Is It OK To Play A Character Of The Opposite Sex?

When I first started playing MMORPGs (all of those moons ago) I took it for granted that male avatars were played by men and female avatars were played by women. Suffice to say, I quite quickly learned that this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, back then, almost every female avatar was a male player. It’s not something I’ve thought too much about before (I was in prime gaming mode when the whole Lara Croft “OMG play as a girl!” craze was going on remember) yet it’s never something that’s appealed to me in any way. All of my avatars have been blokes and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

I guess I never understood the appeal, as a man, of playing a female character. Not that I perceive female characters to be weak or anything, I just feel that my avatar presents myself to other players and the community in the way that I desire and I want that to be male. Maybe it’s a bonding thing but I don’t feel like I can relate with a female character. I’ve tried but it’s never been my cup of tea and, even in games like Diablo 1 and 2, I never played the female characters.

Perhaps it’s a psychological issue of mine. I went to all boys private school after all (feel free to email me your sympathies) and I’m aware I’ve got a bit of a Nietzsche complex. I usually want my characters to be the biggest, baddest, strongest lug that’s available so I want walk right up to stuff and smack it in the face. I put the T in subtle.

So I’m really interesting in hearing people’s feedback on this. Do you think it’s strange for a man or a woman to play a character of the opposite sex? Are you worried about being perceived as someone of the opposite gender? Do you even care and is it just part and parcel of gaming now?

Oh and yeah, I’m perfectly aware that this article will probably convince people that I’m either a mad chauvinist or a raving homosexual :)

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99 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Honestly, I sometimes just do not want to stare at a dudes butt for hours on end. I also like strong women in real life.

    • Gordon says:

      I remember when my brother got the first Tomb Raider game. He used to get Lara Croft to do handstands for hours on end. It was plain creepy.

    • Wolfshead says:

      This is one of the most common reasons for men playing women in MMOs and I’ve always been perplexed by it. When I play a MMO I’m not thinking of looking at my avatar’s anatomy for the purposes of titillation.

      You never hear women say: “I play a male avatar because I don’t want to look at a female’s butt all the time…”.

      To each his own I guess.

      • Tesh says:

        Aye, there is plenty of cheaper titillation out there on the internet. Who stares at the butt of their character when playing anyway? Shouldn’t you be actually *playing* the game?

      • Gordon says:

        I’ve never found female characters to be titillating either but I known some people who do. Each to their own I guess. I actually wonder if it’s just an excuse though to cover up the fact that they just want to play a female for other reasons.

      • alex says:

        Well… I am a girl and I got sick of playing female chars because I can see pervs staring at my characters clevage. Also, in some games male characters are just plain ugly (like in Guild Wars) so most of the people are playing female ones because they don’t look like stumps. I played female chars so far, but in Aion I dislike most of the female faces and facial features (most of them look like Barbie dolls or worse) so I have picked a male one to play, plus they look more realistic.

        • Gareth says:

          I’ve often wondered the answer to the question, I don’t believe I play the odd female character because I want to be a woman :)

          Each time its generally been because they’ve been the most appealing looking, e.g. the Draeani male has a torse that I find ridiculous, the Blood elf male was just a bit too camp (although I find it hilarious now so maybe that’s just me growing up).

          But when I role play I find it feels wrong to play a female avatar, hence my serious main characters have been male. Also in EQ2 they’re all male, although being Froglok they look beautiful already :)

      • LeaveAreply says:

        My sister will say that ^^ she play male characters hehehe

      • Blake says:

        That’s because a mans butt is much uglier than a females butt (From a mans point of view at least) lol.

    • Jason says:

      Play in first person, problem solved.

  2. Wolfshead says:

    While I think it’s useful to play an opposite gender to see what it’s like to be the other gender I don’t really recommend because of some of the pitfalls. I find sometimes when I played a female avatar male avatars would treat you differently. You also get more people helping you and you get more free stuff.

    The big problem is that many males try to “hit” on you when you play a female in a MMO. That can be frustrating and probably a good learning experience for males to know what it feels like to be the opposite gender.

    From a game design perspective it’s very useful to know how genders react to the opposite gender. It’s interesting how back in the old days in pen and paper RPGs females would always get a charisma bonus. Well the politically correct times of today have eliminated that. But, people who play females are still getting this charisma bonus in the form of free stuff and deferential treatment from males.

    Personally I prefer that everyone play their real life gender in a MMO but I know full well that all is not as it seems. Buyer beware!

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I think it’s one of the reasons why I haven’t want to play a female character. The idea of being perceived as a woman and potentially hit on seems kinda wierd to me. Maybe that’s a sexist thing to say but I like people thinking I’m male.

  3. JC says:

    Me = Male

    1st MMO: SWG

    1st Character: Male. This one was to “get the feel of the game” and it didn’t occur to me to “gender bend.”

    2nd Character: Female. This one was going to be a doctor/dancer and since I was too newbish to know that one simply needed to be in a group with people in order to get the healing xp, I made it a female figuring it would get watched more than a male. My (then) wife “stole” this character since she’d danced her whole life and thought it was pretty awesome to be able to be a dancer in a video game.

    3rd Character: Male. Made it a pistoleer/doctor. My PA had other dancers by then so didn’t need me to be one. Went back male since it was “me.”

    IRL things happened so the previous characters got deleted. But I got talked by friends into starting up again.

    4th Character: Male. Same deal as with 3rd. I’m male, so it was “me” to have a male character. But since I made this one a full-on armorsmith, I really sucked at combat. I *could* farm Yavin for hides, but it was kinda slow, so I re-activated the 2nd account also in order to make a TKM/Ranger for max solo-pwnage of mobs and largest hide harvesting capabilities.

