• I'm a librarian on Second Life, a librarian on reference chat, a librarian on Facebook, a librarian on Twitter, and even a librarian on World of Warcraft! And yes, I am a librarian in real life! (that last one is easy to forget sometimes) :)
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    Man, I feel like a woman …

    In the vast world of online computer gaming, a person’s gender is often as mutable as clothing and hair color. There are no laws saying that anyone’s online avatar must resemble the person on the other side of the keyboard, after all. Many people take advantage of this fact by making themselves look slimmer and more attractive in the virtual world. Men will shave off that beer gut and give themselves a physique like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and women will spend hundreds of Linden Dollars on luxurious flexi-prim hair that waves gently as if being blown by an ever present breeze. (as well as on other … [ahem] assets)

    But really, why would someone want to look like Brad Pitt when anyone can look like Angelina?

    In the early days of computer gaming, it was assumed that your online persona was at least an approximation of your real self. In a world ruled mostly by adolescent boys, choosing to represent yourself as another gender would immediately bring one’s sexuality into question. Verbal abuse in competitive-styles of gaming is always very harsh, and even in today’s enlightened society, the sheer number of homosexual slurs that get thrown around is surprising. But that was then.

    Over time, it became much less scandalous for a male to present himself as a member of the opposite sex. Perhaps it was the success of Tomb Raider, which forced gamerz to play as the voluptuous Lara Croft. (Who would actually be played BY Angelina Jolie) As online gaming matured, some players saw certain …benefits… to playing a female character online. Since most people assumed that the avatar represented the person playing them, female characters would often get special treatment in the game, from hormonal adolescent boys who were trying to score points with the cute chick. Female avatars could expect to get free gold, weapon upgrades, and assistance from higher level players. Pretending to be a female and flirting with the boys was an easy way to get ahead in the game. And if no one ever ASKS if you’re a girl in real life, why tell them?

    These days, it’s impossible to tell if the person behind the avatar is male or female. Many boys prefer to play a female character, on the oft-mentioned premise: “If I’m going to be staring at a character’s backside all day, it might as well be a cute one!”. For this reason, many game companies have been including fanservice for their core players, including obvious cheesecake shots and sexy dance animations, as seen here:

    (Yes, this is Aliscindra, one of my many World of Warcraft characters)

    To be fair, not every male gamer who chooses a female avatar is either a hopeless pervert or trying to work the system. Many players just enjoy portraying themselves as another gender. It’s both fun and interesting to see how others react to you. Sometimes the gender-bending player will performing their own little social experiment. Do other players defer to your leadership as a male? How does it feel to be “hit on” as a woman? Is there a difference in the way that people talk around you? Some educators have been using games such as World of Warcraft as a way of demonstrating social conventions. Is it possible to be prejudiced against a non-existent “race”? The many anti-gnome slogans on WoW suggest that the answer to this is “yes”.

    So here is a representation of my current favorite, Jacquelyn. I play her on the Aerie Peak server in a guild made up of librarians. She’s a paladin, which is a knightly class of stalwart fighters that also have healing abilities. Since gender is strictly cosmetic in WoW, she can fight, run, swim and drink just as hard as any man. The monsters don’t go easier on her because she’s “just a girl”. She wears a lot of armor, and swings a two-handed greatsword much more effortlessly than I ever could in real life.

    And yet, I do feel a subtle difference in playing her. I was expecting her to get “hit on”. I was absolutely ready for that. I am secure enough in my sexuality to flirt back with guys, and to play Jacquelyn as if I were really a female. (well, as best as I can) But what I didn’t expect (and should have) was the assumption that I need constant “help”. Many guys were very quick to offer assistance, as well as advice, for the pretty “girl”. I’ve been playing the game for a while, and I even have a few print guides. So I know how to play the game. Yet somehow I seemed to be giving off an aura of “help me”. I showed as much gratitude as I could, but it started to get slightly irritating.

    There’s a similar vibe in Second Life. Even though it’s been well established that a person’s gender in Second Life can be altered as often as every 10 minutes, Many people still react to a person’s gender in as if were the “real” one. Again, to be fair, this could just be common courtesy. If someone wishes to portray themselves as female, it’s probably best to treat them that way, even if you know it to be false. Some Second Life denizens also represent themselves as female in order to display a certain demeanor to other users. Many people enter a library expecting to see a female librarian, so why not portray yourself that way? Female librarians are also found to be more approachable in Second Life. There are a few male librarians that portray themselves as female for this very reason. For different reasons, many women also prefer to present themselves as male. It cuts through the flirting, and the awkward sexual innuendoes. People react to you as a “person”, instead of a “girl person”. What this says about our society is left as an exercise to the reader. πŸ™‚

    Gender is not a reflection of one’s sexuality. It’s no longer considered taboo to present one’s self as the opposite sex online, unless you’re attempting to defraud someone. Girls can boys, and boys can be girls. In an imaginary world full of Elves and Gnomes, or Warlocks and Warriors, of Dungeons and … um, Large Fire-breathing Reptiles; being a member of the opposite sex really isn’t all that strange. πŸ˜‰


    One Response

    1. How interesting the thing about assumed helplessness. I’m not sure I’ve run into that in WoW (though I certainly have the getting hit on). But then, I’m female irl and used to how folks treat me as female. *grin* I have a male avatar in SL but both my WoW toons are female. I have been considering doing a male warrior type just to see how that goes.

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