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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

For They Are Weary of Space Marines: Why Some Men Are Playing Women, and Why Game Developers Should Take Note


I spend a staggering amount of time thinking about video games. I’m constantly chewing on the reasons for the character choices we make and how people are represented within games. I’ve spent a lot brainpower mulling over that stuff from a woman’s perspective, and I confess that for a long while, I hadn’t dedicated many neurons to wondering how our brothers-in-arms felt about those very same things.

I knew that there was a big difference between the groovy gamer guys I hang with and the snarling trolls that lurk elsewhere. I knew that some men do not speak for all men, and that male gamers are every bit as diverse as women gamers. But there was one point that I had made a rather mindless assumption on: that for most straight male gamers, the main reason for playing a female character was to have something nice to look at. I mean, if you’ve spent any time in a multiplayer game, you’ve heard the following phrase: “If I’m going to look at an ass all day, I don’t want it to be a dude’s.” Even the most egalitarian gentleman can enjoy a bit of eye candy (who doesn’t?), and surely the plethora of cheesecakey box art and booth babes meant that the industry knew it was a view that most dudes shared.

But a few occurrences over the past few months got me thinking there was a lot more depth to the “target audience” than was being talked about.

One friend told me that in most RPGs, he prefers to play as a woman. Bear in mind, this is a guy who is biologically male, identifies as male, and presents himself in what I would consider to be a traditionally masculine manner. He found that if the gender of the character didn’t affect the story too much, then female characters were usually easier for him to relate to than their hyper-macho, gravelly-voiced counterparts. The typical portrayal of men in games was so far removed from his own identity that he often found it easier to play a woman.

Months later, my brother got into the beta for The Old Republic. As he was waxing poetic about the game over Skype, he mentioned that the Sith Inquisitor he created was female. I asked why. He swung the webcam around so that I could see the character creation screen. Two graceful Sith Inquisitors bowed towards me — the female lithe and sleek, the male broad and beefy. The character my brother wanted to create was a stealthy assassin, the kind of person you send in to quietly solve problems. In his eyes, the smaller female character was the obvious fit. I had to admit, it was hard to picture Darth Barrel Chest sneaking through windows.

Then a stranger commented on my personal blog. He, too, said that he generally went for female characters over male characters, and that he was irritated by things like his Dead Island character running around in high heels. He wondered why she never changed into “comfortable footwear.”

My curiosity was piqued. More and more, I found myself talking with or reading articles by male gamers (like Charlie Brooker’s great critique of Modern Warfare 3) who felt a disconnect between the fantasy on screen and their own sense of masculinity. That’s a feeling women gamers know keenly well (in terms of femininity, of course). To hear that feeling voiced from the other side, and to hear that it was so strong for some men that they had switched over to playing women…that made my ears prick. But with all the “well, it sells games” rationale we hear from the industry itself, I wondered if what I was seeing was just a fluke. The industry must’ve done some market research or something, right?

If they did, I couldn’t find it. So I did some of my own.

I created an informal online survey about gender choice in games, which I set loose on the internet back in late November. In order to get a look at the big picture, I invited folks of all genders and gaming habits to take part. I didn’t want to limit the responses or bias the answers by asking only for guys who played women on occasion. Though a few respondents were personal friends, the grand majority of respondents were total strangers from all sorts of gaming backgrounds.

Wow, was it interesting.

Ninety-seven people took the survey — 54 men and 43 women. A small sample, yes, but even just scratching the surface provided some solid food for thought. The questions were pretty straight-forward: what the player’s gender was, what genres of games they liked to play, and what gender characters they preferred playing. This led to more detailed questions of why they preferred playing said characters. If you’re curious to see the questions for yourself, the survey results can be viewed here. (I should mention that SurveyMonkey didn’t give me a way to publicly separate responses by gender, so the percentages won’t be the same as the ones I list here. I also chose to filter out the optional written responses for privacy’s sake, as a few folks wrote some very personal things in confidence about sexuality, struggles with gender identity, and harassment; these were coupled with names and email addresses.)

Next Page >>> “Right off the bat, there were a few differences between men and women — but not the ones you might expect.

TAGS: | | | |


  • Anonymous

    First off: Becky, write more here. This site is in desperate need of more video game articles.

    I’m really glad this particular subject was covered, and I’m glad its coming to light that the “because I like looking at girl ass” excuse hurts everyone. We should admit that the hyper-masculinity forced on men is terrible. (meanwhile, if you keep saying “because girl butt”, women hear that they’re being objectified yet again, but these other reasons are actually good ones.)

    Also, it sucks that lithe men are so frowned upon. We got chiseled, really buff, even fat male chars in generators … I suppose being lithe makes them look feminine, and therefore an abomination? For shame, society. For shame.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.ulmen Matthew ‘Raving Rendal’ Ulmen

    I love article like this. I play a female a good majority of the time, and honestly a lot of it comes from the fact that everywhere I go People assume, even in male avatar, that I in real life am female. After a while you get in the mindset of “Well OK so lets just play that”.

    Now then GIVEN that I really don’t like how females are shown in MMO’s which is my preferred mode of play. World of Warcraft is infamous for the “less is more” approach to armor for females. Rift does a little better but still has the same issues.

    I think the best place for being a character of either gender is Second Life. The level of customizability is insane. There is literally nothing in Second Life you can’t be. The downside for gamers is you have to look for the game and it isn’t always easy. It is more social network than gaming experience. Still if you enjoy exploring options for look you can’t find any game better.

  • Sarah Langan

    I hate the hyper-masculine, unrealistic male physique just as much as I hate the ultra-thin yet somehow still curvy with big boobs, unrealistic female physique. The female physique gets all the attention and complaints (for good reason), but the male physique needs to get complaints too. We can’t expect people to feel sympathy for the plight of unrealistically portrayed women if no one takes the time to understand the plight of unrealistically portrayed men as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-LaPergola/81300432 Amanda LaPergola

    ‘He wondered why she never changed into “comfortable footwear.”’
    My heart just grew three sizes today.

  • Anonymous

    When I play female characters, I actually get the opposite: I have to PROVE I am a woman, and there is no way in hell I’m falling for that, so, yeah, I just get into the mindset of “think whatever you want to think.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-LaPergola/81300432 Amanda LaPergola

    But, seriously, this was a great article.  We need more people, both men and women, writing thoughtfully and compassionately about video games.  Well done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.cicon Daniel Cicon

    I am a man who selects character gender on an almost regimented schedule. I will tell you that the “man-butt” reason is a good one, because it is the only one that stands up in the face of a phrase you may know well. “Homophobic peer pressure!”

    However, I find that that excuse no longer applies to me. I choose gender (and age, and body type) based on what I played last. And this applies to games without graphics as well (“man-butt” excuse falls short when playing DnD). I just find myself getting bored playing stock-man, or even my Photoshopped image of my self. Variety often provides entertainment!

    Take a shadowrun game I went through before as a scrawny, old, diminutive, sharp-shooter with decaying health. If our group of guys had all chosen paradigm strapping twenty-something professional killamagigs, where would our recurring Depends vendor joke-nemesis come from?

  • Nick Gaston

    For what it’s worth, I (a male) often get irked at the same thing, especially in sci-fi games/movies.

    “Yep! Cool character, neat costume, and…oh come on, HEELS? It’s the 25th century, *and* you’re on a spaceship…half the friggin’ floors are made of metal grates! That stiletto’s going to get stuck in about ten feet—IF you can run that far!”

  • Anonymous

    Great essay!

