Tuesday, October 09, 2012

It’s ok to be a man, play a female avatar, and not be sexist.


The Sims series has thrived on creating a new identity.
Men play as women, and Women play as men constantly.
I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. We’ve been spending a lot of time recently, in the gaming community, on sexism within the industry and how female gamers are treated. I want to look at the characters themselves, particularly ones where we, the gamer, have to create.

Quite a number of people that I meet in MMO’s are not the same gender as their real life counterpart. The reasons behind this will vary. But should we fault someone for picking another gender because they want something “pleasing” to watch while playing a game for 100+ hours?

It’s a tough call. Strictly speaking from a dictionary definition then yes, it would be sexism to an extent. Even though I don’t feel the definition matches up to today’s world, if you pick a certain character because of their looks, you’re singling them out, while discriminating other choices in a sexual manner.

And I do it too.

Yes I’m a woman and a feminist, but I also create characters that I feel are visually attractive. I’m creating an ideal version of this person/alien/creature within their realm. Male or Female, I want it to be someone that I don’t mind looking at for the next few years.

Now I’m arguing that this is different from normal: i.e. the expected voyeur view that we have come to know with video games. “Oh that chick is hot!” “Look at her boobs!” “Look at his abs.” Things that game designers do to intentionally pander to particular audiences.

What I’m talking about, what I believe to be, is not sexist. It’s possible to view someone as attractive and still be a rational human being. We do it every day. Well, most of us do. I’m sure there are still the occasional idiots who want to grope and act like a jackass around any female in their visual range.
Given a choice, I will always pick Twi'lik.
Note: This isn't mine.

Here’s my reasoning: As animals we have been pre-programmed to have a certain set of features we find attractive in a potential mate (whether this be opposite sex, same sex, whatever your poison). Just because we find someone attractive does not make us sexist. I think we’re at the point in our society where everyone is too hypersensitive about, well, everything. We say a man or a woman are “hot” and immediately we’re labeled as sexist. We can’t even sneeze without someone being offended these days. Don’t even get me started on why I can’t put up Halloween decorations at my office, but Christmas is totally fine.

Sexism is much more harmful than that. When you intentionally go out of your way to put down someone because of their gender, when you belittle them, tear them apart mentally and/or physically, that is sexism. Calling someone pretty in passing is not.

There is a difference.

So when I read these forum posts from men asking if it’s ok for them to play a female character, I don’t see an issue with it. I’m not entirely sure why people are making it into an issue.

Heterosexual men do it with male avatars. Just as heterosexual women do it with female avatars. Is it wrong that we want to play “fantasy” versions of a character in a make-believe world? Why is that sexist at all?

If I’m looking at a female elf all day, I want her to look like my ideal elf. I don’t want her to have scars on her face, or freckles, or orange hair. I’m going to make her look like I want her to look. So yes, she’s going to be pretty in my eyes. Someone else might find the scars and pink hair pretty. That’s perfectly fine. Does that make us sexist? Probably not, because I’m a straight woman looking at a straight female character.

Which means it’s probably sexist when I make a handsome male character, correct? Let’s take Shepard from Mass Effect. When I began my “Let’s Play” series I opted to stick to the default look: not only to stick with the original vision BioWare had, but also because I felt he was an attractive character out of the options made available. I’m not oogling him or undressing him mentally. He’s a handsome male avatar acting as my primary character for the story I’m embarking on. I can look at him throughout my gaming time and be perfectly happy with my choice. I can do the wayward, banged up, anti-hero another time in another game.
Now this looks like a man that'll save the galaxy, no?

And apparently that makes me sexist according to the forum topics linked above. I think we need to redefine what “sexist” is. We also need to teach people that being attracted to someone does not make you sexist. We’re in a society where “everything is bad”. “Don’t do this or that or you’re evil, rawr!” when it’s all perfectly normal, biological feelings. How we act upon those feelings is the determining factor.

So to all of the male gamers out there that play female avatars because they wanted a pretty girl to look at, it’s ok. Give her big boobs, give him abs of steel, and make them both wear the tiny short-shorts. But don't do it if your sole purpose is to undress her, engage in demeaning sexual acts, and berate her for being a woman. Treat her like an equal to a male avatar then we’re cool.

This is also coming from the woman who loves anything Bayonetta, so take it as you will. But as a female, from my point of view it’s ok to create a cute/handsome/sexy avatar. What you do with him/her/it and how you react is the difference.

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