Gender bending in MMORPGs

Most MMORPGs, such as Maple Story, RF Online and many other others allow players to experience a fantasy world filled with Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and many other exotic races. These games also allow players to choose which gender their avatars will assume. While Playing as non-human races is considered unremarkable, playing as the opposite gender (termed gender bending) has always been a divisive issue. Current surveys show that 85% of MMORPG players are male and that males are up to 5x more likely to gender bend than females. This means, on average, at least half of all female avatars in a virtual world are played by men.

There are some very practical reasons why a man would prefer to play a female character online. For instance, it is widely known that others players are much more generous with items and in game guidance to female characters. Females who play a male character give up this gender specific advantage, which likely explains the far lower female gender bending tendency. It has also been noted that in third party MMORPGS many men prefer to spend their game hours staring at the back of a slim female body rather than a bulky man’s. Many do not accept these utilitarian reasons alone as being the explanation for gender bending. Some suspect that there are darker and more psychological reasons why a man would dress in women’s garb, virtually speaking that is.

That a man would want to play a female character is often evidence enough for many in the online community to label someone a homosexual. But surprisingly, feminist organizations see gender bending as another sign of female oppression. In most virtual worlds, female characters are scarcely clad and are blessed with what we shall term ‘bountiful assets.’ It is sexism on the men’s part to want to control these polished pleasure bots, or so the feminist argument goes. There is certainly some small minority of men who use female characters to approach other men online but doesn’t ultimate responsibility lie on the individual in defending himself against unsolicited advances online?

The issue has gone so far out of hand in some places that game publishers and governments decided they needed to step in. Recently in China Shanda Entertainment, a major developer of virtual worlds, issued a new rule that anyone wishing to create a female avatar must first prove their gender to the company via a webcam. Interestingly, women wishing to play a male character would not need to go through this procedure. Many players faced character deletion if their female avatars didn’t have a female face to defend them on the webcam. Not surprisingly, players wore wigs and put on make up to fool the developers into letting them keep their avatars. Shanda may of found the perfect way to reverse gender bending trends between the sexes – by putting additional barriers in front of male gender benders and encouraging female gender bending. (by forcing women to ‘prove’ their sex) Soon China may have the first virtual world where half the men are women!