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July 02 2006

Joss' Equality Now speech and video game genderbending. One blogger was so taken with the speech Joss made at the Equality Now event, that she used it to look at why men play as female avatars in video games.

Via the First Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans.

I tend to play female characters in games: true fact. I have no idea why. Let the gossi psychology begin!
I thought you wanted us to call you Jessica on the weekends ? Wait a minute, that wasn't a secret was it ? ;-)

It's an interesting point. I don't think I particularly pick female characters (I trend to go with stats/abilities then how hard/cool they look. So shallow ;) but there is a bit of an extra thrill to completing a game with a female character and I think, unfortunately, it might be for slightly sexist reasons (for me).

Because we're raised to expect women to be less able in physical/action oriented tasks it feels like you're bucking the odds more when you win with a female character, like the whole world really is against you.

I think I identified with Buffy for similar reasons to begin with and I think to some extent this was intentional on Joss' part in that she's not meant to be able to do the things she can do so when she does it really adds to the feeling of satisfaction (a bit like weedy Peter Parker actually being a super-hero). John McClaine for instance looks tough, talks tough, has a tough job etc. (even his name is kind of solid and tough sounding) so it seems more expected when it turns out, quelle suprise ;), he actually is tough (part of the success of 'Die Hard' was showing his human vulnerability and stacking the odds even higher than usual against a male protagonist, while still staying plausible, to make his victory satisfying).

Plus, check out those polygons. Hubba hubba ;).
I would have added something to this debate but I've been too busy playing as Ada Wong in Resident Evil 4.
I'm not sure if that character is male, female or a snake.
Interesting article, but does anyone else feel it seems unfinished. Almost as if its a treatment, rather than an article itself.

What about male gamers who play as female characters but can't chose their gender (eg Samus Aran, Lara Croft)? Or if it does have an effect on gameplay (eg fighting games, what if they prefer the fighting style of the female characters?)

Even down to little things. Take Nintendogs; do males in general chose to have a male or female dog? And vise versa for female gamers?
Is there a transcript of that speech somewhere? I can't watch videos on my crappy dial-up.

Also I can't speak for anyone else but the reason I choose to play as Spike in the game is because my eyes stay glued on my own character most of the time. My girly eyes prefer Spike.
Yes it does seem unfinished. I always play as women when I am allowed -- the article is right, women tend to play female characters. I can't argue that I don't like the girl power thing. Which is why it sort of annoys me when it comes to police/swat/elite secret unit type games. why are there never any females? even just one! If the game is about ghosts taking over a military station, okay, thats farfetched enough where we can have a female who is NOT a nurse!
My girly eyes prefer Spike.

That's pretty similar to why I told a friend I play females on City of Villains- would I rather stare at a male or female ass running around town for hours at a time? ; )
Looks like there's another Buffy related article linked from First Carnival here.
Xane, I've got your poison right here:

When I did my WoW trial, I played a female dwarf. My roommate said "Oh, no one will think you're a guy, then. I've never known a guy to play a female dwarf."

Am I wrong, or are there not plenty of women in the Resident Evil games? Though I guess survival horror as a genre might feature women more than other games do. Hmmm, I wonder if there's an article in that.

Ashley: Your points are well-made. I think it seems unfinished because it's not an article, it's a blog entry. Those are rarely so polished as full articles. I am very curious about games where one doesn't choose one's avatar, or games played entirely offline where the only people you're interacting with are NPCs.

edited to add: Yes there is an article in the women in survival horror thing, and somebody wrote it...

[ edited by Kiba on 2006-07-03 03:56 ]

Maybe I'm just jaded, but I think the majority of males playing females in MMOs has little to do with "exploring femininity" or "the anima" and more to do with some of the following - A. Looking at pretty characters in skimpy outfits, B. Having female characters fulfilling traditionally female roles (research has shown that in MMOs males are more likely to have female characters if the character is a healer or spellcaster, but less likely if the character is a fighter of any type), and C. For purposes of cybersex.

