Tag Archives: Gaming History

Summing it Up – Gender-bending pt. 10

The Gender-bending series is based on the result of my own little survey, attempting to map all the motivations of WoW-players playing a character of the opposite gender. Each part deals with a certain aspect of gender-bending in games. This is the summary post, pt. 10.


Part 1: Advertizing the survey
Part 2: Throwing myself to the lions….I mean trolls!


Part 3: The Spectacle of Play and Characters
Part 4: Avoiding Clones
Part 5: To Wear or to Not Wear Robes
Part 6: Bring the Player, not the Gender
Part 7: Uniqueness and the Trademark of the Female Dwarf
Part 8: In Game Advantages
Part 9: For the Love of Names


Part 10: Summing it Up

Gender-bending in WoW has to be understood as part of the medium of games. To the outsider (which sometimes includes players than don’t gender-bend) it might look weird and as if someone has issues with their gender identity. I bring you an example of this from someone who posted in my survey-advertizement thread, saying they did not play characters of the opposite  gender because:

No, im confident of my sexuality :P

I wrote in part 3, that this is nearly never part of the issue, and gender-benders know this.  As virtual worlds provide a space where players can inhabit separate bodies they create themselves, although under the restriction of character creation modes, they can play and experiment with the character’s appearance. To people who play a character of the opposite gender, the option of male or female is often viewed alongside other choices such as class and race. Playing WoW includes playing with avatars, which gender-bending can be viewed as a product of.

In addition, when we look at WoW as a part of a gaming history, we understand that players come with a heritage as well. Some of them have been using the game medium for years and are used to creating characters in many different genres, including ones which only allows for certain genders to be the main character, or a certain class. Gender-bending in WoW, despite the fact the reason to gender-bend to unlock new mechanics is nigh, is neither unusual nor deviant, but generally a common phenomenon amongst players.

Overall gender-bending works as a tool of either specified gain or avoidance, with the wish to achieve a form of variety, playing the biggest part. The many available modes of play in WoW, the different classes which opens for new mechanics and therefore new ways of playing the game, alleviates being able to make this range of characters look different and apart important to players. Aesthetics were central to the majority of players as well, although specific reasons were far and apart. The wish for smooth and aesthetically pleasing modeling and animations were fundamental, but also cultural understandings of gender in trying to abide by them or avoiding them, were present.

Using WoW as a place to explore gender is less common, but nonetheless favored by female players, who play male characters in order to avoid attention and perhaps to blend in to the male dominated space in WoW. Gaining benefits in the game as a motivation for gender-bending ranged overall low.

Being able to stand out and create a unique character was exhibited, but still in accordance with a high aesthetic value to the players. The name of a character is perhaps the highest form of individuality one can achieve in WoW, and thus a particular name were more befitting of the opposite gender for some players.

I believe gender-bending can tell us a lot about both the ways characters in the game are perceived and utilized by players, but also how cultures and norms of the game and its players, can both co-exist but also challenge each other.

One of the initial reasons this interested me, was the difference in occurence between the genders, female gender-benders were very rare and I wanted to know why. As my survey didn’t include people that didn’t gender-bend, I don’t have the other side of the coin. One of my sources, Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee and Wadley’s (2009) study Body and Mind: A Study of Avatar Personalization in Three Virtual Worlds, could indicate the reason behind this, so this will have to be my best guess: Female players prefer creating idealized versions of themselves more than male players (especially in Second Life) and I believe gender is linked to  projecting a version of identity, whether it’s congruent or wishful, onto a character.

One of the posters said on the general forum when I posted the survey:

[...] I don’t understand why people take the gender of a virtual character seriously…

Another poster, and a very insightful one of the kind I’d say, responded saying this:

Gender studies is an extremely fascinating field. Gender is a very complicated construct. It’s taken for granted by the vast majority of people, after all, because it’s the norm to accept  the one you’re assigned to at birth, and most are comfortable with that. To others, it’s an endless source of confusion and frustration, because it’s a cornerstone of one’s identity and forcing something like that is very unsettling, to say the least.

