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"How about you just decide how not to *repel* the women?"
June 20, 2013 4:11 PM   Subscribe

David Gaider, senior writer at Bioware, delivers a talk on sex, sexuality, and sexism in video games and the gaming industry at the 2013 Game Developers Conference. (single-link 49-minute video)
posted by escape from the potato planet (87 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
An article from PC Gamer that summarizes Mr. Gaider's talk: GDC 2013: BioWare’s David Gaider asks, “How about we just decide how not to repel women?”
posted by msjen at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just in case anyone else wanted some statistics.
posted by eralclare at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2013


Are there any video game statistics sites that exclude FarmVille and Solitaire from their figures? I'm getting tired of my 65 year old mother gloating about how she's the new target demographic for gaming.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are there any video game statistics sites that exclude FarmVille and Solitaire from their figures? I'm getting tired of my 65 year old mother gloating about how she's the new target demographic for gaming.

I remember gaming before the AAA era and enthusiastically reject the idea that AAA games are the only real games.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [28 favorites]


Maybe I could just hire someone to stand behind me all day long with a rolled up newspaper and hit me every time I drift into reading the comments on something like this.
posted by brennen at 5:01 PM on June 20, 2013 [21 favorites]


The PDF at the link I posted has further breakdowns of some of the statistics, but they don't cross-reference (they mention what percentage of gamers are playing "social" games, but not how old those gamers are).
posted by eralclare at 5:05 PM on June 20, 2013


Also, I'm a big fan of not being repelled. Go Gaider!
posted by eralclare at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember gaming before the AAA era and enthusiastically reject the idea that AAA games are the only real games.

I could care less who calls themselves a gamer, but I'm not so sure that this speech was addressing the rampant sexism in games like FarmVille, Angry Birds, and that crazy candy game all the cool kids are into.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are there any video game statistics sites that exclude FarmVille and Solitaire from their figures? I'm getting tired of my 65 year old mother gloating about how she's the new target demographic for gaming.

Gaider addresses this around 14:30 in the talk. Bioware doesn't have better demographic information than the ESA survey, which doesn't break players down by genre, but he notes that 40% of players in Dragon Age played a female character and 24% of all romances pursued were same-sex. While he doesn't think this is strong enough to draw conclusions about the precise breakdown of gender or sexual orientation of the players, he's confident that it means the demographics are changing away from the AAA industry's focus on straight white males in their late teens or early twenties.
posted by figurant at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Privilege is when you think that something's not a problem because it's not a problem for you personally."

That's about the best succinct description I've ever heard.
posted by Riki tiki at 5:22 PM on June 20, 2013 [120 favorites]


David Gaider previously touched some of these subjects in this forum post addressing the "concerns" of the "straight male gamer" with regards to the romance choices in Dragon Age 2*.



*Concerns that are ridiculous, because there is no reason not to pick Isabela every time, regardless of gender.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:42 PM on June 20, 2013


There's a reason why a lot of my female gamer friends are devotees of Bioware.
posted by tavella at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yep. Bioware has had a rough go of it lately. Some of it has been their own fault. Some of it hasn't been. But I still love 'em and will buy their games sight unseen.
posted by Justinian at 5:54 PM on June 20, 2013


Yep. Bioware has had a rough go of it lately. Some of it has been their own fault. Some of it hasn't been. But I still love 'em and will buy their games sight unseen.

Their current deal with the EA devil hurts my soul.

On the one hand, Bioware. On the other hand, EA should die in a fire made of fires.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:58 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


"On the other hand, EA should die in a fire made of fires."

Ooh, snowclone merger!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a reason why a lot of my female gamer friends are devotees of Bioware.

I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games, but I don't understand it intuitively. As a gay man, I am actively confused and unsettled by the trend. I vaguely feel it may be actively objectifying gay men. It would be an example of false equivalence to ask why the male segment of the AAA gaming audience doesn't demand more homosexual female romance. I imagine that promoting the option for hot lesbian romance in your game would generate a bit of backlash, although, again, false equivalence, apples and oranges. Generally, I'm just confused by the women and gay male romance thing. Why? Why is it attractive and a stereotypically female interest, in games, but also in fanfic and fan art?
posted by Nomyte at 6:12 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


As I recall, "You have died of dysentery" was completely gender neutral.
posted by jfuller at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Maybe I could just hire someone to stand behind me all day long with a rolled up newspaper and hit me every time I drift into reading the comments on something like this.


I found my eye wandering thataway and a voice in my head screamed "NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!"