    5th Character: Female. I’d been playing long enough that I’d seen it become more or less a mem of the game that if the character was female it was some sort of entertainer. I made this character female in order to buck the trend. And while skilling up Teras Kasi I got talked into being a dancer. Ended up TKM/Dancer rather than TKM/Ranger. Still a nice pwnmobile/harvester though, plus people never expected to get pwned in pvp by someone wearing a bikini and flying a Master Dancer tag over her head. Eventually dropped dancer and went to the “gun fu” pistol build. Still a nice soloer, but never was quite as good as TKM, imo.

    In the course of all this I met many men playing female toons and women playing as male toons. It became my default to never make ANY assumption about the gender of the person playing the toon unless they specifically stated something in casual conversation that revealed it. “My boyfriend’s picking me up for a date,” “my wife’s got a honey-do list for me,” and stuff like that.

    And becuz I had both a male and a female toon, it didn’t occur to me that it made a difference either.

    In EQ2 I made characters willy-nilly and chose gender generally based on the idea I had for the character. It was never based on “it’s me” or not — only on the idea I had in my head for how the character should be. My “final stable” of toons that I now have is 9 females and 3 males. 1 sarnak, 1 ogre, 1 dark elf, 1 arasai, and 8 high elves (and all of the high elves are evil, and the ogre and sarnak are good — yeah, betrayal glutton, that’s me. I deleted an evil dwarf I had too). I’ve had various other races too, but over time deleted them to clean up character slots or whatever, and when I made new toons based on what sounded fun… it’s just how it ended up.

    My 1 character in EVE is male and it’s the 1st one I ever made. Well.. I do have a female trade alt, but I’ve trained past it on my main so I never log it in for anything anymore. I might use it for “regional market intelligence” at some point, but not now.

    So, happily married male with 3 kids and another on the way, plays both genders in MMO’s with equal aplomb and figures I’m playing the character, the character isn’t representing me.

    • Gordon says:

      I too now make no assumptions as to the gender of the player because I now know that it’s really impossible to tell. Also it’s an interesting distinction you make about the character not representing you – I think my characters do, hence my desire to be male.

  4. I think the “I don’t want to stare at a guy’s butt all the time” line has an interesting relation to the reason why most female gamers who have “gamed” any length of time tend to usually migrate to male characters.

    Heterosexual men who play female characters seem to tend to do so because of sexualizing that character, either indirectly or overtly. (And as a gay guy I can understand this too, I like to make my characters look hot, so playing a female character has no appeal to me when there’s a choice between either sex.) Female gamers create male characters not to view them as sexual objects, but to escape what can be extremely uncomfortable sexual harassment when male gamers find out there’s a real-life female on the other end of the network. Most of the female gamers I know play guy characters and don’t reveal their sex at all, because to do so solicits a host of come-ons and sexual propositions or “advice”– because everyone knows girls can’t play games like guys can, or something. All of my female friends have been driven into creating male characters to escape that and just play the game. The ones who advertise it are the “attention whores” who like all of that anyway, in my experience.

    • Gwen says:

      You’ve hit on the key, I think. For some reason, many guys tend to sexualize their characters, in a way most female gamers don’t, hence the “butt” thing. Because I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t stare at my character’s butt — male or female — while playing.

      Sometimes, I think it comes down to this: Many games have a ton of really ugly male models. When we played WoW, my boyfriend used to make fun of guys who played female characters … until he decided to roll an orc hunter. He hated the orc shoulders, so his hunter was female. And a couple of years later, he got a sex change on his space goat paladin because he hated the way the Draenei men looked (and their animations).

      For myself, I’ve never played a male character. It just doesn’t feel right, so I guess I’m on the same side as the male players who don’t “get” why guys play female characters. But I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced (yet) any of the horror stories of guys hitting on me, stalkers, etc. I am always surprised to meet people who assume character gender matches IRL gender, though, because I automatically assume everyone I meet in game is a guy.

      • Gordon says:

        I’ve met some female players who have been harassed (maybe too strong of a word but you get the idea) by other players so I can understand their desire to be perceived as a male.

        • LeaveAreply says:

          this is where people need to know when to cut the line between real life and gaming in a virtual world.

          First: the developpers of the game could make it possible that when you create your account, once you tell you are male, you can play only male characters. (then lots will select female ^^)

          Second: being male or female, nobody should use a game to ’socialize’ and flirt. there is plenty of dating site or even a social mmorpg.

          its fun to bond with your party or guild members; its another thing to want to date them outside the virtual world..

          just my 2 cents

  5. Longasc says:

    I am sure you also like to play a Barbarian, like Mr. Smithers in the Simpsons. Well, I guess you have seen the screenshots of my Brunhild in Aion, I LIKE to play the opposite sex a lot. ;)

  6. Carthalis says:

    I’ve never understood why guys and it tends to be mainly guys get all bent out of shape about people playing opposite genders in mmo’s. I’ve seen countless threads on various gaming forums that have begun with this very same discussion. I’ve often wondered if said thread starter has found out that the ‘girl’ he was chatting up in an mmo has turned out to be a bloke in real life.

    Since the days of playing Quake 2 back in ‘95 I’ve known countless guys who’ve played female avatars, chatted to them in team speak during clan wars and I’ve never seen it as such a big problem. I’ve played both male and female characters, but 90% of the time I’m always creating male ones. I find it amusing when people get all worked up about it

  7. Albyll says:

    I have lots of alts and pretty much all of them are female. I absolutely do not consider the character to be me in any way. As such, I have a lot of trouble bonding with a male character. Yes, I’m probably doing something along the lines of what Joshua described above.

    I’d point out, though, that when I play with others (guildies, for example), I’m quick to point out that *I* am male, even though my character is not.

