Gender Bending & Video Games

originally posted on 12-31-16

There’s something I have to explain before I begin. I am a gamer who is extremely focused on aesthetics. Those small little touches that make a game look great and really pull you into the world, those are what I zone in on most. It’s these little details that make my gaming experience so much better, and sometimes are what really make my opinions differ from my friends and peers.

This is pushed to a new level when I am allowed to create a character. “Oh awesome!” I always think to myself; creating a character does a few things for me –  it allows me to create something that makes my experience of a game unique from anyone else’s, and also panders to my borderline-too-critical-eye for details. There are times where I spend hours in a character creator before I even start the game itself.

When I first started World of Warcraft in 2008, I was playing with a then friend of mine. Going into the character creator, I was presented with choices of races, gender, hairstyles and color, in some cases tusks appearances, and in some piercings. Of course I was having a field day, until I came across a dilemma that is common nowadays: do I make a male or female character. I asked my friend his opinion. He quickly replied that he had always played a female Night Elf, but that it was truly up to me. So I made a female human (now a female Blood Elf).

This was my first lesson into the MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) world. It’s my understanding that the earlier days of WoW were much more rich in players RPing (Role Playing), meaning their online characters were avatars of themselves. In game they spoke to each other in character, they did everything in character. In many ways, this is deemed as an excellent escape – a perfect example of getting away from everyday life and transplanting themselves into a world where they could be something and someone. RPing nowadays is not very common (at least from what I’ve seen)

Some have made the argument that it is misleading to not play your real gender. The aggressive stance against this is usually “It’s my money and I’ll play how I want to.” Well, that’s fair, but unnecessarily antagonistic. An article I read about this topic had a great counter argument to that. The author wrote that if games were truly gender restricted to your specific gender, then men couldn’t play Tomb Raider, and women couldn’t play Halo, God of War, and pretty much almost every other game you can think of. I appreciated that argument.

Going back on track, my decision to start a female character raised the question of “if I play as a female will people assume I’m female?” To me, in the end, it really doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, but it does start a few questions and talking points going.

There are plenty of articles written about this subject, and many of them state similar sentiments, ideas, and opinions. Thinking about it, I came to a few realizations about my own tendencies to lean towards creating female characters.

If you’re intent on playing devil’s advocate, my point could potentially/technically be countered with “but girls/women play females in games where you can play as a female,” which brings me to what is more of a personal preference and thought process. In most games, male characters are portrayed as hulking, almost monstrously muscled beefcakes. I remember one review of Resident Evil 5 stated that Chris Redfield’s arms looks like they had hams shoved in them. To me, there is nothing that appeals to me about that. I don’t mean sexually, I mean in terms of how I view myself as a male and what I find visually appealing in terms of the male form. I’m an average (some say slender but i dont think so) shaped male, 5’7, and I think very overly muscley men look ridiculous. There’s nothing visually appealing to me on any scale, and if you know me in real life, you know that as a straight male I’m not at all afraid to admit when a guy is good looking (my man crushes are Henrik Lundqvist, David Tennant, and Matthew Gray Gubler).

So it makes sense that when I’m sitting at a character creation screen, I create a female. I know what I find aesthetically pleasing to my own eyes, and that allows me an outlet to create, form, and shape. I do not have that kind of creativity with a male character, I simply can’t flex the boundaries of my creativity because I’m not given choices I like. In fact, there are times when it pulls me out of immersion when I’m faced with hulk arms and linebacker shoulders. I have an extremely difficult time identifying and connecting with most male characters in games.

The ongoing discussion on male player – female character has been raging for a long time, and the one point that bothers me the most, but seems to pop up often is: “if I’m going to stare at someone’s ass all day it might as well be one I’m attracted to.” Even just the other day someone said this to me while we were discussing why we made female characters. I have a few things to say about that.

1. If you’re staring at your characters butt you’re probably going to get caught standing in the fire and die. Simple as that

2. #1 is a bit of a joke; really if the primary reason you created a female character is so you can sexualize her in every conceivable way you have much bigger problems.

One problem WoW suffers from is something I actually really appreciate about the game. At some point in time, a system called “transmogrification” was implemented. This allows you to take different armor pieces and weapons you’ve collected/are wearing and mix and match to make outfits. Someone like me, this system is a dream, an addiction within an addiction (I spent 120,000gold on the Grand Expedition Yak solely to have a portable transmogrification station). On the flipside, it also spawned something that the WoW community dubbed “smutmog,” which is the practice of making your character wear the skimpiest items available. I hate this. It ties into what I stated above. I’m aware that some female players do this, and to you I say go for it, but you wouldn’t run around all day going to work and to lunch in lingerie, would you? If you’re a male and do it, please stop. You’re making yourself and men look bad.

Now look, I admit there have been times in games where I’ve dipped slightly into this practice, but I notice when I do and I try to scale it back – keep it on a realistic level.

Technically if you were really reaching you could argue that because I find female characters more visually appealing that I’m enforcing the opposite of what I’m trying to say. While you’d be on some scale admittedly correct, it’s really about my earlier point of my disconnect from how males are designed in most games, and my mindset of going into creating a character and how I perceive them. They are not sexual objects: they are awesome and will wreck you. Really if people took the “…staring at my characters ass all day,” and simply changed it to “I created a female because to me it’s simply more visually appealing,” you don’t sound nearly like such a chauvinistic horny teenager. There’s porn for that.

I’m not just talking about WoW. In ANY game where I’m given the chance to make a male or female, I ALWAYS make a female. There are a few reasons which I hope at this point are obvious, but there are a few more I feel worth pointing out.

Tracking back a touch, I mentioned earlier an article with an argument against having to play your gender (the tomb raider God of War one). My expansion of this thought is that when I’m playing a game, it’s so much more satisfying to me to save the world as a powerful, awesome, ass-kicking female. See, I’m a male feminist. No, you’re not going to find me at rallies and protests. I don’t openly get into arguments about it; I have my thoughts and beliefs and I truly think women deserve so much more than they get in the world, and with that comes POSITIVE powerful female role models in every platform of media and entertainment. The gaming world yes I understand is dominated by men, and it’s slowly changing yes, but that doesn’t change stereotypes and skimpy female outfits worn by overly sexualized (I’m looking at YOU Japan) female characters. Then again, I’ve never 100% identified with men. I am one, and I’m attracted to women, but I feel I don’t fall into the category of “typical male” and I’m actually extremely proud of that. I believe in equal power, and that should transcend into video games. I sincerely feel that women/girls need more powerful capable kickass women in video games (and comics). This is very slowly changing.

Getting off that tangent because I could go on, I don’t feel guilty about playing as female characters. Just because I play as one, doesn’t mean I want to be one, nor identify as female. When you step into a game, you’re stepping into a world that’s not your own, you’re letting yourself escape into a fantasy world where whatever becomes reality. How you play your games is up to you, and I don’t judge people for their decisions, unless you tell me you created a female because she’s got a hot ass or jiggly boobies. Then I’m judging you. Intensely.

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