Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boys and Girls

Well, Friends, the time has come again: PAX East is upon us.

I tore myself away from the disappointment that was Silent Hill: Downpour (I know, I know) and headed out to the Boston Convention Center Friday to surround myself with likeminded enthusiasts and to get a glimpse of some upcoming titles.

That’s all well and good but it’s really not what I’m going to talk about here. Instead, I’d rather focus on an issue that’s been floating around in my mind for a while now and that was exacerbated by the panel I attended that first day called, “Press X Y: Transgender Issues in Gaming”. While on the whole I found the panel to be very interesting what really stuck me was the conversation on games wherein the player is given the choice to play as a male or female character.

More specifically, it made me think of the people who play female characters when given the choice and why. Personally, I will always choose to play a female in a game if the playing field (see what I did there?) remains constant and equal with the male choice. To elaborate, if I play a woman I expect her stats to be equal to that of a man and I also expect the world around her to react the same as it would around him.

Given that the above it true, I play a female character whenever I can because it’s not an opportunity I’m often afforded. It made me think of when I was in high school and my mother walked by me playing Silent Hill 2 and she glanced at the TV, stopped walking, and asked, “why are you a man?”. Knowing nothing of video games, my mother found it strange that I was manipulating a male avatar. She naturally assumed that her daughter would play a digital version of herself.

What’s even more interesting to me though are the number of men I’ve met who say they also play female characters when given the chance. When I ask them why though, I almost always get the same response: “if I’m gonna spend 40-something hours playing a game, I wanna stare at a nice ass.”

Really, guys?


I’m not a man and I don’t know what it’s like to be a man but I’m calling bullshit on that.

I’ve played hundreds of games with male avatars and cannot remember ever thinking, “thank God this dude has a nice ass or this game would be a total bore”. Well, except for when Cole got his “hawkshaw” vest and holster in LA Noire. That was pretty nice to look at from behind but you get my point, right?

The jaded sociologist in me thinks that men who say that do so as a sort of socially trained response, as if playing a female character for anything other than sexual enticement makes them less of a man. Going further, it could even been suggested that if given the chance to stare at a man or woman the seasoned male gamer would select a woman out of a need to objectify her in order to refute the possibility of homosexuality.

A stretch? Meh, probably.


And so, dear gentlemen who have found their way here, I ask you to please think on this and tell me: do you play female characters when given the opportunity to choose? Why? Really . . . why? Think about it.

UPDATE: Not 10 minutes after posting this on Facebook, a male friend of mine (who hadn't actually read the post yet) responded with: "Female. If I'm going to be staring at the backside of a character for hours, I better make the most of it."

I do get this stuff from somewhere, folks.


  1. Becky Chambers actually conducted a survey on this very subject and wrote about the results over at The Mary Sue a few months back - it's an interesting read and I highly recommend checking it out:

    I was one of the survey's respondents, and I don't remember exactly what I said, but I am a male gamer, and I often choose female avatars when I have the option. I'm not sure I actually know all the reasons this appeals to me. One of the big ones, echoed by some of the other male respondents, is that a lot of games' ideas about what masculinity is and how it should be portrayed is completely unlike my own personality and how I want to be perceived (see Gears of War, the Call of Duty series, God of War, any game with a protagonist whose biceps are larger than his head and who never, ever smiles). Playing a female character is often a good way to overcome that disconnect; in World of Warcraft, for example, I wanted to play as a magic user, and the default human male body was so cartoonishly broad-shouldered and muscular that he looked ridiculous wearing long robes and shooting fireballs. That's not to say the female character model was any less unrealistic, but at least she looked like she spent more time studying magic than bench-pressing, and in her case she had a body I COULDN'T attain (except via surgery) rather than a body I WOULDN'T, which was less distracting for me.

    Also, I'm a feminist, and I like seeing women at the center of narratives, driving the plot, being heroic, and kicking ass. As we're well aware, not a lot of games offer that by default, so often my only recourse is to choose the female avatar.

    As for the whole ogling aspect of things, I think that if I'm doing that for more than a few minutes at the start (let alone 40 hours), I'm not really enjoying the game. In a good game my avatar is just an extension of my will, even if it's basically a sentient red robe in a desert. I can't prove it, but I expect a lot of guys respond that way because they're worried that admitting that a female avatar actually represents them in the game world might cast them as dangerously feminine. For a lot of men there's nothing more horrifying, and that's where I think a lot of gender problems in games (and media in general) are rooted.

  2. I have a few reasons why I often choose to play a female character.

    Addressing the 'nice ass' issue first, though I have facetiously said something similar before, it's never been an actual reason. But looks do come into it. I like whatever character I'm playing to look good. Often, when it comes to customisable appearances, I find the options for the female character are the better looking ones, not in a sexual way, but just aesthetically speaking.

    Second is that as a seasoned tabletop roleplayer, I'm not only entirely comfortable playing as something I'm not, be it female, orc, space hamster, or robot. I enjoy gaming as escapism, and what's more escapist than playing as someone different to yourself? So it can be fun to play as something outside my realm of personal experience.

    Also, I agree with the above comment, in that very few male characters are anything even remotely close to relatable to me, simply because of their portrayal. Often the female characters are closer in that sense to my own personality, unlike their (often meatheaded and overmuscled) male counterparts.

  3. I always find myself picking an avatar I find beautiful and female avatars more often fit that description. Not strictly in a sexual objectification way, though I confess that may be part of it.

    I've been playing through Saint's Row The Third now and when it came to selecting an avatar I knew it would probably be funnier to select some of the more extreme options but I seemingly could not avoid picking the beautiful options. I did finally put a small scar on her face to give her some personality.

    I played a female orc in WoW for five years so my taste in beauty may not always be the norm. That and her long braid kicked ass. I never got tired of watching it sway and bounce as she ran. So there's a possibility that I am easily entertained by simple animations.

    The second part is I first started to play female characters in fighting games. They tended to be faster and more agile and that fit my playstyle better, if furiously button mashing can be called a playstyle.