As the loading bar moves right and an entirely new world awaits your adventurous spirit, you think, “Who will I be today?”
The world of online gaming and who you choose to be in those games is quite literally at your fingertips. Through the keyboard, you can be whoever you want; a masculine rough-and-tumble guy, a feminine powerhouse, or any combination thereof. The freedom that exists in the virtual world gives gamers the ability to become what they perceive as their ideal character, so to speak. But, that freedom can also act as a crutch of anonymity, which can bring out people’s worst sides.
As a “girl gamer,” I’ve had first-hand experience of both sides of that coin, and the muddy mess that lies in between.
I play MMOs, or massively multiplayer online games. Meaning, I’m playing with thousands, if not millions, of people from all over the world sometimes. For the most part, I like to keep to myself. But there are occasions where it’s necessary to join other players for the sake of a mutual benefit, like group quests or dungeons.
That’s where the interactions begin to evolve.
I play both male and female characters, and the decision of which one to play comes down to my current mood. There are usually two scenarios: “Do I want to feel like part of the group?” or “Is there an item that I need to acquire that I can only get from another player?”
What I really should be asking myself is, “Do I want more respect?” or “Do I want to be objectified?” Because even in the world of gaming, real-life gender roles exist and are frequently exaggerated by players.
Obviously, these biases aren’t perpetuated in all games or with all players, just like in the real world. But, it happens enough to be noticed by a large majority of female gamers, and probably a slight majority of male gamers, too.
When a player creates a character of the opposite gender, he or she can make a decision of whether to take advantage of the role they’ve chosen. For example, if I play a female character, I can manipulate – yes, manipulate – random people to give me valuable items or even just to get more attention. And it really doesn’t take much effort.
Striking up conversation, or even getting people to dance with you on a game is pretty easy when you’re playing a female character. This is not always the case, however, when you’re playing a male character.
Reporter Ray Still and I decided to put this to the test, literally.
We logged onto a popular MMO game; I was playing a male character and he was playing a female character. We spent the next several minutes trying to get people to dance with us. I, on my male character, spent a good 5 minutes dancing with random people before someone (another male character) finally danced back.
It took Ray all of 5 seconds to get someone to dance with him.
So was this a fluke? Or are people really that much more welcoming and friendlier to female avatars?
My boyfriend, who plays online strategy games, had a similar experience. But, instead of having a female avatar body to dance with people, all he had to distinguish himself was a name. He played a few rounds of this game using my name, which is clearly a female name. He said all the other players were very chatty with him, telling him “Good game, Rebecca!” and similar congratulatory remarks.
When he changed his name back to his own – crickets. Not one person said a word to him.
So what does all this prove? Perhaps it’s that girl gamers are like unicorns, mythical creatures that are talked about, but people don’t really believe they exist.
Or is it just an example of human nature?
When presented with an opportunity to put on a mask and become anyone you want, a good portion of gamers choose a character that can be considered bad or negative. A gamer that becomes more pleasant than in real life is a rare occurrence, at least from my experience.
Under the right circumstances, you can encounter some truly heinous people while gaming.
But, no matter what game you’re playing or whether you’re playing a male or a female character on any game, you always have a very special ability that makes you immune to the damaging effects of other players.
It’s called the power switch.