Of course, as you say, it’s not quite the same for a virtual character. But the way we are adressed and treated is still defined by which gender we are perceived as. To those who struggle with these things, it’s very important and not something you can just shrug off. (link)

Think about it, the internet, the virtual worlds where we can choose our own bodies, can challenge how most people look at gender and identity. In WoW or any other virtual world (or chat rooms/forums etc for that matter) you can be whatever you want and some games even include the option to be neuter. The fact  the physical presence and gender of people are dislocated when we meet them in virtual worlds, I think, can change how we understand identity, approach others and construct ourselves. In what circumstances in WoW does it really matter what gender you are?

As our lives are increasingly dependent and influenced by computer technology, games that inhabit this medium become a more stable part of our leisure activities. While the subscription number of WoW continues to rise alongside other similar platforms, so does the spreading of how we utilize virtual bodies – avatars/characters to the mainstream, perhaps rendering this mode of being and play completely normal in the future.

Bring the Player, not the Gender – Gender-bending pt. 6

The Gender-bending series is based on the result of my own little survey, attempting to map all the motivations of WoW-players playing a character of the opposite gender. Each part deals with a certain aspect of gender-bending in games.

Part 1: Advertizing the Survey
Part 2: Throwing myself to the lions….I mean trolls!
Part 3: The Spectacle of Play and Characters
Part 4: Avoiding Clones
Part 5: To Wear or to Not Wear Robes
Part 6: Bring the Player, not the Gender
Part 7: Uniqueness and the Trademark of the Female Dwarf
Part 8: In Game Advantage
Part 9: For the Love of Names
Part 10: Summing it Up

Gender-bending pt 4: Avoiding Clones is about the wish for variety.

Gender-bending pt. 5: To Wear or To Not Wear Robes, handles the aesthetic motivations.

Part 6 deals with the motivations that grow out of the interaction between players, whether it’s a matter of blending in, exploring yourself or how the community differentiates between male and female players.

Social interactions as a cause to gender-bend is, as shown above, a reason female players put much higher than male. This is also the category with the biggest overall differences between male and female players, and as such, this post will mostly focus on the female player’s point of view.

Blending In

The option to seamlessly blend in with the male players, was a motivation when choosing a male character for some female players. This particular player makes WoW sound almost like a boy’s club:

He was my first male character and I did find that people reacted to me differently as a male character, there seemed to be no possibility in their minds that I could be a female player – which I liked.

Another factor is the view of female players as a romantic interest:

Being a female In Game attracts way too much unwanted attention, that’s the main reason I play mostly Male Gendered Characters.”


So people do not know im a female irl! so much hassle can be had if teenage boys know they have a female in the group or guild.

All three players seem to point to the wish to blend in and be treated as neither different nor special.

I believe the case of attention is a side product of WoW as a social environment, perceived and utilized by players in similar ways to chat services, although female players, when identified (!), sometimes get more romantic attention than their counterparts. This probably has something to do with them being vastly outnumbered and of course the risk-free anonymity of the internet.

Looking at the grand picture, choosing a female character is actually not that inefficient for “hiding” either, thanks to the male gender-benders, but picking  a male character is in fact more bullet proof. Nick Yee, the author of The Daedalus Project, sums up the stats (2005):

“about 1 out of every 2 female characters is played by a man
about 1 out of every 100 male characters is played by a woman

The RL gender distribution is 84% male vs. 16% female.
The in-game gender distribution is 65% male vs. 35% female.”

While it looks like the community has absorbed this difference in occurence as standard knowledge, some players are consciously using this to their advantage.

These patterns might have changed as WoW has continuously grown in size since 2005. The article Computer Games Are Now Gender-Neutral (2008) from Softpedia.com cites a female gamer population closer to 40% in games of the MMORPG bloodline:

In many cases, stereotypes reflect what I would call a ‘cultural time lag’. What we think about men and women and videogames may have been true 10 or 15 years ago, when there were mainly console video games or single-player games. But what we’re seeing now is that games become social, and as these on-line games become communities then the attraction for that kind of behavior might increase for women,” argues the lead researcher of the new study, Scott Caplan, a professor at the University of Delaware.

40% seems a bit too high to me, I hear the 20% women vs. 80% men more often. Still, pushing towards a balance between men and women in games, can erase some of these reasons of gender-bending we saw above.

“I Will Protect You”

It’s a notion a lot of female players can recognize, and also mentioned by Esther MacCallum-Stewart inReal Boys Carry Girly Epics: Normalising Gender Bending in Online Games (2008): Female players are sometimes met with a differentiated treatment, where they are regarded helpless and in need of protection (i.e. from a male player). Other times female characters are treated more generously, help is easier attained and players can be more forgiving if a female player makes a mistake.

