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Sep 25, 2007



* Obligatory mention that for a small but significant minority of people, cross-gender play has been necessary to get around limitations of gender and sexuality hard-coded into game systems. *


We clearly need another acronym! RGA = Real Gender Alignment. Or perhaps, WYPIWYP = What You Play Is What You Pack.

I can't wait for the game that won't let me play a thief because in RL I'm a clutz...


To Mr. Havens: I recall playing in various Live Action games that required certain skills (ability to pick a simple lock, ability to run distance, ability to actually swing a boffer sword) and some that did not (you could simulate even running with a "skill" command) and I have to admit in Live Action: What You Can Do You Can Do, and No More.

On topic:

I would wager its related to that small group of "ew, you're not a real girl?!?" now having some clout in this game market. I think it's interesting that so many online shooter games do not offer female avatars and it seems that those most opposed to Virtual Transgenderism are those that also tend to see online worlds as 'games to be won'.

Definetly watching this space for more discussion on how localized this is.



Eve-Online is a interesting case. On the one hand it has probably packs the most fighter-pilot-esque machismo of the bigger mmogs out there (and relative to the other mmogs, fewer real female players), but on the other hand there are an awful lot of female toons in that game. I think the key is that there isn't much ambiguity - everyone has to hop on Team Speak after a while. Also the combat focus tends to focus the mind, i think - relative to blatantly social worlds. I think much of what is going on there has to do with guys "like looking at pretty pictures" to the choice of female toons there.


rofl @ WYPIWYP


This is something that Ragnarok Online also does to a lesser extent. They ask you to state your gender when you create your account and then in character creation your character can only be your own gender. The following is taken directly from their FAQs:

To avoid role play related complications and conflicts, we do not support users playing characters of a different gender. Please be aware that the iRO GM Team cannot offer to correct the gender of characters for users that have entered the incorrect gender, either intentionally or by accident, during the account registration. Although we have offered account gender corrections in the past, this is no longer possible due to recent updates to the iRO game. Thank you for your cooperation.(link)

These Asian people are so weird =)


"Aurora stipulates that only female gamers can play female characters in the game, and it requires gamers who chose female characters to prove their biological sex with a webcam, according to the report."

My not-totally-serious response:
"Dude! Best scam ever for (presumably mostly male) customer support. Mandatory webcam hookups with all their female customers. Self-explanatory."

My slightly more serious analysis:
A lot of male players hit relentlessly on female avatars, without bothering to 'check the goods' in the least. Some of these guys probably feel icky when they realize they've been hitting on a guy. I've known more than one female player who prefered male avatars so they didn't have to deal with that (and quite likely the company realizes the value there, as they still allow females to play male avatars).

China is after all the government which just last week banned 'vulgar' American Idol-type shows from prime time, saying that "The performing style, language, hair and clothing of the contestants must be in line with the taste of the masses." We learned yesterday that Iran has no homosexuals...perhaps China simply has no citizens desiring cross-gender play, whimsical or otherwise ;)


I find this suggestion that some players would wish to enforce same gender play rather far fetched, and am basing that on nothing more than my own experience, i.e. talking to other players.

So many male players play female characters, arguing that if they need to look at a character at all times, it might as well look pleasing. Others agree with that, but feel odd running around as females. I've even known male players to play female characters, because female characters get treated nicer by the predominantly male player base. Most female players I know play female characters.

The only argument I've heard against cross-gender play are along the lines of "it's gross to find out that the girl you've been flirting with is a guy". Get over yourself, just because you enjoyed it doesn't mean you're gay. And even if you are, so what?

Ah, yeah, I've been rambling a bit: point is, I don't see this sort of thing happening in the EU.


As a long time notorious gender bender when it comes to MMOGs i never picked a female character because i want to look at a nice arse but because i can. Ironically nobody complains that this halfling is played by a 2.20m tall guy, or that the slim and athletic elf is a 300 pound heavyweight in real life, so why assume that just on the gender part someone should stick to what he or she is for real? If i want to impose these limitations upon me i can as well stay in First Life.


Personally i feel that if people want to play as any sort of character - roleplay or not - then they should be able to. Part of roleplay or even just playing as a certain type of character is to learn what it is like to be that character. The obvious advantage to allowing gender reversal is that the person can "see it from the other side".... if only very crudely and simply and in a very restricted setting.
Broadening our mental horizons is part of our cultural evolution -*puts on stereotype hat* perhaps this is why the Chinese are trying to ban it... it promotes free-er thought and expression? If the government can ban/regulate such an abstract idea as reincarnation then i wouldn't put it past similar people to want to limit more adventurous forms of thought or interaction.


As unwesen mentions,

I've even known male players to play female characters, because female characters get treated nicer by the predominantly male player base.
It is also the case that female players sometimes play male avatars because they get taken more seriously and are less likely to be ignored in combat, i.e. people will listen to them. Though, I don't think it really matters what gender you are in real life vs the gender of an avatar, since it is a game and we play games to "leave reality."


I think all action games should feature men characters. As a guy, i never create or play female character. It just doesn't feel right.


While I do not see any regulation like this actually passing in an American based game, I have met quite a few players that would not necessarily be opposed to it. While running with a group of hard core raiders earlier in my WoW career, there were very often negative reactions to people who had passed as another gender and then got "outed" when voice chat became mandatory. This was not so much a homophobic reaction to just the men playing female avatars, but also happened to the women who had played male avatars.
In the tight knit guild community of people playing together every day of the week, passing was another form of anonymity and that was simply unacceptable with this group. That is not to say that they were against men playing female characters, they were simply against people cross dressing and not announcing that they were doing so.
Maybe the difference is between people who want to roleplay and those who do not? (The guild I am refering to was anti-role-playing in all respects.)


