On Gender-Swapped Gaming

Foz Meadows has a brilliant post up today abut the phenomenon of people who play gender-swapped characters in online games. Famously, on the Internet, no one knows that you are really a dog. Cross-species play is perhaps rare, but cross-gender play is apparently very common. Somewhat more women play male characters than men play female characters, but in both cases more than 50% had at least experimented.

What is so interesting is the reasons that people give for cross-gender play. With women the most common reasons for playing a male character are so that you can get taken seriously by the male players, and to avoid the constant sexual harassment to which female characters are subjected. Men, on the other hand, play female characters because they know that they can play on the insecurities of their sex-starved brethren and use “female” charms to wheedle favors out of them.

Foz, quite brilliantly, points out that the behavior of these gender-swapping male players is very much like something “fake girl gamers” get accused of. The intriguing possibility arises that the majority of the annoyingly manipulative behavior that male players are subjected to by female characters is in fact being done by gender-swapped male players. Of course we girls get the blame for this. No guy is going to admit to being conned by the feminine wiles of a gender-swapped male player. As Foz says, the whole thing is a giant misogynist shell game.

Because I am a bad girl and can’t resist turning something like this into a teaching moment, I have been pondering what this means for trans people. I can quite see that the TERFs1 will be all over this. They will see it as proof of the perfidy of trans women. But there some very major differences between people who gender-swap in gaming and those who do so in real life.

The male players who play gender-swapped in order to exploit their fellow men do not identify as women. They know that they are perpetrating a scam. That’s why they are not worried about the sexual harassment that their characters will inevitably be subjected to. It is not personal for them. Actual women, people who identify as women, whether cis or trans, have to live in the real world, and face the very real consequences of sexual harassment. For us, being subjected to such treatment in a game is deeply personal. Gender-swapped gamers behave as they do because they perceive real in-game advantages in doing so. Trans people live as they do despite the very real social and economic disadvantages that result from being trans in real life.

Nevertheless, many cis people persist in assuming that trans women are, in fact, deceivers, that we live as we do for the sole purpose of tricking other people into believing we are something we are not and, unless we are genuinely insane, know we are not. What they are doing is projecting their attitudes onto us.

It reminds me a lot of how Kevin and I have come to see people who accuse fan groups of conspiracies. Those people who are convinced that con-runners make a fortune out of putting on conventions are the sort of people who would not get involved in con-running unless they could make big profits from it. Those people who are convinced that all awards are fixed are the sort of people who would fix awards if they ran them. And equally people who accuse trans women of being out to trick others (whether to sneak into women’s toilets and rape anyone they find there, or to lure straight men into gay relationships) are the sort of people who can’t imagine transitioning for any other purpose.

Now if only those people could turn their attentions to people who are actually out to trick others — male gamers who play gender-swapped to trick other male gamers — then perhaps the rest of us could get on with our lives in peace.

1 TERF = Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist — sad people who think that being obsessed with hatred of trans women somehow makes them “radical”.

2 thoughts on “On Gender-Swapped Gaming

  1. Interesting article and a great post.

    I played WoW for several years, and while both the “mains” I had at various times were female (my own gender), I did play male alts (main was the character you focused on getting as powerful as possible for raiding and so on, where alts were characters you played for fun or variety). My guild mates knew who I was, of course, but when I picked up with random groups, if you were playing a male character, people would tend to assume you were the gender of your “toon,” unless stated otherwise (in WoW, it seemed like more male players had cross-gender toons than the other way round, but that might just be because only about 1/3 of WoW players were women back then).

    It was interesting to see the differences. Most often, it didn’t make a huge one, but I noticed a real difference when I played a male character who was of a “tank” class and spec. For some reason, in WoW, men tend to play the so-called tanks (which assume the leadership role in dungeon groups, as they control the dynamics of combat encounters) and women tend to play the healers, and both sexes would play the so-called damage classes/specs.

    Women playing tanks tended to get more arguments from group members who knew they were women, and often a male group member would “step in” to “instruct” them in proper form (whether it was needed or not). As a fake guy, I didn’t get this, but if a guy thought I screwed something up (rightly or not), they’d let me have it. “Dude! WTF?”

    On a side note, many of the male players who played female characters said they did so because they preferred staring at a female rear end for hours at a time than a male. I put that down to the need to reassure everyone that even though he was playing a girl, he was doing so for COMPLETELY MANLY reasons. Still, there may be a kernel of truth to that. I definitely think Blizzard put more effort into making the female models attractive to heterosexual male sensibilities than they did to making the male ones attractive to heterosexual female sensibilities.

  2. My (female) friend played a male Tauren warrior for many years, while her husband sometimes played a female character. Several times she had to step in to remonstrate with people who were sexually harassing him because they thought he was a woman. One reply he got from someone who clearly failed to understand that Games Are Not Real Life was “but you can’t be married to him – I mean her! She’s a big… bull!”

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