Gender Roles in MMOs

This is probably going to come off as a controversial post, but I’d like to ask some questions and perhaps create a discussion. Really just getting my thoughts out.

I’ve noticed in my gaming years that a large portion of the female characters in an MMO are played by males IRL. This is no surprise, and no new development. In fact, I’m sure many of the males reading this blog have or do play female characters. Why is this? I’ve heard various reasons portratyed so far, such as the old faithful, “If I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt for hours on end, it may as well be a woman’s!” What are your reasons for playing a character who is not of your gender? And let’s not leave anyone out here, what are your reasons for playing a character who is of your gender?

Personally, I’ve been roleplaying for years, and I find it very difficult to get into the mindset of a man. I’m starting to do so nowadays for writing purposes (the main character in my latest project is male, and I’m writing from his perspective), but for personal preferences’ sake, I like to design my character to look like a pretty lady. Think Residual Self Image; sometimes I just design them to look how I would like to in that world.

This leads on to my next point. Frequently, a female character is referred to as ‘dude’ or ‘man’ or ‘he’. Is this simply because in general a lot of MMO players used to be male? Let’s face it, while perhaps a large proportion of them still are, there are many more female gamers than there were, say, five or ten years ago. I fall into this pitfall myself; I refer to female characters as ‘she’ all the time. Why? Because I make the assumption that a female character is played by a female player, even when I know better.

To those ladies out there, does it offend you or bother you to be referred to as a guy when you’re not? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you correct the people who call you ‘dude’ or ‘man’? I used to, but I stopped a long time ago because personally I don’t feel it’s relevant. If it’s someone I’ve befriended, I’ll kindly point them in the right direction, or if a person directly asks me I’ll be honest, but I don’t want to appear to be ‘boasting’ about my femininity simply because there ‘aren’t many of us’ (even if there really are, these days). And to the guys in the same position reversed, what are your thoughts? This is getting awfully diluted, but like I said, just a way of getting my thoughts out. I’m curious!

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11 Comments on “Gender Roles in MMOs”

  1. Anon Says:

    Personally I have always played a male character and find it hard to play strong female leads. I suppose the roleplay element of vicariously living out your own characters role within the fantasy world makes it hard for me to play a female.
    As for the ‘You are gay if you are a guy who plays a guy in games’ theory, I have to wonder exactly who would play a game to stare at their character for kicks.
    Personally I’d like to know exactly how big a female population there is in gaming these days but character gender is no indicator at all.

    • Psyche Says:

      I’ve heard the ‘you’re gay if you play a guy in games’ thing far too many times, particularly in my Aion legion. πŸ˜› I find it amusing, and I suppose it takes all sorts, but I wouldn’t say sexuality should come into it at all, and find it a little sad that people think it needs to.

      I’m interested in the female gaming community, but the sad fact is a lot of the time if you’re a female gamer and are at all interested in the female gaming population you frequently get called a ‘typical girl gamer’ because you’re supposedly thinking you’re ‘something special’, which I disagree with entirely. There’s a big difference between showing an interest and being obsessed, or making a huge deal out of something for attention.

  2. Jazz Says:

    Gah I’m at work and this is such a good topic. I have to make a quick comment but hopefully I can come back later on today and make a better one.

    “This leads on to my next point. Frequently, a female character is referred to as β€˜dude’ or β€˜man’ or β€˜he’.” This actually happened to me recently. Someone on the Aion forum made a post in reference to my character and stated something like tell him to come to this thread. My character is female and so am I in real life. That was the 1st time I was ever called “him”. It kinda bugged me actually. I can’t say why though, I mean it is like you said the perception is most men play female characters. But then if that’s the case do people assume that females play male characters or that we just don’t play at all.

    • Psyche Says:

      I’m glad you like, it’d been brewing in my mind for a while. I’m not sure I really got all my thoughts out, but I’m sure I can come back to it again sometime.

      Like I said, I’ve stopped telling people because it doesn’t feel relevant, but at the same time it does niggle at me a little when I get called ‘he’ or ‘man’. I messaged someone the other day to answer a question they’d asked in chat, and got the response, “Thanks man!” Part of me was yelling, “Ahhh tell him you’re not a man!” but I managed to restrain myself. Regardless of how well I can control my urge to correct them, it still bothers me because I feel I deserve to be known by my actual sex, just as anyone else does.