Learn PHP's comment is a great one because it signals what we really should see as behind this kind of regulation -- visceral reactions, rather than ideologies. Visceral discomfort with difference or the unfamiliar is culturally shaped, rather than natural, but it is pernicious and difficult to confront precisely because it feels so natural. It's always illuminating to students in my intro to cultural anthropology to see a list of animals and plants and have to check which ones fit the category of "food" to them. Some of them (maggots, dogs) prompt repulsion on some of their parts, while others prompt it for a minority of students in the room (like cheese). The point, of course, is that every item is a recognized food item for some people somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, arguing folks out of these embodied attitudes is almost impossible -- a broadening of experience (whether they like it or not) is often the best solution (which is why travel is the best education, imho).


Being transgendered myself and an avid gamer, I often use avatars of the opposite sex to express my gender (note the difference between gender and sex there) I also use same sex avatars depending on my mood at the time. Therefore I am quite appalled that a government would take this liberty away from anyone for what ever reason.

There are also other reasons why someone may choose an avatar with an opposite sex to themselves especialy male o female. For example: Aesthetics, I can assure you I prefer to look at a female avatars backside over a males any day; and return values, online you will get a more malleable response from prepubescent teenagers as a female than as a male. Therefore, more cash.


I've been playing various mmos for about 5 years now. Some of the most interesting people I have met were men who role-played as women. And I mean actually role-playing the character not just going as far as a female toon. I was actually dissapointed when I found out they were male, they where the best "girls" I'd ever "met". The whole point of an mmorpg is to emmerce yourself in a world of make believe - do you really thing I am an elven fighter pilot who is married to a rodian hunter and leads a band of trolls into battle??



In a way, voice chat has effectively eliminated cross-gender play from MMO's. You may choose a female avatar, but once you are included into a group or a guild, that choice becomes pretty superfluous. You play an avatar of the opposite gender, but it is clear what your gender is (barring any voice changing software) over ventrilo.

It isn't so much a regulation as it is a consequence of path dependence and the loss of anonymity. As these VW's become less abstracted, the mechanisms that separate the user from the avatar seem more like obstructions than advantages. Anonymity offers strong individual adv's (as you noted), but (again, as you noted) is viewed as detrimental or anti-social to the group.


Is there a middle ground (middle path, har har) between casting this as a viceral response and as an ideological response? Is there a reason why this might be an 'only in China' evolution (I know this wasn't your supposition, just asking your thoughts)?

"Visceral discomfort with difference or the unfamiliar is culturally shaped, rather than natural, but it is pernicious and difficult to confront precisely because it feels so natural."

this is probably a good answer to my first question. Does this extend to hypothetical cases of sexism in a broader sense in these games (As opposed to fears about gender roles, etc)? Is this parallel to gender 'outing' via the inclusion of voice chat in MMO's?


I nearly always play female characters in RPGs. I never really vernture into MMORPGs, so I'm not hoodwinking anyone - it's simply escapism for me to play female characters. Isn't that the point of role play games?

Plus, I play any other action game (Gears of War, Halo, Half Life, FEAR, Rainbow Six, etc, etc) and I'm a male character, because I'm not given any choice. It's nice to have the option in games like Oblivion to play a female character for a change.

Interesting that one of the theories behind gender-fixing is that men don't like hitting on female avatars and finding out they're male. Do genuinely female avatars actually like being hit on in games? Seems like rules like these might actually make the situation worse for the "hit victims".


@Adam: I like the point about how voice provides a different (and more effective) avenue for gender surveillance. The toon is unreliable on that but also, as this case shows, through it a user has an ability to evoke powerful and intimate responses. It is that disjuncture which seems to me to bother many.

On ideology: There is certainly ideology as well -- I didn't mean to suggest that there isn't. Only that the visceral is as important, if not more than, the ideological representations (which often, in my experience, tend to follow from the visceral).

As for the reasons that there is a turn to regulation on the matter in China but not in other places, it would be difficult to speculate as a non-specialist in the area. I think that there are several possibilities, some already mentioned: top-down control as the dominant political form, a politically-charged valorization of something like "authenticity" in human relations (again connected to socialist ideology and the dispositions it both resonated with and cultivated in China), but also informing attitudes toward networked technology, and probably others I don't know.

I'm afraid I don't understand your last questions. Do you mean about how gender expectations are coded into the games? I'd say yes, since the designers are people too ;-).


Being a legitimate female MMO player, and having played both sexes, I can't see why that would need to be banned. I have been hit on as a female character and told, in one memorable instance, "Man, you're ugly" as a male Trandoshan in Star Wars: Galaxies. (The person who made that comment became one of my best in-game friends, and neither of us cared who was running and roleplaying the male toons.)

Who cares what's under the mask a toon provides? I have stuck to the roleplaying side of MMOs for as long as I have known it existed. I play the game to escape, and I don't want to be forced into my real-life persona by anyone, be that other guild members, obnoxious players or someone's government.


Also, be ware. We may be visited by Slashdot. We aren't linked directly in TFS, but the zerg is to follow.



I think this is pretty pernicious and unpleasant, to be quite honest. I've been playing MMORPGs since EQ, and whilst I'm a straight male myself, I've always known quite a number of MMORPG players who were either transgendered, undergoing some form of gender reassignment, or gay and preferring to play a character of the opposite gender to themselves as it was treated more in the manner they wish to be treated.

So I'm steadfastly opposed to this sort of, frankly, idiocy, because I know it's going to harm a lot of people who already seriously marginalized by society, and because frankly, here in the West at least, we've already "gotten over it". No-one playing WoW, for example, can genuinely be surprised that many of the female avatars are played by men. Further, it has a strong socially positive effect in terms of reducing the amount of nerdy sexual harassment that female players are the victims of. Back when I played EQ, and everyone believed a female avatar meant a female player (for me, a long time P&P RPGer, I didn't even consider making a female character strange or unusual), the amount of sexual harassment and unwanted favours one recieved was astounding, and people attempted to force you into "gender appropriate" roles in groups with some frequency. I remember some awful prat trying to stop my SK from tanking because it was "unwomanly". By the era of WoW, whilst an influx of "newbs" to the MMORPG scene initially lead to a return to sexualharassmentland, it's more or less gone away now.

