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On Gender Locking the Classes

William Murphy Posted:
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One thing that everyone here at MMORPG.com seems to agree on, with regards to Black Desert, Devilian, TERA, and other imported MMOs, is that gender locking classes is an unwanted practice. As a player, you either have to come to accept it, or refuse to play what could be your preferred class.  In a genre that’s original intent was to let you play the character of your complete choosing, locking classes behind certain genders seems in opposition of that intent.

But then I stopped caring so much.

Hear me out. I’d still choose to play a male character, because it’s natural to want to control an avatar that somehow speaks to you or allows you to immerse yourself in a world. Heck, there’s a reason that in any MMORPG where they exist, the Human race is the most played. But, as the world turns and I grow older and somehow less stuck in my ways (which I realize is the opposite of what’s supposed to happen), I find myself fully capable of playing my games as whatever sex the game throws at me.

Going to go on a bit of a rant here, but I’m sure most of us here remember when Lara Croft was barely more than two big pixelated boobs. There wasn’t a character there. It was the sexualized male fantasy version of Indiana Jones if Indy had been born a woman. Fast forward to recent years, and the Tomb Raider franchise’s rebooted Lara Croft is not only an excellent character, but the games are better too.

I watch a show like Jessica Jones on Netflix, and realize about halfway through the season that I’m not looking at the troubled PI as a woman, but as a person. Someone with deep emotional scars that I can relate to easily. I play a game like Life is Strange, or Dreamfall Chapters, and the same thing happens. I’m not looking at the leading ladies as ladies… I’m looking at them as people. 

Now, those aforementioned games are different than MMOs. For one thing, a game like Tomb Raider openly asks you to get into the role of its main heroine much in the same way The Witcher asks you to play Geralt of Rivia. Games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect go further and make their player characters damn near sexless, capable of being male or female because… wait for it… the sex of the character doesn’t matter. Their (our) actions are what drive the story, not their chromosomes.

When you go and toss the MMO into that mix, why should it be any different?  I don’t think the problem most people have with playing as the opposite sex has anything to do with the physical difference between a man and a woman (note: I say most).  I think, more than anything, it has to do with losing yourself in the role of a character navigating a world where you’re supposed to be that character.  When I’m tasked with playing as an established character like Lara Croft, I’m not actually inserting myself into her shoes. I’m just controlling her actions. 

In an MMO, my actions are that are of my character, and therefore it can be jarring to think of your character as the opposite gender.  That said, it’s becoming easier and easier to forgive a game its gender-locking ways. The reasons for this are twofold. Number one is because many new MMOs use gender-locking as a cost-cutter and I’d rather not cut off my nose to spite my face and avoid playing them because of this. Secondly, it’s because gender means less and less to me in gaming and in the world at large the older I get.

I love women. I’m a straight man. But I have no problem playing a female character, and doubly so if she’s as badass as the new Lara Croft. The Tamer in BDO may be cute, but she’ll cut you a million ways to Sunday while you’re busy “d’awwing” at her smile and pigtails. So, when it comes to Black Desert Online, while I’d much rather there is a choice, it’s no longer a real issue or “gamebreaker” for me.

So, now I turn to you, dear readers. Set aside the fact that we’d all rather have the choice of what sex our characters should be. Can you regularly play as a member of the opposite sex? Do you make it a habit? I’ve seen plenty of gents say they’d much rather play women in their games, if only because they’re nicer to look at it. That’s damning with faint praise, but it’s a start! Let loose in the comments. I’m sure Daum will be watching.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.