I presented a paper at an academic conference on this very subject, and the research (what little that is) just doesn't support her hypothesis.
Kiba asked:
"Am I wrong, or are there not plenty of women in the Resident Evil games?"

As far as I know you can always choose between either a male or female protagonist to control at the beginning of each game (or they have their own separate disc, in the case of RE2). Actually, that may've only been for the first two that there was a choice. I never played #3: Nemesis, but I think it was all Jill Valentine in the spotlight. #4, the non-Umbrella-Corporation game, I think that one's all Leon Kennedy, isn't it? Code Veronica, a spin-off, was Rebecca's, I'm pretty sure. There may actually be more main female characters in the Resident Evil universe than males. Certainly the case in the films so far. I kinda gave up on the franchise after the second game (would love to play the improved version of the original though, and I hear #4 is the best in the series), but I enjoyed aspects of the first film and will probably get around to watching the second eventually...they're making a third as well, which surprised me.

"Though I guess survival horror as a genre might feature women more than other games do. Hmmm, I wonder if there's an article in that."

Heh, you could probably write a series of articles on that. Women are traditionally the victims, or at least often the first to die and major contributors to the body classic horror at least. So in the video-game-invented category of Survival Horror, makes sense that women would usually be the popular decision of the writers to be the ones to take back the night and all.

BlueCanary, I don't think I've ever played a female character in an online multiplayer game (the only massively multiplayer online I ever played was the sluggish Final Fantasy 11), except very rarely with the original Diablo's rogue. Then again, it might be worth taking into consideration that men appeal to me as much as women, but choosing a video game role has always come down to who I'd more want to be if I was living in that world.

That said, whenever I've played games where the only role available is as a female (Metroid, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy 6), I've had no problem with it. I loved when I discovered that Samus Aran inside that bulky metal suit was a woman. It's kind of annoying that there've been no main female leads since Final Fantasy 6's Terra, and the series is nearing its 13th installment. It also makes no sense, seeing as that's one of the most popular games in the franchise. I also got real sick of the "types" they used for male leads--the non-character that was Cloud in FF7, the slightly better but still not very compelling Squall in #8, boring chipper Zidane in 9, and possibly the most annoying lead ever, the unreasonably and often inappropriately overly-optimistic Tidus of FF 10, who was also annoyingly voiced as well. Single player games, especially RPGs, sorely lack leading ladies that you're able to play as for most of the game.

[ edited by Kris on 2006-07-03 04:43 ]
BlueCanary, having run a MUD for ~11 years now, and consequently having access to the real identities of players, my experience supports your assertions.

The best way to tell a real female player on a MUD is by her female character getting into a feud/rivalry with at least one other female character played by a real female player. It's not universal, but rather common, and I've never seen a guy playing a female character do that. Ever.
I always play female characters in fighting games but that mostly cause I figure they're quick and agile.
I'm not the biggest gamer ever, but it's so refreshing to have Laura Croft running around the world, hunting down every Jayne sized villain available. It is a shame that when you mention women in games, Lara is almost always the first name to pop up, and that every other chick has a series title attached to her.

The worst thing is when there is a female available but her stats are ridiculously low compared to the male counterparts, or when she is so bloody annoying you can't bare to play the one(and only) girl skater in the Tony Hawk game, or Princess Peach in Mario Bros.
Thank you for the transcript link Kiba. Good stuff.

My son often plays different games as female characters. But I don't think my daughters switch genders now that I think about it. Hmmmm. He is the only male in our household so I suppose he is inclined to think of girls as equal human beings who just might kick ass rather than strange weak creatures. That, and he has been watching Buffy for almost half of his life.
There's quite a simple reason I play videogames (not online, though) as a female character given a choice - when you gotta spend endless hours staring at a characters backside...

LOL. But seriously, I agree that strong women *are* hot.

(eg fighting games, what if they prefer the fighting style of the female characters?)

In Soul Calibur 2 I play as Seung Mina. A hot scantily clad redhead. BUT I actually really also happen to like her fighting style (a weapon with long reach and power, although she is a bit slower than other characters) and have become quite comfortable with her move-set. So I guess in this case it's both. ;-)

It's kind of annoying that there've been no main female leads since Final Fantasy 6's Terra, and the series is nearing its 13th installment.