  • Anonymous

    “Most female gamers are tired of half-clad battle vixens”
    I can’t speak for most, but even I, a man, am bored of “half-clad battle vixens”, and am certainly tired of the ”
    roid-raging space marines”. Honestly, I want more depth in the gender roles. When I play female in Skyrim, some random lady in Whiterun says “I know it’s tough being a woman in Skyrim, but stay strong and men will come to respect you.” But Skyrim NPCs don’t ever follow through on this. My female character is treated exactly the same as my male character, even at early levels where I am yet to prove myself. Why can’t a game actually SHOW the difficulties a female character would have? Let me deal with men treating me as an inferior. Let me choose restrictive, sexy clothing versus frumpy, utilitarian clothing and deal with the consequences.
    For a non-gender example, in NWN2, I chose to be a neutral good demon-blooded character. NPCs constantly saw me as demon-blood, so I must be EVIL, and I rather enjoyed convincing them otherwise.
    Can a game do that? Or would you consider this too controversial?

  • Anonymous

    I just adore this article. So well-thought out! I find myself abusing both sides of the issue – I complain about nearly all the stock character sets geared to this increasingly illusive “generic male gamer”. I can get into JRPGs for this reason – many times the women are fully clad and the men are “sexy” and “sleek”. But whatever your preference, allowing the gamer to choose, and treating gamers as a more heterogenous group is to everyone’s benefit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nika-Kalantar/100001282923942 Nika Kalantar

    I suppose Champions Online is good in this respect, so I got off easy. You can’t make your character overweight, but can do pretty much everything else, there’s a chest depth option so if the fancy takes you you can have a barrel-chested 7 or maybe even 8ft tall woman and a tiny skinny boy.

  • http://twitter.com/antiavenger Mike Perry

    I have to say it’s refreshing to see these results as limited as they are. But I tend to choose my gender based on the role I’m playing – mostly to counter stereotype. For example, regardless of the game, I’ll make the character a female if it’s very combat oriented like a fighter in D&D or, in Skyrim, one that I’ll start favoring block/one-handed/two-handed skills. And I’ll even play female for good-aligned wizards (evil wizards are male – too many evil witches for my taste in pop culture). As such, I don’t play male often, but when I do it’s for a very counter-to-type roleplay anyway.
    So, yes, if anyone is sick of beefcake and skimpy babes, I’d say it has to be me as well.

  • Anonymous

    Considering some of my favourite game protagonists are female (April Ryan, Jade, Samus, Lara Croft, Princess Rosella, Heather Mason) I tend to play female characters in a game that offers the choice simply because… well, I kind of miss playing a female character. There’s something about stepping into someone else’s chromosomes that appeals to me.

    Regarding the male gaze: well, considering most of the games I play cover up that part of the female in third person, can’t say that’s much of a factor.  That seems more like macho posturing to deal with their issues with perceived homosexuality (like the “no homo” thing: some men are so weirdly afraid of being seen as remotely gay/effeminate that they go to silly lengths).  No doubt that might be a factor for people who find the female form pleasing, but I can’t recall many games that are forgiving on players who don’t bother with armour. If anything, I tend to make my female characters attractive simply from an aesthetic standpoint, though I was pleased in Skyrim you could make a grizzled, scared, bashed-about looking Valkyrie.

  • https://twitter.com/ZenPoseur ZenPoseur

    Seriously.  It’s an island full of dead people.  At least one of them has comfortable shoes.

  • Anonymous

    “Let me choose restrictive, sexy clothing … and deal with the consequences.”I just shuddered violently. That is so awful to think, let alone want. How dare you want that injected into games. Same with wanting ANY measure more of misogyny. That is not entertainment – it makes me physically ill.

  • Anonymous

    No, it wouldn’t exactly be entertainment, it would be Art. You know, that thing that we claim to be to defend ourselves against censors? Art is about provoking thought. Often times, you have to show what it’s like to be on the receiving end of something nasty to provoke thought about it. I’m not asking for misogyny being shown as good, quite the opposite, I want the player to have to overcome the misogyny of others, to triumph over it. Or if they choose a male character in the game, perhaps they have to see how the misogyny plays out toward others and choose to work against it from the other end. Who knows?

    Also, if you inserted “rape” or something like that into the consequences for restrictive, sexy clothing, that was all you (That’s the only reason I can think of for a violent shudder. Please elaborate if you have a different reason). I just meant the restrictions in freedom of movement, breaking heels, aching feet, etc.

  • Anonymous

    There should be NO “consequences” to sexy clothing, other than a woman’s feet getting sore from high heels. (That would be interesting to incorporate.) I go through day to day getting hollered at on the street, I don’t want it in my goddamned games. It will be offensive and hostile towards women, which is what video games predominantly already do!

    And, no, it is not “all me” if people assume rape is a “consequence” for sexy clothing, because it is infamously touted as one. It’s not my fault for interpreting it anywhere close to that (I was acutally thinking sexual harassment), it lies on YOU to make it clear that you weren’t.

    You asked why games didn’t have awful misogyny in them, and I answered: because no one WANTS to play that. If it happens to be in one game, fine. Art. Whatever. My opinion is that it has zero place in the gaming industry, as a whole, because it would keep me from playing games.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TWIONIPU7UL3MBJRHUFXPNQ7YM Misanthrope

    My #1 reason for picking a female trooper over a male trooper:

    Jennifer Hale.

    Been loving her stellar, nuanced work since the original KOTOR, rolled female on both ME games because of her.

    It was actually a hard choice for me, since the male actor was the guy who did Varric in DA2 (and Varric was one of the high points of DA2 for me, hairy-chested dwarven pimp that he was), but he’s no Jennifer Hale.

    This is also why my Jedi Knight is male (it’s Solid Snake!).

  • Mike Velichansky

    Skyrim was awesome in this regard! I love that my female dark elf absolutely looks like the kind of person I’d cross the street to avoid. She has eff’d up some people’s day, and has the scars to prove it. Given her actions since escaping prison, she probably sort of belonged there… >.>

  • http://www.facebook.com/zeonchar Amanda M. Ramsey

    Great, why don’t you address why female gamers play male avatars next?

  • http://www.facebook.com/zeonchar Amanda M. Ramsey

    In the character generation for SWTOR there are four different body types for both male and female. The first male body type is incredibly skinny and small. When you click on the character class screen it gives you a random generation of both a male and female character. I’m assuming that when her brother clicked on it he was shown one of the random generations. Really, OP needs to study more about what she is writing about.

  • Anonymous

    OK, then let me be clear:
    Sexy Clothing = +Charisma, Reduced Movement Speed. -Mood (aching feet). -Temperature (bare skin)
    Frumpy Clothing = -Charisma, Enhanced Movement Speed. +Mood (comfy clothing). +Temperature (warm clothing)

    No rape, sexual harassment, groping, etc. as a consequence to the type of clothes.

    The only misogyny that I would want to see is simply the “females are weak and should stay in the kitchen” mentality that would be used as an opposition mentality. Mentality that can and must be overcome for the good ending, regardless of the character’s gender. That way the game acts as a training vessel: “Get in the kitchen” is bad, if you support it you get the bad ending. Women are equals is good, if you support it you get the good ending.
    For example, Fallout: New Vegas establishes that Caesar’s Legion treats women as slaves. Yet if the Courier is a woman (as my character was) the only thing Caesar’s Legion bars her from doing is that she can’t fight in their arena. She can even operate on Caesar’s tumor!

    That’s my problem. I dislike the inconsistency. Random lady says it’s hard to be a woman in Skyrim? SHOW me. Caesar’s Legion thinks all women should be submissive to men? SHOW me. Let me overcome it. If it isn’t hard for a female player character, then don’t even mention it being difficult or explain why it isn’t (like in Dragon Age).