I am given to understand that wild and unchecked homophobia is rather more socially acceptable in China and Korea, so perhaps this is okay as well. I imagine that in these games, as the male players are "certain" that the females are really female, the levels of harassment are truly appalling. In the west encouraging this sort of thing would be appalling from a business perspective, particularly as the market matures and more and more wives and girlfriends play (and as some MMOs find a broader appeal, and bring in more female players independant of that).

Krista-Lee - That's interesting, because my WoW experiences are very different. In all the guilds I've been in, at least 30-40% of the characters have been female, whilst more like 10-15% of the players have been, and it's never been an issue. In the super-l337 hardcore raiding guild (vying for #1 most progressed guild) I was in on EU Nordrassil, indeed, we had one player who was known for his female-impersonating RP (despite being a 6'5" bearded scotsman), and his cyb0r antics, and we actually all thought it was rather hilarious (for his part, he just preferred to act as a female in-game). In another, on NA Doomhammer, most of the male players had at least one female character at 70 (albeit rarely their "main"), and nobody seemed to think anything of it whatsoever.



Not sure that my last question was phrased very well.

Here's try #2.

IMO, increasing gender surveilance, and therefore decreasing ability to mask gender is a more a function of the diminishing presence of anonymity in VW's than it is a revulsion toward gender-bending. So compare a MUD with an MMO with voice chat enabled in the client. In LotRD, the only feature of the game that allowed for gender identification was parsing text (apart from direct questions and guessed based on character gender). The 'space' for cross-gender play effectively encompassed the 'space' of the playable game. For WoW in 2.2, voice chat functionally restricts 'real' (where the gender of the player is completely obscured) cross gender play to a space much smaller than the possible space that the whole game allows (guilds, raids, groups).

To me, this explansion of surveilance itself is agnotistic vis a vis the actual reaction to gender bending.

Do you feel that this is so? Or is there an inherent sexist/heterosexist component to this increasing surveillance? Or, perhaps to avoid the question of sexism, is the cultural component of the increase in surveillance the prevailing one?

This is probably answered by the quick answer, "gender expectations are probably coded into the game."



@Adam: That's a very big question, as you know, and I'd love to let the quote you end with let stand as my answer, but it of course leaves a lot of important stuff out. The first is that the fact of gender expectations being encoded in games does not mean that they are there either intentionally or consistently. We have to live with the fact that the technology is neither entirely agnostic nor entirely conspiratorial. So the question remains of how we can parse this trend that you correctly identify -- toward less anonymity.

To get at this, I think the discussions we've had about voice are very helpful (and Richard has a nice essay about it here as well). I guess I end up in a position that says that the persistence of these spaces, giving rise as it does to established interests, along with their structured challenges (which demand successful performance) lead quite inevitably to a logic of efficiency. That is, we shouldn't be surprised that these spaces prompt groups to measure their success and seek rationally to improve upon it. It is this drive which leads as much to the adoption of TS, Vent, etc., as anything else.

What does this have to do with gender? A lot, I think, since social difference (of gender, or race, of class, etc) can so easily become a bludgeon for members of such groups seeking to further their own participation and advancement at the expense of others. You have a situation where, organizationally, a competitive, "means to an end" set of relationships can arise, combined with an interest in making use of any affordance (like voice) that will increase efficiency. Exclusionary practices find an easier footing the more bandwidth for judgment exists, and the nature of the game pushes groups to widen that bandwidth to accomplish their goals. You might think that a group would, in order to be most efficient at progressing in the game, be very sure *not* to exclude those "different" players who, after all, may be *more* competent in the game. But groups are just as (if not more) likely to take the easier road of letting members' discomfort with difference (if it exists) win the day (and it is often then reinforced by the espoused opinions of popular -- or just vocal? -- members). Confronting difference can be just that difficult (though many of the very best hardcore guilds I know of have overcome this tendency). Anyway, that at least is my speculation about how to sort it out, given my experiences within MMOs and in human groups in general ;-).

As for the construction of the games themselves, that's to a certain extent the same process at a higher level of remove, where the expectations of the target audience can drive everything from policies to technologies (WoW's addition of voice). Although I think that, to the extent that any given game has the freedom to be designed and developed with less dictated by market share (and more by art, let's say), that some of the tendencies to replicate certain social expectations in the code are mitigated.


Well, I'd say that voice/video doesn't get us out of the fire on this one. You have a significant minority of people whose secondary sexual characteristics, gender presentation, and/or voice are ambiguous. Some, but probably not a majority identify themselves as some flavor of transgender, while the rest are simply ordinary cisgendered people who just happen to fall into into the ambiguous extremes of range.

Of course, typed text isn't exactly gender-neutral either.


As an old-school pen-and-paper RP'r and GM, the thing that surprises me is that so many people (apparently) care so much, even in the presence of technology (like voice) or social cues. In the old days (hand me my pipe, there, son), we had guys playing gals and vice versa and *ALL* the stinkin' cues were right there around the dining room table. You got some players who didn't like to play cross-gender characters... but rarely does a GM have the option of only RPing all male or all female NPCs.

Once in awhile a gender-contrast situation might give rise to some hilarity... but it was often specific to the player/character, rather than simply being, "Oooh. Funny. Boy not girl but play girl. Ha." As a large, bearded man, there were occasional chuckles when I'd have to RP, for example, a young girl who was using a "charm" ability. Again... situational, not endemic.

What makes a desire for people (and publishers) to enforce same gender characters troubling to me is that it, once again, breaks down one of the walls that provides me (and, I think, many others) with the core principle of MMO fun; roleplaying.

So even if I'm on voice-chat (or video), I should be able to play the fair, young maid Gwendolyn. Who cares? The game's not really about me, it's about what I'm choosing to invest in the game.

Sod reality.