Actually, it looks like the 13th may be the one to fix that. At least the preview they've shown at E3 featured a female character. (Check it out on Gamespot). And even if the protagonists of the other games were male, there was always a female co-lead. I'd say Yuna was pretty damn important to FFX, or Rinoa in FF8, etc. (Plus, I actually really liked Tidus- but FFX has one of my favorite stories).

[ edited by AnotherFireflyfan on 2006-07-03 12:54 ]
Kris, you exclude Final Fantasy X-2. Why? (I'm not trolling here, I'm just curious. I've had a big women-in-Final Fantasy debate before where someone wrote off X-2 entirely because women who are scantily clad don't count as women.)

BlueCanary, while the research may not support her hypothesis, I think the possibilities for exploring femininity are interesting. Even if nobody's doing it, this is a unique space where it can be done somewhat safely; I do wonder if perhaps it will happen more as time goes on.
I exclude X-2 because, frankly, it's an abomination to the FFX world. Not that it's a bad game in-and-of itself, but I prefer to think of it as non-canon. (I still plan to play all the way through it sometime, just to see how it ends. Plus it's still fun, if not as good as REAL Final Fantasies)
Men play female characters for so many different reasons. Exploring the female mindset is only a subset of the she-males (as we called 'em in EQ), imho. Besides the "better backside" reasons expressed here, I've also heard men say that they get free handouts if they play a female character. Or that people are simply friendly and more helpful (although they also admitted people are less likely to accept them giving orders). Based on my one experiment playing a male character and running around for a few levels, I did feel the difference. It was a rather nice change, actually. I felt I could be more anonymous as a male character.

To echo Joss (kinda-sorta), I think the real question is why women don't play males more often. An explanation that has always made sense to me is that women are much more likely to think "this is *me* in a fantasy world" than men are. Speaking in generalizations, men control their characters, whereas women project themselves in their characters. I know I certainly do. My husband also projects himself in his characters, and he's never played a female.
This might been sort of telling, but I've been addicted to playing with Chun-Li since Street Fighter 2.
I don't know many gamers who "stare at an ass" while they're playing a videogame (especially an MMO). For me, character choices in games are usually made by starting at the most basic level, or rather by starting with the options the game provides me. If the biggest factor on the gameplay experience is going to be your class (ie. warrior, mage, etc.), then I'll usually start there. (This suggests that perhaps gender choice will become more relevant as its impact on the gaming experience increases, however counterintuitive that may sound.) Gender typically becomes secondary or even tertiary then, depending upon the aesthetic options available to each gender and any spur-of-the-moment feelings I'm having about my character's physical makeup. Mostly, though, aesthetics are the main factor in choosing a gender for my characters in RPG's.

The important thing is that I don't ever roleplay while in these games. My ingame personality is not far removed from my regular one (whatever "regular personality" means). So it shouldn't suprise you to find that the vast majority of my characters have been male.

I think psychology only becomes an issue in a limited amount of cases, although I could just be totally out-of-touch with the gaming community's collective psyche. (Read: There may be strange folk around.)

(I hope I put enough fancy words in there.)
Kiba asked:
"Kris, you exclude Final Fantasy X-2. Why?"

To be honest, I completely forgot about FF X-2. I don't own it and I've never played it. I wasn't a big enough fan of FF 10 to bother with a sequel. I'm also not a big fan of the idea that any self-contained Final Fantasy story should even have a sequel game (though I'll admit I was hoping for a prequel to Final Fantasy Tactics for a long while). I haven't played the Gamecube's FF: Crystal Chronicles either, so I dunno if that featured a female lead. FF XI has no designated lead, it depends on the player's choice. If my complain were to be more carefully worded? "Why haven't there been any lead female characters since Final Fantasy 6 in the main line of non-online, numbered FF games?" If FF 13 is going to fix that, 'bout time.

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