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    Please keep writing here.  I love this article and I love seeing video game coverage and I love this article and I could keep going in an endless cycle but the point was it was really great and I think you’ve done some nice investigative journalism and made your points well and clearly and accessibly and please keep doing so okay bye.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    But there ARE consequences to sexy clothing.  I don’t think he’s advocating a game to try to “teach” people not to drses that way, but rather to illustrate the difficulties that women have when they dress in certain ways.

    There’s a game about being hollered at on the street, too – it’s called “Hey baby.”  And the point was to enlighten more than to entertain.  If you didn’t want to play it, that’s fine, I respect that, and I wouldn’t want to play it either, but it certainly helped a lot of people understand that experience.  What’s so wrong with a game like that that would make social commentary on victim-blaming?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there ARE, but there SHOULD NOT be. Difference. =P

    Creating a game to specifically stir the pot and make social commentary is fine. Taking Skyrim, a refreshingly equal major mainstream game, and using it as the jumping pad to “why isn’t there more misogyny?” really rubs me the wrong way. Is it ignoring female tribulations? Well, not really, since a woman clearly says that women have it hard, but I actually really did enjoy not constantly thinking I didn’t belong somewhere for once.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I think I am understanding your point better, not that I want it for Skyrim specifically, but a “successful feminist” simulator would be gratifying, but since it’s a game, there is still the fact that you have the option to succumb to it, and have no option to exist with it. Still, in my own stories that I write, I purposely do write a patriarchy in my own pretend societies. For Skyrim? I don’t know. It’s so freeform and doesn’t really care about your character in general, that if it went out of its way to slap me down for choosing a female sprite would make me stop playing.
    But honestly, there were a couple of instances of female harassment I could think of just from the top of my head. In Whiterun, a woman desperately needs the local bard to leave her alone, and there are lots of nuances of men constantly hitting on her (or was it another woman?) And then that whole slut-shaming in Riften.

  • Anonymous

    Even if it does literally exist as an option, the boy from the article obviously didn’t feel comfortable with a skinny, small man, and would have rather made him a woman. Or he’s just plain lying. I prefer to be optimistic. ;)

  • Adam Whitley

    I felt the same way about Sonya Blade in the new Mortal Kombat. Nothing says U.S. special forces like no shirt or bra underneath a bullet proof vest thats wide open so as not to hinder her life saveing cleavage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1104385569 Christine Watson

    There was actually a study into that a while back: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/mar/06/women.games

  • David Ouillette

    I originally chose female avatars because they were nice to look at, plus I usually play healers in RPG’s, so I think it fit more. However, as I’ve gotten more and more into female fantasy/sci-fi/and urban fantasy authors, I chose my female avatars based on those characters. 

    For instance, in starting SWTOR, I definitely based my Imperial Agent on Ivy from the Hollows series. If I need a role model for a sleek bad to the bone agent, she is definitely it. While if I went for more of a melee I might have chosen to base her on Kitty from Carrie Vaughn’s books. Really, it’s not a matter of gender, as much as what’s in my imagination for that moment. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrendanInBoston B. F.

    Great article, and something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m an (almost) 40 white male gamer, and I almost always play a female character when given the choice, but the reason is not one of the ones listed in the article. For me, I like games that are immersive, with a strong story, and I tend to find myself more emotionally attached to a female protagonist, and more concerned about her fate. If I’m being honest, I think it’s because with a female avatar (especially one that is has great voice-acting i.e. Commander Shepard), the scenes where the character is in danger have more depth. Basically, I’m more scared that the girl will get hurt or die. So even though I identify as a feminist, my video-game choices are pretty paternalistic.

    Also, the eye-candy. About 15% of the decision.

    Love this site.

  • Justin Koehler

    I don’t know if I’m missing the point or if you are. I took his meaning as “If you want to play a military fighting game in a bikini, then go ahead, but you have no pockets and minimal physical protection.” Nothing at all about misogyny or hostility.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe, but I took it poorly when when put into context of the entire argument, which I disagree with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christa-L-A-Watson/511954278 Christa L A Watson

    Personally, for a great deal of games (ie mass effect) the big buff guy makes SENSE though, i mean they’re fighting aliens in space, punching each other out in direct combat or climbing walls. So it would make sense that they would be buff, theyve earned it. almost all of my army buddy friends ARE those big buff roid monkey looking guys. having said that, the female characters even look MORE ridiculous when given this context. I competitively fight (muay thai) and open water swim, so I see a lot of athletic chicks, none of them are skinny, curvey and big tittied. The guys on the other hand ARE BIG. the use of big titties for athletic seeming activities is beyond stupid, so ya it should be paid attention to. If you want examples of smaller men in video games, ezio in the assassins creed series is actually a great deal shorter than most of the male characters, especially the viking type strong men, cole from infamous is quite small, crouched and bald (becuase he jumps across buildings and had his hair burned off), and nathan drake from uncharted, although taller and bigger, isnt a giant meathead, even though he does have a great deal of physical fighting. thats just from my favourite series, there are many more, but the only one i can think of for females that ARENT like that are the female version of shepard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=577321427 Ava Avane Dawn

    Hey! Great article, interesting thoughts, topic valuable to explore. However, bioware checked up on people connected to the net and playing mass effect, just what type of characters they played. A large majority played as a male soldier, the first class coming up as default if I remember correctly, and perhaps also the type of character as seen in the promo material (male if nothing else). After this, I’m happy they decided to actually keep the female choice. if they started reasoning that it’s no use since most people choose this male soldier anyway, well, then I as a player would be worse off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erik.berg89 Erik Berg

    First;
    I’m a straight guy. Throughout the complete fallout series I have been playing
    as a girl. I thought it would be great to see a cool heroine whom isn’t objectified;
    when the industry didn’t give me one, I had to create my own; fallout is the
    perfect game for that.

  • http://twitter.com/jsmithba Jamie Smith

    Jennifer Hale is awesome! Well, I had been thinking about running two troopers…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T4FHVIJ4JIIJADXR76QZX3D64M Muppet Baby

    This might only affect WoW but they also had very feminized male characters that were unattractive as character choices (the elves of either faction.) So basically, females were really the only average looking/normal acting option.

    Funnily enough, the most normal looking males were zombies.

  • James Garren

    On the subject of identification with the PC, one thought has occurred to me in the past, and I was reminded of it in reading this article.  I am a guy, age 30, and I often find myself more comfortable playing female characters.

    I use the word “comfortable” to differentiate from saying that I identify with them more.  Personally, I find that with male characters, unless the game has excellent writing, I often find myself in an uncanny valley of sorts.  The male characters are closer to my own personality than their female counterparts, but the closeness makes the differences jarring.  

    If the game is allowing me to create a character, I want to try to put myself in the game to the extent possible.  Often, bad writing makes identifying with the “me” character impossible, and I will start over with a female character.  Because the female character is so superficially different from myself, I can role-play or start to create that character in my imagination much more readily.

    Sometimes, it’s not the writing that causes this problem.  If a character creator is badly designed (I’m thinking particularly of Morrowind here) such that it’s impossible to create a character that looks remotely like me, I will bypass trying to create the “me” character altogether.  Interestingly, in cases where the problem is aesthetic, I will actually typically make a male character who looks much different from me, to give myself the distance needed to than embrace that “other” character.

  • Anonymous

    For me it’s much more comfortable to create an appealing female face than it is to struggle to make a “badass” guy. I just lose interest in staring at men’s features and while Ihave no fear of observing others, it’s generally observation, not creation. Its not that I feel uncomfortable spending that kind of time analyzing a mans face, it that I feel more than comfortable doing so for a woman.

    This can occasionally backfire. I don’t enjoy playing marriage easter eggs as a woman. You’re supposed to “be” the character, that’s the point of an rpg, and I don’t *want* to date a man. Funnily enough, Skyrim allows same-sex marriages and I’ve still not got around to doing that and have no interest in it.

