Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 01, 2009
 
Virtual gender and sexuality

I totally skipped the Noblegarden event in WoW, because camping colored eggs and trying to click faster than the other players camping it doesn't hold a lot of interest for me. But apparently the event contains a lame sexist joke achievement, attaching bunny ears to female players over 18 (levels), and some feminists are up in arms about it. Meanwhile in a completely different game, Ixobelle ponders the question whether playing Free Realms will turn you gay. And on the forums of Star Wars: The Old Republic there is an uproar over a community manager comment that "gay" and "lesbian" "are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.".

For me virtual worlds are very asexual places. In a famous survey on Everquest it turned out that half of the female avatars were played by men. Ixobelle uses a female name for his blog, and plays female avatars, but is a man in real life. The only problem that causes me is one of grammer (do I refer to Ixobelle as "him" or as "her"?).

There simply isn't any real sexuality in virtual worlds. Avatars aren't born by a female avatar having sex with a male avatar. Any perceived sexuality in virtual worlds is just a projection from the real world. Attaching bunny ears to an avatar in WoW, or running around as a fairy in Free Realms, is very rarely an expression of sexual preference, it is just an element of gameplay. Of course there are both heterosexual and homosexual players, male and female, playing these games. But a statement that homosexuality does not exist in the lore of Star Wars, World of Warcraft, or the Lord of the Rings for that matter, is just a statement of fact. You can complain that Luke Skywalked didn't end up in bed with Han Solo, but that complaint has to be directed to George Lucas, not the Bioware guys. I am pretty sure that there will be no sex at all in SWTOR, neither hetero- nor homosexual. And if you use this or any other virtual world as platform for cybersex, you obviously aren't limited in your choice, neither by gender, nor even by species.

I would even go as far as saying that many cases of projecting sexuality onto a virtual world is a sign of immaturity and sexual insecurity. As Ixobelle says, "if you're that close to the cusp that you're afraid this game will affect you, you need to just go kiss a guy and get it over with." People who are grown up and 100% sure they are heterosexual tend to have LESS problems playing a fairy or female character than those who aren't. It's if you only ever can play hunking males that you should start to ask yourself what's wrong with you. ;) Me, I'm playing a fairy. :)
Comments:
Please explain what is wrong with the faeries! I understand why bunny ears disturbe some. After the 5th try I started to understand why some people find the Hodir's quest nasty.

But what on earth is wrong with the faeries and what's the connection between these creatures and gays? I mean I have never seen a gay with wings. Nor they can cast spells.
 
there is only speaking of sexualism if there is actually a possibility of sex. without it we are just avatars that happen to have boobs or not. So the whole discussion of sexuality is pretty much a waste of internet time. Does a baby care if it's a boy or a girl, I don't think so.
 
It's girl toons all the way for me. However, the limited options in WoW are stacking up and I might have to play a male toon alt soon just to look at something different.

I generally tell people I'd rather look at a woman all day than a man, but in my case I think the female avatars just look more sleek...I like things that are sleek.

I'd totally play a fairy if it looks cool. Would have to be a female one though, a male fairy is just far too gay for me. Now, if that male fairy was such that it had demonic wings and glowing eyes and muscles bulging and he carries a big sword...I wouldn't find that very gay at all. It's the guy wearing glitter and tights with a set of butterfly wings that bothers me.

And as for my real life gender, sorry to disappoint but this hulking mass of male flesh is off the market guys. Happily married to one of them women folk for about a decade now and have no intention of changing flavors.
 
The thing about no gays in star wars really puzzled me. I mean, ok there weren't any obviously gay characters in the films but why would there not be any in the universe? And really, why would anyone care enough to make a big deal of quashing it (wha'ts that going to do except chase off gay players, plus all the guys who like to play lesbian ninja catgirls)?
 
In real life I behave differently towards women than towards men, call me a Neanderthal if you like but it just seems to be hard wired and every other guy I know does the same. It is hard not to bring these hard wired attitudes with me into the game world even knowing that it is all just pixels and that the person driving the character may indeed be male. For this reason I am generally more comfortable playing my own gender unless there are clear gameplay or roleplaying reasons to do so. I have a female assassin in Guild Wars for example who fits very well into the beautiful but deadly role.

Actually thinking about that has just highlighted another of my prejudices. When I do play female characters I like them to be good looking. Fully clothed please but with a pretty face and figure. On the other hand I am quite happy playing an ugly male character if it fits the role (a tough brawler for example). Looking at all the typical nymph goddesses you see wandering around MMOs I guess I am not alone in this. Perhaps we should modify our definition of gender tolerance to "players who are willing to play physically unattractive toons of the opposite sex."
 
