Gender Bender Madness!

August 13, 2008

So this morning Werit reminded me of a topic I wanted to talk about, sooner or later, on this here blog — the always-dredged up debate / discussion / psychoanalysis of people playing characters of the opposite gender in MMORPGs. You can read his thoughts as to why it’s inconceivable (I do not think that word means what you think it means) for him to play a girl, and then come right back to hear about why I, the manliest Italian under 5-foot-six-inches tall, almost exclusively play female toons.

I’m not shy about it; in fact, it’s kind of a running joke in every guild I’m in that my friends are absolutely shocked if I’m not running around as a pink-headed female gnome or a sassy Buffy-like no-nonsense killer. I once made a guy toon and I think it broke the server for a week. It really boggles me why this is such an issue with people, but game after game, the topic keeps coming up, usually with some dope on a forum blurting out, “I don’t GIT it! Why do guys play GIRLS?” and then it’s a rampant stampede to defend, attack, or explain the deep psychological trauma that folks like me must have suffered to be saddled with such an unclean affliction.

Why play a girl? The most common responses, usually not by people who actually play them, is that (a) guys want a curvaceous form to oogle as they bounce along in the game, and (b) guys are willing to role-play a female toon to get cash and items and favors from fellow weak-minded men. Now, these are almost two separate issues: playing a female character is not the same as pretending to be a girl playing a girl character. Everyone who meets me in the game knows that I am a guy, with all the requisite parts and weakness for leaving the toilet seat up. I don’t pretend otherwise, because that’s more than a bit deceitful, and there’s all manner of hurt (and confused) feelings that can arise as you play the game in that style and build friendships. As for the first response, I’m sure it’s true for some men (guys being the shallow pool as they can sometimes be), but that is pretty demeaning to many of us who have arrived at the maturity level where polygons covered in fifty pounds of armor fail to excite us.

The answer is that there is no simple explanation why some guys prefer to play girl toons (and vice-versa — there are many women out there who play male characters), but I can pinpoint a few reasons from personal experience:

1. We’ve played female characters in video games our whole lives.

Even the most ardent hater of guys-playing-girl-toons has to admit: they’ve done the same themselves. Played Ms. Pac-Man? Tomb Raider? Metroid? Final Fantasy? Half-Life 2? Perfect Dark? Resident Evil? So, there. You’ve crossed that boundary already.

While this can’t be refuted (unless players actually are so terrified of girls they’ve avoided all games featuring them), for some reason, MMORPGs are in a different category to some people than the rest of video gamedom. I suppose it’s because you have the choice of gender (whereas many older games don’t), and because you choose to associate yourself and your personality with something that doesn’t look like you. It’s really a moot point: I don’t look like any of the male characters in these games, either, nor do I look like a blue-skinned elf, or a four-armed alien, or a robot. It’s all the same in-game: no matter what you appear to be, you have the same abilities as if you chose the other gender (I find it funny that MMOs will have racial traits/skills, but never ever gender ones).

2. There’s something about girls kicking butt that’s a ton of fun.

It’s why Buffy was a great show to watch, or why we cheered Ripley on against the aliens, or why women in martial arts roles tend to be just as spectacular as the men. To some, it’s female empowerment. To others, it’s just plain cool. Either way, if it’s more enjoyable for me to watch my character as a female plow through enemy hordes than if my character was a guy, why wouldn’t I play that?

3. It puts the “RP” back in “MMORPG”.

Here’s where we again return to that careful line between pretending and outright deceit. We all, to various extents, role-play the characters we control in game — even if that RP is taking place entirely inside our heads. We assign personality traits to our characters, to where different toons have a different “feel” to them when we switch among them. It’s hard to explain, but hopefully you know what I mean. Deceit is pretending you’re a girl playing a girl to use that to manipulate others, but role-playing is giving that character life and personality within the game world. Repeat after me: YOU are NOT the character. You are playing the character, you have imbued the character with some parts of who you are and what you’re like, but unless you’re completely lost in delusional fantasy, you’re able to see the line between who you are and who that game character is.

Ergo, each character you create and play has a unique temperament, sampled from bits and parts of your personality. I am very satisfied with being a male in real life and don’t ever wish otherwise, but it’s fascinating in a way to play a female toon that I see as a pixelated twin to who I am.

4. Finally, girls just often look better.

There, I’ve said it. No, I’m not talking about ah-HEMs, or *nudge-nudge*, I’m speaking of the overall look and attention that MMO devs tend to give to their female characters. Generally, I find that female characters in MMOs are far more detailed and aesthetically pleasing than male characters. And since we’re pretty much playing an adult version of dollhouse dress-up, why not just surrender to the cause and choose the doll that wants to be equipped with various outfits instead of the guy who wonders why he can’t adventure in a hoodie and jeans?