That was the Voice of Reason and Sanity, come to rescue me.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:15 PM on June 20, 2013


I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games, but I don't understand it intuitively.

I may have missed something in a link but I don't think this is the main reason females (like me) like Bioware games. There are also female/female romance options as well as female/male ones as well.

In DAO II if I remember correctly the Anders romance which you could get into with either a female or male character caused some upset because it was pretty easy to answer the wrong way in one of the scenes and 'accidentally' get a romance going. I remember some pretty irate and horrified posts on the forums from guys freaking out about 'omg he kissed me, how was I to know he was going to do that, wtf Bioware.' I think it was a kiss. Its been awhile since I played it. The exact same thing occured if you were playing a female character. Personally I thought the freakout was pretty darn funny. So in context with the OP post not only was the 'straight male' gamer not the only one being catered to they could accidentally 'oops' into this strange new realm.


What I like about Bioware is that they're attempting to provide something for others besides just the white straight male that Gaidar was talking about. They also have made some of the more realistic female protaganists and have female characters that are more then just skimpy dressed women there with their boobs. They know and understand that gamers like me exist and acknowledge it.
posted by Jalliah at 6:29 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Anders was a horndog. It was really easy to accidentally end up lip locked with the guy.
posted by Justinian at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2013


Yeah, Anders was a horndog. It was really easy to accidentally end up lip locked with the guy.

Cool. I did remember it right then. It's been several years since I played. I may just have to brush the dust off DAO. Loved that game. DAO II not so much.
posted by Jalliah at 6:40 PM on June 20, 2013


I thought the DLC to DA2 was some of the best stuff in the series. They really addressed the problems with the DA2 mechanics.
posted by Justinian at 6:41 PM on June 20, 2013


In DA2 at the romance options had a heart icon, so you couldn't "accidentally" fall into gay sex.

But no matter how many heart options you chose Aveline just wasn't that into you.
posted by squinty at 6:44 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games, but I don't understand it intuitively.

Yeah, I'm another female fan of Bioware games who likes them for the ability to play a female character and romance dudes as part of my RPG experience, and also the fact that they don't try to repel me and do actually cater to me by making characters who are attractive to me. Sure, they have a slash fanbase (like many things with attractive male characters) but I wouldn't say that's the main basis of their appeal to women.
posted by therewithal at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jalliah: "I may have missed something in a link but I don't think this is the main reason females (like me) like Bioware games. There are also female/female romance options as well as female/male ones as well. "

It's this.

This and they're usually very well written, with deep characterization that shines through when you hit the endgame. I'm more about the story and less about the characterization, and both of them floored me in this instance.
posted by Sphinx at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2013


In DA2 at the romance options had a heart icon, so you couldn't "accidentally" fall into gay sex.

Not sex, but kissing.
posted by Justinian at 6:54 PM on June 20, 2013


I'm not a gamer, but I really REALLY appreciated the content of this talk. It is by someone who is thinking deeply about issues revolving around gender and sex and equality, and his presentation and content is Grade A Prime.

Thanks for posting this. I hope a lot of people see it, and are driven to introspection as a result.
posted by hippybear at 6:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Though now that you mention it, you may have had to select the heart icon one time to make it happen, it's just a lot of straight dudes were trying to boost their "friendship" score and ended up with Anders tongue action hilarity. That's what happens when you select the flirt option dudes!
posted by Justinian at 7:01 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think even the Anders kiss is marked with the heart, but maybe there is another path to a first kiss.
posted by squinty at 7:02 PM on June 20, 2013


Here's hoping Dragon Age 3 is better in every way than DA2, because that game was truly awful in every way, from writing to gameplay. And I loved the first one beyond all reason! Augh.
posted by sonmi at 7:02 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe I could just hire someone to stand behind me all day long with a rolled up newspaper and hit me every time I drift into reading the comments on something like this.

Shutup.css
posted by sparkletone at 7:23 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I vaguely feel it may be actively objectifying gay men

Yes, but it's also an odd avenue of female sexual expression that we sometimes project our desires onto men to be allowed to have them. Actual gay and straight people are nuanced and complicated, but as far as role restrictions sometimes it's permission to do things we feel are otherwise restricted. For example, while technically I can go out and bang some dude, not only do I have to deal with the guy out weighing me, I find that hetero guys are just as eager to go all love crazy in the wrong way as straight women are supposed to be. Imagining yourself as a man is liberating, sometimes.

Seriously, last summer I spent a couple of months tooling around in an RPG in an avatar that was an anatomically correct male and I noticed it not only changed how others treated me, but, projecting as male, I was content to behave considerably more sexually/romantically aggressively.