    My recent foray into table-top gaming, I didn’t know why, but out of habit I made my character a woman. At the last second, I knew something was right and I turned him male.
    It’s easier for me to be a man, and more comfortable. I can worry about appearance later, and even then it’s different than deciding if I want his cheekbones one tick-mark right or left on a face-generator. It’s just a general description until and unless somebody pulls out a pad of paper and decides to draw him up for me. Even then, have at it!

    Lastly, I can never make a character who looks like me, or even a version of me.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.chambers12 Matt Chambers

    Being said boy from the article, hopefully I can clarify a bit. The reason I can’t relate to a petite man frame is because I am a 6’3″ 190lb guy which, as you might imagine, is not small.  I would hardly see myself in real life as a stealthy assassin so that means the role I most identify with in game is inherently a female.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, there has been some research looking into this phenomena, but so far there does not seem to be a consensus.  A good book on the topic is  Sheri Graner Ray’s Gender Inclusive Game Design.

  • http://twitter.com/demilitarizdSM Stephen Anon

    disappointed there wasn’t any discussion about those who choose female Toons in order to try to extract more resources/influence over other gamers IE roleplaying into sexually objective stereotypes to secure healz and free pots? I always thought this was a major factor especially in the MMO world. 

  • http://twitter.com/packet Rachel Blackman

    I’m so glad someone mentioned Nathan Drake; I was going to point to him as an example of a male character I enjoy playing in games.  Not because he’s hot (though, to be fair, he *is*), but because he has personality, character and story.

    Much like the article details the “I want to know more” aspect of an unusual female Shepard, I feel the same way about an action hero who’s clearly in way over his head.  I find myself wondering how someone who clearly survives against all these odds at least half by a combination of sheer panic and dumb luck has actually gotten to where he is.  

    (Seriously, how many other action heroes have a catchphrase of “Oh, crap…” that you can think of?)

  • http://twitter.com/packet Rachel Blackman

    This is true on TV too, though.  Kate Beckett in Castle seems to be in heeled boots half the time, which seems utterly impractical for an NYPD detective who ends up in at least one chase scene per week.  I mean, you’d think after a while she’d just start wearing sneakers.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/YXIXYOH5SVZ6KUFDROBIFGE4O4 Mark

    I once complained to a guy about the lack of female characters in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, saying I only play as females. He said “Oh, cause of the jiggle factor?” Cue horrible smirk from him.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/YXIXYOH5SVZ6KUFDROBIFGE4O4 Mark

    I once complained to a guy about the lack of female characters in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, saying I only play as females. He said “Oh, cause of the jiggle factor?” Cue horrible smirk from him.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U3Q6WIXK5DBVLJV2U2YV35KD5I many of them….

    Fantastic article! I agree you should definitely write more. I love this discussion and think it is very important. I’m a female gamer and I play female characters “most of the time” because yes, I can relate to them more and I play video games because I like immersion into the story relating to the character in it (gender wise) help me get lost in the game more…usually. In Mass Effect, I can’t play anything but FemShep. I’ve tried to play the Male Shep but I just can’t do it. I can’t get into him. I couldn’t get into playing male characters in WoW either. I tried several times. Couldn’t do it. SWTOR is the first game I’ve played where I’ve got two male characters, and I can’t even imagine them being female. I love their stories as male characters and I feel I relate more to the male character for those specific stories.

    And yes, there is always the parts of the population of male players playing characters male or female, just to take advantage of female players, to flirt or be lude or whatever. And then there is the opposite which is the small portion of female characters (either played by men seeking to take advantage or women seeking to take advantage or get attention) that are obnoxious and have the sole intent of taking all they can from other players. Neither is representative of the gaming community I think, although it would be an interesting article by itself. Because I’ll tell you, there is nothing that ticks me off faster than a female character (regardless of player gender) that appears and starts by announcing that they are a female character just to start drawing in the attention of male players. Even worse, when they start asking for things, favors, items, money, etc. And I think that is true of any GOOD female player.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U3Q6WIXK5DBVLJV2U2YV35KD5I many of them….

    Fantastic article! I agree you should definitely write more. I love this discussion and think it is very important. I’m a female gamer and I play female characters “most of the time” because yes, I can relate to them more and I play video games because I like immersion into the story relating to the character in it (gender wise) help me get lost in the game more…usually. In Mass Effect, I can’t play anything but FemShep. I’ve tried to play the Male Shep but I just can’t do it. I can’t get into him. I couldn’t get into playing male characters in WoW either. I tried several times. Couldn’t do it. SWTOR is the first game I’ve played where I’ve got two male characters, and I can’t even imagine them being female. I love their stories as male characters and I feel I relate more to the male character for those specific stories.

    And yes, there is always the parts of the population of male players playing characters male or female, just to take advantage of female players, to flirt or be lude or whatever. And then there is the opposite which is the small portion of female characters (either played by men seeking to take advantage or women seeking to take advantage or get attention) that are obnoxious and have the sole intent of taking all they can from other players. Neither is representative of the gaming community I think, although it would be an interesting article by itself. Because I’ll tell you, there is nothing that ticks me off faster than a female character (regardless of player gender) that appears and starts by announcing that they are a female character just to start drawing in the attention of male players. Even worse, when they start asking for things, favors, items, money, etc. And I think that is true of any GOOD female player.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U3Q6WIXK5DBVLJV2U2YV35KD5I many of them….

    Fantastic article! I agree you should definitely write more. I love this discussion and think it is very important. I’m a female gamer and I play female characters “most of the time” because yes, I can relate to them more and I play video games because I like immersion into the story relating to the character in it (gender wise) help me get lost in the game more…usually. In Mass Effect, I can’t play anything but FemShep. I’ve tried to play the Male Shep but I just can’t do it. I can’t get into him. I couldn’t get into playing male characters in WoW either. I tried several times. Couldn’t do it. SWTOR is the first game I’ve played where I’ve got two male characters, and I can’t even imagine them being female. I love their stories as male characters and I feel I relate more to the male character for those specific stories.

    And yes, there is always the parts of the population of male players playing characters male or female, just to take advantage of female players, to flirt or be lude or whatever. And then there is the opposite which is the small portion of female characters (either played by men seeking to take advantage or women seeking to take advantage or get attention) that are obnoxious and have the sole intent of taking all they can from other players. Neither is representative of the gaming community I think, although it would be an interesting article by itself. Because I’ll tell you, there is nothing that ticks me off faster than a female character (regardless of player gender) that appears and starts by announcing that they are a female character just to start drawing in the attention of male players. Even worse, when they start asking for things, favors, items, money, etc. And I think that is true of any GOOD female player.

  • Ian Wright

    I think it’s worth pointing out that not everything you hear in general chat (/1, or whatever the non-WoW/SWTOR equivalents might be) can be taken at face value. I can’t speak for everyone, but I (SWM) doubt I’m awfully unique when I say that I find telling people “‘Cause I like having something pretty to look at” is usually a hell of a lot easier than going into the actual rationale.

    Don’t misunderstand; I definitely find it a bonus. It doesn’t inspire any “alone time”, but I still enjoy digging up “plate bikini” gear every now and then and strutting around a bit. I don’t feel like there’s anything inherently wrong with that and I’m not the least bit ashamed. I certainly feel like people should be able to choose something that appeals to them and understand that this image is not always it, but I refuse to be guilted out of enjoying what I find aesthetically or sexually appealing.