  8. As Carthalis said, it really seems to be males who are most vocal about this question, which is always interesting.

    I’ve played both genders, but I tend to favor females in MMORPGs because, while I’m not looking to be stimulated by my character, I also don’t want a repulsively burly stack of polygons to stare at all of the time, either. Many of the female characters may lean towards unrealistic proportions, but at least they’re rounded with some soft edges and a really “human” feel, while the art direction of most males is to make them look like they were chiseled from a block of granite. That may be the heroic stereotype, but some of us aren’t aiming for the over-the-top heroic features, and lean more towards the “average person just trying to do right”. Warcraft is a perfect example; one of my favorite characters was my Blood Elf Paladin, who was male, because he was more average and athletic instead of being a hulking monstrosity (Orc and Tauren aside, who I am fine with playing as male just for that reason). But if I were to play a Human or a Night Elf? I could guarantee I would almost never play male, unless I had a very specific character concept in mind, and that’s simply because their art direction gives them the feeling of squat rectangles shuffling around Azeroth.

    Ultimately, it feels like anyone who cares about it is just too invested. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in a roleplaying group and someone starts trying to cyber with you and it makes you uncomfortable because they’re not a gender you would be interested in, then, fair’s fair. But beyond trying to imprint identity onto a character, it’s nothing but a game piece you can customize, and there will be some people who go for their best desire of aesthetics, with no attachment to the notion that it represents who they are. I can even concede that the social experimentation aspect of gender identity for characters is interesting, and I have experienced that people tend to be more arbitrarily rude to you if you’re using a male character instead of a female one, but that’s not an influence so much as it is people being overtly sexist.

    Really, what I’m getting at is, while one person’s character may represent some ideal manifestation of themself, they shouldn’t hold any conceit that such is the truth for everyone they meet; otherwise, evaluating on that standard is solely a reflection of the judge, and not the person in question.

    • Gordon says:

      Very well said! It’s interesting to me to see how people perceive their characters. Some people think of them as themselves whereas some people think of them as just another object and no direct link to themselves. I wonder if that effects the gender choice of their avatar?

      • It’s a good question; what I didn’t touch on much above was the whole notion of character concept. It’s one of those ideas that you can tread a thin line on; for instance, while I’m not an ardent roleplayer, I will at least try to get in my character’s head and figure out where they come from, why they do what they do, etc, though I don’t go out of my way to act or speak “in character”, I just may make some quest tree and development decisions based on it. In that way, the character can be a personal extension, and a representation of self, but I look at it a little more along the lines of an author’s ability to speak for a manifestation of their personal creativity in a character novel, as opposed to a literal virtual person standing in for the player.

        I think, ultimately, it’s more of a question of a person’s alignment with their character, and whether they exercise that in a healthy manner. In a lot of ways, I see this as the modern reinterpretation of the Dungeons & Dragons controversies many of us have gone through over the years, albeit with a softer edge; instead of players presumably getting so into their character they can’t go on with life if something happens to them, players are now so involved that the identity you choose must be your actual preference on some level, and all the taboo that can come with it. (Not to lend any credence to the false claims towards D&D, though I will point out for those unfamiliar that, even after over thirty years, this exact controversy over player gender versus character gender rages there, with people much less open to the idea of playing opposites.) But as the aside brings up, I guess gender identity and representation is always going to get people up in arms. It’s probably one of those things we’ll never really settle, but it’s always good to periodically take up an issue and just ask “Why is this a problem again?”.

  9. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    In single player games I had no problem, but in MMO’s it wasn’t till I tried Matrix Online that I started making female characters. Before that I thought it was really stupid, etc., etc. But now I make a female character at least once in a game, gives me something better to look at I guess. That and my wife and daughter like it too!

  10. ogrebears says:

    For me it depends on the character i want to build. If it is a tank i tend to male a huge male like character. Other than tanks the sex of my characters tend to be random

  11. To answer the question posed by the title of the post: yes, just as it’s okay to play a non-human character (assuming you happen to be human offline) or play a character with dark skin even if you have painfully pale geek skin.

    There seems to be a fairly standard trajectory of how people react to other characters based on gender. The first impulse is to make a character based on you; any character I make with the name “Psychochild” is one that I identify with a bit more, so they are male. After that, you start to see characters as something distinct from yourself. This often happens the first time you realize that the person playing a character you met isn’t the same gender. Eventually you might start trying to game the system: a guy playing a “helpless female” avatar to get more goodies, or a female playing a male character to avoid unwanted attention and “advice” on how to play.

    I actually like to do the opposite of ogrebears above, where I enjoy playing small, slight female characters in places where you’d expect a big, burly (male) character. I guess I like tweaking assumptions in general: I made my female gnome Warlock in WoW as cute as I could standing next to a ferocious demon.

    In the end, I think people just need to accept that the character presented doesn’t necessarily represent the player behind it. Just treat people with respect and you’ll do fine.

    • Tesh says:

      Agreed, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” about steering a character that isn’t like you in fundamental ways. There may, however, be ways to abuse sexuality and the anonymity of avatars to do unsavory things. Jerks are jerks, no matter what clothes they are wearing.

      I’ve not played as a female (I’m a bloke, happily married to a lovely lady with two kidlings), but neither am I terribly opposed to it, or to others who do so. Strength of character is important to me when I bother with other people online, not avatar gender.

    • Jacob Flowers says:

      I agree with you Psycho. You’ve touched well upon this topic.

      My very first MMO toon was a male, whom I intended to represent me. At the time, I had no idea whether it was taboo or not to play as different genders and such. However, over time, I realized that a virtual world affords you the opportunity to play around and play act should you so choose and experience gameplay from different perspectives. Granted, I’m not asserting this is the end all reason why a male would want to play a female avatar, but it is one.

      In terms people trying to “game” the system, you are absolutely right. I have a friend who is a male, yet plays a female avatar. He has even gone so far as to tell people he is a female in real life. He chose to do this based on the assumption that he would get special treatment if people perceived him as an actual female. Low and behold, his assumption turned out to be correct. He made more gold “being friends” with the boys, than I did farming elementals. Not that I condone his actions, but it is amusing. Right now his only surviving excuse is “my computer doesn’t have a microphone, so i cant talk in vent” haha.

      I’m continuing to read this comment thread, and will post my reasonings later.

