Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicks and Dudes, or Dudes and Chicks

Zubon at Kill Ten Rats brought up the topic of playing trans-gender characters in MMOs. Basically, being a guy and playing a female character. Or vice versa, being female and playing a male character.

Zubon covers a lot in the entry, including the possibility that it’s our perceptions about gender role that play a part in what type of character we choose.  I'm paraphrasing here, but Zubon more or less postulates that perhaps we choose big ugly males for our Tanks and cute little frail-looking women as our caster types because gender roles tell us women are weak and men are strong.

The unspoken central question Zubon tries to address is why do people choose to play trans-gender characters?

I think the reason this whole trans-gender thing bothers some people is because they see the character as some extension of the player. A trans-gender character is therefore an oddity or weirdness. You are a guy, you can’t play a girl. The more someone believes that the avatar should represent the player rather than the character, the more uncomfortable they feel about trans-gender characters.

Are you Role Playing?
If you are Role Playing, I think Zubon is right to some degree about gender roles. The character you choose to play embodies what role you want from that character. Big ugly male tanks are more popular as fighters because the gender stereotypes say that the tough bad ass is a guy. Of course, that doesn’t preclude someone from wanting to buck the stereotype and play Xena, the Warrior Princess.

In either case, whether you choose Xena or Ugly Tank guy, a Role Player is making that choice because that’s how they want to envision the character. I think this is where Zubon is going with his own personal choices about the characters he creates. Gender choice, in this sense, is about the story and nature of the character. Xena, the Warrior Princess, is cooler than Ugly Tank guy – so let’s model our character after her.

So why do trans-gender characters make some players uncomfortable?  Well, I think many players see such characters as an extension of themselves. The character chosen is what THEY want to be and perhaps even has the virtues and physical attributes they would choose for themselves if thrust into a fantasy world.

Obviously, for anyone with that kind of attachment to a character, it’s a bit weird or odd for them to role-play the opposite gender. And thus, the question of why another person would do that inevitably gets raised. As I said above, the people who struggle with this the most are the people who don’t feel the avatar represents the character, but the player.

Or are you just Playing?
Then there is an entirely other school of people who aren’t role-playing at all. They are just playing a game. The first commenter in Zubon’s article nails this sentiment on the head:
psartho wrote: Holy overanalysis, batman. I play a female character because she’s nicer to look at. If I’m going to be spending all my time staring at an avatar’s ass, I’d prefer it to be female.
These players don’t identify much with the avatar at all. To them, it’s just a pixilated little worker bee doing it’s MMO job. If you are going to look at pixilated worker bees, then looking at the coolest or most visually appealing one is the best choice. There is no gender strangeness or inappropriateness.

Or as I wrote in the comments at Kill Ten Rats:
It’s not a sexual attraction, but I definitely find the female form in some of these games alluring enough to go — hrmph, that’s better than looking at an Orc’s ass. It’s more on a level of “red is more visually appealing than yellow” type of thing. Don’t over-analyze why people find sexy toons visually appealing. Sometimes the simplest answer (they are nice to look at) is the right answer. It hardly makes me, or anyone else, afraid of being gay.
DOA: Volleyball didn’t sell well because it was a fantastic Volleyball game. It sold well because it was visually appealing to a lot of male gamers (myself included).

In a way it’s really ironic that some people question the sexuality of others because they choose to play a trans-gender character. When in reality, for many gamers, it’s that very same attraction to the opposite sex that causes them to choose a trans-gender character.


Klepsacovic said...

I play a female belf paladin; attempting to tank, though I tend to end up as DPS in raid. Maybe she doesn't look as strong, but she is perfectly capable of getting hit in the face. And that just sounded sexist by accident. I mean she can tank!

I think I identify with my characters, but they end up being a bit neuter is my eyes, so I'm not identifying with a female character, but with a holy warrior who wrecks undead. The time I did identify my paladin as female, I got a bit freaked out (wtf? I'm not a girl!) and had to stop playing her for a week.

sid67 said...

I just don't identify with my character. It's more like watching a movie for me. Just because I'm watching James Bond, doesn't make me think I am James Bond.

Although, that's a bad example because I really am James Bond.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it wouldn't be too weird to play male characters, but at least in wow I have only ever had one prominent male character and regretted it throughout his life until appearance changes were added. As for males that play female characters I don't really question them since it is just a game and even though I identify with my characters doesn't mean everyone would.

Stabs said...

As an old school pen and paper GM I got used to running a whole stable full of characters when I role-played.

One of my players might be some heroic warrior fighting for freedom, I'd play everything from the kobold slave who cleans the toilets, the Sorceress of the West who lives in her Cloud Castle of Thunder and Dobbin, the contrary mule.

If we could pick more diverse avatars I'd have alts of every possible description.

I think all story tellers are like this. Which is why you don't see:

Dramatis personae:
Macbeth, the old king of Scotland
Macbeth (in a dress)
Young Macbeth
The Other Macbeth
Sundry extra macbeths disguised as trees

listed at the start of a play.