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2:14 PM on 03.31.2010

Something About Sex: MSN, Webcams, and the demise of Opportunistic GenderBenders

This is a true story of the primitive birth of online MMOs.

It is also a cautionary example of the iron grip female players hold over their male counterparts, and the financial highs (and ethical lows) one can achieve by impersonating such girl gamers.

This is also a confession.

Let me begin. It’s 1998. The internet is much different to how it is now. 56k is slow. Sloooow. Star Trek: The Motion Picture slow. It’s also all we have. And, depending on your ISP, you’d have to reconnect every 2 hours. This would take about 3 minutes of listening to your modem (which actually sat on the desk OUTSIDE of your computer!) as it made weird alien binary sex noises.

At the tender age of 15 I would sneak into my Dad’s workroom at night and spend upwards of 20 minutes downloading individual 8-bit colour images of Gillian Anderson from FHM’s fledgling website. It was tedious but free. And private.

Good times.

I’d spent a lot of time in chat-rooms, some game related. You didn’t have avatars or pictures though. Oh no. You just had handles. Mine was Nick_One. Clever wasn’t it? But the awesome thing I discovered was that by simply changing your handle you could also change identity. I would often say I was 21, a police officer, living in Leeds, and had a terrier called Neil. No one could prove any different. Webcams were years away. Digital cameras – only the rich had these. The internet was new, and people were naive.

Oh so naive.

Okay I was a geek, so I’d also been to a few Dungeons and Dragons freeform roleplay rooms. But instead of playing as Gruk the gruff-but-loving barbarian, I’d play as Todd McFlarlane’s Spawn. I’d just sit in the corner of the Drunken Unicorn’s barroom, making my cloak twitch. It got boring, so I went looking elsewhere.

After some searching I found a link to what was then called Gemstone 3. GS3 was one of the first ever online roleplaying games. It was a classic MUD that had begun sometime in 1987. It was and is a text-based game, similar to Zork or Adventure, where you’d read a room description, have various exits (such as north, south, up, down etc), which would take you to other “rooms”. Characters and objects would show up as “You also see John and a white guitar”.

Gemstone 3's original Website

It was based in the high-fantasy setting of Elanthia: Elves interacted with dwarves. Dark elves would curse at Halflings, etc. You know the sort.

You could run around attacking monsters, going on quests, finding items, occasionally running into Games-Master controlled merchants who could turn your “reinforced shield” into a “super special shield of awesome”.

Now I’d played similar text games before at school. But what made this game fascinating was that all the other characters were people. We were all locked into this little world of swords, magic, fantasy and intrigue. I fell in love.

So I played avidly for about 3 months before my pay-by-the-minute phone bill caused my Dad to indefinitely cancel the interwebs. Much sadness ensued.

Two years later I’m at University. The internet has gotten slightly better. I’m now the envy of my friends with my lovely 512 speed connection. Gemstone was still around and I had my own credit card (and more importantly, free internet), so I signed up once more.

My old character Malus Ironfang was long since dead (or gone demonic as the players would say). This called for someone new, someone super powerful, someone who’d shake Elanthia to its very core. Someone...female?

Now at 15 I may have been sexually immature but I still recognised the power women held over me and other men. It was even evident in Gemstone. Here I’d be, waiting at the locksmith when Lady Twinkletoes would enter, sashay straight to the front of the line, get her boxes opened, have her star sapphire tip refused, and be told, with a smile, to come again. Would Malus Ironfang get such treatment? Would he fuck.

A female character it would be. Purely to see what kind of different reception I’d receive, I told myself.

And oh, what a difference it made.

Within 20 minutes I’d been welcomed by a male mentor, taken out to hunt giant rats, given a new sword, and even taken on a tour of the starter town by some kindly lord who gave me 2000 silver (no lean amount for a level 1 sorceress, I tell you) after I giggled at one of his inane jokes.

A possible reaction, had he realized the truth

It didn’t stop there. Everyone was keen to help me. I’d get swift rescues were I to get killed. I’d get positive remarks about my sexy sense of inventory fashion. Even the other female players (or were they?) would react well to me. I guess they were tired of other men hitting on them incessantly, and were relieved to just be able to relax around other female players.

But the game was about roleplaying. Something I was very heavily invested in. So obviously as I progressed in the game, the more I began to roleplay. It became easier to pretend that not only was I a woman, but a complex, three-dimensional character within the game world itself. I was more than meets the eye.

Then it began to unravel.

