When a game asks what gender am I – I select female, even though I identify as a male. This is always the case in MMORPGs, and was for Runescape. A choice of gender presented as binary options doesn’t really represent gender, beyond the physical expression of movement and clothing (both of which appealed to me more in the female form). If I have difficulty relating to the gender choices in games imagine the challenge a transgender player would experience, or a female only presented with a male choice (NPR 2015). My choice of Female revealed two key relationships between my identity and the game: gender exploration, which leads on to gender exploitation.
The exploration aspect of choosing a female, is exactly that: I desire to play a female instead of a male. Games allow me to transfer myself into an avatar. Moore (2011) describes this as a “tranformation onto another ego”. I’m not only representing a female, I am also actualising a performance that affects other players too. I can be a different person interacting with someone else. But alas, I’m still a male playing a female. Especially in the constraints of a linear story – where dialogue is not customised to respond to my gender beyond “bitch“, its just a visual change. However, when I play a female in a multiplayer game the other players define my gender for me. I didn’t have to act as a female, other players would approach me and respond as if I was a female. I have encountered many marriage proposals, slurs, and gifts/money in exchange for poems or dirty talk. I became aware of how different players would react to females in games, and the potential advantages it presented.
So, I exploited the female gender. I could develop trust very quickly, and I abused that trust. I later realised that players were more likely to give a female money out of generosity than to a male. I could, and did, swoon and tease male players to ask for cash. I earned 10 million gold in a week, just from asking for 200 gold – instead they would offer me 2k – 200k. In perspective, 10 million gold was more money than I had earned in the 2 years of playing Runescape. The experience was empowering – I had control over the male gender. But in retrospect, I was acting out the very issues that gender present in games. I played the best-fake damsel in distress; one cried and begged, and searched for his hero. Except, I would pocket the gold, show my gratitude, and disappear forever in search of another hopeless hero.