Switching Genders in MMOs

Even though from a young age me and my brother both played video games, he was the “real” gamer. I aspired to gain equal status, but never understood the difference between the hours he spent on the computer and the hours I spent on gameboy. One day, in my attempts to understand, I peeked over his shoulder and watched him play for about a half hour. The first thing I noticed to my surprise was that his avatar was wearing a skirt! Was my brother playing as a girl? When I asked him about it, he muttered a quick yes that implied that he wasn’t gonna answer any more questions. I continued to watch as he traveled a 3D landscape killing monsters, cutting down trees, making armor, fishing, cooking; the game was much more complex than my simple side scrolling game of Mario. The next day, I decided to join the complexity that was Runescape! The first screen I was faced with in joining was the character creation screen. I decided that if my brother was a girl, I could be a boy. I created a blond, tan boy character called Xexna. It only took me a week before I was absolutely obsessed with the game. The update to Runescape 2.0 was one of the most memorable events of my gaming life and for my birthday all I wanted was the $5 a month membership so I could join the elite. It still took me until ~level 70 before my brother would start talking to me about the game.

The first thing he asked was how I was doing. When I told him I was level 70 already, it opened him up to an entire conversation. He wanted to see my character and armor, go on quests with me, and even friend me! I was ecstatic so I hurriedly opened my computer, went to log on screen, and signed in. Expecting praise for my high level armor set and weapon (rune with some dragon) I was shocked when the first thing my brother said was “Why are you a guy?” 

It was then that I discovered he wasn’t a girl because he aspired to be one. He was a girl because the armor skirts were cheaper than the armor legs. He was a girl because in the earlier levels of the game high level boys gifted you with items. He was a girl because in the wilderness (where there was player versus player) people were less likely to gang up against female characters. Essentially, male players thought that what they assumed were female players needed help and were not to be taken as seriously. He thought it was ridiculous that I wanted to play a male character because it only made the game harder for myself. I thought it was ridiculous that he wanted to be made a charity case and thought of as less just because of his avatar.

At the time, I didn’t know what feminism or the patriarchy or sexism was. I didn’t know any of that. All I knew is that I was happy to be a boy character because I wanted to be taken just as seriously (if not more) than my brother. Looking back at it, this was one of my first steps towards feminism. It was absolutely ridiculous that I had to hide under the mask of a male avatar to do so, but it opened me up to a wonderful new world and opened my eyes to the problem that both of my worlds faced: gender inequality.

3 thoughts on “Switching Genders in MMOs

  1. This was a really great post to read. The concept of “Real Gamers” is a really interesting one and your brother throws a bit of a wrench in the commonly-held definition. I’ve been informed by online “Real Gamers” that casual is for new players (who are, of course, unwelcome in the gaming community) and Real Players only use hard (or survival, or nightmare, or whatever the hardest difficulty is) mode. Yet your brother created a strategy in which he could be playing on “easy”, with gifts and a lessened likelihood of an unfair fight. A brilliant, if morally questionable, plan that has really neat reflections on society at large, which you mention in your bolded bit (which was fantastic).

    The intersection of “Real Gamers” and misogyny is a really interesting one and playing alternate genders is equally fascinating. Out of curiosity I search “girls in MMOs”, figuring that there’d be a forum since this is apparently a real strategy people use, and found this: [ http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/general-discussion-30/do-you-ever-pretend-to-be-a-girl-on-mmos-or-any-ot-503112/ ].

    It’s equal parts intellectually interesting, depressing, and funny.

  2. The whole gifting female characters things definitely have a downside too, I always merced female characters in the wilderness because they had all the good stuff.

  3. I wanted to let you know that I chose this as one of my favorite blog posts for the year. I like this post because I’ve actually witnessed this happen before and I couldn’t agree more with you. Thank you for posting about this.

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