Idea Channel’s little sibling doing that kind of legitimatizes and brings focus to an issue that people chat about when they talk about games, but rarely talk seriously about.
The first game I ever was forced to play as a gender other than my own (excluding Metroid, because honestly it was a really well-kept secret that Samus was a woman because Metroid was hard. You kids have no idea) was Tomb Raider. The original Tomb Raider is one of the greatest games ever made, and one of the few games I had to put down for a while because it was too distressing when the main character inevitably died when I messed up, and one of the very, very few games I got 110% in (all the collectables, all the secrets, plus going back for all the glitches and exploits).
I don’t think Ms. Pac-Man counts. In fact, any other earlier game with a single main protagonist who was feminine would have taken that aspect as a gimmick to get people’s interest and nothing else.
I hadn’t really thought about protagonist/player gender disparity until then. It hit me about halfway through TR. My entire life, most of the video games my little sister played with my little brother and me, she had to play as a man. My mind exploded.
I very much am a cis male, but in any computer RPG where you get to create a character I almost always (4 hours later) come up with a woman. My Khajiit, my Wastelander, my Shepard… if there is a detailed character creator, I chose to create a woman about 90% of the time. I want her to be my avatar.
Whoops, text is lacking in emphasis:
I want her to be my avatar. Her, this exact person. This woman who just popped out of my head, using sliders for cheekbones and nose arches and hair length, and color charts for eye color and skin color and scars.
My Shepard is an incredibly pale African American with a scrawny neck, bug eyes, buzzcut ginger hair and a bad complexion and SHE IS THE MOST BADASS ENTITY IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE.
Kit the Unexpected would be the most feared person in all of Tamriel, if anyone ever actually knew she existed outside of a shadow.
Somewhere there is a kind stranger who helps orphans, stranded by radiation…
…whatever, you get the idea.
I get connected with my avatar in games, emotionally. It’s part of how I tell the story of the game to myself. It’s part of why I play single player RPGs.
I’ve played female avatars online as well, and I’ve notice a marked difference to how other players treat you. Actually, now I realized I lied before, I played as a woman on MUDs.
The first thing I noticed is that it’s a lot easier to get laid (if only in words). MUDsex honed many a promising erotic writer’s skills, back when the internet was all text. (I swear I’m not the oldest person here, someone else here has surely MUDded).
I also noticed people were a lot more willing to cooperate with you, and be part of a team. Grouping was a lot more coordinated when I was playing as a feminine character.
I also found that the other players listened to my advice less.
I am not a team player. I like to go off and do my own thing, generally, or work with a select team of oddballs. But when I had all these boys paying attention to me, I admit I liked the popularity upgrade.
That doesn’t explain why I usually create a female avatar for single player RPGs, or why I usually create a male character for tabletop RPS.
This is something to mull over, to be sure. I’m going to have to think about this.