Why I Play with Girls
Mar 23, 2006 14:11:00

Once again, the MMO-blogosphere has been psychoanalyzing players who sometimes or routinely play avatars of the opposite sex. While many games in the past allowed simple male/female choices, or no choice at all (no one questioned all the men who enjoyed playing Tomb Raider or the women who played Legend of Zelda) the contextual difference in the MMO world is that the avatar interacts with other players and therefore represents another real life player. Terra Nova recently reported at length on some studies that attempt to dissect the reason that A) Men present cross-gender more frequently than women, and B) Men older that 24 are more likely to present cross-gender than younger men. The most frequent reasons given for men playing cross-gender avatars are: the female avatars are more attractive and people treat female characters kindly and are more likely to help or give money and equipment to them. The most common reason given for women to play as men is to escape being treated like a girl. The psychological analysis of this supposed phenomenon seems to be bent on sensationalizing cross-gender play and arriving at some definitive scientific explanation. The study itself seems unnecessary and fruitless, a better use of brain power might attempt to deconstruct and draw parallels between real life personalities and in-game guild constructs. These virtual organizations, their leadership, their rules, and their dramas are worthy of investigation. Nevertheless, Terra Nova and the individuals referenced in the series of articles would lead a reader to believe that everyone who presents cross-gender in MMO games does so because they're closet transvestites, and not due to the overwhelming aesthetic bonuses and in-game political (read: sexual) power gained by female avatars.

With that load of bricks off my hairy-heterosexual-32-year-old-married-with-children chest, I have a story to tell about why I predominantly present cross-gender in MMOs. I'll start by saying that the aesthetics of the characters do have a bearing on my choice (my friends are quick to point that I'm a rather vain player, often choosing armor based on its look if it is reasonably good for my level), but that it isn't the primary reason I commonly play female avatars. Up until 2002, you would have been hard pressed to find me sporting a female avatar. As far as I can remember I had male representatives in all MUDS and multiplayer games (Unreal Tourney for example) until I started EverQuest. As you know, day 1 of anyone's EverQuest experience is anything but forgettable, mostly because of the excitement in joining this new world, but partially because of the confusion. Lucky for me, I had two able guides, my long time gaming buddies who had started well before me, but were still newbies themselves. They showed me enough to get into some battle with my Male Dwarf Paladin. I played him to level 4 and then my friends had to log for the night. I played the Dwarf for a bit longer that evening and then decided to give another class a try. I thought the monk sounded pretty cool so I went to roll one up. Much to my dismay, the human male avatars were horrid looking, so I clicked over to the female. Hmmm, she looks like an arse kicker. "Sure why not", I said thinking she's "just an alt". Well, you can guess what happened. She got to level 8, then 12 then 15 and the dwarf who I intended to make my main stayed at 4. In EverQuest, as a first time player, 15 levels took some effort and I didn't want to start over (this is funny now as I've power-leveled so many characters well past 50 by this point), so I got trapped in that female body, which to be honest, didn't suit me at first. I didn't run around telling everyone I was a guy, nor did I refrain from fessing up to those who inquired. I didn
't flirt with folks to get my way. That kind of behavior is not only creepy, it is somewhat immoral considering the fact that some people have truly found love and happiness with individuals they have met in-game. Add on the fact that I am NOT a role player and am given to discussing stats and game mechanics at length; it made it pretty clear to most (without even asking) that I probably was a guy.

Then I started to notice something interesting about my behavior online. Playing a female character made me a nicer player. I was less inclined to argue, less inclined to shout, less inclined to swear like a pirate, more inclined to help people, and generally, an all around better human being. What I discovered, is that even for a non-role player, there is a certain amount of avatar-personality that rubbed off on me, rather than the other way around. I wasn't placing my personality in my avatar in any intentional RP effort, but my personality was indeed being filtered and tempered by that human female monk, making my in-game personae a bit more tolerant, patient, and kind than I would have been as a male Ogre, Troll, or Drow. The net effect of this is a less stressful play experience for me. In some almost magical way, that girly monk taught me to turn the other cheek, watch my mouth, consider two sides of every story, spend time helping guildies, and be generous with my coin. As a result that monk also improved the play experiences of others. It took some time for me to realize the effect that presenting a cross-gender toon had had on my gaming style, but now that I know, I can pick the way I want to play based on the race and gender I select. If you see me in game as a male orc warrior, you might want to think twice about dealing with me, but if you see me as a female elf healer, you're probably safe.

Submitted by Brent on Mar 23, 2006 14:11:00 CST (comments: 0)


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