The debate in the Star Wars case at least is less about sex, which is what most people automatically presume when they think about homosexuality, as it is about sweeping gay peole under the rug. Outright banning the use of the words Gay and Lesbian, while usually well intentioned, are just not the right way to go about it. All that does is remove me as a gay person from identifying with my character. We often project aspects of ourselves into games and characters. It's pretty normal. But to say "no, you do not exist in my world" (despite that there have been lesbian and gay characters in the star wars cannon... Including a previous BioWare title) is offensive.

There is often sexuality in game worlds. NPCs often have you run quests to deliver something to their husbands or find some flower so they can make a potion to make this girl fall in love with you... Or you can summon a Succubus. I think it's disengenious to think that sexuality doesn't exist in games. Sex itself (which is not and does not define sexuality) is often not in games, unless your playing Thr Sims or something (and even then same-sex pairings are allowed), but sexuality is almost always present. It would be
nice, for once, to have LGBT recognzed in an MMO, but more importantly it's about not being shoved under the carpet by some programming code.

PS- typing on my iPhone, it's not letting me post as my blogger account. This is Dickie from www.rainbowmmo.com
 
Please explain what is wrong with the faeries!

"Fairy" is an American slang word for homosexual. Don't ask me why!
 
But what on earth is wrong with the faeries and what's the connection between these creatures and gays?Because being soft = gay. Because no gay man would ever prefer, masculinity over femininity. ;-)
 
Dickie has it right on the Star Wars thing. Besides, while TOR is a game set in the Star Wars universe, it's also played by people in the Real Universe. I don't think there are many people that care whether or not Luke and Han ever got it on or not, but a number of them clearly do care (and rightfully so) that they can't interact with the game as themselves. MMOs are social platforms, and denying a portion of the player base some fundamental pieces of their social connections is counterintuitive. I totally agree with Bioware's decision to remove the words from the language filter and support the individuals who decided to bring the issue to Bioware's attention.
 
Well, I play on an RP realm....so all my toons are male. Saves me from the ERPers.
 
The odd thing is I would never have considered putting the bunny ears on only female avatars, I would have made it on both male and female to watch them dance, because I'd think it would be fun.

To only put it on female avatars kind of makes me think it's boys not even out of college doing the programming. I don't know if that's necessarily sexist, but certainly insensitivity on the part of the older managers and QA who should be catching things like that.
 
Bottom line heterosexual men rule the gaming industry, we are the largest demographic that purchase these games, so they are going to cater to us. As my Dad told me, Money talks....Bullsh*t walks.
 
Yes wayofthechosen, money DOES talk, but not entirely in the chauvinistic manner you describe.

The Sims has been a very successful series for many years (strictly in dollar terms) by catering to its majority-female userbase. In addition, the userbase across both Nintendo platforms (Wii and DS) is already majority-female in Japan and close to 50/50 in the rest of the world. That might be one reason why the new, critically-acclaimed Grand Theft Auto game on DS was such a staggering flop.

As for the gay/straight topic, I've run into several gay male players of WoW over the years and have observed them to play mostly male avatars. It makes total sense if you apply the same logic as why so many hetero dudes play female avatars... "my character has a sexy butt."
 
I play a female character in darkfall because it has a smaller hitbox.
 
Spinks, I imagine it's just Bioware's way of nipping the whole sexuality thing in the bud. People will RP all they want, but by taking a stand and simply omitting certain things, Bioware is keeping the focus on the game, not the RP. Whether that's better or worse is up for debate, I suppose, but really, those ground rules are for Bioware to set up.

As for the avatar thing, who really spends their gaming time looking at a digital butt? That's just... sad. There are plenty of free butt pics out there.
 
I don't really see what the big deal is if I say, create a world where gays / lesbians do not exist. Perhaps they've never experimented, perhaps people just don't think about life that way. There's countless reasons why it wouldn't exist, but all someone has to know is whether it does or doesn't exist.

However, why does me making a world where that doesn't exist make me anti-LBGT? It shouldn't. I'm not on a crusade against it. I just chose to not incorporate those lifestyles into the thought pattern of anyone in my universe. I just ... never understood why we must always find reasons to ruin OTHER UNIVERSES THAT AREN'T OUR OWN with reasons based in our world. Not all our rules apply. There is highly apparent discrimination in games, but the moment we say something based in real life, it's offensive.

Call a dark elf a darky or a half elf a half breed and it's fine. Pit Dark Elves against Light Elves and no one cares. Call a dark elf a N***** and see what happens. Sure it's a real world term and it's ONLY basis is is in real life, but why? Why are there exceptions? What if I make a slur word IN game? Is that ok? If so, why?

