Tag Archives: Virtual Worlds

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.

Prelude

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

Results

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

Conclusion

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.

This is Unconventional Gameplay at it’s best! – “Premade of Doom”

I previously wrote the post entitled “So, why do you play WoW? And how do you convey this to others?”, where I listed different thrills people get from the game.

There’s one which I’d like to elaborate on, because it sums up a creativity that can expand on the general idea of how you’re supposed to play WoW, and that is what I previously called “unconventional ways to have fun in the game“.

A perfect example is Falcore (from Moonglade EU) and his “Premades of Doom”, of which you can see the three part series underneath. If you’re doubting they’ll be worthwhile – trust me, those three videoes are hilarious!

The idea is basically to be silly and have fun, but it’s also entertaining to see them testing the Horde’s reaction to the unexpected and clearly gimmicky group of Alliance players. Some would attack them without blinking an eye, but you also see others being inspired by this, as with the orc breaking into Hammer time dancing in the middle of Arathi Basin in a sheer spark of party mood (featured in Premade of Doom 2).

MMO’s are virtual spaces with room for expression, you don’t have to play the intended way. Like Falcore says on the Youtube description of the videoes, they did it as a tribute to the boring grind, that is, Battlegrounds.

This is by no means the only example out there. My point with this post, besides spreading some really funny WoW videoes, is also to make other players think of how they can spice up what can sometimes seem like a daily routine in the game. The moments where you yourself redefine how you play, and parody the usual way we play WoW (like the Premades of Doom), can be just as much fun as conventional gameplay.

WoW meets Blue Mars – about the Avatar Gaze

I’ve been to Blue Mars and I made it back alive. As you can see on the picture above, it was quite peaceful, except for a few things that creeped me out!

Firstly – what is Blue Mars?

Blue Mars is a 3D social virtual world platform. It’s much like Second Life in that you can build and add your own content and be a co-creator in this online world. Blue Mars is however very new compaired to the rest of the industry, we’re still participating in a launch beta, meaning a lot of it is not finished yet.

I went along with Vaneeesa Blaylock, the Second Life performance artist, who had invited people in her blog post Field Trip: Blue Mars to visit this new “planet”. Sadly my Blue Mars software was rather buggy, so I lost the tour group several times. To add to injury, I had befriended several people, but the interface doesn’t let you see which zone they are in. So I only managed to track them down again at the Welcome Area, which is pictured below.

What can Blue Mars bring to the table?

I’ve always found social platform worlds to be tricky. I’m not sure I completely understand them. As a gamer, I’m left with the big question “but what is there to do in there?“. Aside from the usual shopping and dressing up your avatar, I guess you can explore, chat with others and engage in minigames as bowling and golf, as I am on the picture below.

Blue Mars seems caught in between being something that doesn’t attract gamers (the shopping aspect) and trying to attract users from Second Life, which is very established already.

What can Blue Mars give us then?

I don’t know much about content creation, but I do know a little about the engine Blue Mars runs on, because it was originally made for a computer game (Shortly an engine is the framework upon which the game is built). The first person shooters Far Cry and Crysis both runs on versions of this engine, and are known to be very demanding on computers due to the neat graphics. I remember when gamers would relate to others how good their computer was, by how well it ran Crysis. I’m not a fan of first person shooters, so I’ve never played them, but I did get a small taste of the potential of the Cry Engine by faffing around in Blue Mars. It’s how it goes in the gaming industry, graphics go up up up, and Blue Mars delivers.

I went to the zone called ARAF, it’s a green tinted futuristic jungle like landscape, and I must admit I was utterly amazed at the beauty of the place. It was the first time in Blue Mars that I really felt like exploring this mythical looking scenery – so I did.

As a counterweight to my tingling curiousity, it was just that, scenery. No other avatars and no opportunities for interaction with anything in a meaningful way – from what I could see.

I take it as this place was more of an experimental playground to a designer.

A showcase of 3D landscape art.

It is stunning though, and I do wonder if the reason behind me feeling strangely at home there, had to do with the different similarities the zone had to a few zones within WoW (fx Feralas and Sholazar Basin).

My avatar looked completely out of place in in this emerald fantasy though, and I found myself wishing for a nice staff and a hood to go with the style, so I wouldn’t look like such a tourist! As long as you don’t own land in Blue Mars, maybe are you just that – an earthling visiting.