So that’s why I play females. Shocking, I know! Terrifying! And yet, in Warhammer Online, there will be many careers that don’t offer a female gender (such as the entire Greenskin race), and I’m okay with that too.



  1. I’m a guy an I play female toons because when I play the game I want to be something I’m not. I never play human characters, I’m always going for the toughest or most morbid looking race. I’m going to play a Female DE Disc simply because its all the things I’m not irl. Besides it doesnt really change any of the gameplay. Oh, yeah when guys begin to flirt with my toon I tell em that im a dude. Its always fun to see their reactions.

  2. Out of the games you mentioned, Metroid was really the only one I’ve played. I don’t really count Ms. Pacman though. Final fantasy 1 did not have female characters if I recall correctly and I did play that one.

    I would not say I am terrified of girls, in fact I like them quite a bit (my wife can attest hopefully). I just cannot put myself into character if the character is a female. If I can’t do that, the game is less interesting to me. That could just be a flaw with me. I don’t really care what other people do though, so long as they are having fun.

  3. Voices can also be a factor. I don’t know whether Warhammer will have multiple voice options for each race/gender, but in WoW you’re stuck with one. That’s the voice you’re going to hear telling you that your skill isn’t ready as you frantically slam the button as if your character’s life depends on it (which it may). That’s the voice that tells you that the mob has wandered just out of range. That’s the voice that grunts every time something hits you. If you can’t stand a given voice, but you still want to play that race/class combo for whatever reason, sometimes the other gender is your only option.

  4. And that’s cool, Werit. I certainly wasn’t putting your perspective down. I think, in the end, it’s really nice to have the options to play whatever race and gender that suits you best, and live and let live with that.

  5. I’ve always played females, but then I’m female IRL. Me rolling a male toon would be… unthinkable. I get attached to my toons, and it’s easier when they’re female. Besides, I like the thought of a female character cutting through mobs like butter. I can play one of 1,234,567 other video games if I want to play a guy. So it’s a bit of a social statement I guess. 🙂

    Although the goblins in WAR are kinda cute, so I might roll a gobline one day… granted they don’t have a gender, but they’re definitely more “male” than “female”.

    I’ve also considered rolling a Chosen, naming it “Bambi” and RPing it as a female. XD

  6. Whenever I play a female toon (which is quite often) it’s mostly because I hate the look of the male models. Human males in WoW look like Popeye. Male Elves in LOTRO look, well…bad.

  7. “I find it funny that MMOs will have racial traits/skills, but never ever gender ones” hilarious 🙂

  8. Once you go greenskin, you’ll never go foreski… Er. Just play a gobbo or orc to avoid all these issues! 🙂

  9. good read but I would have rather listened 😀 I miss the chaos cast 😦 when can we expect it?

  10. Syp, man, like always, you hit the nail on the head.

  11. “4. Finally, girls just often look better.

    There, I’ve said it. No, I’m not talking about ah-HEMs, or *nudge-nudge*, I’m speaking of the overall look and attention that MMO devs tend to give to their female characters. Generally, I find that female characters in MMOs are far more detailed and aesthetically pleasing than male characters. And since we’re pretty much playing an adult version of dollhouse dress-up, why not just surrender to the cause and choose the doll that wants to be equipped with various outfits instead of the guy who wonders why he can’t adventure in a hoodie and jeans?

    So that’s why I play females. Shocking, I know! Terrifying! And yet, in Warhammer Online, there will be many careers that don’t offer a female gender (such as the entire Greenskin race), and I’m okay with that too.”

    And that’s how I quit reading WAAAGH, kids.

    Girls in Warhammer actually seem to be suffering from LESS detail.

    But my main gripe here is “lol I’m okay with girls not getting to play other classes.”

    Why the hell are you okay with that? Are you an idiot, or misogynistic? No, really, I don’t mean that as an insult but as a valid question. There are no female tanks on bloody Destruction, and one canon female exclusive race was bowled over to give them the option of being males (sorceress) yet they can’t seem to wrap their heads around making chosen and marauders female when people have supplied plenty of good art and reason for that and their only response is a weak “ohh well we can’t make them look iconic..”