Now I'm heteroflexiable, but there was simply so much more freedom when I had a pixel dick. I enjoyed it, even though I'm a ciswoman (though I don't take my own gender very seriously) and fundamentally speaking, gender bending was a means by which I got to have my cake and eat it too.

You will also see male players in female avatars who enjoy it, not because "woo, titties!" but because they enjoy the gendered interactions.
posted by Phalene at 7:33 PM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


All the romance options in DA2 were available for both male and female, as I recall. But no three or four-ways. Lame.
posted by homunculus at 9:22 PM on June 20, 2013


I believe you and Isabela could reconnect with Zevran. Reconnect. You know.
posted by Justinian at 9:25 PM on June 20, 2013


Oh right! Zevran is reliable that way.
posted by homunculus at 9:26 PM on June 20, 2013


I still think DAO should have made Shale a romance option. Think outside the flesh, people.
posted by homunculus at 9:26 PM on June 20, 2013


Wouldn't that be kinda dangerous? The Warden is rather... squishy.
posted by Justinian at 9:43 PM on June 20, 2013


Yes.
posted by homunculus at 9:46 PM on June 20, 2013


Addressing this issue seems to be getting closer to critical mass by leaps and bounds, or is that just my perspective as my own feelings about gender and sexual orientation has matured?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:25 PM on June 20, 2013


I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games, but I don't understand it intuitively.

I assume the correlation between non-sexism and non-homophobia in games is pretty strong. Male characters making out is a cue that the game is probably also low on dudebro misogyny.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:45 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games, but I don't understand it intuitively.

Most male-male erotic fan fiction (slash fiction e.g. Kirk/Spock) is written by women ( possible reasons why by a hetero lady ; also: controversy )
posted by Bwithh at 11:11 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Here's a small confession: I'm a totally straight male in pretty much every way, but I always play videogames as female if I'm given the option, even if it doesn't really matter beyond a character model. I don't quite know how I can explain why, except to say that I think that deep down inside I'm like a tenth of a percent trans.

Like, I'm perfectly happy with being male in "real life", but there's just a teensy little part of me that's... curious. So I live out that part of me in video games. Playing as women just feels right, somehow, in this kind of fantasy context.

So yeah, go BioWare, letting me play as female Shepard/Hawke/Warden and have my fun lesbian adventures!
posted by gkhan at 11:19 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Gaider addresses this around 14:30 in the talk. Bioware doesn't have better demographic information than the ESA survey, which doesn't break players down by genre, but he notes that 40% of players in Dragon Age played a female character and 24% of all romances pursued were same-sex. While he doesn't think this is strong enough to draw conclusions about the precise breakdown of gender or sexual orientation of the players, he's confident that it means the demographics are changing away from the AAA industry's focus on straight white males in their late teens or early twenties.

Or that young straight males aren't quite as homophobic and sexist as the industry might assume. Or at least don't express it by being unwilling to play female avatars or follow plots that involve homosexuality. I can't think of anyone I ever met in an MMO with multiple alts that didn't have at least one that wasn't their own gender.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is not a great game, but I liked that it gave a romance option with a strong, powerful, evil woman which was not quite like any video game romance I had encountered before.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:20 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My hunch is that most of those 24% of romances which were same sex were female-female. Young straight males may well not be as homophobic and sexist as the industry assumes but I'd bet that they mostly romanced the female characters regardless of which sex they played as. Not all, certainly, but most.
posted by Justinian at 12:12 AM on June 21, 2013


My hunch is that most of those 24% of romances which were same sex were female-female. Young straight males may well not be as homophobic and sexist as the industry assumes but I'd bet that they mostly romanced the female characters regardless of which sex they played as. Not all, certainly, but most.

I bet you're right, but I don't think it really matters. Obviously lesbian sex is a much more common fantasy for young straight males than gay male sex, but the point here is that they have absolutely no problem with sexual relationships between people of the same gender.

If young straight males recognize that a relationship between two women is just as valid a relationship as one between a man and a woman, doesn't that mean that this particular audience is much more mature about human relationships than people generally give them credit for?
posted by gkhan at 12:26 AM on June 21, 2013


No, I don't think so. Homophobic men can still find (certain kinds of) lesbians hot. Note that this is not me saying young gamers do skew homophobic, simply that I don't believe being cool with sexxing up Liara with FemShep is evidence that they aren't.
posted by Justinian at 1:07 AM on June 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


In any case ♡Ashley♡.
posted by Justinian at 1:08 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nomyte, I stopped at your comment before reading the rest of the thread, so someone may have already said this. But as to this:

I understand empirically that many women who game like the option of homosexual male romance in their story-driven games ... Generally, I'm just confused by the women and gay male romance thing .... Why? Why is it attractive and a stereotypically female interest, in games, but also in fanfic and fan art?