I think one large reason that I've seen for a male playing a female in an online game is that they tend to 'do better'. You've got a slice of the public willing to give pretty girls the best stuff, level them up, etc. So by 'playing' the girl, I've known a lot of players get power leveled, super gear, etc. just because they seemed to be a cute girl that the fool on the other end just had to 'macho' up to. Also, a little pervy, but if I had to look at someone for long periods of time, as a guy, I'd like to look at an attractive gal. I'm human, sue me.


At the heart of this is 6 letters. MMORPG. The imprtant ones to this discussion are the last three. They stand for Role Playing Game. And that's the point that people are obviously missing. These MMORPGs are just fantasy worlds or universes where you can be someone else. You play the role in that universe that you wouldn't normally be able to. So why not play a member of the opposite sex? I've known several other tabletop RPGers over the years who often played female characters despite being male. Hey it gets a bit odd in the occasional inter-party relationship but that's roleplaying for you.

These things are games of fantasy and imagination. If certain people can only think with their genitalia, that's their problem, let them deal with it if they've been trying to cyber someone they wouldn't normally go for.


erm, Im transsexual, seriously - does that mean I can be both? YAYYY lmaooooo


Interesting point about the list of foods, and how some every item on the list (dogs, maggots etc) is considered food by some or other culture in the world.

But now what about those for whom a particular item is *not* considered food? Do American have to be ok with eating dog because some people do? Are they not allowed to feel icky about that? Or to opt out of inadvertently being given some, because no-one gives their tastes a second thought?

Or if that's not realistic enough for you, are Jews and Muslims not entitled to told "there's pork in this"? Are Hindus supposed to be chilled about beef products in recipes because you are?

To take it back to the gender role playing... you and I may not care, and we many not see why other people would care.

Nevertheless some of them do care. Are they not entitled to feelings and their point-of-view?

If they feel ickly about flirting with someone who turns out to be a different gender than then they feel icky about it. It's not our job to tell them how to feel about it.

In short, if people care about such stuff, which patently some do, the info should be made apparent to them. There must be many ways in which that could easily be done, without limiting people playing whatever characters they like.


So just because some people feel icky about flirting with someone who is black/white/yellow/pink or has genital warts should we now be providing detailed family and medical histories to boot? Please, grow up.


[dslay's response to Jay is far more to the point than the one I've written, but here it is anyway.]

Is it fair to push the food analogy in that direction, Jay? After all, becoming aware that differences in some cultural practices are essentially arbitrary is not the same thing as being forced to practice them! Is flirting an act that involves your body as intimately as eating something? I'm not convinced.

Let me put it this way (to keep that analogy going). Say you go to a restaurant to have a meal with a new acquaintance from work, someone on the way to becoming a friend, perhaps. You order what you want, but your companion takes a moment to decide and ends up ordering something while you're away for a brief trip to the restroom. You discover when the meals are served that your dining companion ordered something that repulses you.

Surely eating a meal together is an act that is intimate to *at least* a level similar to online flirting. So what is the proper response? Should you be offended that you were not consulted? Should we demand that our eating companions clear all of their preferences with us ahead of time? Is the fact of intimate association with someone who has cultural practices that we discover differ from ours so challenging as to justify regulation, just so that we don't run the risk of being offended? That does not seem like the kind of world for me -- I'm not sure it's civically healthy to be insulated from having our expectations challenged.


"Surely eating a meal together is an act that is intimate to *at least* a level similar to online flirting."

so, for you, eating a meal together in the real world is the same intimate as flirting on Messenger with voice and webcam ; could be, surely; but if for you it's the same intimate with playing a MMORPG , then you need a lot of help . Medical help i mean; a real intimate one. You must be a sort of weirdo, if for you a real person equals an alt .

Thomas, i use different gender alts in many games , i use some software for change my voice and i even asked my BF to show his penis on a webcam to my guild m8s. If you ignore this reality and still consider " intimate " and " flirting " in a MMORPG .....i feel for you . I may be rude , but you need a reality-check .


I'm afraid you didn't understood my comment, Amarilla. And I can't claim to fully understand yours, beyond that. I'll ignore the ad hominems.


Having recently begun to play World of Warcraft - my first on-line experience of a virtual world - I will admit to being male and playing mainly female characters. It's not a deep-seated gender-bias, just a practical and aesthetic choice - the female characters are simply better animated. If both genders were equal in their animation and design, then I'd probably prefer to play males.


Wooster>if I had to look at someone for long periods of time, as a guy, I'd like to look at an attractive gal. I'm human, sue me.

OK, the usual four points here:

1) If you want to look at an attractive gal, why do so few gals want to look at an attractive guy? This may not be an "I'm human, sue me" but an "I'm male, sue me".

2) Around 40% of male players regularly play female characters (in those virtual worlds that allow it), a figure which has remained steady since the days of text. In a textual world, there was no way to say you enjoyed looking at a pretty woman's back, so guys who played female characters had to come up with explanations beyond the aesthetic. Macho ones were popular, such as how by playing a female character they could trick people into giving them stuff. Now, though, the aesthetic excuse works really well - it says "I'm so male I play as a female" - so that's the standard response. It's also something that guys will defend to the death as being their entire reason, even though deep down they know it's only part of the explanation.

3) Some female avatars are not pleasant to look at, yet guys play them all the same. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but how many beholders of WoW's orc, undead, dwarf and tauren females find them beautiful?

4) You aren't looking at an attractive gal most of the time anyway. You're looking at the back end of a horse.



I am female. I played a female toon on Warcraft for 2 years and got regularly chatted up and flirted with at least weekly. When I changed to Puzzle Pirate I decided to play a male character (partly to be treated differently, partly because I didn't like the female faces). I've only been chatted up twice in a year. It did amuse my crew mates to hear a female voice the night I plugged in my mic, but no-one seemed offended.
They are both role-play games, I'm not really a giant cow with the power to turn into a bear, cat and seal. Nor am I a male pirate. If people object, they are missing the point of a fantasy role-play game!