I think my avatar might have a crush on me!

At least she kept looking at me! I have always thought of an avatar as a virtual representation of me in cyberspace, but perhaps Blue Mars disagrees. To me, the identity immersion was completely broken by the fact my avatar liked to look at me (i.e. gaze at the “camera”), and sometimes her posing even looked flirtatious.

I was highly disturbed by the fact, that my idea of her and me being the same was thrown overboard, when she continously decided to turn her head and smile at me. If she is looking at ME, I can’t be HER.

What am I then? I guess I’m the weird pervert who follows her, mostly from behind, controlling her every move? Well..  she seemed fine with it…

I should add that other avatars gaze back as well if you turn your camera to be in front of them, even to the point it feels like they could be whispering about you, right in front of you.

The environmental sounds also followed the camera, and not my avatar. I discovered this when I kept triggering a sound of water dripping whenever I changed the viewing angle on my avatar. It turned out, it was the fountain next to my “camera”, which lead to me conclude, that I, as this ethereal stalker, also have a hearing sense besides my evident ability to see things through my lense.

My feeling of being behind a camera became even more accentuated when I noticed this effect of water running down the “lense”, whenever I had submerged my “camera” under water, and brought it back up again. I’m not sure what effect they wanted when they put that in, and I can only assume it’s meant to add a sense of liquid realism to the element of water.

In WoW I never get stared at, in fact, catching a chatacters eye can be difficult, especially when some races don’t even have pupils! It was a very special experience to me, when I compare it the place I come from, where the view of the camera isn’t given any individual presence. I wonder if they are going to keep these paparazzi features in permanently.

It could also just be a case of what Vaneeesa coined as “an out of avatar experience”.

Hello Blue Mars – Meet The Sims

The controls in Blue Mars are very simple and easy to learn, as is the interface. There was one thing I could have wished for still: I wish they had studied The Sims series.

The Sims is a game, and Blue Mars isn’t entirely, but they still have a lot in common. The Sims fx have something called “pathing”. Without pathing, your avatar will walk in a straight line to the destination you clicked (the blue cone in Blue Mars), including getting stuck on whatever is in their way. With pathing your avatar will get to the point you designated by choosing the shortest path, thus being able to turn around fx corners by themselves. I’m lazy and prefer it when my avatar can do all the hard work for me.

Of course this meant that in Blue Mars, moving around narrow places could be dodgy at times, with my avatar looking very silly walking into pot plants and furniture. In Blue Mars, navigating in a house like this one below (from Sims 3), would be a challenge.

The lack of pathing really puts pressure on designers to make places that are not only beautiful, but also functional in terms of effortless movement.

I also wish Blue Mars had taken a look at The Sims when it came to avatar motions and expressions. I like when my avatars go nuts, scream of laughter and slap their thighs. I want them to do a summersault when they celebrate, and cry to the heavens when they are upset.

Here Ironyca is doing a cry emote. Is she crying? Or just looking at her hand?

Since I know Blue Mars is not finished yet, I hope they will add more expressive emotes and less expressive posing and walking. I think everybody noted how fidgety our avatars were while especially sitting, constantly changing position. Walking and running from the female avatar perspective is much like a model stride, like Vaneeesa put it: “I run like Yasmene Bleeth in Baywatch”.

Virtual World or Virtual Zones?

Whenever you want to travel somewhere else in Blue Mars, you don’t take a flightpath or ride your mount, you change zone. It’s fast and gives a nice overview like the picture to the left.

Coming from WoW I lose the sense of world and gain the feeling of instance. Zones are not in relation to each other, and you can’t go directly from one to the other. Instead, every zone seems to have a theme and you download the whole thing before you enter it, leaving your latency relatively low.

I wonder if the houses in Caledonia above are meant for future Martian residents. At the time being, all the zones I visited felt a little empty. I wasn’t able to find any populated domestic area, but maybe that’s in the future.

Based on my experience in Blue Mars, I’d give it some time to get settled and then plug back into it, to see it in it’s full splendor. There’s definately potential and the visual side is alluring.

If some crazy designer would whip up another aesthetic wonder like ARAF, I will be there – with my hood and staff!