Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Gender Blending

I have
a dirty secret.

I am a cross-gender computer role-player.

What I mean by this: when I play RPGs, of the console or PC type, if given a chance to create a character, I invariably choose female.

I don't really know why my preference tends toward female characters. Maybe there's some sort of Freudian analysis (sublimated anger toward the creative impulse?). Or a feminist perspective (vagina envy?). Or a politician's answer (Because I care!).

Maybe one of the reasons is because playing the game with a female avatar, while only different on the surface, feels different. The phrase the clothes make the man comes to mind, as do (and god help me on this one) Live-Action Vampire the Masquerade Roleplayers in gloomy makeup, leather trenchcoats and dour expressions.

Even in certain games where females are represented with different possible stats (and those days are thankfully disappearing) or different interaction options (opposite sex reactions being favorable) I don't really change the way I would play normally - I just think I do.

A theory (which is probably only a small piece of a whole):
Picking an avatar that is fundamentally different from myself (females, aliens) or very unlike my own appearance (tall, incredibly thin, incredibly muscular) increases the immersion factor for me and makes it easier for me to play against type (E.g., becoming a Dark Jedi).

Another theory:
Maybe a character that is not-like-me is more easily imagined as a separate, intelligent being, and thus it becomes easier to empathize with them. It isn't about my decisions, but about the decisions the character would make. Much like the way authors often talk about their own characters taking over the dialogue and deciding what to say.

I thought of this post while playing through Knights of the Old Republic II.

To me, there may as well have not been any male characters in that game, for I never used them unless forced to by a scripted scene. The female characters had more interesting conversation choices and were definitely more complex than the males.

Visas Marr, for example, was both a submissive servant and a powerful warrior, who constantly fought between light and dark urges, and who seemed to respond easiest to my words.

Kreia was a bitter, difficult old woman, and I found myself disliking her immensely, not as an annoying game character that just won't do exactly what I want, but as a person of increasing difficulty to deal with and who'd always find a way to disparage my character's comments.

The male characters seemed to either be hopelessly smitten (Atton), possessed of a one-track mind for violence (Mandalore), unfailingly loyal and cheerful (Bao-Dur) or completely open to your will (Disciple).

So I suppose the question I wish I could ask is: with games like this one out there, why are there so many complaints that the games industry ignores females completely?

Fuck if I know. Maybe I'll address this can of worms from time to time.

So how many other gamers out there play the Glen/Glenda switch when a game allows?


n0wak said...

I tend to do the same with third-person viewed games or, well, FFXI for the short while that I did play it.

I thought about why, and the best answer I came up with is: if I'm going to be looking at a character's back side for hours and hours on end, it might as well be a female backside.

Deacon said...

Oddly enough, I've heard that reason given for both Lara Croft's and Solid Snakes's tight, shapely backsides: That if a gamer is going to spend hours looking at it, it should at least be aesthetically pleasing.

I'm of the opinion that if Sam Fisher were a dumpy fatass, that even guys would lose interest after watching him waddle through a level.