Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Must see video

I laughed, I cried. It was much better than Cats. If you haven't seen this video of Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy yet, watch it now. So refreshing!



After listening to Joss, I have to make the connection between his comment that strong women characters are valuable for men as well as women, and the phenomenon of men taking on female avatars when they are gaming. For some reason, research shows that women gamers rarely switch genders when gaming. Because games are so populated by male avatars, women frequently play games with male avatars , but when given the choice they rarely choose gender bending. This doesn't bode well for Dr. Freud. As a fan of Jung's writings, I have to say that I think gaming and other virtual spaces provide a situation in which men can express and work with their animas.

While many male gamers come up with convoluted reasons for gender bending online, many admit to not consciously knowing we they chose to play a female. Male to female gender bending is still a serious taboo for heterosexual men in our culture and online games provide a space in which men can unconsciously explore the feminine aspects of their psyche without fear of (much) ridicule or violence.

Considering the amount of harassment and sexual attention female characters get in many online games, it seems hard to believe that men would choose to play female characters simply for the voyeuristic pleasure watching a female body as they claim. As Joss stated in his speech, strong female characters are certainly sexy and part of men's pleasure in playing a female avatar must indeed be voyeuristic, but if having a view of a female body was all that was desired, most of these men would choose options in which they could control the female body without identifying with the character. For example, in WOW, if a man wants to have a sexy female side-kick he can play a warlock, and summon up a succubus.


In most online games any female avatar is by definition strong, since female and male characters have exactly the same abilities and are able to progress through the games in an equal fashion. This fact also contributes to making online gaming a safe space for men to explore their feminine qualities since they will not face negative consequences in terms of in game 'career' development. Similarly, Joss's strong female characters, are in some sense safe for men to identify with since they are not weak and yet they are highly feminine.

Our hyper-masculinized culture allows (and at times encourages) women to explore the more masculine aspects of their personalities. Women, particularly in work spaces, must negotiate their identities in situations where masculinity is the norm. Men rarely get the opportunity to similarly explore their feminine aspects. It is only in the highly removed and fictional worlds of gaming and science fiction that men are permitted these sorts of explorations.

17 comments:

Hed Spacely said...

I can't help but think there might be something less healthy at work. Could the attraction of literally controlling a woman's every move have more deeply rooted, misogynist causes.

Video game characters, as much as they are our heroes, are also the people we let let get shot, beaten up, maimed, burned and magically transmogrified. The fact that men seem to be happier to let this happen to female characters might not bode well for equality and respect.

Hopefully I'm just being a crack-pot and it is all about the leather-clad hotness.

Kiba said...

I'm so glad to see you post this! (I surfed on over from Whedonesque.) I think you make excellent points, though I am curious how this might play out in games that aren't online, where a male plays with a female avatar but is interacting only with NPCs.

Anonymous said...

My husband has always said that if he was going to spend that much time looking at the back of a character, he'd rather it was a female shape.

Me, I have about 2 female characters to each male. That is purely based on the whim of the moment.

Anonymous said...

The only reason I would play as a female character is because I'd be a smaller target :D.

Worked in Q3!

Anonymous said...

The only reason I would play as a female character is because I'd be a smaller target :D.

Worked in Q3!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm an exception, but 80-90% of my RPG avatars are female because if I'm in a pretend world where I could do or be just about anything, why would I want to still be like myself?

A male avatar invariably becomes an extension of my own self. I don't need a game to be myself. I can read a book or something.

Playing as a female is a totally clean slate. Who is she? What does she like? What's her outlook on the world? In X situation what would she do? Me, I'd pick Y. But no, she's (adjective), she'd pick Z.

At that point the game becomes a challenge of managing and maintaining a realistic character in her virtual environment.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm an exception, but 80-90% of my RPG avatars are female because if I'm in a pretend world where I could do or be just about anything, why would I want to still be like myself?

A male avatar invariably becomes an extension of my own self. I don't need a game to be myself. I can read a book or something.

Playing as a female is a totally clean slate. Who is she? What does she like? What's her outlook on the world? In X situation what would she do? Me, I'd pick Y. But no, she's (adjective), she'd pick Z.

At that point the game becomes a challenge of managing and maintaining a realistic character in her virtual environment.

Anonymous said...

Most of my characters are female, in computer games and roleplaying games. I don't do this, as hed spacely said, to see women get hurt, or to get burned or whatever. I just find that women characters are so much more interesting.

Joss Whedon didn't make Buffy female to watch a girl get hit around. He did it to show that women can be strong too.

If a man, in a fantasy world, becomes a warrior, that's seen as the norm. But a woman? There has to be something interesting going on there. It's not because of misogyny, but because there is an overabundance of men in most of these games, so women doing great stuff is interesting straight off the bat. Just as playing a child in a game is interesting, as they don't necessarily 'fit' in an adult world, playing a woman is interesting because they don't necessarily 'fit' in a world dominated by manly violence. It's about telling interesting, unique and powerful stories.

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Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily think it's that they don't get other places to safely explore their "feminine" sides... My son has baby dolls and stuffies just as his sister has action figures and tanks, and they both have weapons galore. But he will some day grow up to be a father, as she will a mother. And that fact alone means he needs to be able to understand women on a non-competitive, non-combative level. As well as to understand his own capacity to be those so-called "feminine" qualities of nurturing, caring, protective, etc.

I think we place those gender labels on certain actions, when they're actually gender neutral. Granted, there are serious differences between girls and boys... but I think Joss has tapped into those similarities as well. Hmmm... similarities is perhaps the wrong word....

Joss writes characters that are strong, funny, smart, active, etc. Those qualities are great for females AND males... and the fact that OTHER writers choose to give those qualities strictly to males is a reflection on them and their values.

Perhaps being older, and raising kids - one of each - gives me a different perspective. But I have to say - Joss ROCKS. I love watching all his shows WITH my kids. And my son, being raised on such fare, has different expectations than other boys would, perhaps. That if he ever steps out of line with a woman, she'll kick his ass. : ) That's as valuable a lesson for males as it is for females - that that is not only possible, but expected.

Yeah... Joss rules.

Anonymous said...

I think you're essentially right, at least for me.

Perhaps this has to do with the very strong patriarchal pressure of male sex stereotypes in the real world. Women breaking sex stereotypes is at least *understood*, even though there's still a lot of sexist pressure. But the movement to break male sex stereotypes is much less developed.

For starters, a woman in trousers is no longer going to get beat up most places; not so with a man in a skirt. To go further, "career women" still suffer from a lot of prejudice, but stay-at-home fathers suffer from *huge* amounts of prejudice, even in the most 'progressive' environments.

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Lemoned said...

My boyfriend almost always picks girl characters and i always ask him why and he just says he doesn't know so i don't question it anymore. reading these comments has been helpful insight as to why he may choose women characters.

Flerkin McBlerkin said...

That video made me laugh out loud, so very funny!
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