  3. Theladas Says:

    In terms of mis-classifying a player, I guess it comes down to is “which side is it better to err on?” Am I more likely to offend a girl by calling her a guy, or a guy by calling him a girl, and how offended will they be?

    One of the premier tanks that I learned under in WoW was a girl playing a male toon. She insisted that she-cows were just too bizarre for her to use, so she had gone with the male Tauren Druid. I met her in a raid on vent, and she was in bear form the whole night – I never noticed that she was actually playing a male. It all clicked later, and I was pretty surprised. Compared to the five-hundred guys I’ve met playing female characters, empirical evidence points to guys being the primary gender-swappers; girls enjoy playing girls, too.

    Even though I’ve been gaming with girls for a long time, I find it’s still pretty rare for girls to really get into playing male characters. Not that I can blame them – a lot of male leads in role-playing games and the like are woefully one-dimensional and unrealistic. In contrast, female leads tend to be more dynamic and realistic (albeit over-the-top in some cases). It’s not unlike the shoujo (girly) and shonen (manly) manga distinction. If you want action and excitement, without all of the depth-of-plot, go with the boys; if you’re out for drama and engaging storyline, then go with the girls.

    But then, does this paradigm translate into MMO’s? Not so much – we write our own stories to our own desired depth, and nothing more. There’s no proclivity for male or female toons to be more engaging. Reasons for gender-swapping are thus far more arbitrary in MMOs: aesthetics, most often, or some internal storytelling element.

    My MMO character choices are all about storytelling. Class, gender, and build are all elements that I choose in order to play out a certain story. So I play male and female characters. I end up preferring my guys for heavier grinding content and such (I’ve never had an end-game female toon), but if I’m telling stories, I always seem to tell them better when they’re centered on the female characters.

    As for how to call others, I always refer to them by their character or avatar’s gender unless I know otherwise. It may be accurate less often, but if a guy chooses to play a girl, or a girl chooses to play a guy, I figure that they have their reasons for cross-dressing. At any rate, I’m not going to be the one to break the immersion barrier.

    • Psyche Says:

      I generally err on the side of caution, and if a character is female, I refer to it as a female player, and if the character is male, I refer to it as a male player. If I’m corrected, I’m happy enough to do my best to try and remember. Like you said, if a person is playing a character of another sex, chances are they’re comfortable being that sex, in a game sense at least, so referring to them by that sex probably won’t get up their nose.

      It does seem like the primary sex-swappers are male, but I saw an interesting interview on TV about a female games journalist who liked to play male dwarves in games. It was pretty interesting, and after seeing that I saw a few other chicks playing dudes.

      Generally my characters are created with aesthetics in mind. It’s a terrible habit that sometimes spills over into writing; if I’m writing from a character’s perspective, or playing them, I generally want to be awesome. I’m slowly getting used to having proper character flaws; I think it’s a problem a lot of budding writers or roleplayers encounter. But that’s a little off-topic.

      Thanks for your post. πŸ™‚

  4. Avercey Says:

    I’m a guy and primarily play a female character, I tend to switch depending on game/class/etc. Seems generally if i play a tank or plate class its a male character, my priest and sorc classes tend to be female. Basically just whatever i think looks good/fits my perception of I can believe that person would more likely be.

    However the whole your gay if you play guy or i wanna stare a girls butt thing, i dont really buy it. I have people also criticize for me playing a girl character. I think it may just guys being guys when they say things like that. Maybe thats the actual reason, maybe its some kinda subconscious thing bring out yourself in a game. Maybe its just the fact some guys are more “manly” than other guys and feel the need to play a male character and the less “manly” guys dont feel the need to have to justify themselves by their characters gender. Who knows, i personally think it might be something stirring it on more of a psychological level. Unless you are an rper and have a specific reason for the female choice. Wow sorry that was kinda long winded.