In a word, because it allows you to have a romance with a man without needing to be The Woman.

You can be strong and muscular. You can be physically stronger than your lover. You can be hairy. You can be hairier than your lover. Taller. You can both be smart. You can go at each other with gusto without worrying you will be judged for it. After all, that's expected of you as a man! You can have scars, you can smell like dirt and sweat. You can push someone onto the bed, not in that "tee-hee how cute little old me is pushing someone much bigger onto the bed" way -- You can lift them up and THROW them into the bed. You can be equally emotional. You can be equally unemotional. You don't have to be dainty, shy, or perfect.

And see a lot of women ARE these things in their life, with their lovers, or the guys who they would like to have as their lovers, but needing to Be the Woman constrains all of it. Even for women who are not genderqueer at all, it can free you from a lot of things, in your fantasy life, if you imagine as having a role that's not The Woman.
posted by cairdeas at 1:46 AM on June 21, 2013 [26 favorites]


I completely agree with Justinian. A lot of my peers are gamers and I've spent time on gaming sites. Male gamers who have selected female characters don't have to make much of a mental adjustment when forming romantic bonds with another female character because (a) it's someone they would be sexually compatible with in the real world, and (b) video game characters are mostly designed to look sexy, and a lot of straight men seem to consider sexy lesbian romance pretty hot. In fact, I'd be surprised if a lot of straight male gamers playing as female characters selected make partners for their characters.
posted by Nomyte at 1:46 AM on June 21, 2013


And cairdeas, I get that it's a form of safe sexual roleplay. But that doesn't make me feel much better. Again, I realize that it's a very flawed analogy, but it's the only one I have: imagine men who, for whatever reason, identify with the kinds of qualities that are projected onto women: submissive, coy, air-headed, homemaker, etc. What would fanfic created by them look and read like? Sometimes it just feels a whole lot like "gay make romance" plays the same role for a lot of female consumers that "hot lesbian romance" plays for a lot of male consumers thereof. From what I've seen of homoerotic fanfic created by women, a lot of it is the opposite of arousing. It's like some kind of alternate gay sexuality.
posted by Nomyte at 2:04 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


imagine men who, for whatever reason, identify with the kinds of qualities that are projected onto women: submissive, coy, air-headed, homemaker, etc. What would fanfic created by them look and read like?

I see a lot of gender play that comes out looking exactly like that, and, as women we're supposed to accept it without a word of objection, or we're bigots, so...
posted by cairdeas at 2:52 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like some kind of alternate gay sexuality.

Well, yeah. It's the same sort of thing as to why a lot of straight blokes like seeing lesbian porn. It has nothing much to do with actually existing gay people or relationships.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:01 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My hunch is that most of those 24% of romances which were same sex were female-female. Young straight males may well not be as homophobic and sexist as the industry assumes but I'd bet that they mostly romanced the female characters regardless of which sex they played as. Not all, certainly, but most.

You have to look at the specific games though. For instance, in Mass Effect FemShep's voice acting is leagues better and Liara was effectively the only option since Kaidan has the personality of a slab of meat. OTOH in ME2, it made sense that Shepard had a tragic relationship with a Drell assassin.
posted by ersatz at 6:06 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bioware's romance progression is shitty and mechanical (as are all their conversations, thanks to that fucking dialogue wheel) but at least they have a decent handle on this stuff.
posted by mean cheez at 6:11 AM on June 21, 2013


For me, the two reasons why I usually end up playing FemShep are the voice acting, and the facial rigging on MShep only seems to work on the default model for me. If I try making a non-default MShep, the result reminds me of the bug wearing the human suit from Men In Black. For DA2, I just can't ship any male companions beyond Varric, who was a missed opportunity and probably the least dysfunctional one of the bunch. (Someone over on tumblr described the plot of every Bioware game as protagonist babysits a collection of dysfunctional killers while running errands, and then, plot happens.)