It's all stupid.
 
Wiqd, that reminds me of a Cuppycake post from a little while back, writing about "reaching out to the LGBT community". Seriously, what? Just reach out to *players* and drop the stupid sexism/racism/classism garbage. If the game is designed without any of that kind of crap from the get-go, it may not be "welcoming" to those who have an axe to grind, but it may well be a better game and community, because it's living up to the "colorblind" concept more effectively.
 
http://www.cuppycake.org/?p=742

We're having a fun lil discussion over at Cuppy's blog ^^
 
Cuppy's gotten very cross with you Tobold. It's /popcorn time.
 
Seems to me that Cuppy just likes stirring up a fuss. It's a longstanding journalistic tradition. The appeal to emotion rather than reason is a surefire way to get conversation going... but it doesn't ultimately do much to actually help people. Rather, it degenerates into a "us vs. them" argument. Not unlike politics. *shrug*

It's not unrelated to the topic at hand. If you give players more ways to label themselves, there will naturally be fratricidal tendencies, rather than cooperative tendencies. That's dangerous in an MMO... unless you're banking on contention, like Darkfall.
 
>>Perhaps they've never experimented, perhaps people just don't think about life that way.

Perhaps in the future mankind has weened itself away from notions about God, Sin, Morality and the like, and decided it was time to view the biological imperative as it exists without the taint of emotions, much like Bioware is doing.
 
Chris, I don't think that's it at all. Bioware was saying that sexuality for the most part is so out of place in the star wars universe that terms like straight or gay aren't even mentioned. The most we get of it is a couple of chaste kisses between leia and han,and that's more in service of the plot than any real idea that sexuality should be expressed as a biological imperative. Anakin somehow had a kid with Amidala, but its really perfunctory, and you get the sense it's more important as a plot device than in itself.

It's like childbirth. You see children in MMO's, you have the ability to marry, people love each other in quests, but actually raising or having children in the game world doesn't exist. You rarely if ever see infants, or nurseries, or cradles. That's because the tale MMO's "tell" doesn't encompass all aspects of human experience. Star wars glosses over sexuality entirely in the same way. That's how he said they "don't exist."

It's more a matter of the artist focusing on certain aspects and neglecting others.
 
>>Bioware was saying that sexuality for the most part is so out of place in the star wars universe...

Thank you for making my point for me. The biological imperative(as it pertains to mankind) dictates that a male and a female are needed to procreate. Any notion of sexuality beyond that is totally subjective and most assuredly rooted in a misdirected emotional want or need.

>>It's like childbirth. You see children in MMO's, you have the ability to marry, people love each other in quests, but actually raising or having children in the game world doesn't exist. You rarely if ever see infants, or nurseries, or cradles. That's because the tale MMO's "tell" doesn't encompass all aspects of human experience. Star wars glosses over sexuality entirely in the same way.
Exactly. Do you really need to see a nursery, or a mother or father figure to know how that child came to exist? I dont think so. So it's no different to not include those things as it is to not include forms of sexuality that have no bearing on the ability of the game developer to tell a story, represent their universe or otherwise. The biological imperative exists as a truth without the taint of emotions or socio-religious edification.
 
Cuppy's gotten very cross with you Tobold. It's /popcorn time.

I'm way too mature to respond over there to a discussion where the argument is "Tobold is stupid". Cuppy is doing exactly what I listed in my post, projecting real world things into virtual worlds and then getting confused between where the avatar stops and the person begins. Persons can have sex, feel love, emotions, friendship, or be hurt. Avatars are a bunch of pixel with no emotions, which are seriously restricted by the game in what actions they can perform, and most games don't allow them to have sex. You are not your avatar. If you think your avatar says something important about you, then you will probably turn into an Italian plumber when playing Super Mario.
 
Chris i think you are reading into my replies a philosophy that isn't there.

>>Thank you for making my point for me. The biological imperative(as it pertains to mankind) dictates that a male and a female are needed to procreate. Any notion of sexuality beyond that is totally subjective and most assuredly rooted in a misdirected emotional want or need.

I didn't mean that at all. It's not out of place for the reasons you describe, its just out of place because its not really essential to the tale. Star wars is not about sexuality, in the same way raiders of the lost ark isn't, or casablanca isn't. It's not because of any held theories about a biological imperative, but just that its not what they want to write about or make films about. It would be like picking up a stephen king novel to find a long philosophical digression about free will.