Despite the fact male players choose the option of gender-exploration less often than females, this male player had a very distinct reason to try out gender-bending for himself, which falls along these lines:

To see if there was a different response, in game, to a female rather than male character. I found that the female character was invited to more dungeons and BG’s than the male character, and if mistakes were made in dungeons, then others were a lot more tolerant/forgiving to the female character. I found the female character a lot easier to level and it was easier to get others to help to complete quests.”

This person is amongst the 11% male players that did it to uncover/discover the differences, where females hit 31% on this question.

I have a personal experience with a male character wanting to rescue me. Several years ago I was playing a female troll shaman at low levels in Warsong Gulch. This random male troll runs over and states in say “I will protect you”. I remember finding it odd, as this person wasn’t a healer, and more awkwardly, I ended up protecting him as he rushed forward and almost got himself killed in his “heroic” attempts to “white-knight” me.

I can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with the conventional stereotyping of females characters in games, placing them as objects for the male players to rescue or win. As many games derive their universes from the old medieval myths and sagas, which put emphasis on the male protagonist being the grand hero, we’re pretty much looking at an old tradition preceeding digital games by centuries.

The Other Side of the Coin


So far it looks like being female in WoW is all presents and helping hands, but the treatment is often dichotomous. There is another side to this coin, where forgiveness is replaced by distrust in the female player’s skills and abilities to play well. It can be disheartening to be treated as an inferior player, not fully capable of performing to the standards of the male players. This could act as an incentive to avoid this confrontation by gender-bending, although no female players specifically stated this as their reasoning.

Zinn at Jinxed Thoughts wrote the post Are gaming girls too pampered to be good? where she reflects on her own experiences as a female gamer and how she moved towards seeing herself as a more nuanced and competent player without letting the girl-tag dominate.

I didn’t want peoples attention on anything but the fact that I was a fellow gamer. Moving away from this way of playing made me realize I could be an interesting person just on the basis of my gaming qualities, something I hadn’t thought about before. It might sound silly, stupid or sad that I had this view of myself. But since the first day I had told someone about my gaming it had always seemed like the fact that I was a girl was the most interesting and important thing. Not what I played, how good I was at it or what I thought about it. And so this view stuck with me. My first months of playing WoW definitely confirmed this view.

Gender Exploration and Roleplay

Ranging overall low, but still substantial (18% and 35%) is the motivation to consciously play with gender via roleplay:

“If I want to roleplay, I want the challenge of playing something which I have no immediate experience in, as it broadens my horizont, and makes it that much more worthwhile. And you learn a lot about yourself when playing the opposite gender.”

Keeping the previously quoted male player’s personal experiement in mind, the following story puts roleplay more in centre, but also has a much more sinister result than the former story of help and forgiveness.

Trying Out a Different Body

This story, written by Quinnae Moongazer at The Nuclear Unicorn, neatly exemplifies all three questions under the Social Interactions category. It starts of with the intent to test out a theory: To see if the claim is true – that women are treated differently than men in WoW.

“She made a bit of a wager with my friend: roll up a female character, play her, roleplay (RP) her if you like, and don’t tell anyone you’re a man in real life.

My friend agreed, being the adventurous sort and an avid RPer to boot, and went forward. To this day he still tells me how his experiences over the course of the next month completely changed how he understood the treatment of women in games like this. He found himself flirted with, harassed, the target of other unwanted advances, as well as finding out why chivalrous acts could be construed as condescending or suspicious. He even discovered that in an RP guild he was fought over by some of the male officers in a way that culminated in theatrics that eventually sundered the guild.”

Blending in is motivated by external factors, while this form of gender-bending is very experimental and performed due to a personal curiousity. Virtual Worlds contain this power for users to try out a different body, but despite the fact virtual worlds, including WoW, make anonymous playgrounds for exploring the concept of gender, females in my survey tended to be more lenient towards this option, perhaps as a result of entering a male gamer sphere and wishing to understand it better.

This topic is so vast, it can easily be extended further. As Blizzard decided to take down the old WoW forums and not offering an archive for the users, I’m unable to access an old topic with several pages of female players accounting on their opinions on the dichotomous treatment I discussed above.