Intellectually, I can understand slash. Personally I find most of it (and fanfic in general) to be unreadable. A fair bit of that comes from having a partner where my bisexuality was a big old fetish for her. Frankly, I just don't have the time or energy to look for the good stuff.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:15 AM on June 21, 2013


________ should die in a fire made of fires

Holy snap, I'm going to find a way to work this into casual conversation like fifty times today.
posted by SinAesthetic at 9:01 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love David Gaider so much. Alistair basically rekindled my love for RPGs; he was the first character I've fallen in love with like that since Guy in Tales of the Abyss, and Guy wasn't actually romancible. (In the game, I mean. In my deviantart favorites, different story.) I've played through almost every romance option in the DA series just because I love them so, so much.

Also it isn't easy to end up "accidentally" making out with Anders unless you "accidentally" pick the option with a little heart for laughs all the time. Which, yeah, I did, but I meant for my Hawke to be ridiculously promiscuous. Ever since I found that bug in DAO where you can keep romancing Zevran and Alistair for the rest of the game without their jealousy routines re-triggering I've had... ambitious characters.
posted by NoraReed at 9:01 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My thoughts, in no particular order:

First, every male I know who plays female characters does so because they don't want to stare at a male butt on their screen. I'm not stating this as opinion; I've asked them. This includes all three of my male stepchildren (12, 15 and 19 years old).

Second, I love that someone is addressing not just the aspect of content and game play that might be more appealing or less repulsive to women, but the fact that they are speaking to and providing a model to a larger audience. It's not just that games were skewed primarily straight white male, but when you buck that as a woman and play anyway, you get treated like crap. Hit on, explicitly, by random strangers when running through common areas because your avatar is hot. (What if I'm a guy just playing a female character? It's what I'd ask if I didn't instantly put those people on ignore.) Told you're a crappy player once they find out you're a woman. Told you must not actually be a woman because you are playing well. Asked why you're not in the kitchen cooking or taking care of your children. Assumed to be unattractive IRL because otherwise, why would you spend your time like this? It's exhausting. It defeats the purpose of playing an MMORPG if you turn off general chat because you get sick of the puerile garbage that so many people spew.

Third and last, although I was amused as all hell that you could actually have a romance with and marry your various companions in the most recent game I picked up, I do have to admit to being a little squicked out when they started making out on screen. And this was hetero; I just thought it was a little weird at first, having never played a game with that content. I laughed and laughed and laughed at the guys making female characters because they didn't want to have to flirt with their male companions as males in order to get their affection points up.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2013


I still don't think it's possible to have an RPG include the possibility (rather than the inevitability) of sex between characters without the whole thing being a Nice Guy(TM) simulator. Maybe if the NPC always initiates and the player only has the choice to accept or decline?

Otherwise you inevitably end up with some form of "insert X niceness tokens and this character will give you sex." And I think that might actually be more toxic than some of the more obvious male-gaze titillation/objectification. Reading a walkthru for how to get to the sex scene with a particular NPC in an RPG seems way too much like a PUA manual.
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suppose you could just have some sort of random value determined at character generation that would determine which characters are into you, or each other (adding randomized love triangles or unrequited love chains to DA:O would be pretty comical). Then you would decide whether or not to pursue them in a fairly straightforward fashion.
posted by furiousthought at 10:44 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


First, every male I know who plays female characters does so because they don't want to stare at a male butt on their screen. I'm not stating this as opinion; I've asked them.

I don't know why I always play as a female character, but it isn't that.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Previous comment edited because bloody computer decided to post it for me.)

I play female characters because they're more fun to play as. Part of the fun in gaming after all is playing dress up and what better way to dress up than to become somebody you could never be in real life, even leaving the world saving heroics out of consideration?

Not to mention that many male characters are just boring meatheads, broshep being the prime example.

I do sometimes worry that e.g. playing a Black woman as somebody who, well isn't either, could be a bit problematic. You could after all make a case for this being the videogame equivalent of blackface after all.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:59 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least with the later games, Bioware romances strike me as more reactive to the NPC's dialogue hints than persuasive by the Protagonist, except perhaps for Jacob in ME2 that starts off flirty right after the prologue. My reading of Mass Effect is that Liara has a huge crush on Shepard no matter what you do about it. Some people find this to be extremely annoying. In most cases, you'll want to do everyone's "loyalty" quests for the endgame benefits anyway.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:11 AM on June 21, 2013


"I don't know why I always play as a female character, but it isn't that."

Me, either. I do it because I identify better with women than men. This reflects my general feelings about gender roles in our culture — it's not so much that I prefer the traditional female gender role over the traditional male gender role (though, if I absolutely had to choose, I'd go with the female), it's that I strongly dislike the traditional male gender role and I feel that there's more social latitude these days with female gender roles such that I can more easily imagine being the person I am and/or want to be within the context of a female gender role than a male gender role. Which is to say, not really the traditional female gender role but especially not the traditional male gender role.

