Traveling the Multiverse

Aka Ironyca Stood in the Fire – gaming blog

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?

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2 comments on “Avoiding Clones – Gender-bending pt. 4

  1. Zinn
    January 15, 2011

    I don’t think I’ve thought much about whether a character was male or female when I chose them, I often just went with what felt most like “me” for the moment (which mostly was totally arbitrarily). I played alot of multiplayer games when I was young which often gave a wide range of choices for characters. In Mario Kart I mostly played Yoshi or Luigi, don’t ask me why. In Golden Eye I don’t recall having a favorite and probably played just anyone. In Super Smash Bros I played either Fox or Kirby. There might be some pattern, but I don’t see it. And still today for my WoW-gaming I mostly choose the character that feels best for the role. I think some females look better than others: female troll casters look good, female troll melee look stupid. Female tauren all look stupid, although I like melee a little more than casters. Male night elf all look stupid although I like casters more than melee and so on. I could go on about each class, but in the end I yet again don’t see a pattern other than looks.
    My boyfriend on the other hand never plays female characters, unless forced to (like with Tomb Raider). I asked him why and he said that it was because he couldn’t identify with the character. So there might be different levels of identification that matters here as well. I identify very little with my characters – it is always me holding the control that matters. To him, the character on the screen represents him more than I feel my characters represent me.
    Sorry for the rant, it’s early morning ^^ I love the subject though, I will eagerly await your coming posts :)

  2. ironyca
    January 16, 2011

    I’m like your boyfriend, I only play dudes when forced to, such as Mario etc. But when there’s a proper character creation mode or it’s heavy roleplay/narrative (Heavy Rain fx) I much prefer a female, and I’ll be miffed if I can’t have it! :<

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