The thread had it all, from the female players claiming these differences didn’t exist, to others reporting having been extensively sexually harrassed and stalked, to others who say fellow players are quick to place them as guild drama queens and manipulative “loot-whores”, to some saying they had only had positive and friendly experiences with others.

The thread illuminated not only the negative experiences of many, but it also showed that a lot of female players had not been confronted with these issues, making me reckon (and hope) the differentiation is an exception and not the norm. What do you think?

The next part will look at the wish to have a character that stands out from the crowd, and thus we shall look at the motivation of wanting to be unique.

To Wear or to Not Wear Robes – Gender-bending pt. 5

The Gender-bending series is based on the result of my own little survey, attempting to map all the motivations of WoW-players playing a character of the opposite gender. Each part deals with a certain aspect of gender-bending in games.

Part 1: Advertizing the Survey
Part 2: Throwing myself to the lions….I mean trolls!
Part 3: The Spectacle of Play and Characters
Part 4: Avoiding Clones
Part 5: To Wear or to Not Wear Robes
Part 6: Bring the Player, not the Gender
Part 7: Uniqueness and the Trademark of the Female Dwarf
Part 8: In Game Advantage
Part 9: For the Love of Names
Part 10: Summing it Up

The Aesthetics

In the previous part of the Gender-bending series: Avoiding Clones, I posted the highest motivator for gender-benders, which is the wish for variety – to have characters that don’t look and feel identical. In this post, I’ll look into the other big motivator: The Aesthetics.

Many players were particularly detailed about what they liked and disliked about the characters, ranging from a dislike of how a character’s hands look to how muscular the male characters are, to a particular dislike for hunched and oversized shoulders. Comments about the aesthetics were very common, and often the first thing players noted in the comment field, which makes me suspect that perhaps there’s a hierarchy where aesthetics and variety are primary while other factors could be less important, but yet not inferior.

The category of aesthetics are made up from six questions, that I hoped would cover what players would look for in their character’s presence.

As the figure shows, the majority of players agreed to the aesthetic motivations for gender-bending. There is a difference between female and male player’s preferences, where females range below the male players again. Generally players find the aesthetics a defining factor when gender-bending, especially in terms of modeling and animations.

Sometimes, the choice of the players seemed to be founded in a lack of a better option, as one player puts it:

Male blood elves just look horrible, no other choice really”

Some players didn’t create a character with the specific gender in mind at first, but came to that solution after being dissatisfied with the initial character’s appearance. Here gender-bending is the lesser of two evils, and more a product of design that doesn’t excite the player, than a focused decision. Evidently gender-bending in WoW can be both a tool of gain but indeed also a tool of avoidance.

Gender Discourses

A deeper investigation into exactly what it is that doesn’t work with the specific characters, can give more background information about how and why these choices are made. One player goes into detail saying:

I think female suit casters, and melee heavy classes better suit male characters

Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell and Moore found in their study “Building an MMO With Mass Appeal” (2006) that priests were the class with the most equal character-gender distribution, 40.4% male characters vs. 59.6% female. This fits quite well with the notion of male players choosing to create a female character when wanting to play a priest. 14% of the male players in my survey also chose a female priest, which was one of the most popular classes for male gender-benders.

Hilde G. Corneliussen writes in “World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism”(2008) how the different activities in WoW can be associated with masculinity or femininity, as f. ex. cooking and healing, which can be seen as areas traditionally reserved for women, while blacksmithing and mining is associated with masculine values. What is interesting here, she says, is that WoW doesn’t just invite female players to act like men through these activities, but also invites male players to engage in feminine activities such as f. ex. wearing robes and healing, an activity priests have a wide variety of skills in.

In relation to gender-bending, this invitation to engage in, by our cultural perception, feminine or masculine activities, can be dodged by gender-bending, as one player says:

who would want to look at a guy with a robe?”

Instead, players can choose to create a character of the opposite gender, which they find fitting in terms of looks/activities for the class, and avoid stepping into a different discourse of the gender stereotypes, risking himself and/or his character to be perceived as homosexual:

So I chose a female because of the Male ones looks gay”.

It is important to note, that my survey shows females engaging in this form of gender-bending as well. One female player is very particular about clothing, preferring her female characters wearing robes, she says:

If any of the Cataclysm tier armor is tunic + leggings rather than a robe I’ll probably change her to male blood elf or undead until I can wear robes again.  Yes it bothers me that much!”.