  12. Jason says:

    Since its a role playing game, I treat people as they present themselves. Yes, this means if you play a female in game, I will refer to you as “she” and “her”, if that bothers you, don’t play female.

    • Gordon says:

      I do that until I discover the real gender of the play and then things become a little.. confusing. Should I refer to my RL male friend as “she/her” when we’re playing a game if he’s playing a female toon? :)

      • Jacob Flowers says:

        Easy solution:

        If your friend is a male playing a female avatar: refer to them as “she/her” in-game. However while in vent during those hardcore raids, refer to them as “he/him”. If you want to keep things simple, then just address a person by their avatar, at least until you get to know them well enough to where you could ask them personally how they would prefer to be addressed.

        I am a male and play female avatars in some MMOs (not all). I am perfectly secure in my masculinity, but am perfectly fine when someone refers to me as a she/her in-game only because really… convenience is king and its not really a big deal.

  13. nugget says:

    Lol. I am ze ultimate in Superficial compared to everyone else commenting here!

    … I don’t choose the gender by er… gender. I choose by… which character models I find the prettiest. I don’t care if they’re male or female.

    *hangs head in shame*

    …it’s just that there seem to be less pretty boy models (to me) than girl models. So I make more girls. Because they’re prettier. WTB more bishonen! XD

    :( But I don’t like totally Japanese styling either so I’m in a bit of a bind. *mournies*

    • Gordon says:

      One of my WoW alts is called Bishonen! :) It cracks my Japanese wife up :)

      • nugget says:

        Haha! That would crack me up too. XD

        Wandering slightly from the topic, before I quit WoW I saw a widdle boy gnome with the cutest name! Apparently he was a (real) newbie. So in honour of his name, I gave him some cash from my giveaway cause I’m leaving stash (the rest went to guild/friends).

        Gnome Choamsky! (So those ugly boy gnome models are good for something see!)

  14. Occam says:

    My characters are almost always male, as that is what I am most familiar with, being…you know…male myself. That’s not to say that I am necessarily trying to represent *myself* in game. I mean, why can a female human character not represent a male player and a male troll character can?

    To me, it’s like acting…you are assuming the role of a character (that’s why it’s called a Role Playing Game). Good, evil, Dwarf, Gnome, Elf, whatever.

    I’m not really a roleplayer in practice, but I do like to think about it a lot. I don’t talk in character or anything, but I take a lot of time choosing a name and creating a mental back story, or at least having a general idea of what the character is like, and then making sure my character’s choices (as far as faction alignment, etc.) are true to that character.

    So I really think people should play whatever gender toon they want. Why demand that that one facet of the character reflect your true self when it’s perfectly okay that you make them a Dark Elf who is an expert swordsman and can cast magical spells? But at the same time, I am more comfortable in the role of a male, as I have spent all my life as one. :P So that’s why I choose male the vast majority of the time.

    • Gordon says:

      Your acting comment brought up some memories of my school days. As I said in my post, I went to an all boys school and thus when we did plays we never had any girls to play the female characters so one of the boys would have to take the role. I never acted as a female role in any of the plays but I always found the whole thing kinda creepy. It was very strange to see my friends dress up and act as girls.

      Maybe this explains a lot about me and my views towards my male characters :)

  15. Ramon says:

    @nugget: If you hadn’t said it, I would have :)

    I was really torn between a male or female necromancer in Guild Wars, for example. Both are spindly little things. The females look like an emo/heroin addict hybrid and the men look like bulimia victims with heads that are too large. It’s a tough choice. I picked male in the end, because so many 13 year old boys seem to like the emo/heroin addict look a bit TOO much, and because the idea of a thin little necro sending his chubby little minions around to gnaw on enemies is sort of interesting.

    And I made most of my characters Nightfall characters and pitch black (I’m white) because I think the Factions models look very, very boring.

    Now this is going to be controversial. What about white men that play black or Asian-looking women? Is that “worse” than white men playing white women? What about white men playing black men?

    Yep, just checked, all my GW chars are black except for one. My DDO guy is so pale he must’ve lived in a cave, though. Those lofty paladins, always sneaking around sunless libraries learning about Khyber and whatnot.

    Most character creators used to not even allow you to make proper non-caucasian people. Maybe it had something to do with Tolkien’s original vision not really including any of them? Although he did describe some peoples of darker skin. On oliphaunts and all.

    • nugget says:

      Yay! A fellow superficial!

      Yesyes! I also pick customisation (where possible) to try and get a more unique (but still hawt!) look.

      I just recently spent eek-rl-money to change my girl-necro’s hair because it was the same hair as… as at least half the girl necros out there. Now, I am slightly closer to Unique Snowflakeness!

      As for skin colour though, my characters run the gamut. From pasty white to middly brown to very, very dark.

      My girl ritualist has the darkest skin colour available, and suddenly she doesn’t look chinese-type-asian anymore. She looks Indian! ~_o and then I went and named her Bathsheba Sharon because well.. I’m a theology-poetry-geeknugget.

      :( But I wish there were more tasty boy models.

      I do like that the necro boys look so insane and evil though.

      • nugget says:

        Oh! One more thought!

        When I was MUDding, then my characters were MUCH more evenly distributed between male and female, because then, I was customising everything by writing.

        And in that case, it was about writing a funny character + gender that ‘fit’ together, rather than aesthetics.

        That’s related in some way. Honest! *hides*

  16. Marchosias says:

    In most MMO’s I’ve usually used up all of my character slots ‘cuz I’m an “alt-o-holic,” and out of all of those characters, the gender split is about 50-50. In the first game I dual-boxed (DAoC), I made a big fighter type male with a female buff-bot. After awhile that just seemed to be so cliche, I made another set of characters with the roles reversed, mainly just for the “odd” or “shock value” it might have. And sometimes I just like playing a bad-ass chick, like my female necro in Guild Wars, and my dual-blades character in Champions Online. For some reason I really like female katana wielders, must be the whole “Kill Bill” thing…

    And it is true, my female characters always got stuff for free, or were hit on. And yes, it gets annoying. Now-a-days, I always treat everyone “in-game” as if they’re male regardless of what gender the avatar is, unless I know through other means (blogs, facebook, personal friends, etc) that the person really is female.