    Now onto calling who what, i use vent most of the time so people know im a guy. In game though i get called she quite frequently and it doesnt really bother me, i play a female character so i kinda expect it. I really cant jump down someones throat for it. I also do the same, i call people by their characters gender if i dont know, like Theladas said, “I’m not going to be the one to break the immersion barrier.” I agree its not really my place. I dont think female players should be offended unless they are specifically called he. I call people dude alot its a bad habit i know, but i dont really mean it as guys specific, even girls i know in really life i have been known to do it to. I also you guys as kind of a group term, like signing off vent and saying cya later guys, even though there are 4 or 5 girls in my legion. No harm meant just what it is. But if you are a female you should let people know if you want them to know, just not in the CHECK ME OUT IM A GIRL GAMER ISNT THAT HAWT, kinda way, its just obnoxious. Anyways thats my 2 cents, good post btw op

    • Psyche Says:

      That makes sense. Personally, I prefer playing female characters as I’ve voiced, but I’m not completely opposed to playing males. In fact, when I played WAR, I played a male frequently, usually because the female character option wasn’t open for the classes I chose (though I did indulge in a Witch Elf for a while), but at the same time female Chosens probably wouldn’t have looked right. It worked for me.

      I think a lot of people come up with excuses, and it’s all too common for people who need to make excuses for themselves to impose those on others, or even become semi-aggressive, such as calling people gay for being male and not using a female character. I agree that I think the personal preference and how comfortable you are with your sex is very important, but I don’t suppose it’s as much of a problem for women. I don’t mean that to sound sexist, but I think that in general women aren’t as worried about how feminine they appear, and frequently would even prefer to appear less feminine.

      Generally I’m not too bothered by being referred to as male. When people are blatantly sexist, such as insulting women in front of me, I tend to be defensive. If someone calls me ‘he’ when talking to other people, I do feel the need to express that I’m not a ‘he’, but usually I reign myself in unless I feel it’s important. But ‘dude’ and ‘guys’ doesn’t offend me; I tend to call everyone, regardless of gender, dude, and the collective ‘guys’ is so common.

      I couldn’t agree more with the, “CHECK ME OUT!” comment you’ve made; it annoys me when someone feels they’re more important because of something as simple as their sex or gender or whatever. It’s annoying and it’s not cool.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. πŸ™‚

  5. PyroAmos Says:

    I like concistancy… my first char on every game I play has the same name (PyroAmos) and is male. All my other chars are female, usually with the same couple names (belladonna & heilmittel) Sometimes my 2nd char is the one I play most, like in Aion atm, PyroAmos hasn’t been played in a while, although it was the first char, Heilmittel is the char I’ve been playing most. Just seems right for first char is more of a reflection of myself and needs to be the same as me, male, whereas rest of chars arn’t as serious I guess you could say, and arn’t really a reflection of myself so can roll something a little more fun and easier on the eyes. But its really not a big deal either way IMO, its all personal preferance.

    P.S> Feet slider @ 0 on Aion rules, I love girls with tiny feet!


  6. I don’t know why I do. Playing female chars just always felt “right” to me. Does there have to be some greater reason? Sure, yeah all the reasons above are good. I guess for me it’s an internal reason. Playing male chars just doesn’t feel right to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve played female chars for so long, ever since Ultima Online. I don’t think I’ve ever played a male char!

    I just like the idea of a woman being a hero maybe.

    It’s not that it helps my roleplaying, like a commenter above, I have a hard time getting into the “mind” of a girl character. But it’s still very very fun playing a girl char.

    I think there is just something about crossdressing, that’s really fun. Yeah that makes me sound like a weirdo, but hey, think of all the dudes that LOVE to wear womens clothes on Halloween! Sure they will only do it on halloween when it’s acceptable, but man they sure love it. Well some guys I’ve met lol. (straight guys)

    • Psyche Says:

      I suppose everyone is different. I know a lot of people who do it simply because they feel female characters look better, but I also know a few who have deeper reasons behind it, which is what intrigues me.

      I can’t say I know of any guys who crossdress, even for Halloween. XD But then that’s just the people I know. I did know one guy who did but he was gay and liked women’s clothing, so I don’t think that’s quite the point you were getting at. XD But hey, if people like wearing ladies’ clothes, that’s fine with me. ^^ I know I sure like wearing ’em.


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