I’m like this player, with one exception. Shaman gear is sometimes kilt, sometimes pants. I want the pants! I even want pants for my priest, but that is impossible at high levels, so I’ll have to  do with the robes.

I think the fact some players gender-bend in order to conform to the gender stereotypes of our western ideals, shows how we interpret and reproduce our cultural understandings even if the virtual world is fictional, but also when it comes with a back story that could lead us to reinterpret these perceptions of gender. Especially in WoW when Blizzard seems to ignore some cultural discourses about gender, f. ex. in terms of having a complete gender binary, and at the same time almost exclusively offering robes for casters, despite their gender. I believe this serves as an example of how some players find their own gender discourses in conflict with the one offered by the game.

Lore comes into play as well

On the contrary, my survey also shows how players purposefully choose to gender-bend exactly because of the back-story of WoW, the lore. This reasoning is another way of interpreting the questionThe gender I chose suited the class better in my opinion”.  I believe these players are mainly motivated by wishes to roleplay a lore authentic character:

My “Main” of a different gender is a Night Elven Warrior.
In lore, the women are the warriors of the Kaldorei.
My girlfriend at he time made a Male Druid, which we levelled together”

The screenshot below shows the roleplay guild Silverwing Sentinels on Argent Dawn (EU), and as you can see, their army consists of female night elven fighters only.

Too much butch or too much boob?

“The male ones are far too “macho” one player said. Yes, were moving into much debatable territory. If you want to play male in WoW, you will have to put up with a good portion of muscle mass, unless you want to be small and gnomish

Chastity at the blog Rightous Orbs wrote the post What About the MENZ, where he takes a closer look at screenshots of the male blood elves. They look so slim just standing up, but when he puts the 3d model into other positions, male blood elves look pretty brawny to me too.

Some of you might already know that the original male blood elves were given some pixel steriods before being implemented into the game. If not, here’s your update. It includes a quote from Blizzard regarding the model of the male blood elf.

Despite this attempt, the male blood elves are still not considered masculine (enough), although I’m sure their /joke-line adds to it:.”Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”

Chastity attributed this fact of body image as the reason he prefers female characters in WoW. As a contrast to players engaging in traditional discourses about gender, some players avoid it purposefully based on their dislike for hypermasculine characters, as Chastity exemplifies.

Turning the tables, I also had a female player very bluntly stating:

Because, quite frankly, most of the females in WoW look like porn stars. I prefer steroid men to porn star women.

This player refers to WoW only, but her statement can be extended to the typical way men and women have been portrayed in games – men as very muscular and women as sex objects, with Lara Croft as the most well known example of this criticism.

It’s a discussion dating years back, including explanations for the lack of women gamers, which some voices claim can be seen as a product of the lack of active female heroes in games. In this light, we can understand this player’s choice as an avoidance of taking upon herself the role of the hypersexualized female protagonist, in the option of a female character in WoW. Sadly this female player didn’t say whether she objected to the body shape of the female characters, or the clothing, or both for that matter.


Relevant to this, is the popular slang within the WoW-community named “bikini-plate”. Bikini-plate denotes this particular clothing, often plate, which appears differently on female and male characters.

These two characters are wearing the exact same clothing set named “Glorious”.

As is clear from the picture, the clothing the female is wearing is much more revealing, especially around the rear and stomach/back, whereas on the male character, these areas have been covered.

This set of clothing almost doesn’t even look like the same set between the two characters. This principle varies across clothing in WoW, where some gear looks identical between the two genders, to more revealing on the female. The set displayed on the picture is not the only example of this, as you can see on Roleplaygear.

The bikini-plate can be seen as a way of sexualizing the female characters for the viewing pleasure of the male players, but at the same time it’s a character model some female players attempt to escape from.

While some female players may be deterred from playing the female characters due to finding them looking like “porn stars”, there’s another group of female players who prefer conceivably not a porn star, but at least a highly attractive female character:

I grew up with games, but I can only remember one game where I could play a female hero: Lara Croft. She became my favourite of all time.”

Cool or Sexy?