  17. Kantrellk says:

    I play both male and female toons, and they are usually named after my children as when Im playing they then get a kick out of seeing a character with a variant of their name in the game. The boys even more so in a PVP environment hehe, though my daughter likes me to play pet classes so she can run around with some form of pet in the game.

  18. SmakenDahed says:

    I prefer to play a male, but I have played female characters and understand why guys will do that.

    What I don’t understand is why a woman would want to play a guy?

    • Gordon says:

      I think it’s less common although I think a women would play as a male in order to escape any sort of sexism or harassment that might occur as a result of them having a female toon.

    • Dahh says:

      I’m a girl and I play male characters :) I like to mess around with people. But usually its just a role playing character idea I’ve carried over from a table top game. I don’t mind role playing male characters, and alot of times your character needs to be a specific sex so I dont let my own sex get in the way there.

      • Dahh says:

        …besides its fun to play a male toon and sexually harass my male friends when they don’t know its me. They freak out when some guy comes up to them and starts throwing heavy passes. :)

  19. Ferrel says:

    The gender of the character I play is largely dependent on the character name I intend to use. All of names come from short stories I wrote forever ago. Ferrel is a female character and it feels wrong to me to give that name to a male toon. Aldest is a male character and the same is true.

  20. Shane says:

    I’m an admitted gender bender (a term a little less commonly used now-a-days) and an altoholic. I don’t buy into the idea that a person’s character is a complete and accurate representation of the person actually pushing the buttons. Otherwise, everyone would create characters that resemble themselves as much as possible, they’d be named appropriately (Shane in my case), and nobody would need alts, since we’d also be choosing a class/build that most represents us as people.

    I certainly believe that, especially in the case of altoholics, that each character that we invest ourselves in, and spend a great deal of time playing on is probably somehow connected to an aspect of the player’s personality, and satisfies some sort of psychological need (we’re playing and often addicted to these games for a reason), so it makes sense that all aspects of character creation, not just gender, have certain deep-seated psychological roots. In truth, MMO characters and classes just aren’t complex or diverse enough to really communicate who a person really is, and it’s only when you look at the sum of my characters, (class, spec, function, name, gender, etc.) do you start to really see the type of person and player that I am.

    I’ve often used what I call “the gender bender benchmark” as a means of measuring the maturity and complexity of a person that I am playing with. In truth, I find that those that have characters of both genders tend to be much more open, deep, and interesting people to game with. Those that object to people rolling opposite gender toons, or those that overtly treat characters differently based on gender aren’t the kind of people I enjoy gaming with anyway.

    Gender flexibility aside, I’ve always used a male for my “main”, and applied his identity to guild/game forum accounts, ventrilo, and pretty much everything else. I run a moderate sized casual guild, and most of our members approach this the same way, since most of them are altoholics and gender benders as well. Generally, no matter which character I am playing on, my guildies just call me “Cy” (short for Cylarus) and we leave it at that. Everybody knows who’s who, and which gender they are in real life, and it’s never really been an issue.

    • Gordon says:

      I can’t say that I’ve ever found cross gender (or whatever we’re calling it) players to be more open, deep or interesting. Perhaps in a game like WoW that’s true because I’d imagine that it’s less likely for a teenage boy to feel comfortable playing a female character. However, in other games – such as EQ2 – I found that gender had absolutely impact on the player’s attitude or performance.

  21. Dr. Filth says:

    I think it’s an acceptable form of Cross Dressing, Autogynephilia or even showing their true sexual identity in an MMO or sexual perversions. I know a handful men of that play only female characters, some find comfort from it, some find freedom, others just identify with female characters and one gentleman is sexually attracted to female cartoons. There could be a wide variety of reasons as the human race is an interesting, but odd species.

    While I have not proven this theory, it’s just an idea that I have had asking the same question to MMO players.

  22. Ethic says:

    I tend to choose the smallest characters, mostly to not take up the whole screen so I can see what is going on. Sometimes that leads to playing a female. Makes no difference to me or how I play.

  23. Calcutta says:

    I, a dude, play characters of both genders. It depends on the type of character I am imagining. For example, I personally prefer to have physical fighters females, and casters men. I know it usually is supposed to be the other way around but that’s how it is for me.

    My characters also tend to be based around my pnp and pbp rping characters.

    For example:

    Aphasia, an independent guy who is on a long journey to rescue someone using any means necessary. Whenever I pick a fighter-type character, it’s usually male and based on this guy.

    Iridia, a classy cat burgular. A beautiful and cunning girl with a tragic history. Whenever I make stealth or agility based characters, they usually are based on her.

    And so on. I am very attached to my rping characters XD.

  24. Dblade says:

    I’ve played female characters for virtually all of my MMO career.

    In PSO, and FFXI, it was partly stats. In some games, certain races are female only, and they tend to have a nice stat build for specific classes. In FFXI many, many male players played Mithra because of that.

    In PSO it was also because the male characters looked like dorks compared to the female characters. I played a fonewearl, a elfish-looking “magic” caster. The fonenewm, the male variant, looked horrible.It’s not always dorks though-a lot of MMO’s make their male characters hypermasculine, and it just doesn’t fit. There’s no real “wiry” type-you are either an anime hero or conan the barbarian. Oddly enough Mabinogi does male characters right, its pretty easy to make a male character look respectable because in part they design them more realistically, and in mabi you can wear clothing as armor, and it looks very good.

    There’s also sexy/cute. Don’t dismiss cute, a lot of guys tend to pick cute models too. I tend to play shorter female characters and the more waifish ones. Not so much the “butt staring” thing just as the aesthetics.

