Jun 14, 2014

More Than Just Butts

Reading through Kotaku this week, I came across a very interesting study, reported by Slate. The study consisted of 375 WoW players, both male and female. It found that 23% of the male players surveyed chose to play as female characters/avatars, compared to 7% of the females playing as men. The researchers conducting this study go on to say that the men role play to an extent, consciously trying to “play the part” by saying more feminine or emotional things in chat.

The lead author of the paper, Rosa Martey at Colorado State University, told [Yee] via email that “it's not necessarily the case that men are trying to appear female when they use a female avatar. Our interviews did not suggest that those who switched were trying to ‘pretend’ to be women players.”

However, Nick Yee, the author of the article on Slate, essentially boils all of this research down to butts. He talks a little about his own research that shows that gamers will conform to their avatars—that is to say adopt the expected mannerisms and behavior of their avatar. But still, it's all about butts. Guys would like to stare at a girl’s butt rather than a guy’s butt while they are playing their game, WoW or not. He even says that “the equivalent [to sexual female avatars] is not an obscenely muscular male avatar in a tank top holding a machine gun.” (Then what exactly is the equivalent to a 90% naked girl, complete with a large butt and breasts, holding a machine gun?) He goes on to talk about men having more of an “incentive” to gender-bend, because female avatars are crafted with their demographic in mind. But I think that might be trivializing this research a bit too much. 

Which looks most like an explorer?
via Gamechup
There are many more RPGs, which traditionally are more of a masculine game by way of the action involved, which have the main player character as a female, and they achieve ratings as good—or better than—as games where you get to pick your avatar or character to play as. Notably, there is the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. This game achieved higher ratings and sales than previous installments in the series, and it was most definitely a different path than previous games took. In the reboot, Lara actually resembles a cartographer and adventurer, as opposed to some kind of dominatrix that stumbled into a cave in the Amazon jungle.

Cut to the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy XIII’s character development team decided to create Lightning (FF13-1, not Lightning Returns' costumes) with the idea that she would be “strong and beautiful” and somewhat less feminine than previous female characters. This didn’t seem to deter the game from becoming the fastest-selling Final Fantasy yet, a large chunk of which I'm sure are male players. Given that I completed the game in roughly 30 hours, I think there’s far more than butts that decide a player’s choices.

That said, these are not games where you can choose the character you want to play. They are not MMOs. While that may be true, I would consider MMOs to fall under the RPG umbrella. You are still playing a game that thrusts you into the role of someone beside yourself. To borrow a phrase from Nathan Grayson of Kotaku, gamers “are people—maddeningly complex amalgams of wants, needs, dreams, and desires.” I think that rings very true, for our own LGBT gaymers or others. There’s a lot more than butts that go into deciding who you want to game as.

Click here to read the article written by Nick Yee.
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