If they feel ickly about flirting with someone who turns out to be a different gender than then they feel icky about it. It's not our job to tell them how to feel about it.

If they are so afraid to end up flirting with someone of the same sex then maybe they should not flirt out of real life at all. Would they also be all up in arms if it turns out that the girl they are hitting on is a girl in RL too, but ugly as hell and therefore offends them?


The issue of gender has always been fairly important to me as a gamer. I find it annoying when I have to play a male character (unless the game is based on a particular persons story line) and also when I get to choose a female avatar, but the story line is clearly male orientated (e.g. requires flirting or more with female NPCs).

Then I moved to online games where I could play a female character in the way I want to. Most of my characters are female, but I've found people tend to be surprised to learn that I'm actually female. I used to spend a fair amount of time correcting people who referred to me as 'he'.

Personally I don't care what sex/gender the person behind the avatar is (or whether it matches their character) and unless people directly refer to my own gender I won't mention it. I just don't see it as something that's relevant in the context of a game, just as I don't quiz people about their job, religion or vital statistics.

Possibly because I'm in a relationship I don't understand getting too attached to someone in a game, but if I got to the stage in an online relationship where I was thinking of becoming 'more than friends' then I'd worry about finding out if they were actually male or not. If I was role-playing my character in love with theirs then it wouldn't matter to me (but if I did I'd focus on the love part instead of the cybering part).

I know quite a few people who play cross-gender characters (more male to female than female to male) and I don't see it as anything strange. When I pick a character it's because I have in my mind what goes well for a particular class, if someone thinks a female character works better for a particular class/race combo then I don't see why they shouldn't be able to play it.

Voicechat again, I probably won't use it with people I don't know, becuase I'm a fairly quiet person. But I certainly wouldn't be upset if someone in the group isn't playing 'what they are'. I can see part of the concern from a role-play persepctive, but at the same time if the noble elf warrior I've been role playing with turns out to have a really strong northern accent I'd probably find that just as immersion breaking as finding out he's a girl.

Unless you combine avatars with a picture of the real person playing that avatar there will always be conflicts. You build up impressions of what people are like when you talk to them (through text or VoIP) and it is strange to find out they aren't as you imagined them. I saw a picture of a guildie who I'd imagined to be quite a small person, turns out he's 6' and built like a squadie.

I think people should be free to play whichever gender they choose, it is afterall a game, not an online dating site. What matters to me is the interaction I have with people, not the labels that society sticks on them.


"4) You aren't looking at an attractive gal most of the time anyway. You're looking at the back end of a horse."

Nice toss-off comment but, in my experience, not true. What games are you playing that you spend the majority of your time mounted?

Nevertheless some of them do care. Are they not entitled to feelings and their point-of-view?

If they feel ickly about flirting with someone who turns out to be a different gender than then they feel icky about it. It's not our job to tell them how to feel about it.

They're entitled to feel anything they want. Their feelings, however, should not be dictating the rules for everyone else. I would check off "non-food" if Brussels sprouts were on that list; I can't comprehend how someone could actually put those things in their mouth. I would rather eat a dish of maggots than a dish of Brussels sprouts. They even smell revolting. So should all restaurants be required to remove Brussels sprouts from their menus because they gross me out?

In short, if people care about such stuff, which patently some do, the info should be made apparent to them. There must be many ways in which that could easily be done, without limiting people playing whatever characters they like.

Name one of those ways?

It makes me feel "ickly" to know that some stranger in a game has any RL information about me, including my sex. So you have to include that problem, too. I'm just as entitled to my feelings and my point of view.

Plus, the disappointed males can avoid the problem simply by not making passes at other players; if I am verifiably identified as female, I will be subjected to sexual harassment that I cannot avoid. Even in a game that could reliably prevent that (probably through draconian enforcement systems that would make me dislike it in other ways) there is no way to prevent people from making invalid assumptions about other players ("girls" play support classes, don't like PvP, aren't hardcore, want to be helped all the time, just want to roleplay, etc.) It is those stereotypical assumptions that drove me to play male avatars in the first place.

How about a better idea: lonely guys with gender identity issues should not try to use MMORPGs as an online dating service, and if they choose to avoid the obvious fact that avatars do not represent the players (I wish I was that tall!), well, caveat flirter.


This topic never ceases to amuse/fascinate me. Every time it comes up (as someone said, like clockwork) the responses seem to unfailingly fall into 6 categories:
1) “ew, play your own gender so I don’t accidentally hit on men”
2) “I’m a man and like to look at women’s arses”
3) “I am role-playing and like to try new identities”
4) “I am a woman and play male characters because I am sick of getting hit on”
5) “I am a man and want to get free stuff by playing a woman”
6) “I like to play my own gender whenever I can”

I often wonder about the people who are offended by cross-gender play. I would love to study the folks that fall into these different categories. I suspect that the men (they are usually men in my experience) who are fearful and/or disgusted by cross-gender players would display misogynistic, more gender-based behaviors in general (i.e. they would treat men and women very differently, are insecure about their own masculinity, are generally homophobic, and have deeply ingrained beliefs about essential gender characteristics). I think the lack of accurate social cues about gender in-game disturbs that kind of person because they don’t know if they should treat the person they are interacting with as a man or a woman. That is to say, they don’t know if they should consider them their equal or if they should be helpful but condescending prigs.

So yeah, basically I am saying that people who want me to play my own gender are probably sexist homophobes.

That is an entirely different discussion than the one about tolerance of cultural difference. I could argue that Chinese culture promotes much more strict gender rules than my own and that is why they fall into the “ew play your own gender” category. I feel no compunction to be tolerant of cultural forms that promote gender, racial, ethnic, religious, etc stereotypes. As for their potential disgust at something I might do, that strikes me as their problem.