    Is it weird? No. I think most people find it weird because we are used to having what we see be what the reality is. People subconsciously view MMO characters like real people-what you see is what you should get. Its not though.

    Being perceived as the opposite gender? I’m not worried, it happens. All the time. People naturally assume I am a girl it seems, they have ever since I first connected on lolWebTV a long time ago. I pretty much have to give the “speech” to any new person I befriend more than passingly to prevent them from seeing me as a potential girlfriend. People are often shocked when I tell them I am a guy. Even women, especially women. You’d be surprised at how easily a mild-mannered or beta male can be seen as feminine with a female toon. People interpret your actions based on your looks.

    One of my out-there theories is that the rise in single-parent families headed by mothers may be unconsciously influencing us guys with this. All we know are strong women, and a lot of the male role models are remote caricatures. It would make for an interesting research paper to see if a correlation exists.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m the opposite – I get annoyed when games force you to play as a certain sex. I wouldn’t play a class if I was forced to be a female. I just don’t like it. It’s very strange and maybe that says a lot about me but I can’t help it.

      And you’re right – a research paper on this topic would be *very* interesting :)

  25. Jadyn says:

    It used to be a bit odd to me, but I got over that rather quickly. People pick their avatar for many different reasons. Some want them to look like them, some want them to look like how they’d like to look, some want to express themselves in a different way.

    My first character in WoW was male, and a troll to boot, since I thought they were cool looking, and were also the only skinny horde race at the time (this was pre-TBC). Then I made an alt, and decided it’d be fun to have a female character, since I thought female trolls were pretty cool looking. Not sure why the female thing never really bothered me, but maybe it was a mix of knowing that most female toons were played by males anyway, and also the fact that female trolls were rather un-feminine. Oh, and in my mind, your avatar is not you, even if you think of them that way sometimes.

    In the end, I twinked my alt, and she got to be rather well known as the only lvl 39 twink troll priest in my battlegroup for quite a while. And thanks to being rather active on the forums, I ended up keeping the name Jadyn simply because that became my identity.

    To be honest, I thought it was amusing, not disturbing, that until they heard me on vent, a lot of people thought I actually was a female IRL. >.<

  26. Essi says:

    The first character I played in an online game was a female and people knew I was female in rl too. I eventually became a guild leader, of a sort… somebody with some sort of authority in any case. Whenever I tried to argue a certain case, I’d hear all the usual stuff.. about me being a bitch, about how women are like this and women are like that and generally I had to fight really hard for people to listen to me and take me seriously. It was a constant struggle to prove myself.

    Then I moved onto a new game and decided to play a male instead. I told nobody that I was female in rl. Eventually I rose to the rank of guild leader in that game as well and I was absolutely astonished at the difference. Whenever I made a point about something, people actually listened! I didn’t get the usual ‘oh blah blah whatever, women always overreact to everything’ crap, but rather people argued the topic with me, not my gender. And far far less people in general disagreed with me to begin with or at least didn’t bring it up.

    It was a big revelation and very sad at the same time.

  27. Dorgol says:

    Like many others, WoW was my first MMO. I started with a Human male Warlock, then Dwarf male Warrior, then Draenei male Paladin, then Gnome male Mage, and finally a Night Elf male Druid.

    I remember being surprised to find out that certain “females” were actually “males”. In fact, even though I’ve known him online for nearly 5 years, I still tend to think of one person in feminine pronouns because when I first met him it was as a “she”.

    All that said, when the recustomization option was released, I paid to change my Paladin’s name, and figured I would go ahead and pay $5 more to change his skin tone (I preferred the darker skin tones). However, when I started looking at option, I ultimately changed him into a female as opposed to male. Why? Because Female Draenei have MUCH better animations for casting and melee. I had originally planned on changing him back to male at some point, but the new animations really sold the character to me.

    That said, I have considered switching back anyway as (like Blood Elves) it seems 80% of the Draenei population is female these days.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve heard a lot of people say that they prefer the female avatars and animations to the male ones. Makes me wonder if Blizzard put more effort into the female avatars because they know they will get more attention.

  28. says:

    btw since characters are small compared to life-size and most attention tends to be focused on them, especially running then someone would have to be partially blind not to notice all of their avatar. But I’m more of a female type i guess to prove that not all girl type characters are really females behind the keyboard (so try and stop hitting on every girl character you see) they might actually have a different surprise at waist level.

  29. says:

    o yea and i like to look fragile while wielding huge weapons and running around bashing male characters :)

  30. fabzor3 says:

    hey gordon, nice post!

    in quake 2 i have always played male/psycho player model but only cos i thought the exterme tatoos looked cool

    also im a noob….

    yeah girls, physiologically speaking are often a bit thinner and harder to see in the blur of a fast paced quake 2 battle, so i guess thats why heaps of guys have picked them, over males.

    or mabe its to add variety so it not a total sausage feast, the female player model looks neat so why not use it..

    its just a video game it’s hardly a place to emasculate yourself or gain some sense of sexuality.

    go male female cyborg or alien, i dont care about your appearance, – what matters is you kill count!

    man if you cracking onto girls on the net what the fuck! seriously what the fuck! go outside! take to them in real life! look them in the eye!

    look even if you can pick up on the net wait if you can then well done and i’d like to hear about how you went so email me, but seriously play games to get your pixels on, not to get your sexy on.

    if you play games and pick up then YOUR DOING IT WRONG!

    you must be the leetest… sex shouldnt even enter your pathetic human mind.

    glhf :)

    -fabzor3

    • fabzor3 says:

      ahh crap i said im a noob…. sure im a noob but it should be known that i have been playing games for a little over a decade now… still i dont play them as often as most so im not like a nuts gamer…

      the moral of the sory is if you a girl and play games, nice thats great, ist just a pity i guess that i dont really care, i play to win so hey i guess its not really relavant… if your a girl and you win congrats, just like if your a guy and you win. but see what im saying? ones no better than the other therefore it’s totally irrelavant

  31. Occam says:

    Since posting on this article, I’ve started not one but TWO female characters in EQ2. I think this article may have planted the idea indirectly, but the main reason was because like I said before, it’s a character…it doesn’t have to be *me* magically transported to Norrath. If that were the case, all my characters would have to be white males with little if any skill with any kind of weapon.

