Following a link from f13 to Kotaku brings me to a story that the management of the Chinese MMOG King of the World has suspended accounts owned by male players who used female avatars. Supposedly by using required webcams to verify the match between the gender of character and players.
I'm ever so slightly wary of the story itself, but let's assume that this is pretty much just what happened. Other Asian MMOGs ask for an alignment between character gender and player gender. Moreover, the issue is pretty much the #1 most discussed topic ever in the history of virtual worlds, MUDs and RPGs. Read a game-related forum and you could pretty much set your watch by the regularity with which a huge flame-filled thread on the topic arises, and the extent to which players who are new to the genre almost immediately want to talk about this question.
It's easy to see this, as Kotaku puts it, as an "only in China" moment. The webcam part of it seems that way to me for the moment, though there are comparable issues that sometimes come up about how gender is revealed through voice communications in MMOGs. I can imagine some pretty hilarious moments worthy of The Guild with Chinese cross-gender players hurriedly putting on transgender disguises before playing just so they can keep a levelled-up character of the other gender.
But the intensity of the sentiment on behalf of aligning player and character gender in U.S. and European gamer discourse suggests that if there were a way to do this in those marketplaces, some players would very much welcome it. I think that constituency is far from a majority of players. A lot of players strike me as being indifferent to the issue, and others are equally intense advocates of playing across gender (and other identity) lines.
I'd be interested in hearing from TN readers who know the domestic Chinese market well about what's driving this policy, and the extent to which it is a response to what players have demanded versus a defensive attempt to make the virtual world align with official or social expectations.