    It is still, however, a mere consequence of a decision driven by something else entirely. I don’t approach it with the wonder that the story-driven camp do (“I want to get to know this character”), and I don’t seek to make characters in video games that I relate to (I can be me or something like me every day; It’s just not that compelling). I just want something that fits my idea of what a character concept should be embodied by. About 80% of the time, the male models at my disposal will not do the job. (This percentage taken from my list of characters on a given WoW server: With all classes represented, 8 of my characters are female and two are male.)

    As with the article’s example of choosing a female over male for an Inq Assassin, my go-to example here is the rogue/thief class genre that’s obviously very prominent in games. Again, looking at WoW, here are your male choices for a role emodied by stealth and agility, starting with Alliance:

    1) Human male: A bulky model, top-heavy with a very comical look. Very stiff in appearance.
    2) Night Elf male: Not quite as bulky, but just as silly and unfitting. They look very lax; Precision movement just doesn’t look like their forte.
    3) Dwarf male: Nothing about these guys looks conducive to stealth. The only place these guys seem suitable to hide is behind your legs, a la Warner Bros. cartoons.
    4) Gnome male: Baby-like physique aside, I just really don’t want to be an ankle-biter at all. Sorry.
    5) Worgen male: If these guys somehow manage a successful career as a rogue or thief, they’re likely to need to retire 5 years in due to back issues. Nope.
    6) Orc male: Bulky, hunched over, and on top of everything else? The orc male model’s mouth hangs open. Seriously, have a look.
    7) Undead male: The popularity of the undead rogue combo be damned, these guys do not look at all capable of major feats of agility. Their animations look more like a sea-faring swashbuckler.
    8) Troll male: No. Just… No.
    9) Goblin male: Bottom-heavy, large, unwieldy forearms, and another ankle-biter.

    Here is the only male model (in my opinion) that even comes close to a reasonable depiction of a stealthy, agile character:

    10) Blood elf male: Defined physique, but not bulky (shoulders maybe a bit on the wide side) or overly imbalanced. Decent posture. Stealth animation looks like it might be a touch awkward, but not so much as to cause disbelief. Attack animations are a bit of a mixed bag, but most of them at least look graceful. The “Mutilate” animation looks fine (daggers in both of the target’s sides) and if memory serves, their Kick animation is a very swift roundhouse.

    My original rogue was, in fact, a blood elf male, and when my friends all went Alliance and I decided to faction change, I was loathe to pick a race for him from the Alliance options (I went with Worgen, in case anyone’s wondering).

    I recognize several things about this critique. I recognize that it assumes relation of human anatomy to the anatomy of fantasy creatures that could magically be zippy, or have body structure that allows them to live with their posture well into their 90′s without back problems. I recognize also that the swashbuckling pirate archetype — to which some of these models might be more suitable — is a valid subset of the rogue/thief class genre. I further recognize that there’s a reason people started calling their WoW characters “toons”. And lastly, I recognize that some of this works from a stereotype.

    This is just an (admittedly drawn-out) example, though. I’m okay with bulky warriors, but I don’t like hunter/ranger types that look too heavy to move quickly, and the idea of a scholar that devotes their lives to arcane or dark studies but still has plenty of time to get to the gym and pump that iron just doesn’t fly with me. These are typically where the female models come into play when I start generating characters; The stereotypical trimness and lithe forms developers force on females are all I have at my disposal if I want to look the part (unless I roll every character as a belf male).

  • Philip Rigby

    As a guy, I’ve been known to play female characters quite a bit, for one major reason:

    All video game characters are right-handed.

    This sounds weird, I know, but follow.  I am left handed, in fact, I am about as left hand dominate as the average right hander is right hand dominate (none of this non-committal ambidexterity stuff ;p).  When I play games, I tend to self-identify as the protagonist, especially when male, unfortunately, it is always bothersome and jarring to me to see “me” doing things like swinging a sword or firing a gun right handed.

    So I roll a female character.  This immediately breaks the strong self-identify I have with the character, and makes the right hand oriented animations less grating to me, thereby allowing myself to get more into the character and the game.

    The only time this logic breaks down is when a game allows dual wielding or two-handed weapons (which, while still obviously right hand dominate, are not as glaringly so), and in those games I tend to play males more.  The other time I tend to play males is when one of the female characters catches my eye and I’m interested in the romantic subplot with her, assuming it’s exclusive.

    I don’t find the hyper-masculinity all that bothersome, as I look at video games as the modern version of the pulp magazines of the early and mid 20th century.

    Now, if someone would just make a Shadow games in the mold of Arkham City…

  • http://twitter.com/BigTomHatfield Tom Hatfield

    Actually there’s a reason for it on TV, it’s so she’s tall enough fit on screen properly with a big guy like Nathan Fillian.

    Come to think about it, maybe that’s why combat heels started, and they’ve just carried over to games as an anachronism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.schmitt#!/ David R. Schmitt

    Hellboy. But I get what you’re saying. ;)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R7GVNIKWG3S2UTHEQOMSZXT4M4 Anna B

    I think how genders like their men to look like varies greatly, but I read a blog post once (probably on Feministe.us) about the Porn Industry (stay with me, here).  The Porn Industry is traditionally an industry built on the male viewers, gay or straight.  While female viewers do enjoy porn viewing, most of the media they’ve consumed is porn created for male viewers–even the girl-on-girl movies were created for straight male viewers, not lesbian viewers.  Lately, a producer decided that she would create porn for straight women, and their hottest selling video always starred this guy-next-door-looking dude. Not at all hyper-masculine. He was fit, but not buff, super cute but not chiseled. He dressed like a regular, perhaps rather cool, dude on the street. In other words, he wasn’t hyper masculine, but he was the studio’s best seller to the straight-lady consumer. It says something about how industries in general should rethink what people want in their products, and if they’re basing it on gender, their research should be more thoughtful, and not lazy.

    And BTW, I too prefer lithe over buff… ALWAYS.

  • Anonymous

    I had never really thought about it until now but when I look back at all the RPG’s I’ve played or games wherein I’m allowed to make my own character I almost always go for a female. With one or two exceptions all of my DCUO characters are female as are a handful of my WoW characters. I’ve been playing a “FemShep” since the game was released.
    My avatars in VtM: Bloodlines, The Sims, KOTOR, and all three Fable games have all been women.

    Come to think of it I stopped buying the “Smackdown” series of games entirely when they stopped allowing female characters to play through the core story mode.

    I never really gave any thought to why this is. But in looking through my collection I have very few “Big Beefy dude shoots bad guys in face” type of games and I’ll openly admit it’s because I find the idea of hyper masculinity that those games represent to be cartoonishly silly.

  • Anonymous

    “Are we seeing so many space marines and battle vixens because that’s
    what folks actually want, or do folks buy those games because that’s all we’re given?”

    As someone who plays a lot of games, I take personal offense to this remark. This is not ALL you are given, not by a longshot. There are a wealth of games across all genres that don’t have these stereotypical characters, and you’re ignoring them all wholesale.

    The Trauma Center series of games is full of non-alpha males. They’re doctors, some of the main characters are female doctors, and some of the games have had Hispanic and Black female leads. Catherine featured a male 30-year-old software programmer who feared commitment as its lead. The Persona games put you in the shoes of a high school student. Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Fable, Oblivion, Skyrim, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dragon Age all allow you to choose alpha male, battle vixen and pretty much everything in between. Street Fighter, King of Fighters, BlazBlue and Guilty Gear have fighters of pretty much any gender, sexual orientation or nationality you could want. NBA Street let you play through the main mode as a female baller. Portal and Portal 2 both feature a female who is appropriately dressed for her job, and is just doggedly persistent, as opposed to being uber badass. This is even before you consider Mario, Luigi, Link, Zelda, Samus, and all the other iconic Nintendo characters.