    It’s stupid to alienate an entire gender from two archetypes (Tank and MDPS) both from my lorenut perspective (chaos is, honestly, the least sexist side. We all know it. If you don’t, you’re obviously not a lorenut) and from a business perspective. You’re forcing women who want to play Destruction and prefer to play their actual gender in MMOs to either have to play a male or have to play a typical bikini babe. It’s like they’re telling women to go Order to go home, in a way.

    And really, have you even noticed the vitriol directed at witch elves? Some guys are really pissed over the “rogue” of destruction being female only, but when this hate is brought up people either agree or ignore it.

    Yet when the BASELESS gender limits on chosen and marauder and PRESUMABLY Black Guard if it ever makes it into the game people get attacked for it.

    As a MALE feminist it annoys me, and it really hurts my chances of playing on my preferred side because I think Destruction will be home of the loathsome sexists/apathetics and because it’s pretty much killed all will to play anything but Order in my girlfriend.

    The community is also very odd, but I guess that’s because it’s Warhammer. Not a typically female associated IP, but I still didn’t expect my Warhammer comrades to be such misogynists (maybe just the really loud ones are, I don’t know. WHA topics about gender turn into flamewars) especially when DAoC was home of probably the best MMO community I’d ever had the pleasure of playing with.

    I just hope it shapes up when the game’s released.

    Yeah, I’m ranting, incoherently at times even, but this subject obviously gets my goat.

  12. (Ahem, I was kidding about the quit reading WAAAGH business if you couldn’t tell. It’s there for dramatic effect and to get attention.)

  13. Mr. Oi, you misread my last sentence, but thanks for flying off the handle anyway. I wasn’t saying it’s okay that there aren’t two gender choices for each career, merely that I’m okay with having to play a male (or fungi-androgynous) toon from time to time if I have to.

  14. I play both male and female in games that let me choose gender. It’s really an aesthetic decision, all credit for my choice goes to the games artists. Although, I’m far less likely to play feminine male characters…Lumberjacks FTW.

  15. I have played both genders in MMOs, but recently, my female characters make it much further along. For me, it is the aesthetic quality of the rear-end that I’m going to have to watch run around the screen for hours on end. If I have to see their arse for hours, it might as well be at least more pleasant to watch!

  16. ” in Warhammer Online, there will be many careers that don’t offer a female gender (such as the entire Greenskin race), and I’m okay with that too.”

    First: that wasn’t flying off the handle. It was a rant. A rather controlled one. Sure, it was negative in tone but most rants tend to be. Beyond the “misogynistic or idiot” question (which I clearly stated wasn’t an insult. Perhaps I should have used a better word than idiot. My apologies.) I don’t see where I was really out of line.

    Secondly: You clearly said that many careers won’t allow people to play females and you said you were okay with that. You don’t make any mention of it being fine specifically that YOU have to play a male character from time to time, only that “you’re okay with some careers not offering female careers.”

  17. Oi, there’s a lot you can learn on tact. You’re calling him and this community misogynists, and the only thing you have to derive your conclusion from is that we’re not outraged not all destruction characters have female counterparts. Perhaps you’ve used this word liberally in the past, but its connotations are every bit as serious as calling us all racists; I don’t take the accusation lightly. In the event you’re the victim of several severe malapropisms I apologize ahead of time.

    A friendly suggestion is that you take a class or read up on debating, this will be extremely helpful in life. You will never sway someone A) opening your argument calling your target an idiot, or B) making blanket accusations which belittle your audience. You’re doing a disservice to the movement you’re attemption to champion when you use hate speech and accusations to defend it.

    And for the record, the only gender that matters is zombie. I can’t get enough of those things.

  18. Well, I don’t really see what all of this is coming from. Some careers can be male only (Chosen, any greenskin) but then you got Witch Elves that are female only (although scantly clad), so I think it outweighs it. Yea, that the Sorceress can be both male and female is weird, but it’s not too far-fetched.

    The only reason we have gender-specific careers is becasue of the lore, which already existed before the game so it has to be respected. You don’t want to stretch the lore too much or you will have fanboys clawing your eyes out.

    Personally I mostly play female characters, and I’m male. Because no MMO seem to get the male design *right*, displaying them as ruggedly handsome Aragorns with non practical bulging muscles. But you don’t see me ravaging about it on forums. I just sigh and pick the most realistic race, and most of the times it’s the females (if you ignore the breast size).

  19. Hhhmmm, I like playing both genders, and I just realized that I tend to play classes that you wouldn’t automatically think of for that gender.

    For example,

    I’ll play female warriors, and male priests…

    Go figure!