As an anthropologist I’ve spent a LOOONG time thinking about the role that cultural relativity should play in my approach to other cultures. Cultural relativity is of limited value to me when we are discussing larger issues that promote structural social inequality. I.e. I am wiling to embrace cultural difference to a great extent until those cultural forms are founded upon misogynistic, racist, and/or homophobic values and then I feel comfortable judging them as “bad”.



I WAS going to head off with a side comment about the Richard Bartle essay (re: gaming and VIOP)...then I say him chime in on the thread.

Ahh, well. http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19>Cheers for internet communication. I will anyway. The main takeaway I got from the comments in that essay about game design and VOIP was the hint of paternalism and an overriding concern for the fourth wall.

Voice chat in some of these VW's seems to be an outgrowth of the desire to incorporate formerly 3rd party elements under the umbrella of the game software (And TOS). VOIP got into wow for reasons similar to the introduction of raid symbols (formerly restricted to third party addons). These changes to how players interact with each other were introduced by players acting as 'early adopters'--players whose desire for maximizing utility drove them to push these new elements.

I really liked your response.

Exclusionary practices find an easier footing the more bandwidth for judgment exists, and the nature of the game pushes groups to widen that bandwidth to accomplish their goals. You might think that a group would, in order to be most efficient at progressing in the game, be very sure *not* to exclude those "different" players who, after all, may be *more* competent in the game. But groups are just as (if not more) likely to take the easier road of letting members' discomfort with difference (if it exists) win the day (and it is often then reinforced by the espoused opinions of popular -- or just vocal? -- members).

I think that exclusionary practices dovetail very well (by well I don't mean that it is a happy outcome, just that it is a likely and efficient outcome) with elimination of differences in groups like this--rather than the assumption that efficiency might dictate 'allowing all possible skillsets and individuals to contribute'. For each of these problems presented to the 'early adopters' of these technologies, strong trade offs exist which prompt utility maximizing behavior. Each person brought into the circle brings with them an opportunity cost, the cost of bringing the next best alternative to raid. Once we begin (as you have already said) speaking of individuals in terms of opportunity costs, then we are prepared (and incented) to exclude people who don't fit the general description of competent prima facia. If the prevailing social environment generates expectations surrounding 'competence' that align with young, male, white, etc., then those small groups can begin expressing gender biases and implicitly justifying them through concerns of efficiency. (see http://www.wowinsider.com/2007/03/27/wow-radio-interviews-nihilum/>No girls allowed)

Hmmm. I think I'm largely restating your points here..

We have to live with the fact that the technology is neither entirely agnostic nor entirely conspiratorial. So the question remains of how we can parse this trend that you correctly identify -- toward less anonymity.

So here's a question, and probably on more related to the theme of the thread. Does the trend toward less anonymity move at the same pace as a trend toward gender identification in these spaces? In other words, as we increase observation in these spaces, is gender masking the first to go? Or is gender identification incidental to other observations of behavior (education level, perceived understanding of game mechanics)?

Do all elements of anonymity protect gender identification equally (probably not, but just throwing it out there)?

Although I think that, to the extent that any given game has the freedom to be designed and developed with less dictated by market share (and more by art, let's say), that some of the tendencies to replicate certain social expectations in the code are mitigated.

Interesting. Is this a comment that a drive for market share leads game makers to code in stereotypes (Women proportioned like wasps, large guns, etc) or that social expectations and power structures are a result of the evils of free market capitalism (For my money, both are fair and valid critiques, so I'm not trying to troll)?


@Jen: We agree, I'm sure. I wasn't arguing that this company should be free to do this on culturally relativist grounds -- on the contrary, in fact. I was pointing out that the particular danger is when engrained culturally-located expectations (whether in certain segments of American society, or of China's, or wherever) find a footing with systems of institutional control and certain kinds of technological affordances (and the drive to use them).

@Adam: I think there is no necessary relationship between the proliferation of different channels for interaction online and gender (as an aspect of identity) specifically. Some kinds of communication (text comes to mind) seem to more easily mark class -- at least in my experience. Another possibility is how players carry their avatar; frequent jumping and movement vs. relative stillness (for example) seems somewhat reliably to mark their past gaming experience and then, by rather rough extension, age. But that's pretty broad speculation on my part -- it would be a good research project (that someone's probably already doing!).

On your last question, I'd say more the former than the latter, if only because the latter seems too broad a statement to admit of much critique or nuance, so it just seems less useful for asking more questions.


Personally, I almost always play female characters but I am completely open about being a man. Whether it's that they are easier on the eyes, or just a gender preference is not really the relevant issue here.

I don't play online games to be myself. I would not support any game that forced the insecurities of a few on the collective whole of gamers.

The webcam is a retarded idea, as is voice chat. There is more than sufficient technology out there to alter either on the fly, never mind that they could just have a female associate sit in for them anytime they had to prove it.

Most importantly, the webcam idea is EXTREMELY dangerous for women, never mind a complete invasion of thier privacy. Who ever made the decision for King of the World should really shake thier head.

For those who escape reality to try and flirt with an avatar and then say it's messed up when they find out the avatar is a different gender...well I too can have an opinion on that...some people apparently forget that most of these games have thier origins in ROLEPLAYING games like Dungeons & Dragons. How many of those basement games do you think featured real girls? I didn't play in roleplaying game groups to pick up girls, I did it to excercise my mind and socialize with others while escaping reality. I fyou want to pick up women online, there are plenty of dating services. I find it as equaly uncomfortible when I have to explain I am a man and that I don't want someone flirting with me while I roleplay. The real solution is that this vocal minority that makes all teh fuss should keep thier pants zipped up and play the game.

The first thing one should do when entering a MMORPG is to disconnect themselves from reality. anything you see in there should stay in there unless the involved parties (and ONLY them) decide to take it out into the real world.

On a final note, if only women were allowed to play women characters, I am sure we would not see many women in these MMORPGs; how real would that be? A fantasy world full of men...wow that sounds so interesting I want to buy it right now (sarcasm included).

