Column: It's OK for gamers to gender-swap online
I have played games like “World of Warcraft” and have enough playtime across all games to make anyone /cry. The most common question that I get from my friends and fellow gamers isn’t how I slay the mythical dragon, save the princess or how to farm the materials to make a potion. Instead I am frequently asked, “Why do you play a female character?” Most gamers think that a person tries to emulate themselves when creating their avatars, and in that line of thinking, I am frequently the butt of my friends’ jokes.
In a recent study reported in the book “Information, Communication and Society,” a team of researchers designed a quest in “World of Warcraft,” and recruited 375 gamers to attempt the quest in small groups. In the average 90 minutes it took to complete the quest, researchers closely studied the gamers’ movements and chat records. They found that 23 percent of the men gender-swapped, while only 7 percent of the women selected a male avatar.
The study also noted that men preferred attractive avatars with traditional hairstyles with long flowing locks. The men also would use more emotional phrases and more exclamation points than the men who did not gender-switch. Basically, men created female characters that are stereotypically beautiful and emotional.
This research had me reflecting why out of my 36 characters across all the online games I have ever played, that 30 are female and only six are male. The data would have you believe that the core reason men play as females are for the butts, but I like to think that there is more to it than that.
I get to be me every single day in reality. I have the same job, friends, home and environment. Video games give me the opportunity to be anything but myself. I like to perceive my game worlds through the eyes of someone else. For example, in reality my friends and family would find it extremely bizarre if I even so much swiped at a harmless fly; but one of my characters in “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” was a psychotic female Sith Lord that would murder without hesitation, enslave aliens and zap someone with force lightning for giving me a weird look.
The only thing that makes me feel uncomfortable about playing as a female would be when other people in-game are hitting on me in chat. It can be extremely jarring, but I guess some guys just can’t help themselves when they see all the overly sexualized characters online. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for actual women who model a character after themselves. It’s easy to understand why some choose to play as a male, just to avoid the senseless spam of guys asking to see your b00bs.
I would also like to think that people are more than just their bodies. Sure, when I play a female character I might do things I typically wouldn’t, but at the end of the day I am still me. I am a person that is more than physical characteristics. People are more than their curves, hairstyles and dimples. People are the overwhelming complex combination of needs, desires, dreams and wants. Who knows, online games give the player the opportunity to try on another gender identity to see if it works for them. We can be anything, and games can help us do that.