    For these characters, I actually didn’t sit down and say “I want a new character, what should it be?”. I had the ideas first, then made the characters to fit those ideas. I thought it would be fun to flesh out my main character’s storyline a bit (and maybe even write something one day), so over the course of my ruminating, I decided that he needed a twin sister, and that he needed an antagonist. For the antagonist, I knew I wanted a brawler, and it just seemed way more interesting to have a fairly petite female as a fighter than some big beefcake Barbarian or Ogre. These are characters I’d gladly pay to watch in a movie. I guess it’s like building a cast for a movie or play rather than deciding that each new one had to represent me.

    If anyone one day does try to hit on me or whatever, I’ll just tell them I’m a dude and move on…it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal. In the meantime, I want to have a variety of personalities, motivations, cultures, etc. to play with.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a tough one… I guess I can’t get over the way others perceive me and thus I want to be seen as a male, probably because I’m not comfortable enough in my own sexuality to even think about being misconstrued as a woman.

  32. Michael says:

    Well I thought the whole reason to play an mmo was to break from the real world and do sumthing better find sumthing you want to do as yourself like if the world become a place where you could use magic would you change your sex for what ever ummmmmmmm ow yea there is no good reason just have fun and if your playing a game with good cuzmun features pretty sure you wouldnt be worring about if you wanna b a boy or girl because youll be to busy makin the player look like a cooler version of yourself and not a gay 1

  33. Karen says:

    I’ve played all female characters in WoW — with the exception of Dwarves. I love the male Dwarves and if I’m ever crazy enough to play Alliance again, I will take the male dwarf. Love the accents, love their moxie.

    I love hunters, but a Dwarven DK is too funny — a small ball of death!

  34. Daergel says:

    My very first character was male in WoW, as was the second, third and probably fourth.

    However I thought it would be cool for a female gnome in pink pigtails to wield a sword and shield, hence my decision to roll a female tank.

    I have various female characters now, most of them healer types, but also a badass BE warlock, because, yes, the females look better than the males!

  35. Eric says:

    I made a female blood elf rogue for WoW a while back. I loved watching a petite female slash people up, it was great (maybe semi erotic in a pathetic way) Then I think I went overboard by making her a stripper in Org on the side.

    Whats for sure is IRL female gamers tried to friend me when they otherwise wouldnt have, and male gamers acted like a poster above said. WEIRD STUFF, lets say i know how it feels now for female gamers. It felt like i was seriously messing with all sides of the gender spectrum.

    Needless to say, noone got the joke. Noone thoroughly enjoyed the stripshow, and if they did they wanted me in the end and not my toon. NOT MY THING.

    So its a male rogue now. cheers

  36. luvy duvy says:

    I say if it turns you on a little and make you happy or wether its the look cause nightelf females and BE females look way better then the males go for it. you pay your subscription so make whatever is pleasing to the eye.

    as for me i am a male so i pick male to represent myself what would i look like if i was a gnome, orc, and so on.

    some people make toons to represent themselves or some people make toons to play god to think “if i was god and to make a person i want to make it beautifull to me’ so they pick a girl

    and it is pretty cool to look at a girls boobs and ass as your playing and get a little turned on nothing wrong with it, its pleasing to the eye! and relaxing.

    one time to get the peddlefeet pet for the valentines day i had to make alts to buy the perfume to kiss the gaurd so i can possibly get the peddlefeet pet in the box they give you. couldnt do it on one toon cause it takes like a hour per toon so i made girls just to play around a little dressed them (or undressed them) left there boots on lol so they look like hoes and it was pretty fun you can make some hot girls on wow but then i deleted them once i got the peddlefeet i mailed it to a male alt But i didnt want to level them cause like i said ilike to represent myself hi I would look in the land of azeroth but everybody is different some people just like to look at beautifull women as they play for hours nothing wrong with that

    just dont flirt with guy toons and then say your a man thats like totaly gay

  37. kapatt says:

    I don’t know. Maybe i am to str8 but for me in my personal opinion playing one female char if you are male person for me looks a litle bit …gay.I have been play many f2p game so far and in one conquer 2.0 it is a trend to male persons to make one female char.In this game and there is one option to kiss or send one request to kiss or send flower. For me just the possibility to send one kiss request to one female char who is in real life one male person makes me sick.I don’t have nothing with gay ppl i am just 100%str8.

  38. luvy duvy says:

    personaly me i agree with kapatt the whole point in makeing a character in a vertual world is to picture you in this world

    so since i am straight i will make a male

    and for all those sick bastards that are gay and make a girl knowing there a man omfg your not sick cause your gay your sick cause you have no morals

    thats why lots of people including myself dont like gays cause even though lots of them think your straight they will still flirt with you hoping you will change for them its really pathetic

    p.s thanks for taking away saint patrics day you bastards!

  39. Matt says:

    Honestly for me, I have about 7 characters total. 3 of them being high levels. Except for my druid and troll hunter, all my characters are female. Reason being? I just felt like it LMAO. I would try and make them look like some one I knew or just wanted a hot chick in big shoulder pads. I don’t find anything wrong with playing a female character. i do find that you get treated differently (ie. free gold, free runs, free gear etc…). However, when i play the game i tend to forget about the sex of my toon and more about how I’m playing and what not. I am a hardcore PvP’er and am always getting my self in to tight spots with the horde (WOOT ALLIANCE!!) so honestly my charater could be male or female. It doesn’t make a difference.

  40. Jenna says:

    The funniest thing is – that guys who play female chars have no chance of pulling a real female ingame. I honestly think its a dragqueen thing.