The figure at the top showed that under the Aesthetics category, the stimulation question was the least popular. While a lot of male players find their female characters aesthetically pleasing, not all of them adheres to the description of them also being stimulating, 46%.  Also the female players did not dismiss this option either, although still turning up at a lower percentage, 31%. Several players found a sexual connotation in the word stimulating  and some directly opposed this notion of what another player would coin “eye candy”.

Male players more often described their character in terms of sexual attractiveness:

If I’m going to stare at someone’s behind for several hours it may as well be pretty.

This particular formulation is very typical as an explanation for gender-bending, although one female joined the group:

I like to play male characters. They look hot and hide me from a herd of horny teenagers.”

Another way of looking at the objectification could be as a strategy to affirm one’s own sexuality and by proxy negating claims of deviance when playing the opposite gender. Even though Esther MacCallum-Stewart in Real Boys Carry Girly Epics: Normalising Gender Bending in Online Games (2008) writes that: Players are absolutely unrepentant about the fact that they find the female avatars more attractive., my male respondents were not entirely describing their female avatars in terms of attraction. Even though sexualized words were sometimes used, it was not to an “unrepentant” degree.

One player puts it this way:

I thought night elf females are way cooler compared to night elf males. Just prefer their…. style?”

Notice his choice of the word “cool”, which does not have a sexualized connotation. Another great example is the post “Male player, female toon: my personal take on a worn-out topic” by Russ at Sunmurma:

“While I think my toon looks badass, I don’t think she looks particularly sexy, or girly for that matter. If anything, she looks handsome, beautiful, self-confident and powerful”

This is by the way also how I feel about my female characters.

So while looking at the overall distribution of the Aesthetic category, the stimulation factor for both genders of players did not range as high as a more neutral wording with regards to modeling, which peaks at 90%.

The Popular Blood Elves

The blood elves were the most popular race for gender-benders in my survey, where a fourth had chosen a blood elf as their most prominent gender-bended character. The blood elves were also the most popular for both male and female players. This meant that gender-bending became more common on Horde side overall due to this favoritism. 35% of these were also paladins, which on horde side traditionally could only be played by blood elves. I’m suspecting these facts are interconnected.

Understanding male player’s choices to play a female blood elf paladin can f. ex. be explained by the fact male blood elves are very feminized and are implied to be homosexual, as I discussed up above, despite the fact Blizzard tried to counter this to some degree, by adding body mass. A theory as to why females also prefer blood elves when gender-bending, could be that the female players do see an attraction into what could be perceived as a very metro sexual masculinity, or perhaps a movement away from a very brutal masculinity negatively mentioned earlier by a few male respondents as well.

Overall the blood elves are perhaps the most idealized race in WoW based on western ideals of beauty, and despite the fact they carry the mark of being “the other” as does the remaining Horde races, they visually do not share their savage and brutal appearances. In fact they are said to be aristocratic and snobbish, and to some degree be reminiscent of the anime-style. Their stand-out polished, idealized aesthetic and upper-class demeanor as a counterweight and plain variety to the other Horde races, could also be an explanation to why also the female horde players prefer the blood elves. I am just guessing here.

Recent findings as part of the PlayOn 2.0 project by Ducheneaut and Yee also found blood elves to be the favorite amongst gender-benders, but ranged night elves, humans and draenei much higher for male gender-benders than my data does, ergo according to the PlayOn 2.0 project, male gender-benders go for the more attractive female races more equally. The females also first and foremost prefer blood elves according to this source.

Worgen and Goblin could be Changing the Patterns

I believe the patterns of gender-bending are undergoing changes these months, as the two new playable races (goblin and worgen) were added the 7th of December 2010 with the Cataclysm expansion.

An example could be the newly added worgen race, which is reminiscent of the werewolf, a very anthropomorphic and feral looking character. The worgen race, I believe, adds a new layer of primal force to the Alliance faction, perhaps more bestial looking than any of the Horde races. Maybe some players will revert their act of gender-bending or convert, based on these two new races.

Summing it up

As fundamental the choices were regarding aesthetics, players still choose to gender-bend for very different aesthetic reasons. For both male and female players, avoiding stereotypes of their own genders was a motivating factor, while some gender-bended as an act of conforming to ideals of femininity and masculinity by avoiding having f. ex. a male character wearing a robe.

Despite WoW being a place that is not perfect in a feminist perspective, I’d say it still flirts a little with gender stereotypes. Perhaps game universes can also be playgrounds for challenging cultural perceptions of gender, as we saw by some players utilizing this option, although others avoid it.

