In Another Man’s Moccasins

Some people put great store in the face they choose to represent themselves. Others view a digital avatar as a thing to be had, an object, a possession.

I am one of the former. For a long time I thought that perhaps there was something wrong with me. I’m fully aware that I am not actually covered in tattoos and flinging protection spells at my friends. Why then do I feel so uncomfortable playing with a male avatar? It’s not like I wouldn’t enjoy watching the backside of a beautifully sculpted male body (quite the contrary *snicker*), but whenever I try to keep up with a male avatar I’m left with a crawly, itchy feeling, like I’m wearing someone else’s skin.

At first I ignored it and just chalked it up to me being the kind of person who only plays as her own gender.

How then do I describe my forum role-play and writing? I can role-play a man with the best of them. I even enjoy it, and I’m assured that the male characters in my stories are believable. So what’s the deal? Am I actually fatally flawed and in some way psychotic? As much fun as it would be to entertain that possibility, I really don’t think so.

What then is my motivation? Where am I being hung up?

It’s not in the armor category. Many times I prefer the male armors to their femaleΒ  counterparts (I’ve got a thing for ram horns). And it hasn’t got to do with the animations. I feel the animation quality for the males and the females of all professions are of the same (very high) quality.

What then? What is it driving this feeling that I’m an intruder in someone else’s body?

I think it has to do with action versus record.

When playing a game I am active. I actively press down the W key and my avatar walks forward. When I circle around a guild-mate and act like an idiot it’s my own fingers performing that dance. My own muscles move and, in response, my avatar moves as well. For that moment I feel like I am my character. Though I’m fully aware that is not the case, the feeling is still there.

When roleplaying I operate entirely differently. For starters I write in the third person. He did this, She said that. My character turns then into He, She, and they. It is no longer I.

I believe the disconnect happens when I think or say something like “I’ll be right there” and when I look at the screen that I that I see is a man. I look into the mirror every day and see a woman. I am very much a woman. Pretending to be otherwise leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. I don’t want to get into gender identity and comfort with one’s own sexuality. I’m just saying that’s how I personally feel.

While thinking about this I realized that I also write in the third person. I can count on one hand the times I have written in the first person and none of them involved a male main character. The only sample I have of writing in the first person (other than my blogged stories about myself, which don’t count) is a small piece of flash (which I’m currently trying to get published).

I’m interested to hear how others feel about their characters. Are you able to disconnect your kinetic actions of pressing keys from your sense of self? Do you just prefer to wear the skin of another gender? Or are you like me, stuck in a rut?

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  • Comments (10)
    • Jason
    • August 5th, 2010

    I’ve had several years of playing not-my-gender characters. It can be difficult depending on your level of immersion. I still feel a bit uncomfortable role-playing a female character. For me, it is mostly that I don’t feel genuine (I wonder why :)).

    Playing a female character in GW wasn’t an issue for me because it is just a character on the screen. I enjoyed putting armor on them, but it didn’t go further than that. I have had some experience role-playing a female character in GW, which turned out fine. Still, I felt self-critical like you describe yourself.

    Role-playing an opposite gendered character can be difficult if nothing else than you’re less familiar with what the general person of that gender is thinking and how he/she would react in a given situation. I tend to focus on aspects of my female characters’ personalities and use that as a guide for role-playing, rather than focusing on their gender. The best thing I can say is keep at it. That weird feeling will diminish eventually, but it’ll never truly go away. You’ll just get better at being, well, you.

    Avatars are a small part of who you are to some degree, whether to accent a part of you or compensate for it. I know, I’ve done research on this very subject. Just try not to get too mucked down in why you made this particular character or which part of you is in the character. That’ll drive you bonkers. I mean, for crying out loud, my main character is a necromancer and I’m a budding psychologist. Think about THAT! πŸ™‚

  1. I’m sort of with you on gender. I don’t know how men can play female characters and justify it by saying ‘oh they’re sexy’ or ‘I don’t want to look at a man’s behind all day’. that just strikes me as so weird. first of all, its pixels. 2ndly are you a cross dresser?

    I like to be represented by my own gender. some version of me.