I think we take enough of reality into our games as it is. On the note of gender equality, one person should have as much right as the next to play any aspect of the story, or the game is flawed from the start.

Maybe I am way off base here...but it's just my opinion.

- sonoyuu


@Thomas: Uh-oh. I jump around a lot on my priest.

As for the last question, what is your example of a game that bucks stereotypes as a result of being more driven by artistic concerns (however broadly we may define artistic) than by the concerns of the market? Let's keep the sample size to games made for a computer (or console, I guess) within the last 15 years by a commercial developer. Also, for my sanity, let's exclude games like Myst (well, mostly because they are abstracted enough to make this question moot)

My knee jerk reaction is to think of games that don't fit the mold of society's expectations of gamer prejudices (God-games, puzzle games), but even the God games seem to reinforce prevailing notions in some ways (How many women leaders in the first civilization, how many 'industrious' Russians/Germans/etc and 'environmentalist' African nations/Native American Nations/etc?).

I'm not asserting that you're wrong. I would tend to agree strongly with you, if only because it seems self-evident. But despite this, I'm scrambling to come up with a good example.


Well, at any rate, I feel validated in my assertion that this issue always seems to grow into a major discussion.

That it should do so points to something incredibly powerful in the basement of MMOGs, without a doubt. Different expectations conditioned by different histories of play and virtuality, different readings of gender in the wider field of the cultures that play and express in these worlds, different definitions of the act of play.


We just got our weekly "what's wrong with those guys who play girls?" thread on the World of Warcraft forums, I'll say here what I said there.

It's a story. Some characters in a story are male, some are female. I have a half-dozen characters I play at least semi-regularly, four male and two female; none of them are representations of me, any more than a character in a story is a representation of the author. The gender of those characters was simply another facet of the character concept, like their class or race.

I used to have a longer answer for when this used to come up with even greater frequency, about how are three types of players with regard to how they relate to their characters.

The first type of player views the character as an extension of themselves; the character *is* the player, as far as the player is concerned. These are the people who are made uncomfortable by characters of a different gender than the player and ask the question in the first place. None of them has ever supplied a good answer for why playing a different gender is perceived differently than playing a different species; I suspect it's because being a different species is not something that occurs in real life and so is not considered as a component of identity.

The second type views the character simply as their means of interacting with the game world; the character is simply the "little dude" for this game, with no more identity relevance than a baseball player, spaceship, or Mario. This is the group that tends to assert the "if I'm going to look at a butt all day it might as well be cute" position, because they perceive themselves as entirely external to the character.

The third type views the character as a character in a story, as described above.

Today's thread is at 12 pages and counting, if anyone's interested; http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=2043945125&sid=1


Andy> As an old-school pen-and-paper RP'r and GM, the thing that surprises me is that so many people (apparently) care so much

Timothy> points to something incredibly powerful in the basement of MMOGs, without a doubt. Different expectations conditioned by different histories of play and virtuality


Nice brackets to the issue. I wonder if part of the problem is an open-endedness in MMOG design that poorly incentivizes choice except with whatever baggage players wish to import from the RW.

I suppose one might limit this to just role-playing (though vaguely I wonder if a more general classification is possible).

For example, imagine a game world where the narrative required 50% female and 50% male players and that people had to play roles and someone *had* to be the princess and someone else the prince or the play didn't move along. Think High School theatre: at least in my day I can recall all sorts of folks dressing up in strange costumes and chipping in playing bit (or not so bit) parts because that was what they liked to do - even if they didn't really care about the part per se. MMOGs don't seem to make those sorts of demands, thus as a consequence, it seems like then one end up with a situation where one has all sorts of people on stage for different reasons - leading to tensions such as this.


Nate>I wonder if part of the problem is an open-endedness in MMOG design that poorly incentivizes choice except with whatever baggage players wish to import from the RW.

Designers (in the west at least) make a conscious effort to ensure that there is no difference between male and female characters except cosmetically. Everything a male character can do, a female character can also do, and vice versa. This is not the case in the real world (men don't have a shot at giving birth, for example). Whatever their reasons for doing this, if designers aren't prepared to impose different constraints that broadly reflect real-world differences, it seems unlikely that they would include story-related ones.

In MUD1, we did have minor differences between the sexes. Male characters started off stronger than female ones, but with less stamina and dexterity (they all capped out at 100 though so after a few levels the difference had gone). We also had some quests that you could only do if you were male and others you could only do if you were female, but there were spells and other mechanisms by which characters could change (or be changed against their will!) from one sex to the other.

These days, even the clothes change shape to fit when you take them from one avatar and put them on another.



Gender. *scoff*

That's such a 20th century notion.

--matt, mostly, but not entirely, joking.


@Adam: Well, if you restrict it to only commercial games, I would expect that you would have a much harder time finding a game that, shall we say, challenges prevailing expectations (about things like gender, class, etc.). But then, as I said, the freedom to create somewhat independently of commercial concerns only mitigates these effects -- a game that challenged conceptions of class may not challenge conceptions of gender, for example. As for examples, Ian Bogost presents a nice set of very challenging games in this respect in his article for the special issue of First Monday that I co-edited with Sandra Braman. His article is here, though he doesn't present any on gender specifically. In a way, though, the MUDs/MUSHs/MOOs did a lot of this (as Richard alludes to), and Julian's My Tiny Life presents the LambdaMOO case in depth. I'm sure many folks here could come up with other examples.


Actually Matt, for the bit that wasn't entirely joking, it's scoffing at gender that's a 20th century notion. In the early 1990s I knew a neuroscientist with great and broadly based evidence about the differential physical structure and functional lateralization of male and female brains. He wouldn't even submit it for publication though, as at the time it would have been a career-ender. Over time that reality changed, and peer-reviewed journals gradually opened up to the ideas that maybe male and female humans do differ in more than just genitalia and cultural norms. Now it's commonly accepted that there are strong and persistent differences in men and women in terms of their neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, as well as in attentional, cognitive, emotive, and other psychological aspects. Gender isn't just about reproduction, nor entirely the result of culturally induced differences.

