A few minutes after midnight on the Saturday before last, I decided I wanted to be a woman. There weren’t any long, existential arguments with my wife or fretful chats with disapproving parents when I made this decision; nor would I look down later and find my pants were less bulgy than before. But for all that, it was a big decision because I’d always almost played a man before, except when circumstances dictated that I do otherwise for humor or research.
It’s amazing what science can do these days, isn’t it?
That’s right — it was all just in a game. I still have my balls, and I’m still as fascinated by the girl-next-door as ever.
The game is question was Guild Wars 2, which I’m reviewing for another site and which may just turn out to be the biggest things on the massively multiplayer role-playing game market since Blizzard Entertainment started inspiring Night Elf artwork that would make Vargas blush back in 2004.
With a name like Leif, I’m all but required to play the burly Viking race known as the Norns, but I couldn’t find any look I liked among the the dour scowls and ridiculously disproportionate chests and arms for the men. And so, being the loving (and lucky) husband I am, I made a Norn Ranger that looks like my wife, and named her “Leifa Stormwood.” (Of course, because the disproportionate chests extends to women as well, my Ranger looks a little like Alice Goodwin in leather.)
Above: Seriously, it really is amazing.
End of story, right? Eh, some people have a real issue with this. Perhaps the difference is perspective. Unlike single-player games, which let you play Rachel from Ninja Gaiden without worrying about what others think about you ordering about a blonde whose breasts could slip out of her leather top at any moment, MMORPGs somewhat require that you “become” the character. You spend days or months (it’s true!) with these characters, you interact with other people constantly, and you associate with them in a way not matched by any other genre of video games. Perhaps for that very reason, it’s okay to have a fling with Lara Croft for 12 or so hours in a standard retail release, but it’s not okay to spend months at a time in the guise of a Alice Goodwin lookalike in an MMO.
I used to be like this, but I never was bothered by it like some people are. As I write, the top rated comment on my review addresses nothing like my thorough account of my first dungeon run or my concerns about crafting skills; no, it’s “People who make female characters want to be women at some level, even if it’s minute and subconcious [sic].” What kind of argument is that? If I played a Tauren in World of Warcraft, does that mean I secretly want to be a cow? If someone chooses to play a Charr–a gigantic race of furry, grumpy cats–does that mean they want to be a furry man-beast? (Okay, maybe we should leave that one be.)
It’s not like this is some new thing; hell, people have made fun of the genre’s acronym by spelling it out as “Many Men Online Roleplaying Girls” for years. The usual argument from most players goes something like this: “If I’m going to spend an ungodly amount of hours sacrificing my personal life watching someone’s butt jog through a bunch of pixels, it might as well be a female butt.” Fair enough, but I can’t say I’ve spent that much time fixated on my Norn Ranger’s glutes jiggling beneath the massive trench coat she’s usually wearing; my eyes are usually on the action. But apparently a lot of people really do get off on this, as anyone who’s ever played TERA knows. TERA’s a Korean MMORPG that’s big on action gameplay and short on women’s armor, especially when it comes to a race called the Castanics, who go into battle wearing less than most of the safe-for-work models featured here on the Smoking Jacket. When they run, they bend over far enough to turn the entire game into a upskirt peepshow. Subtlety? You won’t find it here.
And you thought that “Run” video by Flo Rida was racy.
To be fair, Guild Wars 2 has its own racy moments, unintentional thought they may be, particularly since your armor starts disappearing if it’s been broken enough to be useless. It stands out the most in the instanced personal story quests (especially in the early levels when your abilities are limited), where you’ll sometimes get your ass kicked just enough to lose every last bit of armor you’re wearing, but not enough to give up and do it all again later. The kicker? I’ve noticed that my personal story quests thus become the MMORPG version of strip poker. Die enough times, and Leifa loses her boots. Die another time, and Leifa takes off her pants. And if I’m really doing a crappy job, it won’t be long before she’s whittling down the last few points while looking all the world like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. without the clumpy moccasins.
I didn’t intend for this to happen, I swear.
But let’s just call that a perk. I’m personally playing a woman character in Guild Wars 2 because I love and admire confident, beautiful women that still radiate a sense of grace, and I’d be open to playing one again in another MMORPG. And also, as a Ranger (essentially an archer), it seems more appropriate for the character anyway–Leifa’s quick leaps and rapid movements with a bow seem more appropriate than they would have with a hulking male Norn. I’ve received no lascivious private messages from dudes asking for my number, and in fact, in the one group where someone actually acknowledged a gender, he kept using “he” in reference to me, acknowledging that it’s usually safe to assume there’s a dude pulling the strings on females avatars in MMOs (however outdated that notion may be). And while Guild Wars 2 certainly has a few eyebrow-raising outfits, I find Leifa looks most attractive in her utilitarian ranger garb that covers almost everything but her face. It exudes power and self-assurance, and yes, I find that kind of hot. I think that’s an outlook we can all appreciate at The Smoking Jacket, and I think more male MMORPG players should try the same.
Kind of a Keira Knightley vibe, dontcha think?
One thing is tempting, though–I’ve always heard that female avatars get discounts and free stuff from male characters who think they’re talking to an actual woman. I still don’t have a lot of gold lying around in Guild Wars 2, so a little wink and a flirty smiley every now and then can’t hurt, can it?
Nah, there be real dragons waiting down that road.