In the two years since I’d last played, the internet had not only sped up, but become much more advanced. Something called AIM was everywhere, and every player used it. So I had to too. I created a fairly innocuous screen name, used a generic non-facial avatar and just got on with things.

It was also at this point when a character took a particular shine to me. This guy was always around when I was. He was 10 levels higher, so he’d make hunting much easier. But he’d make liberal use of the physical verbs. Hug, poke, tickle, rub. Too liberal.

We’d chat on AIM. I’d never lie. He just never asked, you know, if I was a guy.

Reading between the lines, it's kind of obvious I was a guy

I continued the coy act for just over a year before out of game circumstances forced him to quit. He’d return years later. He’s still oblivious to this day.

Anyway, I’d become much more involved with the in-game and out-of-game politics. I’d troll and flame on the forums. I’d go on epic quests. I’d spend hours roleplaying. It’s an American-focused game, so the majority of Games Masters and players would be online around 2:00 AM GMT. I became a night owl.

I also became sort of infamous in the game. Mainly this was for being British, as well as being one of these vocal freaks who endlessly scream “BUFF MY NERFED CLASS FUCKERS” on the forums. World of Warcraft players who bother to read the boards will recognise this as angry teenage moron-type behaviour, and I was no exception in Gemstone.

After several years of play I’d developed a number of close friends in and out of the game. None of them knew who I really was. None, I supposed, suspected either. But it was becoming harder to fake. Digital cameras and webcams had become cheap and common. I just avoided the subject of my personal life. Typical explanations like “busy with uni-work” were commonplace whenever I was asked.

It wasn’t long before I realized that despite the initial bonuses of playing and maintaining a female persona, it was pretty much just like being a guy when it came down to it. Sure I’d still get positive reactions from strangers and such, the odd larger tip and so fourth, but it didn’t really make a difference to the game overall. In fact I kind of missed being a faceless guy. I’m a solitary player by nature, and I’d always be getting invitations to go and do something with someone. It was tiresome.

The drain of fighting losing battles with the staff over class nerfage, coupled with the fact that I was lying to people who had become legitimate friends and the continuous hassle of pretending all the time, forced me to an ultimatum:

I had to kill myself.

Or alternativey I could just leave the game.

So I left . I suicided the character, closed the account and went about my life for a few years. But the lure of CrackStone (4 at it had then become) is strong. I reactivated my account and started anew, this time as a male rogue – something much more akin to the real me.

And here I still am. I’ve mellowed as a gamer. I don’t even read the forums any more. I don’t get involved in crazy storylines or quests. I take extended breaks from the game, typically playing for about six months then leaving for a few years.

A few of my old friends from my sorceress days still play it. I’ve made a good few more as the rogue. All are oblivious to whom I used to be, however. At least, until today that is.

I suppose the point to get across is that YES women, regardless of their intent, regardless if they are female characters or female players, represent sex in video games. Or at least they represent the implication of sex. It could be a line of text on a screen or the elongated sex-limbs of Bayonetta; to men they’re all fields to plough.

A blinkered view perhaps. But the faceless nature of the internet can more easily support perverts and less socially aware individuals. So while we usually reign in our sexual desires in reality, it is far easier to let them unfold online. There are no ramifications. No consequences.

Some (as noted above) can use this to their advantage, and this is often real women themselves. I had a guild leader in WoW who would ask the sole female player to sweet talk grumpy or aggressive players. It was highly effective. In Gemstone you can see female characters try to use their feminine whiles on other less experienced men, JUST LIKE you see confident, good-looking women take advantage of gormless guys in the real world. The only difference is that online, both men and women have a screen to hide behind.

See, Night Elves do serve other purposes...

But it’s much harder to fake it these days, thanks to the likes of MSN, Skype or what have you. It’s only a matter of time before even the most naive of targets will demands a picture or voice clip.

Thankfully the rise of actual female gamers is increasing to meet this demand. And while many will be fat, slobbering emo-children, this quota will probably be no more or less than the fat, slobbering emo-man children that currently stalk the internets.   read

8:34 AM on 04.25.2009

Resident Evil - The (un)Expanded Universe

Resident Evil burst on to the scene just over ten years ago and like the fictional T-Virus that initially zombified the Umbrella mansion-inhabitants, has continued to evolve and prosper. Devouring each new technology as it arrived, Capcom’s classic now features approximately 20 titles over twelve different formats.