I've been playing RPGs and MMORPGs from the eighties and UO, respectively. Prior to the late nineties, I'm not sure there were very many (or any?) RPGs that allowed a female player-character. I don't really recall switching to female characters in RPGs until after I'd already done so within MMOPRGs. And I didn't do that until WoW.

In UO and Everquest and their contemporaries, female characters were relatively rare and it was a cliche (true or not) that it was men truly pretending to be women. And, whether or not people believed this, they did also tend to treat female characters quite a bit differently. I remember creating a female character in EQ and being uncomfortable with how other players interacted with me.

I bought WoW the week it was released but it wasn't for a number of years that I created a female character. At that point, our culture had changed enough such that this issue wasn't so heavily freighted. And so when I tried it, I found that I was more comfortable in some way that I couldn't, and still cannot, fully articulate. And since then, I almost always choose a female character in any gaming context and am now a bit uncomfortable playing a male character.

Related to this is my experience of reading literally hundreds of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels over the last four years. But I wrote then erased my thoughts on this, as it's a bit off-topic. In short, though, I've become less comfortable with male protagonists in books written by male authors than I used to be.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:39 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ivan, you and I arrived at the same gaming place for the same reasons, and in similar games. My first female character was my mage in UO. I had a male fencer, wanted to branch out, and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed playing as a woman.

It really, really annoys me when men trot out the stereotypical "just want to look at a nice ass" line, and I think for at least some it's disingenuous. They might well be concerned that they'll be judged if they reveal that there's more to it than that.

These days, even though I always play as a woman in games, if the ass is too nice, it annoys me more than anything. What's worse is the almost universally horrid walk/run/idle animations for female characters, which would seem to've been motion captured by runway models rather than, say, athletes.

In some games, you can mod the male animations onto the female characters, and it's astonishing and gratifying what a difference it makes. It also emphasizes the often ridiculous armor options for women, so this is best done in games with reasonable armor choices.
posted by gilrain at 12:13 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if any of the women here find that problematic, at all? I've thought before that it might be kind of offensive, possibly, in a gender tourism way.

Like: sure, have fun playing as a (usually male-gaze) idealized and empowered woman in your video game, but you wouldn't like the real thing.

Just curious and trying to keep myself honest.
posted by gilrain at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"These days, even though I always play as a woman in games, if the ass is too nice, it annoys me more than anything. What's worse is the almost universally horrid walk/run/idle animations for female characters, which would seem to've been motion captured by runway models rather than, say, athletes."

Yeah, I feel the same way.

I was playing Guild Wars 2 quite a bit last winter and I found I preferred clothing/armor that was less sexualized.

"Like: sure, have fun playing as a (usually male-gaze) idealized and empowered woman in your video game, but you wouldn't like the real thing.

"Just curious and trying to keep myself honest."


Good point. That's actually been a source of discomfort for me from the beginning. But it's not unlike the issues involved in being a male feminist, so it's something that I've struggled with for decades. We can only navigate these waters with as much care as we can manage, we'll still run aground from time-to-time. It's the territory.

In this case, I don't see it as anything beyond what I described above. I'm comfortable with it now largely because a male playing a female character isn't such a socially meaningful act that it previously was. It's not so much making a statement, so I'm not as worried about what statement I may be making (including presuming things that I ought not). So the social consequences don't seem so large while the personal benefits are real.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:29 PM on June 21, 2013


I've been playing RPGs and MMORPGs from the eighties and UO, respectively. Prior to the late nineties, I'm not sure there were very many (or any?) RPGs that allowed a female player-character.

I can tell you with certainty that the SSI D&D games (curse of the azure bonds, Secret of the silver blades, etc.) allowed for female PCs. I had a female dwarven cleric called Ironymaiden.

Personally, I see playing a female PC as about as weird as reading a book with a female protagonist. Which is to say... not that weird. I dunno. I never put that much thought into it - I just kind of go with what seems like it would be interesting to play.

I do wish that more games included interesting female/POC characters, though. The white male default is sort of... overdone.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:54 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yep, virtually every RPG let you play as a female character in the early days. It is counter factual to claim otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 2:04 PM on June 21, 2013


Depends on what you mean by early and I think Ivan started slightly later than you are talking about.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:12 PM on June 21, 2013


The main character in Phantasy Star (1987, Sega Master System) is female. All subsequent games had female PCs in your party.