  41. Christopher says:

    I guess I can understand the “Guy helps Girl” scenario out a little because honestly If the character is a female in real life, I do tend to stand up and help them out more. Am I sexist because I want to help females over males? No, I just feel I am a gentlemen in that perspective and generally wish to help them more than the other. I think it’s human for women to generally be more helpful to men and vice versa, thats just how the stereotype is built and I believe it is built around fact, not fiction.

  42. Hank says:

    Yes, it is perfectly ok. About half of my WoW characters are female (I’m not), and the two toons over level 55 are both female Tauren. Part of that decision was practical (they take up less screen space than male Tauren, and I wanted to play Tauren), part of it was aesthetic; I didn’t want to be a big hunch-backed brute, and I’m generally non-confrontational so I went with the stereotype of females being more understanding. A few players have asked my gender, but unless I know them well I give an ambiguous answer because it really doesn’t matter.

    • Gordon says:

      I think over the years it’s definitely changing and players dont confuse in-game gender with real life gender. I can’t remember the last time I ever assumed a female character was a female IRL or vice versa. You just can never tell!

  43. Mic says:

    As a female WoW player, I have a hard time playing characters that are, as mentioned above, ugly. Maybe it’s a woman thing (or just me) but I just can’t bring myself to play male undead or especially a male orc. I figure if I’m going to invest time (and money) into a game, I want to at least LIKE how my character looks. So, of course, I play a dainty little Blood Elf and a small tusked decent-looking female Troll. I started WoW in April I was by definition a brand-spankin’ “noob”. I felt people in randoms were extra rude to me assuming I was a guy playing “some gay little elf” and therefore less of a man. So not only did I NOT receive chivalrous treatment (not that I expected it), instead I got guys hating on me assuming I was a guy playing a female character. When I told them I was actually female, they said “Yeah right whatever. You’re prob a 40yr old guy living in your mom’s basement”. More raunchy insults ensued. Seriously!? I also left a “leveling” guild & when asked why, I told them I was a female irl playing WoW for the first time and the guild never seemed to be interested in grouping & didn’t provide the helpful advice/tips they said they would. Then they were falling all over themselves, “Well why didn’t you TELL us you were a girl- we would have run you through upper level dungeons”. Yep, well, too late. I thanked them nicely and went on my way. It’s insulting to think I need to run into Orgrimmar /yelling “I’m a helpless noob woman IRL, someone group with me!” I want to play and level just like everyone else- but I only know one person that plays WoW (but he’s L80/ICC raiding) and that gives me a serious disadvantage in grouping with truly helpful, cool people. And as wrong as it sounds, I’m convinced that if I could post a cute pic of myself in a Character Profile tab, it would greatly improve my gameplay experience (as well as my chances of getting stalked) LOL But point being, I think that it’s definitely not an advantage playing your own gender as a woman- and I admit I would like to receive “considerate treatment” in-game- nothing special- I just want to be treated with common courtesy after being a part of too many rude random instance groups. So until I get fed up enough to provide a link to my cute face in-game (so much for immersion) I may have to roll the ugliest undead guy character I can design. I may not be the recipient of any chivalrous gestures, but I’ll sure be hated on less. Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! :)

    P.S. I stumbled across your blog today and I’m definitely adding it to my list of consistent reads! Keep up the great work!

  44. Xerxes says:

    I just wanted to say the gender what you pick in game is your personal taste. We don’t need to talk people’s sexual life like you’ve created a female character so you are homo or whatever bla bla.. I’m male and i have a male warrior, monk and assassin and female elemetalist. I never think ‘ooo elementalist body pixel orgasm’. Most of gamers know the character you picked doesn’t show your real identity or your desires. So pick what you want.

  45. John says:

    I am a man and will play either gender in an MMO. I tend to roleplay more than most and with the avatar it is easier than the pen and paper world. It was hard to play a bitchin’ female Fighter in DND and have all my mates sitting around and seeing me instead of the character. This doesn’t happen online. As for the reasoning behind cross-playing, I make organic characters in that I make what feels right without thought into power gaming or want I enjoy playing most. An example would be that I hate casters and I just started up a wizard because it felt right. Gender is a non-issue in that it doesn’t affect stats, and has little affect on the play. I just click either one or randomize and play

  46. Yaggle says:

    Chickens that are female can become male chickens if there is an abundance of female chickens already. I believe that the reason you see a lot of men play female characters is based on an instinct to fulfull needed roles in society. It has less to do with sex and more with pre-conceived ideas about strength, leadership, and passivity. Let me put it this way. If 80 percent of the people who played MMOS were women, you would hardly see any men play women characters, and you would see quite a bit of women play men characters. It doesn’t mean anybody is gay or wants to be the opposite sex in RL. It just means that people have a natural predisposition to fit in and fulfull needed roles in society. The tendency for men to play women characters in an MMO is directly related to the imbalance of men vs. women in the population that plays the MMO. There is nothing wrong about it whatsoever.

  47. Jay M says:

    An all boys private school? A Nietzsche reference? What are you doing playing online games? Or is this your internet version of slumming it? While I do think it is strange I don’t think we should socially ostracize people for making a harmless, voluntary choice decision. Some people may feel disturbingly comfortable playing female characters for the same reason a man may dress like a lady behind closed doors, to capture that feeling. Not all obviously have this motivation, but it’s something to consider.

  48. True Fact says:

    If i play as a female in a game it is either because the classes are gender locked e.g. in Aika to play a cleric you have to be female. Or it is because I want my characters to actually look good, and sometimes in MMOs females tend to have a lot more fashionable clothes than males as male armor isn’t all that appealing. Take Mabinogi for example, the majority of the clothing on that game is made for females only you could say the ratio of female clothing to male clothing is 6:1. Also the female versions of the clothing also tend to look better which can be said for many games out there.

  49. [...] I sometimes just do not want to stare at a dudes butt for hours on end,” says Chris in comments on a blog post at We Fly [...]

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