    So the real answer to, “So if both women (oft quoted at around 45% of the gaming community) and a big chunk of men (shall we be optimistic and say half?) aren’t
    satisfied with or interested in the characters that are being offered…why are we still seeing these characters at all?” is, “Because enough people are buying games featuring these characters instead of the alternatives offered on the shelves.” If half of the people buying these games DO like these characters, and the other half don’t care enough to not purchase them, or even to point out their existence, where’s the incentive for change?

    I will point out again that Option A and Option B are sitting on the shelf RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER. Buying Option A and then complaining that it is not Option B is
    phenomenally unproductive. (Not to mention insulting to the people who are already toiling away, producing the very thing you claim to want.) What you’re doing is telling the people who sell Option A that you actually care so little about the qualities that
    Option B has that not only did you not purchase it, you didn’t even realize that it was there.

    The games you want, games with rich stories, non-stereotyped characters, and interesting characters of both genders, are all over the market. If you want games that don’t prominently feature alpha males, then buy any of the vast number of games out that don’t feature them, and you’ll see more games like them. But it’s probably a
    not a productive course of action to think that you’ll ever get non-marines and non-battle vixens by asking the people making games like Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Battlefield 3, Gears of War and Call of Duty to stop designing games like that, games which happen to be selling quite well for them just they way they are.

    I mean, you don’t go up and complain about the shallow offerings of Michael Bay, Nicolas Sparks, or Uwe Boll and expect them to turn around and start cranking out intelligent, thought-provoking movies, do you? You don’t ask Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga to stop making pop songs with nonsensical lyrics and videos and expect them to write quality music about the human condition, do you? People perform better in their comfort zones, and if you ask them to step outside it, the result is frequently something that doesn’t satisfy you or the fans of what was previously offered.

    I would suggest that you focus on spotlighting the games out there from the people who are already offering what you want, and asking them to keep improving their craft instead.

  • http://twitter.com/Tylerron Tyler Robertson

    Excellent article, keep up the good work.

  • Anonymous

    Better yet, let’s try and see if the young women of North America can become the change they want to be in this industry be getting into it more, creating their own companies, and making the games that they want to see rather than be forcing companies to do what they want (e.g. See Jane).

  • Jon Dean

    Very interesting article. I am a male, and I find myself usually playing as the character that fits what I want to do with a character, and sometimes, personality wise, it’s fun to come up with a female character, because I find it a bit of a “character making challenge” trying to breathe life into a character that is so different from me.

    I also feel the same way about just wanting to see a “different” hero. It’s one of the main reasons I mostly play as beast races in the Elder Scrolls series. Male protagonists are a dime a dozen, female protagonists are less common, but obviously still there, but a lizard wizard assassin who kills things with shouts and is born of dragons? Much more interesting.

    I do wish game designer would stop pumping out male characters who look like they belong on the jersey shore. I’m a 15 year old, slim asian male.

    Games that do a fairly good job of breaking away from the “roid raging space marines” are Skyrim and Oblivion (Skyrim has what I can only describe as a muscle slider, so you can choose how muscular or unmuscular you want your character to be), also, “Witcher” protagonist Geralt isn’t quite as buffed up as most video game heroes.

    I guess I’ll just close out with a plea to the video game industry: Male characters need more more brains, less brawn. Female characters need more personality, and less revealing clothing.

  • Sarah Langan

    Buff guys do make sense, yes. But usually a “buff guy” in a videogame is someone who looks like they’ve been on steroids for ten years or so. They’re beyond what a normal buff guy would look like. I mean, every time I saw a picture of Batman from the Arkham games, he looked like a walking brick of muscle. It was disgusting. No steroid-free man looks like that.

    Your examples of Ezio and Nathan are good ones, and I think that male leads in games should have their physique. They’re not enormous, but they can still kick ass and throw a punch when necessary. And especially Ezio. You don’t mess with him, and no amount of beefed up muscle mass is going to protect you from him. So I think what the industry needs to do is focus on better ways to show off how much of a badass a character is that doesn’t involve making their biceps larger than their heads.

  • http://hirvox.blogspot.com/ Hirvox

    The running animation in Saints Row 3 makes me cringe in sympathy. There is a sports bra in the game, but it’s sadly nonfunctional.

  • Erin Macdonald

    This is a great article. I never got into gaming when I was a kid because things like Zelda and Final Fantasy had male leads. As a young girl, I wanted a character I could relate to, and when you’re young that will put you off otherwise awesome games. I was obsessed with Star Wars as a kid mostly because of Princess Leia being an awesome chica! The MAN-APE factor definitely has put me off choosing male characters a lot of the time.

    Please keep writing articles! Also, “roid-raging space marine” is one of the best phrases I’ve heard in a long time. 

  • Erin Macdonald

    This is a great article. I never got into gaming when I was a kid because things like Zelda and Final Fantasy had male leads. As a young girl, I wanted a character I could relate to, and when you’re young that will put you off otherwise awesome games. I was obsessed with Star Wars as a kid mostly because of Princess Leia being an awesome chica! The MAN-APE factor definitely has put me off choosing male characters a lot of the time.

    Please keep writing articles! Also, “roid-raging space marine” is one of the best phrases I’ve heard in a long time. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eolara Linda Farmer

    I believe that there is one more angle to add to this discussion on males playing female characters. As a female gamer that has played both male and female characters in a couple of different MMORPG, I’ve noticed that when I play a male character, the other gamers act more rudely and confrontational towards the male. Even though many men play the female characters, other gamers at least suspect they might be female “in real life” (irl), and tend to be a little more courteous and accommodating. My opinion is that men would sometimes choose to play female characters, in part, to enjoy the game without having to put up with a lot of the stupid harassing comments between testosterone tossing males.

    Even if a male player has the tendency to be rude to female characters as well as male, they receive a subtle “censorship” of their attitudes while playing in mixed male/female groups.

  • Pam Leja

    Hi,
    I play SW ToR. I am female and play female BUT I;ve had people ask me many times if I am a guy because my character wears the Slave Dancers top (think Princess Leia’s top when she is with Jabba the Hutt).  character wears a skirt with that top.  I chose it because it is just as good armor wise as a full robe and find it amusing. Tiny bikini top gives just as much armor rating as a thick full robe. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eolara Linda Farmer

    As a WoW player, I have to disagree with the “less is more” statement in regards to armor. If you have played the game in the past two years you would note that all of the tier gear for upper levels covers the entire body frame and changes the characters into some form of beast (basically). Yes there is a lot of lower level armor you can find that looks like it belongs more in the bedroom, but that gear is primarily from over 4 years ago.

    Honestly, I love having a skilled dungeon runner and raider in badass gear, but occasionally my character slips into a nice off-the-shoulder Embersilk robe to look more feminine and sexy. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000639751451 Kenneth C Pennington

    A great article on an interesting topic. If nothing else, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in being a guy who tends to play female characters. (In fact, I get kind of annoyed when there’s no female option.)

    Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eolara Linda Farmer

    It amuses me to read this today. I had a fellow gamer tell my party last night that “Healers should heal, just like women should be in the kitchen.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eolara Linda Farmer

    I’ve seen this occur as well, but primarily in game that had an average age of 13-15.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000757810425 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    I am a games developer and I also prefer playing female characters. I shall be passing this on within my studio with my hearty endorsement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000757810425 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    I have to be careful what I say because I have access to privileged information in the business in which I work. However, I have designed characters and I know people involved in character design. For the most part they are people keenly interested in issues such as gender balance, and they are committed to creating unique and memorable characters. What I have to say is a very generalised description of how the process works.