Amongst gender-benders we also find players who pay attention to detail and will, in finding an unaesthetic feature, gender-bend. This shows that gender sometimes, if not often, comes secondary to other factors such as class options, animations, here under f. ex in what players would describe as more natural”, “graceful movement and modeling”.

Smoothness of movement is absolutely essential to me. I’m very happy about night elf females jump animations, and generally like their way of running and casting. As for f. ex. gnome females, watching them break their neck backwards everytime they jump, gives me sympathy pains. If the looks and movements do not come together as a whole, I will probably seek an alternative to that race, and although I don’t gender-bend, I fully understand players that do based on the aesthetics.

Next in part 6: Bring the Player, not the Gender, we shall look at another motivation for gender-bending – “Social Interactions”. This category includes both gender-exploration but also gender as an identifier when interacting with other players in WoW.

So long!

Avoiding Clones – Gender-bending pt. 4

The Gender-bending series is based on the result of my own little survey, attempting to map all the motivations of WoW-players playing a character of the opposite gender. Each part deals with a certain aspect of gender-bending in games.

Part 1: Advertizing the survey
Part 2: Throwing myself to the lions….I mean trolls!
Part 3: The Spectacle of Play and Characters
Part 4: Avoiding Clones
Part 5: To Wear or to Not Wear Robes
Part 6: Bring the Player, not the Gender
Part 7: Uniqueness and the Trademark of the Female Dwarf
Part 8: In Game Advantages
Part 9: For the Love of Names
Part 10: Summing it Up

Getting the Basics Down

195 players filled out the first page of the survey and 173 proceeded to the motivations part and finished the whole thing. This means all the data I’ve acquired is only regarding the minority part of the WoW-player base who gender-bends, and who decided to fill out my survey.

Female: 34 respondents – 17 %
Male: 161 respondents – 83 %

As the diagram to the left shows, the majority of gender-benders actually do not have a main character of the opposite gender. Perhaps gender-bending can be seen as something players utilize more readily when it comes to their less prominent characters, their alts, which especially can be said about the female players.

This is also something to keep in mind when we’re moving on to why people do it.

This is the categorization of my questions:

  • Variety
  • Aesthetics
  • Social Interaction
  • Uniqueness
  • Advantage in Game

The following parts of the series will be dealing with each one in detail. For now, and to not make this post too long, I’ll only deal with the category of Variety.

The Top Motivation: Variety

The most frequent reason players chose a character of the opposite gender, was variety, as one respondent says: Because I already had several male characters and just fancied something a bit different.

The many different classes which offer a strong value of replay-ability in WoW, encourages players to create multiple characters. In this light, an effort by the player is put into making this array of characters look different and apart, as to not clone their already existing characters. Here gender-bending becomes an option, especially when the player wishes to utilize the same race again. This is also reminiscent of the wish to have unique characters as we shall see later.

Also, WoW writes itself into a history and legacy of other games where female leads were the only option in games marketed to a male audience, as one respondent says: Playing through a game like Tomb Raider is no different to having a female character in an MMO.

It is not unlikely that the large amount of male leads in computer games have influenced female gamers into this pattern of gender-bending as well. Not to forget the MMORPG’s which do not have a complete gender binary option in character creation mode, making only some classes available to some genders. Perhaps this has created an environment where gender-bending is encouraged and therefore normalized through means of design.

It’s my impression that the WoW community is a little iffy about gender-bending. I’ve seen it come up several times on the forums, and the reception of my survey was flavoured with some suspecion of my motives. I wonder if other gaming communities, f. ex. Warhammer Online, are completely down with this, as this MMORPG has both female-only and male-only classes, a two way gender-bend street.

Viewing WoW through this lense, we see how it’s part of a wider gaming culture and history, where gender is more a matter of aesthetics (and play with avatars), as we shall explore in the next part of the series, than it is perhaps about identification as I mentioned in The Spectacle of Play and Characters – Gender-bending pt. 3.

Looking at my own gaming history, I firmly steered away from games that didn’t offer a female counterpart. Perhaps I just saw it as a signal that this game wasn’t for me. Have you played another computer game where the only option was a character of the opposite gender? And how did it affect your gaming experience, if it did at all?