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Playing the Opposite Sex

Editorial By Laura Genender on January 24, 2007

Community Spotlight: Playing the Opposite Sex
By: Laura Genender

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Community Manager Laura Genender. Each week, Genender takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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This week on the forums, poster NewMonster asked a question in the General Discussion forums: what do people think of gamers who play characters of the opposite sex? This topic, a common debate in the MMO world, got a good bit of attention when our OP opened up a poll: what do people think of playing the opposite sex in an MMO?

Through the course of the thread, it’s obvious that players are mostly in favor (or at least not opposed to) the idea of players picking the opposite gender for their character. According to the poll in the original post, 80.6% of 136 posters are just fine with gamers picking whatever they want, though the replies show varying reasons for this stance. Vinzent, presumably a male player who plays female characters, makes the most common case: “If I have to watch a butt [while I] grind through 560 levels, it’s going to be a female butt.”

Merv808 plays female characters so he can be original and look different than other characters. “I enjoy playing fighter types. So I like to play females in heavy armor with big weapons. It’s just a way to set my fighter apart from the 10,000 male warriors running around.”

AcidSerra has a different reason for playing a character of the opposite sex. “There is the additional issue of members of the Transgenedered community who ARE the opposite sex of what people have assigned them, but have a very difficult time getting people to understand this. In games they can pick an avatar that is feminine or masculine and not have to deal with whispered back-biting, rude stares, and people with a discriminatory chip on their shoulders.”

When I started my first MMO in 1999, there were many female characters but few actual female players. While the female population has grown in the gaming world over the last eight years, many longtime gamers still assume that female characters are manned by male players – and many of them are. While some guys play female avatars for the cosmetics, like Vinzent, others actually get into the roleplay of being a female player, not just a female avatar.

As an actual female gamer, it’s usually fairly apparently to me when a guy is trying to roleplay a female – yet I’ll admit that there have been at least a handful of times where a man in woman’s clothing (so to speak) has fooled me completely. One high-profile Lineage “female” had the server so fooled that a male admirer was close to buying plane tickets for a visit, before her true (male) identity was unmasked!

While the reverse is less common, you do see some females who play male avatars, usually to get away from the harassment and the flirtation that female avatars bring. As Vinzent continues, “I also suggest every guy here play a female character at least once, just so you see what kind of slobs most guys are.”

Indeed, I can say from experience – playing as a female character gets you a lot of flack. Many people treat you differently once they find out your female – players are almost always more courteous and helpful to female avatars, offering them assistance and even items (another reason many men play female characters) in the game. At the same time, though, women have to deal with being hit on and being treated like they can’t take care of themselves. “I let them know I’m a true female, and usually the relationship changes,” posts Hollyimp. “Even though I could blast them apart with my eyes closed, they want to ‘help’ or ‘protect’ me.”

Overall, I think that players should have the right to play whatever gender they wish, and there’s really no way to stop them. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” posts Mmblade at the very beginning. “If that’s wrong then playing the game is wrong. Being something you are not would fall into this category, so being a knight/cleric/warrior and such would be wrong as well.”

At the same time, though, I don’t think it’s fair to deceive to the point of some “roleplayers.” Once a relationship leaves the game realm and real feelings get involved, it isn’t fair to trick other PEOPLE – not players, anymore – into a deceptive relationship. We need to remember that we’re roleplaying in the game world, not in the real world, and that one player’s harmless joke or escapism can end up hurtful and messy.

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