Wizardry is a series of games that began in 1981. Gender is either unspecified (as in the first few) or an option left to the player; it was never assigned by the game.

Ultima, released in 1981, allowed you to pick your characters' sex.
posted by jsturgill at 2:14 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Depends on what you mean by early and I think Ivan started slightly later than you are talking about.

Probably, but "early" is an absolute rather than relative term. A person could have started gaming 5 years ago but that doesn't make Fallout 3 an early RPG.
posted by Justinian at 2:21 PM on June 21, 2013


Dragon Age: Origins was actually the game that got me choosing to primarily play female protagonists in games that allow for the choice.

It was one of the few games that I enjoyed enough to pursue 100% achievement completion, which I did via multiple playthroughs of the game.

For my first character, I did what was pretty standard for me at the time; I chose to play a male city elf rogue, a character whose origin, skill set and build matched either my own general outlook, real-life physical realities or ideals. (He ended up looking like a cross between Wesley Crusher and Anderson Cooper with a KD Lang haircut, but that's neither here nor there...) I definitely enjoyed my time with this character, but I totally meta-gamed my way through the entire experience. I chose to be a rogue partly because I knew I could use my character to open all the locked chests and doors. Most of my decisions were made based on what choices would give me the best in-game advantage. As a surrogate for myself-as-gamer (and due to all the meta-gaming), he had very little personality; he was just the vehicle through which I gamed the game.

For my second (and only other complete) play through the game, I decided to try something completely different; I decided to actually role play. What better way than to make character decisions entirely antithetical to the characters I typically chose to create? I ended up with a female noble warrior. I decided she would specialize in two-handed swords and be prone to hot-headed, rash decisions and that she would possess a stubborn sense of principle and self-righteousness. She was out for revenge for the death of her family. This time, I didn't pay mind to the gameplay consequences of my actions. I made skill choices based on my idea of who the character was. I chose all the dialogue options that were consistent with my conceptions of how this character I had created would react. She was physically imposing and threatened physical violence instead of glibly persuading. She hit stuff with a two-handed sword until it exploded. Even though I had already played through all the content before, I discovered that I was having way more fun this time around, as well as being more engaged in my character's story.

At the end, when she sacrificed herself to defeat the archdemon (my first character had weaseled out of this), I actually got a little teary. Initially, I had thought, "What is wrong with me? This is just a game." I had never had such an emotional reaction to a gaming experience. Then I realized: This is Awesome. By creating an internal life for my DA:O character, I hadn't changed the actual game, but I had changed myself, made myself more receptive to aspects of the game that I was inadvertently ignoring before, allowed myself to participate in the game's storytelling.

I now create almost exclusively female protagonists when given the choice, using gender as the seed of "otherness" that separates me from the character and keeps me from playing games the boring old way. It keeps me thinking "Who is this? How would she react in this situation? What would make for a better story?"

The only part where this breaks down for me is my characters' sexualities. All of my female characters have been lesbians and I've recently been spending some time thinking about why. BioWare seems to be the main game in town here and while I applaud them for their history of offering so much choice, the (romantic or non-romantic) relationships in their games have always felt kind of clunky and emotionally unsatisfying (and the possible male romances all seem to have bland personalities). I think since I don't gain much intellectual or emotional stimulation from BioWare romances, I decide to at least get some titillation from watching my PC make out with Liara/Leliana/Isabella/Morrigan/etc. I think 2013 has been a really great year for nuanced, believable, non-romantic male-female relationships in western games, between Booker/Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite and Joel/Ellie in The Last of Us (Troy Baker FTW?). I would like to think that I'll fully embrace playing a hetero female PC when portrayals of romance in games reach the BioShock Infinite/The Last Of Us/Persona level of emotional substance. (Speaking of Persona, when I finally get around to playing Persona 3 Portable, I fully plan on choosing the female protagonist and exploring the hetero romantic possibilities)
posted by strangecargo at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Yep, virtually every RPG let you play as a female character in the early days. It is counter factual to claim otherwise."

I appreciate the correction. I was unsure, it's why I qualified what I wrote as much as I did.

I didn't actually play very many RPGs until the advent of 3D/FPP/TPP (I played Ultima Underworld). And I've only ever really been a PC gamer. But I've been a PC gamer for the entire history of PC gaming. And a MMORPG gamer for the entire history of MMORPGs. But I was never a tabletop RPG gamer and have never been much of a CRPG gamer, reallly. I've been a relatively close observer of PC gaming for thirty years, but RPG less than other genres so I should have been more careful with assertions about the history of CRPGs.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:17 PM on June 21, 2013


I wonder if any of the women here find that problematic, at all? I've thought before that it might be kind of offensive, possibly, in a gender tourism way.