I agree with your latter part except again attributing it to the imperative. Its not, and people can think the biological imperative is bunk and yet do the same thing. All creation is limited, and part of the creation process is putting in the minimum needed to suggest things. Usually devs can be lazy and rely on what we expect, like that if kids exist, they had to be infants at some point. Sometimes it can backfire. The Galka race in FFXI is masculine, but is supposed to be asexual and reproduce by reincarnation, yet you see little galkas running around with no explanation. Dissonance.

Again, it's not that the social and moral aspects are bunk, and that's why they don't go into it, and just the base biological imperative is enough. The imperative itself doesn't exist in the game for the same reasons.

As for the biological imperative, well thats silly. You don't have sex with your sister not because of an imperative, but because of the "taint of emotions" and "socio-religious edification." Same with any other taboo or sexual practice. People deny the biological imperative every time they don't cheat on their wife. There's a truth to the fact we have to eat as well, but good luck finding anyone who isn't affected by socio-cultural or moral beliefs by it.

However this probably isn't the best place to discuss it, and sorry tobold for the slight derail.
 
>>The Galka race in FFXI is masculine, but is supposed to be asexual and reproduce by reincarnation, yet you see little galkas running around with no explanation. Dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance.

Your argument would be more solid if you maintained your view of sexuality as it pertains to mankind, because that is the crux of this topic. Galkas are avatars just as Tobold opines in his OP, yet you are doing the same thing as the others by pointing out the lack of a congruent lore. It doesnt matter, and it's neither yours, nor anyone elses place to suggest what a developer includes into their games is right, or wrong.

>>You don't have sex with your sister not because of an imperative...

Give that philosophy a few generations and see what you end up with. It has everything to do with the imperative.

But you're correct, this isnt the best place to discuss this. My apologies, Tobold.
 
I'm surprised people are jumping on Bioware's case over this. It seemed pretty obvious that this decision wasn't some moral decision but a financial one: Lucasarts owns Star Wars. They aren't afraid to pull the license from ANYONE if they feel that they are misuing the license. They also want Star Wars to be a PG-13 franchise. Yes, homosexuality isn't just about sex, but the issue itself DOES revolve around sex in the end. For whatever reason, people get all up tight over the issue of homosexuality.

Bioware is covering their own asses because the star wars license is a money maker and they don't want to have it pulled! And I can easily see Lucasarts pulling the license if a huge controversy over "gays in star wars" came out and a whole bunch of midwestern parents overreacted.

Bioware has dealt with homosexuality before in many of their titles. The company itself has a good record. They just aren't as free to play around with controversy when they don't own the concept as when they do.
 
"The biological imperative(as it pertains to mankind) dictates that a male and a female are needed to procreate. Any notion of sexuality beyond that is totally subjective and most assuredly rooted in a misdirected emotional want or need."

If this is so, then what misdirected emotional want or need are animals who engage in homosexuality fulfilling? There are at least 500 species of animals that have been well-documented to engage in homosexual behavior. The "biological imperative" doesn't prevent homosexuality from existing in species that generally engage in sexual behavior only as a biological exercise, so there's nothing to indicate that humans would stop engaging in homosexual behavior were we to somehow get rid of the emotional aspects of sex.
 
@Bioware's response: They have since redacted the statement and allowed the use of the words Gay and Lesbian. This was simply in the forums, and the guy just put the words that were used as insults (such as saying: "Dude that is so gay" about something that is simply lame, or stupid). They have talked with LGBT members about the issue, and the guy who made the statement has apologized.

@Tobold: Projection of self into the avatar is part of playing a game like an MMO, where you generate the character and develop them (more so in RP realms where you develop their personality). If in Mario Bros, I were to design my own plumber to go rescue the princess, he'd be referred to as my plumber than as Mario. You can't compare the two for this sort of sense.

Also, studies show that people identify with characters of 3rd person games more than of first person games (in effect saying that Grand Theft Auto gets a more emotional response out of players than a first person shoot does).

As for sexuality, which is what the issue is, there is nothing particularly wrong with putting bunny ears on female avatars (technically the item puts bunny ears on ANY player, but the achievement is to put it on female avatars over 18th level). There is nothing wrong with them having to be 18th level. There is nothing wrong with only doing it to female avatars (actually some race/genders are rare enough to make it a real achievement). We all know what the reference for this is, but at no point does that knowledge make this achievement sexist.

As for projecting sexuality onto your avatar, I think in the way you're describing (a guy playing a big muscle-bound tauren, so NO ONE can say he's feminine) I agree, but I do think that some level of it occurs for EVERYBODY. For example, what made you decide to play a fairy in Free Realms? If you're saying you chose it BECAUSE you don't have a problem with it ... then why did you NOT choose it? I'd figure it's just what you felt like playing, or it had the options that interested you the most.
 
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