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Altraum's blog

2:10 PM on 06.03.2011

Character Select: Gender Bending

My friend and I sat down for a game of Resident Evil 5. It had been a while since we had sat down for a good co-op game so we were both excited to get going. Before we started the game, I had the choice of being either Chris Redfield, a muscle-bound man who tussles with even the toughest of boulders, or Sheva Alomar, a new character to the series. I decided to go with Sheva. I didn't really know why, it just felt right. My friend laughed and said, "A guy like you picking a small woman like that? I thought you'd go for Mr. Biceps". I looked across the room at the mirror and saw the 6'2", 250 lb, nineteen years old, black man looking back at me. "Yeah, I guess you're right". I wondered why I did decide to choose Sheva. Chris was certainly more like me than Sheva was. However, Sheva was a fresh face for Resident Evil. I didn't pay it too much thought, as I left it at that and enjoyed the game.

I had a similar experience when my roommate and some other guys got into Street Fighter IV. I was invited to play a bit and I had little else to do so I accepted the offer. As the night progressed, I tried different characters to find one that suited me. As I began to try out Yuri, one of my buddies quipped, "Really? Another female character?". I thought about the characters I had gone through and tried. Among them were Chun-Li, Ibuki, Cammy, and Sakura. However, I hadn't played a single male yet. It's not like I didn't enjoy the male characters of the game. While characters like Ryu and Ken had come to bore me, others like Fei-Long, Dudley, and Hakan were characters I thought were pretty interesting. I just didn't feel like playing any of them. I felt like playing one of the ladies.

The character select screen is where players choose who will represent them in the game, so why was it that I was constantly enticed by the female characters of games so much more than the males? There were so many games that this held true for. In Uncharted 2 multiplayer, my character was Elena. In Star Ocean III, the character I controlled was Maria. I played Sona and Karma in League of Legends, I didn't have a single male character in any of my Fallout or Elder Scrolls saves, and I had Ms. Shepard in Mass Effect. It didn't really bother me that I did, it was just something that I hadn't noticed before. I was curious to know why it was that I made these character choices.

It wasn't like I had any hidden desires here. I was perfectly fine and happy being a man. Back when I was about eleven, I pretty much only played as a man. The concept of playing as a female in video games was weird to me. After all, I was a man, why on earth would I play a woman in a game? That mindset changed when I played my first MMO, Pirate King Online. In PKO, some classes were gender locked, mainly the Champion(tank) and Crusader(melee dps) classes were male only, and the Herbalist(healer) and Seal Master(debuff mage) roles were female only. At least the Sharpshooter(ranged dps) and Explorer(Buffs pirate ships) class were unisex.

I wasn't a fan of being in the frontlines of battle. I was more of a support kind of guy. I found myself with little choice. I either had to deny my proud gender(again I was about eleven) and play a female character or I could stick with a male character and play a role I didn't find as fun. At first, I went with the Sharpshooter class. I fought my way through monster after monster, dungeon after dungeon and eventually achieved a decent level. However, I grew bored of the character I had. It was time to make another if I was to continue with the game. Here I was at the decision I didn't want to make. I reluctantly selected one of the female races, named her IMAMAN("Im a man" for those of you who didn't catch that) to settle any confusion, and went off to give my healing hands a go. I found this experience...interesting, if nothing else.

I was approached by a lot more people for parties. I accepted that as part of being a healer and didn't pay too much attention to it. However, then came the gifts. People would approach me out of nowhere asking if I wanted some item they "were going to sell anyway". While I found myself running all around the islands looking for quests for money as a Sharpshooter, I had little need to go out of my way for extra money as a healer. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't just running around posing as a woman. I explained to quite a few people that I was indeed a man. Apparently, the name IMAMAN just wasn't obvious enough. However, despite the constant awkward corrections and explanations, I still was finding playing as a female...not as emasculating as I thought it was going to be. I felt silly about being so against it before.

Thinking back to my time with PKO and the role I like to play, it is little wonder I've gotten used to playing female characters so much. I've never been one to slug around at the center of attention. I like to play as nimble characters, assassins, archers, healers and the like. The gender to usually take on these characteristics and roles is the female. Take the game League of Legends for example. If you want to play a support champion you have little choice but to pick a female. Your only real choice for a male support in that game is a guy named Taric and he is a little...strange.

In Hunted: The Demon's Forge, E'lara is a long-range archer while Caddoc is a close-range warrior. In Wild ARMs 3, Virginia's skill lied in her speed and her ability to make healing items more effective. With options like these, I've found myself playing females more and more often. However, this still didn't explain why I continued playing female characters in games like Mass Effect or Fallout, where gender makes little to no difference in gameplay. For an answer to this, I look no further than my GOAT, or my Game of All Time, Bayonetta.

There wasn't a single thing that I disliked about Bayonetta. The soundtrack was right up my alley, the gameplay was completely over-the-top just as I liked it, it was like Hideki Kamiya had made this game specifically for me. However, what I enjoyed the most of all was Bayonetta as a character. Here was a woman who could show she was easily powerful enough to take on anything in her way, and she didn't have act like a man with ovaries to do it. What I mean by that is that if you replaced her character with a male and gave her a male voice actor, you would still think that his actions and words were very effeminate. In most games, the only way there can be an "empowered" female is if they act like a man. A good example of this is Trishka from Bulletstorm. Yeah, she can hold her own in a fight. Yeah, she is really resourceful. Yeah, she seems to be just as good with a gun as Gray or Sato. Yeah, she could be replaced with a male character model and voice actor, and you would never know the difference.

I like to think of Bayonetta as the modern feminine Duke Nukem. Just like Duke Nukem is an over-exaggerated epitome of masculinity, Bayonetta is an over-exaggerated epitome of femininity. When a developer is capable of making a strong female character without giving her testicles to boot, I end up really enjoying them. It is for this reason that choose to keep up with female characters even in games where it makes little difference to the story. I find it more intriguing to make a powerful female than to make a powerful male.

I don't have any problem with playing a male. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. God knows in Demon's Souls, I hated hearing the blood-curdling screams of the woman being attacked. It's just that often times, I find myself looking for a bit more of a graceful alternative to the common beefy hero. Besides, I am a man all day long, it is not going to reverse my gender to play a female for a bit....OR IS IT?!


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