The back catalogue of Resident Evil spinoffs and merchandise is also considerable. Three live action movies, an anime, comics, novels, action figures, energy drinks...the list goes on. Factor in all the expanded universe content – from fan fiction to YouTube homages – and you have a truly vast franchise.

Yet to some the extent of RE’s non-game ventures is an unwelcome one; Like all fans, we are precious of that which captures our imagination. And while some enjoy exploring caveats in characterization and story-telling via fan-fiction or cos-play for example, others such as myself only appreciate the purity of the original story and believe non-official endeavours to be typically only an indulgence.

Pondering these divergent philosophies, I spoke to creator of the webs’ most comprehensive and accurate Resident Evil canon timeline, John Nicholson. Featured on leading RE fan-site, the timeline is now over 350 pages long (considerably longer than any of the canon or non-canon novels). Nicholson, in the final phases of uploading all the information gleaned from RE5, happily took a moment to give me his thoughts on the appeal of the RE universe.

(Barry Burton - Whatever happened to thid old Pervert, find out here)

Neek: What is it about the RE universe that captured your imagination (and held it since)?
JN: The characters and scenario of the first games were awesome. They managed to take a B-movie haunted house scenario and turn it into this deep-rooted conspiracy with a huge back story involving this evil corporation. It’s pretty clichéd now but back in 1996 for a video game I thought it was pretty fresh.
It’s been following the fates of those characters since which has kept me interested in the series.

Neek: What made you want to write a timeline focused on the Resident Evil storyline?
JN: Basically I thought the back-story of the games found in various in-game documents were very interesting. It helped you piece together this whole conspiracy around Umbrella. But with some games being remakes, prequels etc it was a little hard to follow the story.

So I began with the release of RE3 Nemesis. With it being set both 24 hours before and after the events of RE2 and covering the Raccoon City disaster I just began to make some notes so I could get the chronological sequence of events for the whole incident correct.

It just sort of followed on from there.

(Evolution of Evil 1)

Neek: Does the timeline include any non-game data? I’m talking books, magazines, films etc.
JN: I have only used material directly from Capcom, so everything is canon. Things such as the live-action films, SD Perry novels and so on are completely disregarded. Beyond the games themselves I used Capcom's source book the Resident Evil Archives, and official documents such as the Wesker Reports which came directly from the Capcom writing staff.

There are plenty of ambiguous events in the RE world, though. Many of the documents found in the games are undated and so you have to make educated guesses. The biggest example is probably the Outbreak games. Between them they have ten scenarios all of which take place in Raccoon City. None of them are dated. I have had to guess where they fit based on the situation of the characters and their environments; the files found in RE2 and 3 helped a lot in this regard.

Neek: What are your thoughts on non-canon or non-direct game related source material such as the novels or fan-fiction, and how did it affect your own writing?
JN: It is the topic of big debate in the RE community. Some people believe the spin-off games such as the Gun Survivor Series and Outbreak are not considered canon whilst many others believe them integral to the overall storyline.

General consensus is though that the films and comics etc are basically an 'alternate' universe and so can be ignored. For example, people who have played RE2/3 will know it is impossible to fit Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil Apocalypse into the timeline because it contradicts what has gone on in the games themselves.

As for fan-fiction, again, they are interesting to read but what’s important for me are the true facts of what went down. Fan-fiction doesn’t influence my writing at all because I know I won't include them.

Neek: Have you ever considered doing a Resident Evil fan-fiction of your own?
JN: I have always wanted to do a script based on the first Resident Evil. A proper, gritty horror about the STARS team at the infamous mansion, which, if done well I believe could be a genuinely good film. But scripts are very hard to write, so instead I decided that my timeline would be my ultimate contribution to the RE world.

(Evolution of Evil 2)

Neek: What has been your most rewarding and the most disappointing experience writing the timeline?
JN: The most rewarding by far is every time I come to write it I discover something new about the story I never knew before. The research tells you things you can never find in the individual games. For example, using the evidence, you can work out that the T-Virus was created on September 19, 1977. Not one document or character tells you this in any of the games. Playing detective like this is very satisfying.

The most disappointing thing is that I’ve learned you can't please everybody. Everyone has their own opinion and no matter how I write it not everyone will agree with my portrayal of events. I’ve not had any nasty emails or anything, just people pointing out that I may have got an entry wrong or an event mixed up. It’s positive criticism like this which helps me improve on each version. 95% of the people are very positive in their feedback and tell me I have helped them understand the whole universe better, which makes the whole thing worth doing in the first place.   read

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