Of course I'm speaking only for myself, but I don't see a problem with any of us playing as any gender we please in any game.* Same goes for fanfiction -- one of the primary motivations for it is to play with the characters, and in the case of slash, play with the characters' gender roles and sexuality. We don't stop learning through play when we leave childhood.

I love strangecargo's comment for its description of how that play can work. We've discussed at least one other game that's explicitly intended to work that way (but not nearly as interesting a game, and also, no Alistair).

* Except for Mass Effect, as FemShep is the One True Shep.
posted by asperity at 3:24 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yep, virtually every RPG let you play as a female character in the early days.

Also gender was often one of the few options that didn't change a character's stats, so if you fancied playing a 18/00 fighter, the only obstacle was having to hit R(EROLL) enough times.
posted by ersatz at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2013


I wonder if any of the women here find that problematic, at all? I've thought before that it might be kind of offensive, possibly, in a gender tourism way.


I don't find it offensive at all. I think one of the great things about RPG type games is that they allow you to play around with different aspects of character and that includes gender. I'm female and although I have played many games where you can chose I generally always chose female characters if I can. Over the years I've realized that I'm the type of gamer where my character or avatar is an extension of myself. I wish I could find an article I read way back when that talked about how people identify with game characters because it was interesting to learn about the differences.

I get enjoyment out of pretending that the character is 'me' in some regard and find it hard to play 'male' if I have a choice. There are exceptions of course. One of my favorite series is Assassins Creed and I found myself loving Altair and Ezio like I would character in a book. I also found the same thing with Bioshock. If there is a good story behind it I can easily get into it.

DAO is one of my all time favorites because of all the options it had to 'play' a character the way I wanted to. No game is perfect but it was unlike any RPG I had played before. I laughed, I got emotionally invested, I got angry and I even cried when bad things happened in the story. What I like about Bioware games is that I'm never felt that playing female was a token gesture stuck into the game. Other games, though I can't think of any of the top of my head I've felt like sure I can make my character look female but it's kinda more just like female pixels stuck on top of a male base. Not sure if that makes any sense to others. I'll have to think about it a bit more.
posted by Jalliah at 3:55 PM on June 21, 2013


Asperity: Yeah, FemShep forever. Even before my experience with DA:O, I chose to play FemShep due to my preference for Jennifer Hale's voice work. Plus the Janeway-ness of it all.
posted by strangecargo at 4:02 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I get enjoyment out of pretending that the character is 'me' in some regard

You know, I wonder if this is the difference between EQ and WoW with respect to character gender. I imagine most people playing Everquest were probably already RPG players, maybe tabletop, and viewed their characters as in-game representations of themselves. Whereas WoW brought in a whole ton of new people to the MMORPG market, RTS players who would more see their character as a person they were giving orders to...
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:25 PM on June 21, 2013


"You know, I wonder if this is the difference between EQ and WoW with respect to character gender."

That may, indeed, partly account for some of the cultural change about this from the UO/EQ era to the WoW era.

Speaking for myself, though, I'm like Jalliah in that I identify with my characters. I can't play evil characters for that reason. I've tried, but it makes me uncomfortable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:13 PM on June 21, 2013


In other news: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Pulled, BGII On Hold
posted by homunculus at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2013


Speaking for myself, though, I'm like Jalliah in that I identify with my characters. I can't play evil characters for that reason. I've tried, but it makes me uncomfortable.

Yep that's exactly like me too. At times I start and think okay I'm going to play the 'evil' route. I end up feeling guilty and horrible. lol I also have a hard time in games where I have to kill animals that I like, for quests and such. I'll do it but don't like it. Monsters and other beings. No problem. Go kill 20 wild boars or wolves and I get all sad.
posted by Jalliah at 5:58 PM on June 21, 2013


One of the interesting aspects of the Ultima series, as it matured into its second trilogy, is that Richard Garriott realized he didn't like the "kill everything in sight" aspect of such games, and he built the second series around building a moral character who did good things for the right reasons. I played Ultima I-III, but really loved the hell out of Ultima IV-VI.
posted by hippybear at 6:13 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]



In other news: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Pulled, BGII On Hold

Good goddamned does that suck.

What do you call 10,000 laywers at the bottom of the ocean ?




A good start.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:48 PM on June 21, 2013


That's a good joke to tell to your public defender.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:07 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]






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