Gender & Avatars

Via Terra Nova comes word that King Of The World, a Chinese MMOG, is suspending the accounts of male identified gamers who play using female avatars.  This is done, according to Terra Nova, by requiring webcams to “verify” gender.  This is problematic for a variety of reasons.

  • A lot of female identified gamers I know play as male avatars so they won’t get hit on constantly.  This can become very annoying and quite frankly disgusting after awhile.  I’ve played in Second Life using a female avatar and the amount of creepy flirting and sexual innuendo makes me wonder why anyone plays as a female avatar at all.

  • If someone is exploring where they fit in the gender spectrum, restricting their movement between genders is pretty asinine.  What gives the managers of any game the right to tell people what gender they can choose?

  • Playing as another gender might only be a simple case of escapism.  I don’t see a problem with that.

  • I am really curious as to how the managers of King Of The World define “male” and “female.” What happens if a gamer doesn’t meet the requisites for what they deem “male?”  Requiring a webcam is just another way to shame non-gender normative gamers.

  • For the most part, I would argue that almost all avatars are a performance that isn’t quite replicated by the Real Life gamer’s appearance or build.  Do you really think that hulking, muscle bound, six foot male avatar is the same in Real Life?  Do all females have gigantic, gravity defying, breasts like a lot of female avatars have?  How is fibbing your avatar like that any different than changing genders?

  • Voice Chat in MMORPG’s is a great idea, but using it to pinpoint gender is so problematic. This addition to the gaming experience, which is supposed to upgrade and enhance that experience, ends up making games more restrictive and gender normative.

I don’t play many MMORPG’s, and news like this doesn’t make me want to run out to buy any.  No American games seem to require anything this restrictive, as far as I can tell, which is good news.  There is so much that can be learned via a gamer’s use of avatars; restricting them to normative gender binaries is just plain wrong.  If that is the direction MMORPG’s are heading, I’ll stick to 8-Bit games.