling of lack of customizability (other than thinking, "dammit why can't my male char could have an eyebrow ring??"), nor really feeling like all the characters look the same. So far I've generally owed this to the distance my third-person camera sits at, where I'm much less likely to see and notice the specifics of character appearance, vs the first-person camera I used when playing EQ.
Posted Aug 31, 2006 5:48:54 PM | link
I do tend to play male characters, but never as mains, except for a while on EQ when I played a male Dark Elf, and a while on Shadowbane, where I played a guy who looked kind of like Uncle Fester. Playing a male is fun, sometimes, but my fondness for helping people tends to make real female players bristle at me.
My mains are usually tinies or uglies. I think that the trouble with the Horde is not the lack of attractive characters (My troll is statuesque and stunning, if a bit fangrily), but rather, the lack of humanity in the characters. Many people have trouble settling into the skin of a monster. As much as I enjoy playing my undead character, I still feel more affection for my green-haired Gnome with the Princess Leia buns. I like the fierceness of the undead character, but I also like the sweetness of the Gnome.
Posted Aug 31, 2006 5:53:22 PM | link
In addressing this topic roundaboutly, I've always felt that our real-world legal system tends to treat females almost paternally, and it extends grace, merit and forgiveness to females far over and above what is normally bestowed upon males for identical offenses. The general idea is that men who fall afoul of the law are criminals but women who do so are merely misguided. These are very traditional, conservative ideas about gender and personal responsibility to be sure, but nonetheless they are present in our court system and actively influence the severity of punishments meted down by what are typically male judges.
Anyway, as this relates to games, in playing a female, which I do almost exclusively, I have always felt that doing so slipped on an extra cover of innocence, so that if ever I was caught cheating I would get off more lightly, or if ever I was griefing, my gender choice would magnify the cognitive dissonance created by the deed. No one expects cheaters to be female, no one expects to be griefed by a woman, hardly anyone expects women to get their jollies from hardcore PvP, and if it were ever witnessed, many players readily excuse the perpetrator for really being a man. There is a standing assumption, both in-game and in real life, that the players who are most likely to cause problems, the ones who will behave most unmanageably - will almost exclusively be male.
Besides that, I have found that in playing a female, male players are more prone to gift my character with equipment and gold, and that male game masters are less strict and more polite when mediating a problem.
Likewise, and this is another topic altogether, but if you play as a minority character, non-minorities will tip-toe around your sensibilities. This is not so much a gaming phenomenon as it is a reflection of our world today.
Posted Aug 31, 2006 7:38:50 PM | link
Sorry to pull up a week(s) old topic, but I wanted to add my own experience here.
I agree with Richard on most topics that come up here. On this one, I don't. I came into both MMOs and traditional RPGs seriously after reading through his articles on gender switching, so if anything I was biased in his favor.
In MMOs I pick female avatars about half of the time. I never feel uncomfortable doing so, and I'll readily admit that it's because I find the models to be attractive. The fact that it's such a common answer is a reason to believe it, not disbelieve it.
There ARE times I feel uncomfortable playing these female avatars though: whenever another player begins to treat me as a female. "This guy actually thinks I'm a girl!" I usually find myself getting out of those situations as quickly as possible.
Also, there are times when I intentionally go for "gender bending" or whatever you choose to call it. I have played MUD characters before intentionally trying to pass as a girl. It was hard and a bit uncomfortable. I also play female characters in traditional RPGs. Also hard.
I don't have a fear of trying to play a female role in social situations, but rather I need to be mentally prepared for the part. For me it's very intentional. I also know the reasons I play a female Elementalist on Guild Wars and a female runner in Shadowrun:
Female ele's are hot, and my runner is a fun part to play.
One last point, and a difficult one to say diplomatically. Have the scholarly gentlemen on this forum considered the difference between their own sex drives and those of the average MMO player? This is coming from a guy that grew up with hot 3D elves, mind you.
Posted Sep 4, 2006 3:41:51 AM | link
Sometimes an ugly avatar is essential to really commit the character to the hilt. If you care too much about what others think of you/it, then you can find that your actions are constrained or subdued. Of course, I only find this is the case when objective (grind) content is essential to keeping up with the community.
Posted Sep 9, 2006 1:32:50 AM | link
Gender Choice and Play Style I've played both male and female characters all my gaming life, going back to D&D. I learned early on that the other players react differently to me depending on my character's gender. Male characters ran into fewer hassles and no gender-specific situations (like the DM insisting that my character is pregnant). In both dice-based and online RPGs I found that my intended play style influences my gender choice. I play males if I want of focus on hack-and-slash or solo play. I play females when I want to socialize or quest with others. Consequences of Gender In Guild Wars, where I have 3 females and one male characters, I have observed some consequences of my avatar's gender. In addition to sexual harassment of females in towns, I noticed different expectations about how I will play during missions based on my gender. If I create a party as a male, I am expected to lead the party. If I create a party as a female, I am expected to cede control and follow. On one occasion I created a party for a specific quest, only to have a male fighter (the only male in the party) decide to do a different quest without communicating to the rest of the group. When one of the other players commented that she had no idea where we were, the male observed "You're lucky there's a man around to lead the way." It was a breath taking moment. When I playing with strangers, I most enjoy all-female avatar groups. They tend to communicate more frequently and prefer group decision making. In mixed gender groups there is often one or more players that will not use team chat, runs ahead, and uses ping and drawing on the mini map to try to lead the group. I like to attribute the harassment, stereotyping, and poor communication skills to immaturity - I imaging early teen boys playing at being macho. Avatar Customization Systems I can spend hours customizing my avatar if the game has the options. Be it a human, humanoid, or a galaxy-class spaceship, I want to have my own look that shows off my aesthetic sense and fits with how I intend to play. In Second Life I have done almost nothing except stand around in that strange inflated-doll pose as I try to get the body type and face and clothes just right. And I must agree with ---- - without both a good understanding of attractive proportions AND a really good grasp of the controls, customization efforts can be mediocre and worse. I have yet to find a system I like that uses 3D morphing for customizing avatars. I have had more success with the pick list customizations: Pick your hair style, hair color, eyes, face shape, height, etc. They are not as flexible, but usually render attractive results. Guild Wars uses a pick list customization system, combined with a small variety of armour appearance options, and the results are stunning and surprisingly distinguishing. I usually can pick out my friend's avatars in a crowd.
Posted Oct 29, 2006 10:09:10 PM | link