In class and through our readings, we’ve discussed the stereotypes projected on and derived from highly-sexualized female avatars, we’ve never considered male side of the issue. This blog post, titled “Gender roles and video games: Or, why do guys play as girls all the time online?” summarizes Ted Lee’s self-examination as a male player who preferred a female persona. In contrast to Schleiner’s rather sexist expectations from “straight” males, this player found that his affinity for female avatars was not visual (sexual) but relational. He found that male avatars in D&D (and other MMOs) were so hyper-masculine that they projected a “dumb as rocks and reckless” persona that failed to reflect the relational subtlety and strategic savvy Lee desired to project. Lee summarizes his piece with this question: “Could it be that we all play as a females because it allows us to carefully craft complex personas on the mmo medium, giving us the most flexibility to not only experience those power fantasies of killing massive dragons or slaying a mob of goblins with ease, but also the opportunity to express emotions, to level in things besides “killing” and “more killing,” even to feel physically attractive, and still be socially accepted?”
Leigh Alexander’s “What I Discovered From Gaming Like a Girl” (which inspired Lee’s post) also focuses on female’s non-sexual roles and how they influence game play. Although Alexander “wasn’t expecting the ways the game [Persona 3] would feel different when playing as a girl, even outside of romantic interactions,” she found herself “hesitating between conversation responses that would be consistent with the character I had visualized, and those that were more closely aligned with the ideals of ‘be attractive, sweet and likeable.'” As her strategies and attitudes towards other characters changed dramatically, Alexander began to examine the personalities she desired for her characters and how gender changed them. She concludes that the physical (gendered) appearance transformed her definition of success as well as the methods she used to achieve it.
As these gamers suggest, gender in video games is much more than sexual experimentation or indulgence. Gendered avatars not only reflect and project visual stereotypes, they subtly encourage gamers to modify their gameplay according to societies’ relational expectations of men and women.