    A typical process of character design begins with the developers producing concept art and bios and writing samples. The characters are then filtered through marketing, who have a keen interest in what faces (and bodies) go on the box or onto covers of magazines or appear in screenshots–in what will sell. They in turn are led by their market research data that indicates gamer preferences for the game genre. When characters are being worked up they go through various stages of approval, which are informed by focus testing. Focus tests probably involve a number of panels of gamers. For action genres panellists are likely to be majority male, possibly from the American midwest (since US sales dominate our business), who go over character images and bios and answer questionnaires on what they like and dislike. This data is then tabulated.

    Focus tests and market data form a lot of the received wisdom on character design. Not unsurprisingly, when characters start out with the intention of looking quite diverse and unique they tend to converge on a similar set of conventions. If they are that way it is because the data suggests that the market skews that way.

    The data, of course, could be wrong. The method of sample selection for panels or marketing feedback may tilt the results. Marketing and creative directors might display biases that inform the final decision. But on the whole I think it is highly likely that a very large number of male gamers are happy to play women in games, or prefer women characters, while at the same time the market as a whole leans towards standard operating beefcake.

    Of course, fashions change. I was in development back in the days when received wisdom was that women characters did not sell at all. I was working for Eidos at the time, before Tomb Raider appeared and rubbed received wisdom’s face in the dirt. I reckon attitudes are shifting. Though maybe not as fast as we’d like.

  • Anonymous

    Couldn’t your problem with the contrast between being told that Skyrim is a tough place to be a woman and experiencing no difference in treatment between playing male and female characters be fixed by removing the line that the lady from Whiterun says?  I mean your complaint seems to be that the game shows one thing (equality) and tells you another thing (inequality) and you want the showing to be made to match the telling, but making the telling match the showing works too without all the nasty side effects that maselphie has objected to.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, exactly. If she didn’t make that statement, I’d have no complaint about gender depth in Skyrim.
    However, Skyrim was just an example. I don’t really want it to be hard for my female character in Skyrim. It never was before in TES, so I don’t see it as necessary.
    I just want some game, some time, to give me more depth in the gender choices. 

  • Amanda Lange

    Great article!
    That said… the kind of men who would respond to and engage with a survey like this are different from the kind of men who buy Call of Duty in large numbers. It’s kind of a bias with the sample set that you got lots of men who want to see something different in their game protagonists.

    Just to use an example I’m familiar with, according to Bioware’s stats, only about 20% of Mass Effect 2 players chose a female Shepard. This doesn’t say anything about the sex of the player (this might be women playing a man, or second playthroughs) but it’s definitely a minority. I don’t think it’s true that even the majority of the male gamers are sick of the same hyper-male marine types. It’s just true that enough of them are! I know I am, but that’s aside from the point.

    The response I get the most from men who play as women is mostly the “they just look better; the animations are better” kind of responses. I feel like I know whoever it was that said “MAN-APE” in your survey.

  • Anonymous

    I never said anything about sexual harassment, I said “let them treat me as inferior so I can prove equal or suprerior”. I said let me deal with the consequences of restrictive clothing (The sexy was supposed to be a benefit with restrictive being the cost).

    The main point of my argument is that I want to understand the difficulties of being female in the given society. I don’t want to be told, I want to be SHOWN. You may have heard the advise for all creative works: “show, don’t tell.” That’s what I want from my gender choices. A woman saying it’s hard to be female, but experiences showing no additional difficulty essentially makes the woman out to be a liar, which is not the lesson we want to teach.
    I don’t want Skyrim, specifically, to show gender depth (the game is pretty lacking in all character creation depth. Female Dark Elves are treated essentially the same as Male Nords). It is simply an example.

  • Anonymous

    That is actually exactly what I meant as far as the clothing goes.

  • Anonymous

    Take Arkham City for instance. The difference between playing Batman and playing Catwoman are very different. And instead of people learning about misogyny, they defended it. Most didn’t even blink an eye. The thing is, it’s too hard to tell the difference between satire and being genuine with this. Almost always, it is not in good intent. It’s exactly what the developers feel need to be there, for the sake of male self-empowerment. And asking for more misogyny, because “I don’t feel oppressed, therefore I don’t feel like a woman!” hurts women who want to play those video games. Because, surprise, they probably don’t want to feel oppressed at all. It’s just another instance of making a game more comfortable or interesting for men at the expense of women. It ignores that I and other women might be uncomfortable with with standing out and getting treated worse simply because of my gender (and I personally very much hate that, because it happens all the time). That is a bad thing, and that is what I’m railing against.

  • Anonymous

    (Replying to myself since I can’t reply to @maselphie:disqus )
    OK, take Dragon Age: Origins.
    Female City Elf, she’s kidnapped with the intent of rape. She affects her own rescue and kills her would-be rapist. It would have been EASY for the devs to make it so that only your cousin gets kidnapped (which does happen either way) and you have to break in and rescue her regardless of whether your character is male or female, but by going the way they did they showed far more about the society, and gave more depth the the game.
    Female Dwarf Commoner, she’s told that to make something of herself she needs to “have her belly filled with a nobleman’s son”. Instead she wins the championship.
    Heck, even Female Dwarf Noblewoman has a quest blocked off because she lacks the necessary organs. (She can’t exactly impregnate a commoner)
    Did these cause additional misogyny?

    And you can’t tell me you haven’t wanted to rise up against people expressing misogyny toward you. The game lets you do that in ways you can’t in real life. I know women can get angry and want to severely harm people who are jerks to them. The game gives you a jerk, and lets you severely harm them.

    Again, I’m not saying all games should have oppressed female main characters. Not even most.
    TBH, I don’t even need the oppression, just some depth to the gender roles. Some differences beyond pallet swapping ”he” with “she”. Like how in Fallout you can use Black Widow to get special dialogue. You don’t need to be oppressed to feel like you’re playing a female character, but you need SOMETHING. Being oppressed would give valuable insight, though.
    I just want it when it makes sense. If the story of the game says a certain character trait is seen a certain way by the society of that story, then if the main character has that trait then they darn well better be seen that way by the society in the game.

  • E S

    I interpreted what you said about the clothes as such but different backgrounds will see things differently. 

    What you’re saying is something I’ve actually wrestled with before. As much as misogyny (or any discrimination for that matter) makes me uncomfortable I believe that it has its place in a convincing narrative IF and only if it successfully portrays the consequences that result from it in a way that is relatable to the player/viewer. Some narratives with discrimination claim to be social commentary but fail to deliver that in tone or lack of consequences.

  • E S

    I love you for this. I do the same thing in MMOs; I make my ladies mostly tough-as-nails physical damage or tank types just to be contrary.

    I remember how surprised some of the new guild recruits would be to learn one of the guild’s top ranked damage dealing raiders was not just a woman but a melee class. It was a good feeling. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wynne-Lurty/1203366568 Wynne Lurty

    Hell yeah! Me,

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wynne-Lurty/1203366568 Wynne Lurty

    Garrett from the Thief games is a perfect example of this.

  • http://taste-is-sweet.livejournal.com/ Taste_is_Sweet

    Beckett actually said on the show that she specifically wears those heels to be more intimidating, because it makes her tall enough to be equal size or taller than many men. So at least the writers hung a lantern on why she had apparently impractical footwear.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amberlovescomics Elizabeth-Amber Delaney

     “If I’m going to look at an ass all day, I don’t want it to be a dude’s.” Verbatim what my male friend said to me when we used to game a lot.

  • Anonymous

    As a young woman in the industry, oh, if only it were that easy.

  • Kinase Fives

    I’m a straight male occasional gamer who not only picks female characters in online games but also operates my entire gaming handle/profile as if I’m female. This has nothing to do with how I identify with my gender at all, nor with ‘looking at a girl’s ass’. I never lie if directly asked about my gender but everyone I’ve ever played with has assumed I’m female.