What does this have to do with virtual worlds? I dunno, probably little. At least little beyond the realities of governments or game operators that feel empowered to regulate this aspect of people's lives, and beyond the 'ick' factor that was brought up earlier in this discussion (and which a lot of recent work indicates also has a strong neurological, and perhaps gender-differentiated, basis). I suppose some might make an "avatar rights" argument here (avatars have the right to be of whatever genders are available?), but those are typically fairly opaque to me anyway.


@Adam: Bwa? Video games, I have found, have a MUCH better record at challenging entrenched social norms, whether that be of gender, class, race, etc. than many other forms, including film.

You want games w/ a non-conformist bent? Well, any game that doesn't (as Richard points out) make any gameplay differences between men and women automatically counts as something that bucks gender issues. WoW, for example, doesn't require fighters to be male, though if you look through literature and film, you'll find most big, beefy tanks to be of the Schwartzenegerian variety. No practical difference between genders; that alone bucks stereotypes. Same holds true in Diablo, another best-seller, and Elder Scrolls.

Most of the best fighting games -- Mortal Kombat, etc. -- have women fighters as well as men. Perfect Dark and Tomb Raider feature women protagonists much more active and violent than we often get in films.

The Sims, one of the best selling games of all time, continues that trend. While it does sit smack-dab in the middle of consumerist America in terms of the reward system, again... no gender requirements. And you can have same-sex mates, which (while realistic) is pretty anti-establishment, at least in many countries.

While there are all kinds of competing examples of stereotypical situations in games, I find it to be, in RPGs, the exception that you get to choose gender without regard for the effect it will have. Yes, the women all look like Pamela Anderson. But the men (the un-undead ones, anyway) all look like Arnold. So... on the surface, some stereotyping. But the gameplay is egalitarian.


I guess, despite all the deep psychology that people are spouting here, that I'd have to second Katie's comment on the 27th - this is roleplay after all. Surely virtual roleplay gives you the chance to be someone (or something) that people might be uncomfortable playing in a face-to-face setting. I never played females when I roleplayed ftf with my friends - but only because I doubt I could have done the role justice. In WoW it does clearly state that there are no gaming differences between male and female avatars, so I reiterate that my choice to use mainly female avatars is aesthetic - though I do like the male trolls... I guess the use of voicechat might make a difference.


What I've always found strange about this issue is why it matters so much - it's a game, it's not like we're all elf ninja pirate zombies in real life either.

For the people who identify strongly with their avatars, that may be true for them, but it's hardly fair to impose that on other players. If you consider gender important in social interactions, what is important about it? A male player playing a female toon, unless they were specifically trying to disguise themselves for in-game benefits (a different issue) would still behave the same way, say the same things, as if he were playing a male toon. Therefore, if gender matters so much to you in terms of behavior and/or communication methods of that gender, you would be able to distinguish the character as being played by a male player simply by the way they behave.

On the other hand, if what you care about with gender is the label itself rather than the behavior, if you respond differently to a male than you would a female doing/saying the exact same things, in an online context where you don't know the person, that's your problem and not theirs.

As for the aesthetic aspect, most female avatars in MMORPGs are designed to be appealing to male players. It's pretty natural that a male player might want to play one. Conversely, as a female player I don't particularly want to stare at a busty girl in a bikini all the time. Someone brought up Ragnarok Online in an earlier post - the characters are gender linked because in Korea they're linked to the citizen ID or some such. Whereas the Japanese version of RO it specifically states that the gender of characters you create on your account is not linked to your stated gender when you sign up for billing. Probably because a game that did wouldn't sell very well over there.


Eve does indeed have alot of gender bending going on, but it can also be a surprisingly progressive community (Ie the Minmitar Gay Rights league, etc. Legend has it Eve's infamous "Back door bandit" is infact a hetrosexual guy playing a gay man, but many of his merry men are the real deal) and so on.

Selene , the leader of the Mercenary Coalition is a guy in RL, and no one really bats an eyelid. And so on.

I actually tried running a female character for a while, even trying to flirt with her, just to see what the result would be. More curiosity over what girl-gamers experience. I was pretty disappointed that the only difference in my treatment was being referred to as "her" instead of "he". Possibly I was a pretty unconvincing girl, but I thought I did ok.

But gender makes stuff-all of a difference in that game, and a player tends to be embodied as a spaceship rather than as a human. I wonder what difference it'll make when the next major expansion lets pilots get out of the spaceships and walk about.


Actually, Back-Door-Bandit's a facinating roleplay. The guy tends to run a fairly comical campy show on the forums, and whats really interesting, is that considering gamers can be hetrosexist little jerks sometimes (OMG DATS GHEY!) , the guys almost fall over each other to flirt with him, "in jest" of course (wink wink nudge nudge) , whenever he appears on the forums. Its quite magnificent really.

Compare this sophisticated (for adolecents) exploration of gender role, with CCPs dodgy treatment of women players (Fashion shows for women but not men at fan-fests. Womens shirts that are adertised for 'exuding sexuality'. On it goes). Yes EVE might be overwhelmingly stocked with nerdy straight men, but the guys seem to be anxious to explore the borders of that.


So... It's been a week since the article appeared. Has the "King of the World" game changed much since then?


Anca says:

"So... It's been a week since the article appeared. Has the "King of the World" game changed much since then?"

Who cares, anyway ?! That rule was not intended to be enforced from the beginning, in the first place;it's just a way to draw attention ; hype PR; as many many other " rules " and EULA provisions wich are never enforced . Nobody pays/plays a game on internet , when it's about to lose its annonimity , not even in China . Uless they'll make it mandatory like the military service rofl .

WoW, for example, doesn't require fighters to be male, though if you look through literature and film, you'll find most big, beefy tanks to be of the Schwartzenegerian variety.

Two words: gnome warriors.

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