  2. For me it follows from something I was writing about just today. When I made my first character in GW, it was a ranger. It never, on any level, occurred to me to make a female ranger, in fact, I was quite shocked to discover just how many cross ‘gender’ characters there were. My ranger is me and I am my ranger. It couldn’t possibly be female. Same goes for all my chars. I have had many discussions / debates about this very subject, but despite all logical, philosophical and social factors that point toward it just not being of any consequence in an on=line game, I just wouldn’t ‘feel’ comfortable playing a female character:)

  3. I’d have to say I’m with you on this. I don’t role play, but I have written a middling amount of fiction, some with all male characters, and I have no problems writing from a 3rd person male perspective – but in a game, although my character may not look like me, she *is* me in a way, in the ways I am able to relate to her. I cannot portray a male character in games because my characters are not simply vessels for moving around.

    In a similar way, although I have played different classes in different games, a large part of the classes I choose to play are based on what *I’d* like to do in that game world.

    • Silvanus
    • August 7th, 2010

    Idk… But you’ve played with me long enough to know that close to half my characters are female. I think i do it just for the variety. I get to be a man in day to day life, why should i have to be in a game world too. πŸ˜›

  4. It’s interesting that you have that direct connection with your characters. Because for me, even with pressing the buttons and controlling the actions I still see everything as he, she, they, even with me in control.

    Since I’m able to make that disconnect, I have a wide variety of characters with both genders. In GW I never really invested into the RP side of things, which I’m hoping might change with GW2. If that does happen, then my tune might change.

    Playing Champions Online, I have a diverse set of heroes that are both male and female and I RP’ed a bit with them. I guess I’ve never felt that kind of oddity doing so. Maybe if I played Second Life.. πŸ˜‰

    • Crow
    • August 11th, 2010

    I actually prefer to go by the opposite gender in most RPGs. It’s not some creepy thing; I just find males a bit shallow and boring to role-play. There’s no strangeness to it – I’m not I do a very good job of portraying a female, but I do have more fun with it.

    • Brenna
    • September 16th, 2010

    Just found this blog today but have to make a comment. I am a woman… I have 8 GW girls, 7 Aion girls, and have named four GW2 girls that I can’t wait to create. Obviously, I like to remain female. However, what’s even odder is that my boyfriend plays as either male or female. He doesn’t care either way. But he laughs that my girls refer to his girls as “big sisters” and he’s commented that I stand farther away from his girls than I do his guys. I noticed he’s right, not that I understand the why of it. πŸ™‚

      • Tigerfeet
      • September 16th, 2010

      That’s really really interesting about the distance! I love seeing how different people react to the same thing πŸ™‚ And welcome, glad to have you here!

    • Andrea
    • November 28th, 2010

    I’m transgender. I was born with a male body and have since become a woman. I don’t really care to get into my transgenderness, but I think it gave me a rare perspective on this subject.

    When I started making rpg characters (around 12) I would pick male ones because subconsciously I felt that was what society dictated. I remember guys getting ridiculed for playing girl characters and I didn’t want to be one of them. Yet, I hated the male human characters (on steroids) when WoW came out and I chose to make a female character. I even named it after my cousin that was a girl just so that I could somehow say in my head that it wasn’t a direct representation of myself.

    Then, when I was 16 I figured out my sexuality and as a “gay boy” I was finally like fuck it! I want girl characters they are really cool. I continued to make a male character here and there, but in my mind they were all gay.

    When I was 18 I figured out that I was always really a girl and to this day I really don’t like my old male characters. They seem like they were created by someone who wasn’t really me. I think avatar creation can be an important decision a lot of people. I think we connect with our characters on a deep level. My characters have evolved with me, and its pretty awesome.

    I believe my situation is what society thinks most guys are doing when they make a female character (except its seen as like some sick cross-dressing). I don’t think thats true, I think I’m the exception to the rule. It may very well be that avatars are seen as virtual dream girls to guys and they like to look at a girl’s butt all day (The whole it’s just pixels is a stupid argument in my opinion, with an active imagination its not pixels at all). It could just be guys and girls accepting that hey its fun to role play as someone completely different. Or it could be that males in our society are told that they can’t be anything but manly and when given the option to get a taste of the freedom to be feminine they like that option. Both men and women have estrogen and testosterone, so it makes sense that we all can be a bit rough and a bit soft at times.

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