By Neilie Johnson
Aren’t games great the way they let us become someone else for a while? Online RPG’s in particular are a closet superhero’s dream come true, offering more possibilities for realizing our secret identities than ever before. In an MMO you don’t have to be a muscle-bound macho man with a gun; if you want, you can choose to be a woman, an elf, an alien or a beast…with a gun. Ok, so the combat thing is still integral to online games but the point is, MMO’s aren’t just about racking up kills. They provide us with a golden opportunity to realize our dreams of self-transformation.
MMO’s have a larger female audience than any other genre, yet they present an odd twist on what seems like more gender-balanced gaming. Easily, half the characters in an online world are female, but if only 20-25% of the players of these characters actually are female – well, you do the math. Yes, that means that a good chunk of my gaming sistahs are actually men and boys in pixilated drag. Maybe some of them are getting in touch with their feminine side? Perhaps, but more often it’s a strategy to garner ill-gotten virtual gains from unsuspecting victims. In any case, this 3D transvestitism often has negative side effects – like provoking an onslaught of nasty, unrealizable threats when the man behind the makeup is revealed.
I cut my online teeth in 2003 playing Star Wars Galaxies and somehow got pulled into the gender swap myself. Don’t ask me why I ended up choosing to play an obese, overly tan human male with a blond bowl cut and Abe Lincoln beard. Somehow lumbering chubbily around the galaxy in pink go-go boots, sunglasses and a tiny Speedo was tremendous fun for me, even if I did look like a Baywatch extra 20 years past his prime.
No one ever suspected the player behind this bizarre character was female and I got endless enjoyment out of engendering (no pun intended) extreme reactions. People either cracked up or hated the sight of me as I spent hours busting gelatinous moves in the cantina or lying under the tables drunkenly singing. My proudest moment was when I heard one patron ask the others how to “/ignore” me. Thinking about it still brings a tear to my eye.
At times, the social dynamics of MMO’s make them look less like games and more like science projects waiting to happen. Having spent three years among the “natives,” I feel qualified to conduct one of my own, since by now I consider myself something of an online Louis Leakey.
Having only played a male character for the previous two years, when I started playing World of Warcraft in 2005, I decided I’d investigate the benefits of both genders before settling on one. To do this, I planned to adopt a marvelously unscientific strategy using two different characters (One male, one female) and record my gameplay experiences.
Test One – Run Like a Girl
Create a pretty human female warrior loosely based on Marilyn Manson’s burlesque-performer-wife, Dita Von Teese.
“Play Female” (i.e. talk and emote a lot but NO flirty behavior). The gold-digging online femme fatale is a familiar clich