Thursday, December 6, 2007

MMO Gender Bending

Was just reading Pike's blog where she has a recent article talking about why people play opposite gender characters in MMORPGs.

As a couple of people here have inadvertently but correctly mentioned, I am a heterosexual male. Yet I play a female character who I have strong emotional ties to, and who I actually at times speak about in the first person.

As far as sexuality is concerned, I will admit that Mirshalak visually is actually fairly close to my own sexual ideal...or at least one particular element of it. Given the percieved lack of femininity in Orcish females, this could be taken as additional evidence to support the theory that I am, in fact, homosexual...however, I actually consider the character highly visually feminine...just not, perhaps, in a conventionally stereotypical way.

Hence, my initial motivation with Mirsh was as a straight male wanting a female character who I would be visually, and I would definitely even say sexually, attracted to.

However, as time went on and I developed more of a bond with the character, the situation became more complex. I gradually discovered that being a female character, Mirsh gave me the freedom to express certain emotional elements which, stereotypically speaking, Real Men are not supposed to express. These included compassion, empathy, and a degree of protectiveness towards other people which was entirely new to me.

Given the above, I have, on numerous occasions actually, been accused of homosexuality by people who I played the game fairly extensively with. The question of my sexual orientation is one that I've probably actually devoted a couple of years of total mental time to, all up. I eventually came to the conclusion, particularly given my degree of enjoyment of heterosexual sex, that I wasn't actually gay...but that I perhaps quite simply was unusually emotionally active and/or honest for a straight male.

The creation of Mirshalak as a character coincided with a period of my life where I had only recently been able to become free of parental authority; thus, this character served as a vehicle through which I've at least hopefully been able to attain a greater degree of self-knowledge. It had led me to discover that in some ways I actually am a very different person to who I'd actually thought...but then again, a lot of those characteristics which I think of as being radically different are actually the same as those I posessed when younger...they now merely perhaps take somewhat different forms. Mirsh has taught me a lot about myself, and I almost certainly wouldn't have learned at least some of those things if she had been a male character.

Hence, if a person who is playing a different gender character doesn't explicitly engage in sexually oriented behaviour, my own belief would tend to be that having an opposite gender character on its' own is not sufficient grounds for suspicion of homosexuality. As Richard Bartle has written, perhaps the primary redeeming function of MMORPGs is to allow for the attainment of self-knowledge through being able to adopt various different non-real, experimental identities, and then actually inhabit said identities in a relatively neutral environment. From this perspective, rather than accusing a person of being gay, I'd probably actually suggest that they are not fully utilising the potential for personal development that MMORPGs offer if they haven't got a character whose gender is the opposite to their physical one.


Pike said...

*nods* Another great post.

I can certainly understand being able to have an emotional connection with your character-- I have very strong emotional connections to mine too-- I know they're not real, but I care deeply about them nonetheless, because they are sort of "me", and sort of "not me", at the same time.

There are a lot of good reasons for playing the opposite gender in a game like WoW; I personally have been surprised by the sheer number of good reasons that I have been reading about in the past few days. Previously I had sort of thought that there were only a few valid reasons for playing the opposite gender and many of these reasons were hard for me to understand. But there are a lot of reasons out there that hadn't occurred to me before, and I'm glad to be made aware of them.

When I make a character for either a video game or a work of fiction, and it's a main character that I get very attached to, I've noticed that the character usually combines aspects of myself and aspects of those that I admire. So in a way, I'm sort of creating an idealized version of myself. That's sort of what I do when I play WoW, I think, and I think that in order to subconsciously strengthen that bond to me I make my characters female like myself. But you can most definitely have the same strong bond with a differently-gendered character; actually maybe the bond is even stronger because of the gender difference. I dunno though, I've yet to try it. But, it wouldn't surprise me!

lienna said...

Its really interesting seeing this topic floating around the blogs at the moment, I'm half tempted to make a post about it myself, but I'm not sure I can add anything that someone else hasn't mentioned in a lot better detail than I could have. So congratulations on being one of those people!

Xizang said...

Hi Mirsh!

Great post on a topic that I have actually not thought about upon creation of any of my toons.

I identify myself with all the characters I am playing. This does not neccessarily mean that I am schizophrenic, but I am sure they all carry a good part of what I am together with a part of what I want them to be. This part my be something that I am not.

Talking abot the sexual side of it, I just made an interesting discovery:
All my male toons are dwarves! I am not playing any Horde chars at the moment. The ones I used to have have just been created back in the days of frequent server outages, to find some relief in doing different low level quests in a whole different area.
So I am stuck with Allianca, and the only other male I used to have aside from my army of dwarfs was a nightelf druid. I deleted him around level 10ish and created a female counterpart that surpassed him level-wise. This dude just had so little of me, that I was not willing to play any further.
I don't think sexual attraction played the big role in my toons, otherwise I would not have those male dwarfs. Even the females of this race only have limited sexual attraction to offer...
My first female toon was a gnome, and she was created for one sole reason: The /train emote.
I liked that so much that I wanted to be eble to enjoy it anytime, anywhere, on a toon of my own. I can tell that I sort of got fed up with it by level 15 or so. Now the "wooooo chakkachakkachakka woooo" can be heard occasionally around the mailbox in Stormwind.

The only female toon I have gotten beyond level 25 yet, is my lvl 44ish draenei-shaman. Ironically, I level this toon together with my girlfriend, who has one of the same kind, just with a different spec. So this toon is very attractive, at least from her knees upwards. But the time played is dedicated to my girlfriend as the "we play together" time that is so hard to get once your progress calls for something bigger than an intimate two-char party.
Nevertheless, I experience that my shaman is treated as if I might really be female. So if male toons flirt, she flirts back. This is how I want her to be. But you guys better be careful, she will dual-wield once you get too close :P

Xizang said...
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