    The reason? I find it attracts better people to play with. When other players assume I’m female they only bother to play with me if they AREN’T complete assholes. The chauvinist-because-they-know-no-other-path mother’s basement dungeon kids mock and jeer in general chat but never invite me to groups. Therefore I never have to deal with them. The only people I end up playing with are female players or other males who just want to play and have fun. The conversation is nice and I end up making good gaming friends.

    I’ve never been one to see my characters as ‘myself’ anyway so it’s not difficult to make decisions as they would.

  • Andrew Poole

    And get zombie foot? nah got to be a foot lockers somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    It’s only as hard as you let it or want it to be. 

    From a recent article about the movie Red Tails:

    Moving from Hollywood and any expectation of “right,” the bottom line is we must build our own studios, networks and social media companies and bring our own money back to our communities now. 

    -Jacquie Taliaferro

    That quote was made in relation to Afro-American filmmakers and the Afro-American community seizing the day to get more Afro-American films made, but it also relates to what I’ve said above.

  • Anonymous

    What a profoundly ignorant dismissal of a situation with which you have no personal experience. Women, minorities, disabled people…if they’d just realize that *they’re* the ones at fault for the difficulties they face, their lives would be easy as pie!

  • Anonymous

    And here I thought I was the only dude that preferred playing female characters in games. I choose to play as one I think because in the real world I’m a guy, so if given the chance to be something else why not? I mean I play games to escape reality and do things I could never do in real life so I change my gender to furthermore escape that reality.

  • Anonymous

    And here I thought I was the only dude that preferred playing female characters in games. I choose to play as one I think because in the real world I’m a guy, so if given the chance to be something else why not? I mean I play games to escape reality and do things I could never do in real life so I change my gender to furthermore escape that reality.

  • Anonymous

    The thing about The Old Republic, however, is that I personally am quite happy with the selections for body types, at least for females. I can choose to be of slight stature, small with the appearance of someone who would be good at moving quickly – Perfect for my Imperial Agent!  Or my Chiss bounty hunter can have body type for and be solidly built, yet still curvy and feminine.

  • http://twitter.com/literatewench literatewench

    My husband plays a *lot* of computer games and generally prefers to play female characters, unless the character needs to be male for some reason. 

    He says it’s because the chicks are nicer to look at if you’re staring at someone’s ass while they’re running for hours on end. Also, for MMPGs, other people in-game will give you things if you play a woman and ignore you if you play a man. 

  • http://twitter.com/literatewench literatewench

    Exactly! Why, given the limitless choices of pixels, should we be stuck with exactly the same crap we get in real life, or the same basic one-note wish-fulfillment body over and over? Just because a couple twelve-year-old boys want to be physically massive and powerful when they grow up does not mean that’s true for everyone. 

  • http://twitter.com/literatewench literatewench

    It seems like focus test and data like that will only get you what people want you to think they think, not what they really think. It’s one thing to give someone data about yourself knowing it’ll be scrutinized and judged; it’s another to go to the store with cash in hand and purchase something for use in the privacy of your own home. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000757810425 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    Maybe. But when it comes to multimillion dollar projects it is at least understandable if the creative directors behave in a risk-averse manner and go with the data they have.

  • http://twitter.com/HelixSundown Code Red

    I rarely enjoy playing as a gender other than my own. I don’t identify with the character and while some of the greatest characters of all time are female, I simply don’t have as much fun when I can’t transpose myself on to that character.

  • Anonymous

    This is not a dismissal of what they’re going through, but a message to take charge of their future and stop feeling like victims. Either that, or do as Clayton_S_Chan said above.

  • http://twitter.com/sans_spoof sans_spoof

    Very interesting article

  • http://www.lizdanforth.com/ Oakheart

    I am floored that no one has mentioned Nick Yee’s in-depth studies of MMOs. In the recent study, PARC PlayOn Project, his focus is WoW. (http://blogs.parc.com/playon/) He had some particularly cogent research on gender bending (as he refers to men playing female characters, and women playing males.) The comments section in the gender discussion is as eye-opening and fascinating as the comments here.

    The article here is a very good read but I’m honestly amazed the OP suggested there was no research out there. Yee has been a name to conjure with in academic studies of MMOs since Everquest days, starting with the Daedalus Project. As for whether the INDUSTRY itself does research, vs academics (who play and know the culture, and are embraced by the community) — they have no reason to share such research, but I can assure you they do.

  • Anonymous

    It’s really encouraging to see issues relating to men and games being discussed seriously rather than being resigned to a square on a bingo card.
    Whether intentional or not this post also provides a counter to the concept of ‘male gaze’.

  • Daniel Kolkena

    Holy crap, the Jedi Knight is voiced by Solid Snake?  Looks like I gotta reroll a new character…

  • Fiona Jallings

    I noticed that my hubby prefers to play female characters as well, so I showed him this article. He says he completely agrees with many of the sentiments and arguments listed. Interestingly enough, he says that he prefers to play old women,  and will play them if given the chance. Sometimes he designs a female character and just pretends that she’s old.

    When I asked him why old women specifically, he said that it’s because there aren’t any old women protagonists, and he likes the idea of a little old lady that can kick your ass. Granny-fu, I believe he called it. As many others said in their comments, he wants to build a unique character to keep the story in his head interesting and engaging. The story of a wise, world-weary old woman who can kick your ass 6 ways to Sunday is more interesting than Sir Chinstubble McShootsdudes.

    He also says that he’s only seen good old women characters in very, very good games, and that they are incredibly hard to find. His favorite is Kreia from KOTOR2.

  • Peter Houlihan

    To an extent that’s true, but how many men (even in the army) do you actually know who look like the incredible hulk? Not so much sense.

  • Peter Houlihan

    “So I think what the industry needs to do is focus on better ways to show
    off how much of a badass a character is that doesn’t involve making
    their biceps larger than their heads.”

    And preferably look like they use their heads too.

  • Peter Houlihan

    Difficulties and benefits. People wouldn’t wear shoes with 9 inch spikes on the bottom if they didn’t do something for them.

  • https://plus.google.com/104917551945390398786/posts warazashi

    Does the survey takes into account the age of the respondents. I may be stereotyping, but I think the answers could be far less philosophical for the “young” gamer than the age group that is showcased is comments like “wife designs the character” (which gives an age away a bit).

    Eye candy? Certainly. More interesting options, I think that can ring true at times. Story differences? Eh, I dont trust too many companies enough to differentiate the story based on gender so that’s too rare of an occurrence for it to be a real factor, but I guess it’s psychological rather than literal. I’m too used to a Mario or Peach scenario where the attributes are slightly different, but the story is identical.

    Maybe it just boils down to being able to be someone different than who I am just because I can. Would I pic a weirdly looking scrawny male character over the typical busty female or roid rage male? Probably, just cause it’s different…

  • http://nightmarefl.blogspot.com/ Anthony J. Ceithamer

    Not even close. Most men play female characters because they’re hot. I exclusively play girls unless they aren’t attractive. For example, on Halo I play a male spartan, because playing a female spartan would be idiotic.

    Your small sample size, and the comments below, are clearly biased. You can go anywhere on the internet and find plenty of evidence to suggest male players play female characters either to watch a hot character walk around for the game or to get attention/free stuff from pathetic guys online.

    By the way, the industry isn’t filled with morons. Do you know why the chick is running in heels? That would be because 95% of us guys think it’s more attractive. I’m sorry your buddy is gay to worry about sensible shoes, but that’s not really my problem.

    A female character that remains badass while also remaining extremely feminine is far better than some Tomboy, “Oh boo hoo I’m female so I get treated differently” bullshit.