  20. Me, i mostly play male characters in mmo’s, and i’m a girl IRL. for me it’s not so much that i prefer the “male” look, but more that i dislike the “female, flirty, i’m so sexy with big boobs” look, unlike most of the male population. I can’t connect to a female character, so i play the males. Sometimes i even find the males sexy to look at, the bigger, more muscled, the better, like the AoC look. I like ploughing through enemy mobs rambo-style with a big massive 2-H sword or axe, and just can’t see a skinny, pretty barbie do the same. Of course, i have to admit, i have tried female characters as well, but for classes i see more fit for a female role, like a priest. That said, i really don’t care one bit what gender other ppl play, as long as they have fun playing the game.
    I have noticed though that some treat me differently when they find out i’m a girl. They switch from macho-to-macho talk to flattery, concerned talk with offers of “do you need help with anything dear?” and instead of getting the “heya m8” greet in guild chat i suddenly start getting whispers with “good to see you online again, darling”…..

  21. I think you’re exaggerating this part of the problem with gender selection in mmorpgs. There has always been an abundance of idiots on the internet, and after a while you generally just learn to tune their whines and rants out.

    Have you ever thought about this issue from a female gamer’s point of view? Alot of game designs seem to follow the misguided illusion that most gamers are stereotypical teenage boys, and therefore it’s ok to design games that mainly targets them. However, if a girl posts to a forum requesting female versions of avatar classes, she usually gets several pages of “that’s not realistic”, “I used to play Tomb Raider, so it’s ok for you to play this game as a guy”, “go back to the kitchen, games are for boys!” and such.

    Sure, you can argue that _the game lore_ enforces certain sexual stereotypes, but wtf, that’s just some text written by bearded and/or sweaty nerds that probably have had very few relations with women 😛 Changing some slight details with the conversion from tabletop to rpg might be offensive to some lore purists and sexists, but it will benefit alot of female potential players (and indirectly their husbands/boyfriends).

    Even if you don’t rp, one of the main selling points of a mmorpg is that you form a kind of bond with your avatar. And, like Caelis writes above, alot of women won’t identify with females wearing thong armor and having physics animated breasts which usually leaves them with very few character choices. In WAR they’ll be forced to ranged dps or support if they want to play on the side of destruction.

    I can hope that my wife is going to like one of the race/class combinations available, but chances are that we’ll have to continue waiting for a new game we can enjoy together (since we got bored of WoW). No way I’m gonna play one of the wimpy good guys 🙂

  22. Well Warhammer lore itself IS quite misogynist… It may have something to do with being created by a gang of dudes whose chances at the time of ever even seeing a female were slim to none. That may have changed over the years, but the canon lore remains unwilling to acknowledge almost any female of any race. Most of the heroes and villains of lore are male, with females only being mentioned as someone’s mother or other relation. We ARE talking about a nerdy tabletop miniature game here… most of those guys don’t meet many women.

    “Female skaven are docile and barely intelligent, and spend much of their lives hidden away in the nest to breed.” (Warhammer UK site – this one just makes me laugh… no mass marketed product intended to appeal to both sexes is EVER going to sell with lore like this. Females aren’t in the Warhammer tabletop target audience (natch), but I would suggest that leaving them out of the MMO target audience would be bad. Time to change the lore, boys.)
    “Little is known about how orcs and goblins reproduce. No females are mentioned in the main orc background texts; though this is not uncommon across the armies described in Warhammer, there are no female orc models in the current range of miniatures. In the Blood Bowl game, Orc cheerleaders appear to be female, but Blood Bowl’s style is largely tongue-in-cheek and the game is considered non-canonical.” (Wikipedia)

    This isn’t just to do with Warhammer lore though, it’s also a failing at Mythic:
    “While in the Warhammer World there are rare instances of female Chosen, the game developers felt their artists could not design a female Chosen which looked intimidating enough. Hence, in the Raven Host, there are only male Chosen.” (HammerWiki)

    Now that’s just bunk. Did they try watching the Olympic finals for female weightlifting and.or wrestling? Those are some pretty tough-looking women. Probably they just couldn’t make them intimidating AND “hawt” at the same time…. which is really even more misogynistic… the same pretty much goes for marauders, which do show up as female from time to time in the Warhammer lore. The excuse that the game artists couldn’t do justice to a female Chosen or marauder is just that, some lame excuse… maybe some female artists could help with that. Not to mention there are female marauders hanging around The Inevitable City in-game, you just can’t play one… seems to me that if the artists could do an NPC mesh for them, a player character mesh is also doable.

    Hey, Mythic… my wife really likes this game, having watched me play the closed beta, but she thinks you’re a bunch of chauvinist pigs and doesn’t really want to support you for it.

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