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Gender-switching in video games


Rhett
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great article on why people play the opposite sex so often in games, when there's the option.

PluggedIn: Gamers bend gender for a winning edge

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES, July 28 (Reuters) - When men appear as buxom, scantily clad females in video games like "World of Warcraft," it is more about winning than finding an outlet for a real-world affinity for gender bending.

"It has nothing to do with exploration of sexual identity," said Brenda Brathwaite, a game developer who delved into the subject for her book "Sex in Video Games," set for release this fall.

While there are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-friendly groups that operate within massively multiplayer online games commonly referred to as MMOs, issues of sexual orientation take a backseat to slaying beasts or rival factions, researchers and gamers say.

"If you come out in 'World of Warcraft' it doesn't matter. Who cares? You can be gay, straight, transgender. What matters is whether you can swing a sword," said Brathwaite. "It's pure MMO capitalism."

In an About.com poll taken last summer, nearly two-thirds of the 920 respondents said they play characters of the opposite sex in online role-playing games.

Kathryn Wright, WomenGamers.com's consulting psychologist, earlier this decade found that 60 percent of male players who don female avatars, or on-screen personas, do it to gain an advantage in game play.

An enthusiast with the online handle Jackpot649 nailed the Zeitgeist in his response to the About.com query: "I'm a guy, but if I gotta look at an avatar all day, I'd sooner look at a female avatar. Plus, people give you more free stuff."

Gamers, both male and female, say female avatars confirm what they already knew: Being a pretty girl has its perks. Female avatars are often the center of attention and showered with gifts such as swords or armor by other characters.

They also, however, get unsolicited and sometimes condescending game play advice from the thousands of mostly male players who populate the MMO universe.

"The downside was the constant 'Can I help you?' or the advice," said Jeff Green, editor-in-chief of Computer Gaming World, who for six months played Sony Online Entertainment's (6758.T: Quote, NEWS, Research) "EverQuest" as a female character while researching a story.

Green, 44, has moved on to Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft" and returned to playing male characters. Despite all he knows, he said his first instinct when seeing a female avatar is to assume that its operator is a woman.

He believes that gut reaction is shared by most men, who he said tend to take a don't-ask, don't-tell approach when it comes to female avatars: "They don't want to know. There is always the chance that you're playing with the one cute female behind the monitor."

While online games deal in fantasy -- and there are MMO players who engage in alternative behavior or covert virtual sex for in-game money -- players are confined to the game's storyline and the operator's rules.

Many players also tend to stick pretty close to their real-life scripts.

A 36-year-old female attorney from Austin, Texas, is the real-life person behind the sexy and smart female Oola and the bruiser male Smotis in NCsoft Corp.'s (036570.KS: Quote, Profile, Research) "City of Heroes" but she said the differences between her avatars and herself didn't go far beyond physical appearance.

"I was a bit disappointed that I didn't branch out more. I think it was a lack of originality on my part," said the lawyer, who asked that her name not be used.

Real-world biases also find their way into the online game world. For example, some gamers insult other players with taunts of "gay" or "homo."

Intolerance reared its ugly head earlier this year in "World of Warcraft" when a long-time player's efforts to recruit members to a gay-friendly guild were met with a sexual harassment citation from a game master. Blizzard apologized.

Those in the know say that most sexual experimentation happens in places like Linden Lab's "Second Life," where players build their own worlds, writing their own storylines free of constraints imposed by society or mainstream video games.

In "Second Life," 39-year-old transsexual Noche Kandora works as a dominatrix named Cheri Horton and is fully female in the virtual sense.

"I feel a whole lot better. It's so much more me," said Kandora, who noted that even "Second Life" has its limits.

In this case they are technological. Kandora has yet to find the tools she needs to build her ideal avatar -- one with a hermaphroditic appearance.

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the salient point is that if you're going to stare at 'your own' ass all day long (and with MMO's it is indeed all day long), then it might as well be something that you're not going to chide yourself about, when you've zoned out staring into its digital cheeks.

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once you get to the point where digitized cheeks are pixelated nipples get you off, you're tooooo far gone to be saved. I wouldn't be a girl dude, screw that, I'd be the most might elven templar turned fire cleric you have ever seen!!!!!!!! Or a drowl elf...I dunno... or a vampire... fuck. I'M SO CONFUSED!

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