The Better Bombshell is a blog (also becoming a book in February of next year) that discusses the redefinition of the sexy female “bombshell” in society. This past month they’ve been doing interviews with women in the gaming industry, getting their opinions on women in all aspects of gaming (development, playing, etc). One of the interviews was with Paula Cuneo, VP of Transmedia Marketing at Meteor Entertainment, who answered questions on gender dynamics in gaming.
While I liked the discussion in general (as I do most any discussion on the topic of diversity in gaming), I found myself initially displeased with her assessment of a main question of the article: why approximately 50% of men play female characters in games:
Because they can! Cross gender exploration is the ultimate roleplay, and it affords the player the opportunity to create a multivalent character with attributes that might help them play better. The dichotomy of the female identity is compelling: powerful yet vulnerable, smart and strategic. She embodies the magic and mystery of creating life. She is seen as a healer, a nurturer, and a relentless defender of her brood, her clan. How badass is a character that encompasses all those traits?
My knee-jerk reaction was to think she was full of hoo-hah. In my World of Warcraft experience, men typically choose to play female characters for purely aesthetic reasons: “If I have to look at someone’s back for 4 hours straight,” one guy told me, “I’d rather it be a good-looking one!” He didn’t mean it in any lascivious way, but rather – not unlike anything else in a game – it’s simply more interesting if it’s prettier, and to him prettier meant looking at a woman as opposed to a man. When I made a choice to play a male character in WoW it was also for aesthetic reasons: bigger male shoulders meant bigger, flashier shoulder gear. With those things in my mind, I thought it was ridiculous to insist that men’s choices typically have to do with an interest in the inner workings of the female psyche. Nonsense!
But then, after letting the idea sit on my back burner for awhile, I started realizing that I was being harsh. My handful of experiences in games certainly don’t encompass the entirety of a male’s experiences in RPGs (especially considering the fact that I’m a woman) or gaming in general, and after even further thought, I found I wasn’t even analyzing my experiences thoroughly enough. Additionally, I know there are plenty of men who do cross-gender cosplay, and I assume that to actually dress cross-gender can take a deeper interest in women beyond basic aesthetics. If that’s the case, surely the same can apply to gaming! I don’t mean to limit this to men, either – there’s plenty of cross-gender gaming and cosplay by women as well.
Though, when it comes to women playing cross-gender characters, I think our choices are sometimes forced to be slightly different than men’s. We’re often forced into male characters, for example, as sometimes female avatars simply aren’t available. In other instances – in the case of online gaming – women choose male characters as a form of safety; on the internet no one has to know you’re a woman.
Any time I’ve personally had a choice I almost always go with a female character: World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, Fallout, etc. Having a character I can identify with and sink myself into is a major way I enjoy my gaming experience, so choosing to have a female avatar is important to me. When I do choose male avatars it’s typically partially for aesthetics, and partially because I’m crafting a character in my head. When I did a Renegade re-play of Mass Effect and decided to go with a BroShep, I had a specific character in my mind that I wanted to create and impress Renegade characteristics upon. I wasn’t necessarily trying to understand what it was like to be a man, but rather the motivations of a darker and more jaded character in response to the world. But then, that’s just me!
So tell me, men and women: why do you – IF you do, of course – choose to play opposite-gender characters in games (class restrictions and stats aside, of course)? I’m genuinely curious to hear how people make these choices!